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NEWS | Dec. 19, 2012

A sergeant major's story: engaging leadership

By Tetaun Moffett 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

From humble beginnings to one of most influential senior enlisted leadership roles in the U.S. Army, 833rd Transportation Battalion, Sgt. Maj. Claudia P. Shakespeare has been a trailblazer for nearly 28 years.

Born in Clarendon, Jamaica to immigrant parents, Shakespeare later left her native country to attend college in Connecticut; but shortly thereafter her life took an unexpected turn. She wanted to become a Soldier.

"School tuition, cost of living and the job market were deciding factors for me," she said. "I was working at a local restaurant as a bus boy [girl] when two Army sergeants walked in to have lunch. I engaged them in conversation and the rest was history."

According to Shakespeare the sergeants made her an offer she could not refuse. It was an opportunity to see the world and finish her college education. She knew this was her road map to success.

"I had the support of so many family members [who] encouraged education, but my mother taught me my first lesson in resiliency and hard work."

Through Shakespeare's efforts, she proved she was up for the challenge. She reflected back to May 14, 1985, the day she visited Fort Jackson, S.C. for the first time.

"It was basic training and I did not know what to expect," she said. "But I was determined to be successful, and failure was not an option."

Although afraid of the unknown, she focused and committed herself to becoming a private first class. But that wasn't enough during her Advance Individual Training at Fort Eustis - she had a plan. Shakespeare wanted to eventually become a noncommissioned officer so she surrounded herself with leaders to help build and develop her as a Soldier.

"Looking back my foundation in the military came from my first platoon sergeant, Staff Sgt. Pender. He set the bar for me during my formative years as a young private," she said. "But Sgt. Bass was my first squad leader, she was a great mentor and teacher. I saw her as the epitome of 'Be, Know, and Do.' I wanted to be like her."

Shakespeare started her career as a 71N Traffic Management Coordinator. Through the years she served in numerous job positions, expanding her scope of military occupational skills from Documentation Clerk to Senior Transportation Supervisor.

"I also give a lot of credit to retired Col. Carol Butts. She was the first leader that empowered me to take charge, be accountable and responsible - but to [also] set career goals."

Shakespeare still continues to consult with Butts for personal and professional advice.
Since Shakespeare catapulted up the Army ranks from E-1 to E-9, she served at 13 different commands, in addition to Operations Desert Storm and Shield, Operations Joint Forge and Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Her career path is highly decorated with myriad awards, medals and military achievements.

There have been many influences in her life to help shape her career. But it was hard work, leadership and dedication that opened doors for continued success.

"Over the years I've remained determined and optimistic at all times," she said. "Anything I set my mind to do, I [did and] was not willing to accept failure."

As a leader Shakespeare said she is driven, motivated, caring and compassionate. As a "steel-willed" Desert Storm hero, she is always seemingly one step ahead.

She continued, "I'm acknowledged by peers and subordinates for my courage, compassion and my ability to forge victory under the most trying circumstances."

Although Shakespeare's leadership extended from one duty station to another, she still had to lead her family as a single parent raising a daughter.

"I was able to juggle it all - being a parent, coach, mentor, teacher and volunteer," she said. "My daughter is my biggest cheerleader. She went everywhere with me, I vowed to never leave her behind and today she's received her education and is currently a school teacher in Houston."

Today, she has returned to Fort Eustis as the battalion sergeant major of the 833rd Trans. Batt. Shakespeare serves as the commander's most valued and important adviser. Her role as the battalion's sergeant major is crucial to the mission, as her responsibilities extend to the oversight of approximately 200 Soldiers, which involves training, maintaining and leading throughout the enlisted force.

Shakespeare's accomplishments have earned great recognition; she firmly believes that it will take true leadership and more to lead the 21st Century Soldier.

"Leaders have to be engaged with their Soldiers. They must possess a clear vision, a strong mission and communication skills," she said. "They also need to set goals, be competent, have strong interpersonal skills, and maintain a strong team around them."

NCOs are the backbone of the Army. They provide the first lessons in leadership, training, maintenance, supply and Soldier care.

"Leading Soldiers is an honor, and should not be taken lightly," she said. "A leader's first priority is to become worthy of leading them. Every day, lead by example in everything you do."