FORWARD OPERATING BASE MAREZ, Iraq – Since 1986, with the establishment of the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club, the U.S. Army has recognized noncommissioned officers who have displayed the leadership abilities and personal ethics exemplified by Audie L. Murphy, the 3rd Infantry Division's World War II Medal of Honor winner and America's most decorated war hero.
The Fort Stewart Sergeant Audie Murphy Club members were selected based on demonstrated leadership, professionalism, and overall general military knowledge.
Sergeant Sandra M. Ospina Velez, a military police with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2-3 Brigade Troops Battalion, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, is the newest member of this time-honored organization.
She now joins her platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Odle and HHC 1st Sgt. Matthew L. Chase, as the only other Sergeant Audie Murphy Club members within the 2-3 BTB.
The 33-year old former native of Colombia, South America, said she wanted to attend the Audie Murphy Board ever since she became sergeant. After competing, and losing, at the Brigade NCO of the Quarter board, she felt she could do better.
"I told my first sergeant I wanted to go before the Audie Murphy board and he said, 'Yes, you're going in April.' I'd been studying, delving into the books and learning all I could about Audie Murphy and the club. The more I learned, the more I wanted to become a part of it."
It rapidly became a passion for the Elizabeth, N.J., resident.
"Once I knew I was going, I started reading everything I could about him. I memorized his biography. I bought his movie, 'To Hell and Back.' I saw where he started from, his life, his childhood. What he did as a private was amazing. He was the greatest combat Soldier in the history of the U.S. Army.
"And it's not just what he did as a Soldier, but as a civilian, as an actor, as well. He was a man with a lot of talent. He wasn't afraid to explore that talent and work for what he wanted to gain."
It was an honor, she said, to sit in that chair in front of that board.
"They put you under a lot of stress to see if you can manage to do what you do under pressure. English isn't my first language. When I get nervous, I tend to speak in 'Spanglish.' However, I was able to control myself and answer the questions with no problem.
"You have to believe in yourself and go in there with the mentality 'You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.' The bottom line is you're not going up there for yourself. Your Soldiers are the ones who put you there. Your Soldiers are your credentials."
She said it was those Soldiers – Sgt. Orlando Lott, Spc. John Woerner and Spc. JustinWatson – who helped make it possible with their support and assistance.
While she's been a sergeant since 2005, she said she's now ready to be promoted and to see her other Soldiers get promoted to sergeant.
"There are some Soldiers who are on the fast track, progressing rapidly in their careers, but being a [sergeant] is the best rank of your career. You can directly influence your Soldiers. You can either go for your career and neglect your Soldiers, or care for your Soldiers and put your career on hold," she said.
Ospina joined the Army when she was 24 years old, but "wished I had joined at 18."
After working as a government sales person for a micro semi-conductor company in Madison, N.J., Ospina didn't like the thought of where she'd be in 10 years – working in the same office and doing the same thing.
"I'm the type of person who likes variety. The Army has its routine, but there's something different each day. The Army isn't a boring job. I wanted to do something different, something adventurous."
She originally joined as a chemical operations specialist. However, each time she deployed, she said she was doing things a brigade MP would do, such as patrols, convoy escort, and checkpoint operations. So, she switched over to the military police field.
This is her fourth deployment. She was part of Operation Iraqi Freedom I, with Company A, 123rd Signal Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID; OIF III, with HHC, 1-3 BTB, 1st BCT, 3rd ID; and OIF V with HHC, 1-3 BTB, 1st Brigade, 3rd ID; and her current deployment with 2-3 BTB.
"I'm hardcore, a hard charger," the feisty, 5 feet 1 inch tall Soldier said. "I don't back down from anything. Females have a bad rap. As a female, you face many big challenges. You have to do everything and you have to work harder than everyone else to prove yourself on a daily basis."
She is married to another 3rd ID Soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Ospina, Company B, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor, stationed at Joint Security Station in Tal Abatah, Iraq. Her future goals are to either attend Drill Sergeant School, or become a member of the Army Criminal Investigation Command.
She recently received orders to Hawaii, where she'll be stationed at Schofield Barracks, with her husband at Camp Smith following their Iraq deployment. This, she said, is a bittersweet development.
"I've been at Fort Stewart with the 3rd ID all my Army career. It's the only thing I know.
" I'm a Dog Face Soldier for life. This is my home," she said with a sigh.