News: Meet the eyes, ears and laughs of retention team
By Jim Dresbach, Pentagram Staff Writer
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - The face of Army retention is very visible within Joint Force Headquarters–National Capital Region and Military District of Washington. That face is determined to help, is very approachable and not afraid to infuse a bit of humor into their mission.
The goals of the JFH-NCR/MDW retention team are to reenlist soldiers on a long-term basis, achieve and maintain Army force alignment and enlist, transfer or assign separating soldiers into reserve components.
The group does their job as a relaxed, cohesive unit.
The team consists of retention offices on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, including Fort Myer and Fort McNair portion of the base, Fort Belvoir and Fort Meade. It is manned by a retention sergeant major, a retention operations NCO, senior career counselors, career counselors and reserve component career counselors.
In the first of a series of articles on the face of retention, four members of the team will be introduced to put the names with the faces of JFHQ-NCR/MDW retention.
The part of the team to be introduced in this issue has 91 years of Army experience and 49 of those years have been spent in retention. The team leader, Sgt. Maj. Willene Orr, is a retention hall of famer, so to speak. The Homerville, Ga., native, won the Secretary of the Army Counselor of the Year Award in 1999 while stationed in Germany, and she has been a part of the local retention team since June and a career counselor since 1994. Her Army career started when her per sonal college funding started getting tight.
"I was going into my junior year, and my financial aid started dwindling down," Orr said. "My mom saw an ad that said join the military for two years and get $25,000 [for school aid]. I initially came in for two years, and I’ve been in for 27."
Orr has built many relationships during her Army tenure. One relationship was born in Afghanistan while she doubled as a rear and forward career counselor. She was asked to serve as a VIP guide to Washington’s own first ladies of football.
"The connection with the Washington Redskins grew with the 2010-2011 deployment when I was tasked as the action officer to escort the Washington Redskin cheerleaders and the adopted Soldier president platoon downrange [in Afghanistan]," she said with her perpetual smile. "I never met them before, but it was a wonderful experience for 10 days – 10 days I will never forget. We still stay in touch."
Orr’s office is located on the Fort McNair portion of the joint base, Bldg. 48, room 102 and can be reached at 202-685-2950.
Sharing the Fort McNair venue with Orr is Master Sgt. Decarlo Jermaine Johnson. Born in Florida and raised in South Carolina, Johnson has an interesting nickname. Called "D. J. Squared" or "D.J. Squared Away" by his fellow counselors, Johnson puts his spare time to use as an AAU basketball coach and has been deemed the group funny man.
His initial strategy about the longevity of his Army career made his colleagues erupt in laughter.
"I came in with a plan to stay for 20 years because I like the way I look in my uniform," he said to the amusement and ribbing from his fellow counselors.
And why is Johnson called "D.J. Squared Away"?
Orr has the explanation.
"I call him ‘DJ Squared Away’ because he was running the command for 10 months in the absence of the command career counselor," the retention commander said. "I tell you; he’s been superb to run the command for 10 months with the support of the team."
Johnson holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from St. Leo University and has three classes remaining to earn his master’s degree.
The 3d U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) retention office Senior Career Counselor is Master Sgt. Matthew Middleton. He was reared in Carlisle, Ohio, a town of 5,000 residents on the western banks of Interstate 75 between Dayton and Cincinnati. With the River City so close, Manning is a life-long Reds and Bengals fan, but also includes the Alabama Crimson Tide football team as one of his favorites.
Middleton, who became a counselor in 2007, credits a number of mentors at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, who assisted in pointing him toward correct career decisions. He reflected on his own past reenlistments.
"At different points of your career, you have different priorities," he said. "The first time I reenlisted, I had just gotten married and had a baby. That was the safe thing to do. I got to go to Hawaii and got the bonus — it was a big bonus back then. Then I came to the crossroads of whether I was going to stay or get out. It was more beneficial to stay in at the time."
Middleton is currently enrolled in his final class at Troy University in order to earn his criminal justice degree.
Master Sgt. James Meyers, the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall senior career counselor, is in the middle of one of those life-changing type of events which cause writer’s cramp and a pile of paperwork — he’s purchasing a house.
"I used to make jokes when people would come in to sign their reenlistment contract because it’s kind of like purchasing a home with all the paperwork you have to sign," the Toledo, Ohio, native said. "I’ve learned now after signing some [homeowner] paperwork, [reenlistment] paperwork is nothing like buying a home. I signed like 50 pieces of paper the other day just to get the mortgage rolling."
The retention team is tasked with serving the Soldier, and Meyers, a father of three and grandfather of two, finds it comforting to assist a service member with a reenlistment.
"I love this job because you get to do good for soldiers," he said. "When they come in your office, you find out what their wants, needs and desires are, and you try to work with Army policy to give them what they want, and to get them to stay on the team. If you can do that, there’s no better job satisfaction."
Meyers also finds satisfaction in motorcycle riding, bicycling and softball. The 26-year Army career man will run in both the 2013 Army 10-Miler and the Marine Corps Marathon this autumn.
"Right now, my passion is running, I guess," he said to chuckles from his fellow counselors. "Even though my body doesn’t see it as a passion."
As the JBM-HH Bldg. 59 retention meeting began to break up, Orr added a secret about why retention group members click and respond so well to each other.
"We share a lot of positive energy," she said. "I think that’s what pulls us together wherever we come from. We never met each other before, but we have a connection gleaming from each other, and we get that positive energy from each other."
(Next week: more retention team biographies.)