FORT CARSON, Colo., January 21, 2016 - what does it take to succeed in today's Army? It's a question that many soldiers ponder, and one that has many different answers.
For Army Master Sgt. Amber Chavez, the logistics noncommissioned officer in charge at the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) here, success has been earned through inspiration from others and her own personal inner drive.
Chavez, an El Paso, Texas, native, was like many teenagers across the country, a high school student trying to figure out what to do after graduation, when she met a retired Army master sergeant while working a part-time job. It was this chance encounter that set her on her path to be a soldier.
"He was a former paratrooper and Golden Knight [U.S. Army Parachute Team member]," Chavez said, "and he opened my eyes to the different opportunities that the Army had in a way that the recruiters at the time just couldn't."
Chavez, who was leaning toward a teaching career at the time and wondering how she could pay for college, suddenly saw the Army as a way to pave her own way toward her goal.
She enlisted in the Army Reserve in her junior year of high school and attended basic training and Airborne School during the following summer. She served in the reserve during her senior year, but was already falling in love with the idea of serving full-time. She served active-duty for two years in 1998 before moving back into the reserve component.
She remained in the Army Reserve until Sept. 9, 2001, when she decided to transfer to active duty for good. Chavez said s divine intervention that led her back to full-time service just two days before the country was shaken to its core by the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. It was then, she said, that she knew she had made the right choice.
A Knack for Leading Junior Soldiers
"I never considered myself a super soldier by any means," Chavez said, "but I have always had a knack for leading junior soldiers, and I felt like this was where I was meant to be at this time in my life."
Chavez, who has deployed six times in five different countries, credits much of her success as a leader to her family. Her husband is a soldier as well, and her mother-in-law is a veteran. Her husband and mother-in-law, she said, have formed a foundation of support and mentorship for Chavez for the last 18 years.
Chavez said her biggest family-oriented challenges are determining the best career enhancement paths for herself and her husband.
"Sometimes," Chavez explained, "it's just as important to take a step back from your career and focus on family, so that your spouse or significant other can focus on their career."
Chavez also credits her Army leaders for instilling a drive for higher education in her early on. When she was a private first class, her NCOIC pushed her into college and gave her the time she needed to complete her studies, while also fulfilling her duties to the Army. It's something Chavez has continued with her own soldiers.
"Civilian education is paramount, whether you want to stay in or get out after your first contract," Chavez said.
Chavez encourages her soldiers to take a college-level English class first to develop effective writing and communication skills.
"Lots of communication now is done through emails," she said. "You have to be able to communicate effectively, using proper grammar and punctuation, if you want to be taken seriously in a professional environment. It's an often overlooked skill, and it can put you head and shoulders above your peers if you can do it well."
Chavez also has taken an interest in her military education, dating back to the beginning of her career when she insisted that Airborne School be a part of her initial enlistment contract. She had never seen herself as a paratrooper growing up, she said, and it was just one of those things that came up while talking with the retired master sergeant who inspired her to be a paratrooper.
"I still have a great respect for gravity," she said. "But you just have to trust your equipment to get you through."
In addition to Airborne School, Chavez has graduated from Air Assault School, Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape School, Level C, as well as several courses in the logistics field, along with her required noncommissioned officer education system courses.
A Willingness to Teach
Chavez's biggest asset, according to those who know her, is her willingness to teach soldiers. Even as a senior NCO, they said, she has never lost sight of what it was like to be a brand new sergeant, sometimes overwhelmed and uncertain. It's something she strongly recommends for leaders at all levels.
"Don't forget what it took to get where you are," she said. "If you forget how to function at the lower level, how can you expect to lead?"
Ultimately, Chavez credits her success to those she has served with.
"I wouldn't be successful if I didn't have soldiers who went above and beyond and leaders who went above and beyond," she said. "The key to being successful is realizing that it is always a team effort."
Chavez also charges everyone to strive for excellence at all times.
"No matter how small the mission or tasking is, you have to put forth your best effort, all day, every day," she said. "If you do that every day, you'll find that the overwhelming obstacles in your way aren't really obstacles at all."
Chavez also encourages everyone to remember why they became soldiers in the first place.
"If you have the right attitude, then success will come to you," she said. "If you have the wrong attitude, you probably won't live up to either your professional or personal goals. Remember that you came into the Army to serve and not to be served."
By Army Staff Sgt. Jorden M. Weir, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
Republished and redistributed by permission of DOD