108th Wing Airman gains motivation from family, tradition, Airman’s Creed|
Posted 10/5/2012 Updated 10/5/2012
Commentary by Donna Clementoni
Director of employer outreach for NJ ESGR
10/5/2012 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- In retrospect, it will be fierce determination that advances Courtney Beard's career to an enviable status.
At 23-years-old, she already has her staff sergeant stripes on her arm and a stunning list of achievements. New Jersey Air National Guard State Command Chief Vincent Morton confirms, "she is going places."
The first stop will be Long Beach, Calif., when she attends the Enlisted Association of the Nation Guard United States Conference. She is the NJANG 2011 Airman of the Year and will represent the state at the convention while a national winner is announced.
But the accolades continue - Beard was also named the 2011 U.S. Air Force Intelligence Surveillance & Reconnaissance NCO of the Year.
Her Airmen comrades from the 108th Wing claim her to be the "Airman of the Century" and an older unit member jokes that she "wants to be like Beard" when she grows up.
Now a staff sergeant, Beard greatly appreciates the recognition for her achievements, but she has already set her focus on the next challenges.
Though she is perfectly coiffed in her dress uniform, she is not afraid to get "down and dirty." From a deep level and stemming from a family tradition, Beard is a warrior.
Her family can trace their military involvement back to the Revolutionary War. Her grandfather, Harold Allen Beard Sr., was a Marine. Her parents, both in the U.S. Air Force at the time, met at Lakenheath Royal Air Force Base in England, where Beard was born. Her brother, Harold Allen Beard III, recently enlisted in the Army and her youngest sibling, Jacob, is sure to respond to the call of duty.
But behind every success, there is usually an equivalent sacrifice. For Beard, it was her mother, Heather, that made the decision to not stay in the Air Force when she discovered she was pregnant with her daughter. Motherhood became a priority that she wholeheartedly embraced. She took pride in her decision to "invest in her children and support their development." In addition, she had to be ready to 'deploy' when her husband's civilian career required them to relocate.
By all accounts, Heather Beard's crucial decision has paid dividends when she reflects on her daughter's accomplishments. It is easy to see where Courtney Beard's patriotism and desire to serve her country stems from. Her mother eloquently explains, "Freedom isn't free, and some parents are sacrificing everything (their lives)." Possibly she surmises, "Because they believe that is in the best interest of their children."
History aside, it was pure grit and determination that made Courtney Beard the first female and the first Airman to complete the Army's grueling 18-hour Spur Ride. The Order of the Spur is a Cavalry tradition within the United States Army. The Spur Ride takes those up for the challenge through a grueling series of mental and physical tests. While serving with a Calvary Unit during her 2010 deployment to Baghdad, Iraq, Beard was able to compete in, and complete the Spur Ride and earn the honor of being the first female and first Airman to "march, low-crawl and sweat her way into history."
Army 1st Sgt. Brian McCutcheon, was on hand to provide that extra edge of motivation when on the 14th hour Beard thought she expended her last ounce of energy. "Finishing the Spur Ride would forever be proof that she could attack any obstacle head-on and be successful," he said.
In all that day, twenty-seven participants 'earned their spurs.' With the exception of Beard, they were all Army males. Beard knew she earned their respect when the III Corps commander asked her to switch 'from blue to green' and join the Army team.
Though flattered, there is no doubt in Beard's mind that the Air National Guard is the perfect fit for her.
While in high school in Brooklyn, N.Y., Beard was active in the JROTC program and had extensive interaction with recruiters from all the military branches. "I did my homework," said Beard, as she recalls on how she researched all of her options before taking her oath to be a member of the New Jersey National Guard in July of 2007. "I am definitely re-enlisting."
Beard wasn't content to stay stateside as a traditional Guardsman. "My leadership knew I wanted to be deployed," she explained. "When the opportunity came in 2010, I accepted."
Her six-month tour in Baghdad - where she served with the 467th Expeditionary Intelligence Squadron - was voluntarily extended to one year. Beard felt that during the early months overseas she learned the "ins and outs of the job and could stay and help the process run smoother." The extended tour enabled her to "stay out there and make a difference," she said.
The confident staff sergeant currently sees another deployment in her five year plan, but she understands deploying puts her life on hold. "I find the mission to be very important and that is all you want to focus on," said Beard.
Her focus currently reflects in several strategic directions. Beard recently moved to Aberdeen, Md., where she is working at Aberdeen Proving Grounds as an IT help desk technician for Software Engineering Command, Army Material Command.
She is progressing on her studies toward a bachelor's degree in computer sciences at Thomas Edison State College. In the meantime, Beard has the distinct honor of being chosen as one of the first ten students accepted into the 'Warrior to Cyber Warrior' Cyber Security training program, where hundreds of applications were submitted.
Beard's unit, the 204th Intelligence Squadron of the 108th Wing, is the first Air National Guard Squadron that is solely dedicated to providing intelligence instruction and training products to the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center's Mobility Air Force Training course. It is the first course of its kind in the intelligence community that integrates active guard and reserve students.
Beard is hoping to become a certified instructor for her unit and is considering Officer Candidate School when she finishes her bachelor's degree.
She will have lots of time to look back at her accomplishments, but for now she is driven toward success at an exhilarating pace. She wants to make her father's dream come true, which is to have his children succeed further then he has. As the Airman's creed professes, "I am faithful to a proud heritage, a tradition of honor, a legacy of valor."
With his own storied list of accomplishments, she has her work cut out for her. In addition to being a New Jersey National Guardsman with the 108th Contingency Response Group, Harold Allen Beard Jr. works at Washington D.C. at the Central Office with the Department of Justice.
"He is my professional hero," she proclaims. "He has motivated me. Just by example and the path he has chosen for himself."
Courtney Beard takes personal pride and derives motivation from the Airman's Creed. She can recite it flawlessly and passionately without looking at her notes, as she did recently when former State Command Chief Michael Francis selected her to read it at his retirement.
"I am an American Airman ... I will never falter. And I will not fail."