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NEWS | July 1, 2015

Army NCO strives to exemplify core values

By Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Michael Craig wanted nothing to do with what was happening around him as activities in the surrounding area of Pittsburg, California, landed his brother in jail and got his cousins in trouble.

"I knew I was meant to serve a higher purpose," said Craig. "I just didn't know what it was yet."

To escape the trouble around him and clear his head, Michael practiced martial arts and worked out to tone his techniques. He practiced various forms and also took up wrestling to enhance his skills.

During one of his workout sessions in his mother's garage a man in uniform walked by and asked what Michael was doing.

The then 18-year-old responded to the uniformed figure, "Nothing really."

To which the man replied, "Want to join the Army?"

Michael paused for a moment, chuckled and said, "That sounds good," inviting the Soldier into his mother's home.

Michael's mother then proceeded to tell the recruiter to leave as she was untrusting of the military and feared her son would inevitably meet combat. Michael, envisioning his future in if he were to stay in California, reassured his mother it was okay.

"Even after we spoke, she didn't want me to sign anything." said Craig of signing papers to join the military, which he did sign. "But, when I came back from basic training and she saw me in uniform, she was so proud she had tears in her eyes. I knew then, that this was the best decision I had ever made."

Now a branch chief for the Aviation Logistics Noncommissioned Officer Academy at Fort Eustis, Virginia, Craig looks back on the moment in his garage as the day that not only saved his life, but propelled his life forward.

"If I followed the path my brother and cousins were on, I would have been in a lot of trouble, dead or in jail," Craig said. "I don't think it was an accident that, that recruiter was passing my mom's garage."

For Craig, his higher purpose of serving solidified the moment he saw his drill instructors. To him, they were the embodiment of professionalism and exhibited the standard he wanted to personify.

"I saw my drill sergeants and envisioned myself as one," said Craig. "I knew I wanted to be that NCO, that leader who is upfront and inspires future Soldiers."

But that aspiration nearly disappeared as Craig left the military to go to school and help his wife raise their newborn child in 1995. After five years of excelling in various jobs such as postal work and construction, Craig realized he needed to go back to the Army to fulfill his dream of becoming a drill instructor.

"There was always something more that I felt I was missing when I left and it was that camaraderie of being in Service," said Craig. "The Army was all I would ever think about and talk about with my wife. She would comment on a daily basis, 'why don't you just go back in the Army?' So one day, I came home and said, 'we're going to ship off, I reenlisted back into active duty."

His wife smiled knowing this was the right decision for her husband, who reenlisted as an Apache helicopter mechanic. During this enlistment, he spent time not just observing, but engaging with senior mentors, one of whom was a drill sergeant, trying to learn as much as he could from their leadership traits and qualities. Craig said the drill sergeant was a tough, but fair leader who didn't just teach, but inspired others to want to learn.

"I just followed his examples as a leader and he mentored me to make sure this was something I actually wanted to do," said Craig. "I would ask him what it was like to be a drill sergeant on many occasions, and one day out of the blue he said 'why don't you just start your packet?'"

Craig applied and was accepted, at which point he knew being a drill instructor wasn't just his dream job, but his calling.

The need for structure, discipline and professionalism were all aspects of the duty Craig had wanted early in life. Now as a drill instructor, they were an engrained everyday routine. Each day, Craig had to make sure he not only followed, but set standards with a starched and correctly adorned uniform, ability to pass his physical training test at any moment and mission dedication that often kept him working later than others and arriving before them.

"The Army to me is about standards and discipline and how I relate that to day-to-day life," said Craig. "Being in uniform is something I have huge pride in. We have a huge responsibility to take care of our own and future generations."

Upon becoming a drill sergeant, Craig knew he had a responsibility to spark inspiration and opportunity for others just as the recruiter, supervisors and drill sergeants had done for him.

"At the end of the day people's lives could depend on your leadership," said Craig. "Just being an NCO in general, the most important aspect is understanding our role to train soldiers and that responsibility hinges on how we inspire learning by leading by example and doing the right thing when nobody is looking. If you have any sort of impact, you have no choice but to elevate yourself to a level where you can be relied on and looked up to."

Aside from his mere stature standing at 6 feet confidently making him seem roughly five inches above that height, Craig is a leader people look up to and rely on.

"He's passionate about being an NCO and he's definitely influenced me to want to do better," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Cobos, ALNCOA student, who had Craig as a drill sergeant in his initial Army technical training nine years ago. "He's got the whole GI Joe thing going on. He's big and intimidating, but once you get past that, he is very easy to talk to."

But it's not just the Soldier he trains who look up to Craig. As the branch chief, Craig has work closely with the ALNCOA first sergeant 1st Sgt. Kenneth Howe, who said he would trust Craig with any duty because he can always rely on Craig's dedication to his team and the mission.

"He does inspire you, and what he says aren't just words it's what he lives," said Howe. "He's 100 percent about the mission and ensuring our instructors provide the best quality of instruction and mentorship to young NCOs coming through here."

Through his now 20-year-career, Craig said he learned the importance of pushing one another to do better, something he never had before, he joined the military family. Now, he has not only experienced the impact other's have had on his career, but sees what he is doing to change the lives of young Soldiers who too dreamed of a better life and found hope and opportunity through guidance of good Army leaders and  family support.

"You didn't accomplish goals by yourself somewhere along the line someone inspired or propelled you, said Craig. "So those relationships you have whether in a family life or in uniform become a huge factor. Those people drive you to put the uniform on every morning. I put it on because my family needs me to provide for their future. I put it on because my coworkers need me to be standing toes on the line with them on a daily basis. "