News: Army master sergeant leads the way in challenging career field
Story by Spc. Thomas Duval
FORWARD OPERATING BASE LAGMAN, Afghanistan - In southern Afghanistan, finding time to celebrate a momentous occasion can be difficult and at other times completely impossible. On July 1, the soldiers of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, cleared their calendars and shifted focus to celebrate a benchmark reached by one soldier.
Soldiers, peers and mentors gathered at Forward Operating Base Lagman, in Zabul province, Afghanistan, for the promotion of Sgt. 1st Class Penny Barber to the rank of master sergeant. Although reaching the respected rank is an accomplishment that very few soldiers will reach in their careers, it’s even rarer among those who share Barber’s military occupational specialty as an internment/resettlement specialist.
With her promotion, the Potsdam, N.Y., native became one of only 36 I/R specialists who currently possess the rank of master sergeant.
“It was difficult to reach master sergeant, but it was well worth the hard work and persistence,” Barber said. “I am very proud that I accomplished this major task in my military career.”
As the detention operations non-commissioned officer in charge, she is responsible for the health, welfare and rehabilitation of U.S. military prisoners as well as detainees. Although the task may seem simple, there is a lot that goes into being a successful I/R specialist.
“While deployed, we provide guidance to the command on when and how we can take a detainee into custody,” Barber explained. “We are also responsible for training the soldiers who possess different MOSs on how to guard, care and watch over the detainees. We teach the soldiers when to use force and when not to on an unruly detainee.”
According to Barber, the demanding day-to-day operations of the career field is one that very few can learn to live with.
Long hours, extended trips away from home and the nature of dealing with prisoners often force soldiers to change their career path or even get out of the Army altogether, she said.
Although the race or sex of a soldier has no effect in most career fields, Barber said being a female ‘prison guard’ definitely adds to the already challenging MOS.
“It is hard being a female in my career field because most [military] inmates and detainees don’t give you the same respect that they would a male NCO,” Barber said. “With this being a male dominated field, you as a female have to prove yourself every day.”
And prove herself is what she has done.
“She is passionate about her profession and takes personal pride in her work,” said Maj. Maria Rodriguez, the 1/25 SBCT provost marshal and personal friend to Barber. “She is dependable and an extremely hard worker. She is a role model to career Army women of all ranks.”
Barber said her motivation came from wanting to prove that females can accomplish just as much, if not more, than the male non-commissioned officers.
Barber earned the respect of her fellow soldiers by turning what many might see as stumbling blocks into stepping stones, which she has used throughout her 19-year military career to reach what some would call an unimaginable feat.
“Master Sgt. Barber has done what very few in her ranks have been able to do, and it’s a result of hard work and dedication,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Bernie Knight, 1/25 SBCT senior non-commissioned officer in charge.
Her dedication and hard work has not gone unnoticed.
“Master Sergeant Barber is a no-nonsense NCO,” Rodriguez said. “She is not afraid to take the hard right and voice her objection to an injustice or what her many years of experience has told her won’t work … She is dependable and an extremely hard worker. She has been a dual military spouse, a single mom, has been deployed twice and had to make hard decisions. She does not shy from speaking about her experiences with mothers who struggle with the same challenges today. She speaks to them about options and ways to reach your career goals while being a responsible parent.”
Throughout her lustrous career, Barber has overcome every obstacle that has come her way, but as she looks ahead, there is one challenge that still awaits.
“I have always wanted to be a first sergeant and lead a company of soldiers,” she said.
If Barber accomplishes her goal, she will add to her already large footprint imbedded into the Army's corrections program.