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Army leader comes full circle


Command Sgt. Maj. Michele S. Jones set up a chair yesterday morning in the middle of the classroom at the Sheridan Army Reserve Center in Northwest Baltimore.

Surrounded by enlisted leaders in the Army Reserve's 80th Division, she slid her body under the chair and demonstrated: "Let's say you're a solider and you're a mechanic and you need to get under this Humvee. If you're not physically fit, you may not be able to fit under the vehicle."

Jones, a Randallstown native and the highest-ranking female enlisted soldier in the Army, said many reservists ask her why they have to take physical fitness tests if they can do their jobs without passing them. Sporting the Army's new camouflage uniform, which had yet to be issued to many of her audience, she pulled herself up and sat down on the chair.

"Let's say you're riding in a convoy and the vehicle is disabled by an explosion," Jones said. "If you're not flexible enough to maneuver, you may not make it out of that vehicle. Or if you took a round. Now you can't run. I've got to pick you up, but what if I can't? You and a battle buddy are now casualties."

Jones, the first female and first African-American command sergeant major of the Army Reserve, peppered a one-hour "professional development briefing" with many such admonitions, including personal anecdotes and wide-ranging explanations about how the war on terrorism and a recent spate of base closures have changed the Army.

Reflecting on her visit, Jones said after the briefing that she had returned almost to the exact place she started -- a nearby Army recruiting station in Woodmoor.

"It's wonderful to be here on the tail end of my career, to connect with my babies in my hometown," she said. And by babies, she said, she meant soldiers.

Jones visits enlisted personnel around the globe and acts as an intermediary between them and top Army commanders. She also assists the families of soldiers deployed to fight overseas.

Jones' strong, deep voice carried across the large classroom as she punctuated occasional declarations with a "Hoo-ah!" --which the several dozen troops enthusiastically returned.

A Milford Mill Academy graduate and former Baltimore Colts cheerleader, Jones, 42, spoke enthusiastically of her career in the Army and her struggles as a single mother of two.

She told the troops that they should expect to be deployed because the "current global war on terrorism could not have been accomplished without the reserve component, and particularly the Army Reserve."

Because of recent decisions to close numerous reserve centers around the nation, the reservists should be prepared to relocate, break up into smaller units and possibly learn to work with reserve components from other branches of the military, she said.

To close her remarks, Jones urged the soldiers to have a backbone, sense of humor, dreams about the future and a willingness to work hard for the Army.

She then brought out a pink wand with a star on it, waved it in a circle as it made a percussive sound, and told them: "I wish you success in all you do."

Sgt. Othello Smith, a Liberia native who lives in Laurel, said listening to Jones gave him something to look forward to. He also said he appreciated what Jones said about reserve troops deserving respect.

"I appreciated what she said about the division in the military between the active and reserve component, that the line of demarcation should be eradicated," said Smith, 37. "I think that's a major step, especially given what we've heard about what's gone on [overseas], that reserve troops haven't been treated as well."

Sgt. Silvia Jones, 48, of Germantown said seeing Jones' success made her -- also an African-American woman -- believe she could "move up the chain, too."

"If she can do it, why can't I?" she said. "I love listening to her speak. She's very motivational and not just about the military but about life-oriented [topics], too."

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