Oregon Airman Embraces Army Challenge

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. John Hughel
  • 142nd Fighter Wing
Senior Master Sgt. Chris Roper, a member of the Air Force Security Forces, has spent his career responding to unique challenges; so it was all in stride when he was the lone Air National Guard Airman to attend the U.S. Army Sergeant Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Tex., in the autumn of 2010.

As the first ever Air National Guard member selected to attend the Army's top NCO School, Roper knew the expectations would be high and the application process would take time. "I did not expect to hear right away that I was in the running to be selected for this course but after meeting with Command Chief Master Sgt. of the Air National Guard, Christopher Muncy, I was sold on going," said Roper.

Roper knew he would be "under the microscope," yet with the full support of State Command Chief Master Sgt. Mark Russell and his unit Commander, Major Frank Page, he would be ready for the challenge. "Sergeant Roper embraced the commitment that this 10-month class entailed and understood that he would be putting the Air National Guard on the map," said Russell.

The leadership skills of working in a joint environment, alongside the Army as well as other nations is what Air National Guard Command Chief Master Sgt. Muncie had envisioned when he selected Roper as the first Air Guardsman to attend this course.

"The first month there, it took me a while to just adjust to how the Army operates compared to the Air Force," said Roper. Being part of the 61st Sergeant Major Academy class also exposed him to students from over 30 other nations.

"They all have their unique way of doing things, so I needed to understand those different elements."

Roper's unit commander, Major Page, helped prepare him for the variations between Army and Air Force culture. Page began his career in the Army and had been stationed at Ft. Bliss so he knew first hand some of the challenges but he knew Roper was more than ready. "He is a self starter and I knew he would take on, absorb and be ready to give back to the class," said Page.

The Army Sergeant Major Academy's purpose is to move Senior NCO's from a tactical level of thinking to an operational and strategic perspective.

The course entailed researching papers, writing and presentations; and it was not uncommon for the students to put in long hours of reading after class. "Right away everything was really in-depth; I must have read over 300 pages a night for the first few months of the course and prepared two or three papers a week," said Roper.

Over time, Roper discovered the main focus of the course was analysis of the operational and strategic military doctrines. "The President (of the United States) has his objectives with the military and his other main governmental agencies and right away, it became clear how the operational and strategic planning fit into the President's vision."

When not in class or reading into the evening, Roper took on another personal challenge; he focused on physical fitness and his overall health. "This was a real cleansing time for me in so many ways; I was inspired by how physically fit other Sergeant Majors were at the academy, and with the Army Physical Fitness Research Institute at Fort Bliss, this was the perfect time to get back into the routine."

The Fitness Institute has an initial assessment and then a follow up at 6-months. Roper took advantage of all the running, weight lifting and other testing during this time to drop close to 60 pounds. "They gave me the tools, and I put those tools to use with healthy eating, running and working out to drop my body fat from about 25% to around 9% while I was there."

"Being down there for nearly a year, it completely changed my life, and I am still keeping up with working out and eating routines: once you lose the weight, you want to keep if off!"

To stay motivated with his new fitness routine, Roper ran his first half marathon in El Paso, Tex., and later took part in the Bataan Memorial Death March at the White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The event is held each year in March and honors the valiant service of those military members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II. "You can walk it or run the 26.2 miles of full desert heat and mountain running, but what the race was about with the actual survivors there at the starting line was very moving."

Before he left for the Sergeant Major Academy, Chief Russell had Roper take the Army physical fitness test to make sure he was ready for the Army standards he would need to achieve. "We wanted to make sure he could pass their test before he went to the Academy, but there is no question how much of a tremendous impact to the Air Guard and to our State he took on," said Russell.

"I used to have to pace him, but now he paces me on our runs," says Page. "He has inspired all the other Airmen in the security forces with not just with his renewed fitness standards, but by taking on this long course of studies, leaving his family for many months. He is just an excellent example by showing the way with his total overall level of commitment."

"He has outgrown the Squadron in many ways and he will continue to play a significant role now and in the future with the Oregon Air Guard on a senior leadership level," said Page.