First Sgt. Monekia Y. Denkins is all smiles as she is honored as the Military Times 2011 Soldier of the Year for for her outstanding leadership abilities with the 201st Signal Company, 41st Signal Battalion, 1st Signal Brigade, Yongsan Army Garrison, Seoul, Korea.
Face of Defense: ‘Soldier of the Year’ Leads by Example
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
SEOUL, South Korea, Nov. 2, 2011 – She is, by one measure, the best soldier in the Army: a first sergeant -- the enlisted leader of an Army company -- and single mother, who stands about 5 feet tall and whose personal email address includes the moniker “short dawg.”
But according to the troops, commanders and civilians who work alongside her, 1st Sgt. Monekia Denkins’ influence far exceeds her physical stature.
Denkins, recently chosen as Army Times newspaper’s 2011 Soldier of the Year, received some two dozen unsolicited letters in support of her nomination for that award. Fellow members of the South Korea-based 201st Signal Company wrote of her tolerance, guidance, mentorship and motivation.
Denkins’ leadership style is indicated within many nomination letters that describe her attitude toward rank. As one letter put it, “On a weekly basis we held meetings in the conference room and [Denkins] would start it out the same: ‘Everyone take off your rank. In this room rank doesn’t matter, for we are family and everyone has a voice. If anyone has anything they need to get off their chest, now is the time, for once we walk out of this room we speak with one voice.’”
Denkins and Army Capts. Keila Sanchez-Erazo and Gary Jones, her current and former company commanders with the 201st, spoke with American Forces Press Service during Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s visit here last week. Denkins introduced Panetta to the crowd at a town hall gathering, addressing them as “leaders.”
“I refer to all of my soldiers as leaders, because leaders must believe in themselves -- people must believe in themselves,” she told AFPS. “My soldiers are referred to as leaders, not by rank, … because I want them to be able to go out there and be able to accomplish any mission.”
Denkins said she considers it her job to show soldiers what right looks like.
“I am the example. My commander is the example,” she said. “Beyond that, I make them face their fears head-on.”
Poor leaders are those who don’t meet established standards, she said.
“There’s one standard. You can always rise above the standard, but you don’t drop below. … It’s not an 82nd Airborne [Division] standard, it’s not a Fort Bragg standard, it’s not a Korea standard. It’s the Army standard that we compete against,” Denkins added.
She admitted the letters supporting her nomination surprised her.
“Really and truly, I thought they all hated me because of how I am,” she said. “But when you’re part of a team, you’ve got to push people to the point where they feel very uncomfortable. … When they’re uncomfortable and they can face it and overcome it, there’s no better feeling. You can see it in their faces that they believe they can accomplish anything.”
The first sergeant said during 20 years in the Army, she never has worried about being liked.
“When we have to fight and win tonight, [‘like’ is] not going to get us there,” she said. “It’s not about likership, it’s about leadership.”...
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