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    State’s senior warrant officer hangs up boots after 42 years

    State’s senior warrant officer hangs up boots after 42 years

    Courtesy Photo | U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Darla Crown, South Dakota Army National Guard,...... read more read more



    Story by 1st Lt. Chad Carlson 

    South Dakota National Guard Public Affairs   

    RAPID CITY, S.D. - “I was sitting with the recruiter and my parents, ready to sign the dotted line,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Darla Crown. “I looked at my parents and asked ‘What if I don’t like it?’” What they said next would guide her throughout a military career spanning 42 years and will continue to do after her May 15 retirement from the South Dakota National Guard.

    “It will be whatever you make it.”

    Crown grew up the third of four girls on her family homestead on the outskirts of the Badlands near Wall in rural western South Dakota. In a family of all girls, when it came to daily responsibilities, there was no time for gender roles. She and her sisters did their fair share of hard work on the farm. From milking the 60 dairy cows twice daily, to branding, farming, driving a tractor and anything else that needed done, Crown says they did what they needed to.

    But she dreamed of a life away from the farm and as high school graduation approached, she quickly realized that her family wouldn’t be able to financially help her move away and attend college.

    After a recruiter visited Wall High School, Crown realized the military could help make those dreams a reality.

    “No one in my family had ever served in the military before,” said Crown. “So I really didn’t know what to expect. I envisioned traveling to different places, trying new jobs, and experiencing military life for three years... and then I’d get out.”

    It turns out that she had one other dream - to marry Doug (Crown), whom she’d dated throughout high school. They had talked about marriage and decided to wait until her military commitment was over.

    So in 1973, with her parents’ and Doug’s blessing, Crown began a three-year active duty tour in the U.S. Women’s Army Corps. She says her interest in law enforcement had fixed her eyes on a position within the military police, but no slots were available and she was encouraged to pursue personnel management, a brand new career field that would allow her to enlist immediately.

    “I wanted to get in right away, so that’s the path I took,” Crown said. “However, once I finished my schooling, because of my continued desire to work in law enforcement, I began hanging around with military police and, unbeknownst to me, I was recruited to work undercover for the Criminal Investigation Division.”

    Drug rings had become rampant in the Vietnam War era and the CID suspected several of Crown’s co-workers were involved in a large drug ring on base. She was asked to go undercover and work on bringing down dealers and ringleaders and jumped at the opportunity.

    Soon she was given a new nametape, a new assignment and was meeting with prospective sellers and arranging deals.

    Eventually, her work led to the arrest of a main supplier - her direct supervisor at her previous desk job. The arrest was big news, happening in the middle of night, blowing her cover on base and changing her direction instantly.

    “I was told my life was in danger and I needed to leave town immediately,” Crown said. “It was scary.”

    Crown was escorted to her off-post housing by an armed Army agent, where she packed everything, and at 4 a.m. was on her way back to South Dakota. It wasn’t until she made it home that she told her parents or Doug about her work undercover.

    After a short period, she would return to Fort McClellan, Alabama, her undercover work was complete and she once again found herself working a desk job.

    With one year of service remaining, in October 1975, Doug went to visit.

    “I remember we were watching the World Series on TV when he proposed to me,” said Crown. “I accepted, obviously, and we were married one year later, pretty much according to plan.”

    Or so she thought.

    In June 1976, as Crown out-processed from Fort McClellan, with her Army service complete, she was approached by a recruiter and told she could continue serving in South Dakota.

    Crown says that while she knew almost nothing about the National Guard, it seemed like the perfect balance for her – allowing her to marry Doug, go to school and work in Wall.

    “I loved the military - the connection, the camaraderie, and the opportunities,” Crown said. “There were so many different things that I could try and do that I’d never thought about growing up on the farm. So I agreed to a one year trial and joined the South Dakota Army National Guard’s 235th General Supply Company.”

    One year later, she was managing married life, college classes and still enjoying military service, so she agreed to another one-year commitment.

    She continued to progress from squad-level leadership positions to platoon leadership, and after her second year in the National Guard decided to re-enlist for six more years.

    “As I moved up through the enlisted ranks and got more responsibility, I set my goal as a sergeant major,” Crown said. “I wanted to be the first female command sergeant major in South Dakota. That was my goal.”

    One drill weekend, that goal would change when her supervisor at the time announced that a warrant officer slot was opening with the brigade headquarters and encouraged Crown to apply.

