CAMP PHOENIX, Afghanistan — As a squad leader deployed with the Illinois Army National Guard’s 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Staff Sgt. Henry Baez Jr. leads a dismount element of Soldiers that operate independently in presence patrols, at humanitarian assistance drops and in training the Afghan police outside the security of Camp Phoenix.
Baez was recently recognized for his service here as a non-commissioned officer in the face of the nation’s criminals and insurgents.
“I have a small group of rock stars,” said Baez of his squad and after being recognized by Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, and Command Sgt. Maj. David Ray Hudson, senior enlisted leader of the Guard Bureau, during their recent visits.
Baez’s squad of citizen-soldiers walk presence patrols through the Afghan villages surrounding Phoenix. “We do it every day,” he said of the dangerous work. “During the week we also conduct mounted patrols on Humvees and walk through other villages.”
Before heading out on a patrol that afternoon, Baez’s squad and peers applauded him as he joined other Army Guard NCOs in the camp’s dining facility for an award ceremony. Then he quietly geared himself up with body armor, a weapon, and a radio to lead his squad.
“It’s embarrassing to be up there when I know I’m doing a small percentage of the work,” he said as he watched his fellow guard members gear up. “It’s just a great squad.”
Hudson spoke about the Army NCOs of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
“This is the Year of the NCO, and we have a lot of great NCOs here and those who are going to be NCOs,” he said.
When asked “what makes a good NCO,” Baez said “everything.” You have to be stern, and you have to admit when you’re wrong, he said. “But it doesn’t work without the whole body, including our officers,” he added.
“It helps when the Soldiers working with you own the mission as much as you do,” he said. “I may be the one liable and responsible here, but they don’t treat the mission any less than I do. My guys are the real rock stars, and that’s why I got recognized.”
Camera flashes followed him as the squad exited the chow hall.