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Story Last modified at 9:33 p.m. on Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Eagle River man joins NCO ranks
Sergeant strives to support troops

BY ZAZ HOLLANDER
Alaska Star

photo:Military

Sgt. Jimi Wilson (left) works with Spc. Chip Stepien on a wiper motor in a troop carrier on Friday, Feb. 11 at the 95th Chemical Company's motor pool. Wilson, promoted about a year ago, was one of more than 30 noncommissioned officers honored at a ceremony earlier this month.
Star photo by Zaz Hollander

Earlier this month, Eagle River's Sgt. Jimi Wilson officially became part of the so-called "backbone" of the Army – the noncommissioned officer who rises through the ranks to lead soldiers, often seen as the first line of contact for troops.

Wilson joined more than 30 new NCOs with the 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade during a Feb. 4 ceremony at the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Post Theater.

His actual promotion from the rank of E-4 to E-5 – or sergeant – occurred in January, 2010.

Wilson said he's got four soldiers under his command. He prides himself on supporting them.

"I make sure my soldiers are always taken care of," Wilson said. "They feel they can talk to me."

That can mean handling anything from requests for middle-of-the-night rides to helping out with physical training requirements or even getting a good deal on a car.

The downside to NCO status? The paperwork, Wilson says. He had to improve his writing skills.

The upside? "I'm not questioned as much when I make decisions."

Wilson, 30, and his wife, Barbara, moved to Eagle River for the roomy yard – they have two dogs – but also because of the community's peace and quiet. The move happened while Wilson was on a 15-month deployment to Iraq in 2008 with the 62nd Transportation Company. The couple lived in Muldoon, but a few months later, Barbara Wilson decided on the move to Eagle River.

Wilson treats their home as something of a refuge, a place to escape the job. He does most of the cooking, even some Korean dishes he picked up during a deployment there.

"I try not to bring work home with me," Wilson said last week from his office. "When I'm home, I'm home. It's me and my wife."

The office is spare, windowless with white walls. A wig sits in one corner and a jersey hangs on the wall: University of Maryland All-American Len Bias. Wilson went to high school in Maryland.

Now he serves as a mechanic in the motor pool of the MEB's 95th Chemical Company, 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.

He's not sure how much longer he'll actually spend in the military. Wilson has had a series of surgeries on a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, which he initially tore during training exercises in Korea and then re-injured in Iraq. He's in constant pain.

He's waiting on word back from a military board on his medical status.

"I guess I could do a desk job but it's not as fun," he said.

Barbara Wilson, who works for the state department of revenue, said her husband walks the talk when it comes to caring for his soldiers.

"He's injured but he's still out there trying to help those guys pass their PT tests," she said.

Jimi Wilson was "pretty determined" to get his promotion, his wife said. Making it to NCO status involves a point system based on, among other things, education, board scores, physical training, weapons skills and military education.

If he does leave the military, Wilson already has a future career lined up: mortuary technician. He's started the general course work, which added points to his NCO tally. But there are no mortician classes in Alaska, he said, so he'd need to leave the state to finish a degree. He hopes to benefit lower-income clients or work as a civilian with the Army's mortuary affairs sections, either at Arlington National Cemetery or overseas.

"It's doing something to help people get through hard times," Wilson said.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, February 16, 2011.