    “I had never thought about becoming a warrant officer but the deadline was fast approaching and I applied,” Crown said. “Four others also applied, so the five of us all piled into a van to drive to Pierre for the interviews. It was a tough interview. One of the toughest I’ve ever had.”

    Shortly after returning home, Crown was offered the position and appointed as a chief warrant officer 2, Sept. 30, 1985, becoming the first female appointed as a warrant officer in the SDARNG.

    “It was not at all a surprise to the all-male warrant officer ranks in South Dakota when Darla Crown was selected as the first female warrant officer,” said retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 Duke Doering, the SDARNG’s first state command chief warrant officer. “She had a well-rounded military background and had shown an enthusiastic approach to her work.”

    This wasn’t the first time that Crown had “the first female” inserted before her title, and it wouldn’t be the last.

    In June 2002, she became the first female in the SDARNG to be promoted to chief warrant officer 5.

    “If there was a so called “glass ceiling” in this system, Darla Crown certainly did not see it,” said Doering. “She prepared herself well and had evidently set a goal to succeed in every aspect of her life, and to succeed she resolved to put forth the required effort to excel.”

    On April 3, 2011, Crown achieved the biggest goal she had set in her military career, when she was appointed as the state’s fifth state command chief warrant officer, the first woman to hold the position.

    “Darla has raised the bar and increased the importance of the role of the state command chief warrant officer,” Doering said. “She had the vision to foster a leadership style of communication and cooperation.

    “She championed the mentorship program, which produced effective dialog amongst the warrant officers,” continued Doering. “But more than that, she was called upon to present this program to warrant officers nationwide, who currently use her program as a model.”

    When Crown speaks about the various roles she’s held throughout her military service, one might assume that the ones prefaced with ‘the first female’ might naturally be the one’s she’s most proud of.

    “It’s been an honor, to be the first female… whatever,” said Crown. “But to me it’s been about mentoring others, being there for others, finding potential and helping others achieve what they want to achieve.”

    She served as a casualty notification officer from 2004 to 2005 and it’s the role she said she is most proud to have had.

    With a master’s degree in counseling, Crown said she thought it would be an area she could contribute to and took the training.

    “I remember when I got the call that we’d had a casualty and the chaplain and I were to go notify the parents. That’s something… you never forget,” said Crown, as her voice cracked, filled with emotion and her eyes filled with tears.

    Even after 10 years, it’s difficult for her to talk about the three notifications she made.

    “But... I was very proud…,” Crown said, pausing as she silently reflected on the experience, overcome with grief for the families and pride in taking on such a difficult task.

    Teaching map reading at the military academy is another position that Crown speaks of with pride.

    “This was another example of a mentor seeing the potential in me and encouraging me to go for it,” said Crown, who spent seven summers instructing at the military academy.

    “To this day I stress mentorship,” Crown said. “If you’re a mentor, identify the potential in people and then help them discover it. People have potential, but sometimes it goes undiscovered and opportunities can be missed.”

    That chance to provide mentorship and encouragement daily are reasons that Crown was overjoyed to receive the state chief command warrant officer position.

    “I love this position!” Crown said. “It’s so much about career management and people. I love the recruiting, the interviews, working assignments, promotions, issues, and even the problems and being the go-to person who can work things out for warrant officers.”

    As she prepares to step away from the position, and the military, she hopes that through her various ranks and positions that she’s inspired others.

    “There’s nothing that you can’t do,” said Crown, another piece of advice her parents gave to her as a young adult. “If you want to do it, you can do it. Remove the barriers between yourself and your goals and go for it.”

    On May 15, Crown put on her uniform for the last time as Doug turns over Crown Oil Co. to a family member. They’ve already planned motorcycle trips, NASCAR races and a few vacations. After that, she will look for opportunities that will allow her to continue to mentor and encourage.

    “I haven’t decided what I want to do yet,” said Crown, who is holding off on announcing her future plans until some traveling is done. “I keep telling people that I haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up.”

    One can be sure that whatever she decides to pursue, she will do it with the same attitude that opened so many doors for her and the females following in her footsteps… “It will be whatever you make it.”



    Date Taken: 05.21.2015
    Date Posted: 08.27.2015 11:48
    Story ID: 174415
    Location: RAPID CITY, SD, US 

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