FORT CHAFFEE, Ark. – The transition from an enlisted soldier to a commissioned officer isn't easy. It takes time and diligence, not to mention the right skills and talents, and usually is a one-way trip.
Not for Sgt. 1st Class Richard Thomas Llewellyn. A native of Ballston Spa, N.Y., Llewellyn enlisted as an airborne infantryman August 1995. After his first duty assignment with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Llewellyn, now the assistant operations noncommissioned officer for the 854th Engineer Battalion (Forward Support), was accepted into prep school at West Point to become an officer, where he was quickly given a role within the cadre.
July 18, 2013 -- Sgt. 1st Class Richard Thomas Llewellyn, the assistant operations noncommissioned officer with the 854th Engineer Battalion (Forward Support), began his career as an enlisted infantryman in 1995 and transitioned into the Army Reserve after the Sept. 11 attacks. After becoming an officer and reaching the rank of first lieutenant, Llewellyn, a native of Ballston Spa, N.Y., resigned his commission to take a position with the 854th Engineer Battalion to work closer with soldiers. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael Crawford)
“My platoon sergeant from Fort Campbell was one of the NCOs and knew my working ability and requested me as cadre right there,” Llewellyn said.
Like all candidates at the prep school, Llewellyn was required to play a sport; he chose football. Unfortunately, a football injury led to his disqualification from the program.
“I was the second shortest person on the team, and I took quite a beating on my body,” Llewellyn said.
Not losing his motivation, Llewellyn went on to win Soldier of the Month boards in Fort Knox, Ky., where he was inspired by a major general to seek out a Green to Gold scholarship. Llewellyn was accepted at Sienna College in Loudonville, N.Y., for a full ride.
Green to Gold is a two-year program that provides eligible, active duty enlisted soldiers an opportunity to complete a degree and be commissioned as an Army officer.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Llewellyn faced the choice of leaving his loved ones and deploy to Afghanistan or entering the Army Reserve (not realizing at the time that infantry was not an option for the Reserve).
Either way, his Green to Gold scholarship was over. Ironically, after arriving at his new Reserve unit, Llewellyn went back on active duty to become a drill sergeant for several years.
“I loved being a drill sergeant,” Llewellyn said. “I like the whole aspect of teaching. I like to make sure my soldiers understand why we do something, to think outside the box.”
After finishing his tour as a drill sergeant, Llewellyn went to the Basic Non-Commissioned Officer Course (now the Advanced Leadership Course) and Advanced Non-Commissioned Officer Course (now the Senior Leadership Course), earning the title of distinguished honor graduate for each.
Llewellyn recalled his commander telling him that since being an NCO clearly wasn't challenging him enough he should put in his packet for direct commission – finally, he was an officer.
Llewellyn became a Military Transition Team commander in Iraq and then a mentor-adviser in Kosovo, filling a lieutenant colonel position as a first lieutenant.
“When you go from enlisted to officer, you learn a lot more as far as logistics,” Llewellyn said. “Officers do a lot of the planning. Instead of one shop, you're overseeing everything that you're going to need to bring everything together. Unless you're at the E-7 level or above, you don't see the big picture.”
Llewellyn came to the 854th, currently here supporting the River Assault exercise, to get training handling military dogs – he's a full-time police officer working with dogs as a civilian. The catch, however, was that the only slots available were for enlisted, and they needed strong NCOs.
No problem, Llewellyn said. Having the knowledge of both sides, Llewellyn said he could better set his fellow Soldiers up for success.
“You're here to be (a soldier); it's not the Boy Scouts, it's not the Girl Scouts,” Llewellyn said. “I understand it's the Reserve, but they want to be soldiers. They need that tough love now and then. They want to see that pride and camaraderie.
“We're all here to be one team, one fight,” Llewellyn said. “Those who know my background know I'm going to help them out.”
As someone nearing retirement, there's a large difference in pay between an officer – especially one with enlisted experience – and an enlisted soldier. That, he said, made no difference; his course was set, and he didn't want to have any regrets about his career.
“I know what my passion is,” Llewellyn said. “It's beneficial for myself and for the unit. I should be proud.”
By U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Crawford
Provided through DVIDS
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