LOUISVILLE, Ky. –
"It's funny that you mention family," said 19-year-old Heather, daughter of 1st Sgt. Naarah Stallard of the 223rd Military Police Company. "I remember running around that armory as a toddler, and people tell me all the time, 'I remember when you were just this big' (indicating small stature with her hands). I don't always remember them, but I remember growing up there."
On Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, Naarah Stallard assumed the position of first sergeant for the 223rd MPs at the Buechel Armory in Louisville, KY.
"In some ways, I feel like we did it," Heather added. "Even though she did all the hard work."
Stallard smiled, "Without family, there is no support, and I could not have done it."
Stallard never had dreams of being an upper-enlisted Non-Commissioned Officer for one of the most active and respected units in the Kentucky National Guard. She never intended to join the military in the first place.
"I had plans to go to college, get a degree of some sort, and get on with life," Stallard said casually.
However, after just a year and a half of college, the money ran out, and Stallard had to make some tough choices. Opting against student loans, she sought out an Air Force recruiter and considered joining the military to continue her education goals while serving a short contract.
Negligently, the Air Force recruiter scheduled their meeting over a lunch hour, and when Stallard arrived at the office, the Airman was not there. Noticing her lurking about was an Army recruiter next door who assured her that the recruiter would be back, and she was welcome to sit and wait. After an hour and half of waiting, Stallard, feeling quite annoyed and disrespected, decided to walk next door and speak with the Army recruiter out of curiosity.
"Would you know it? By the time the Air Force recruiter came back from lunch, I had already signed the papers to join the Army, and we shook on it," she laughed. "I was determined that day to join the military, and I did."
Just like that, the new plan was in motion. She intended to serve for five years, get a degree, and then get on with life. That's not how it went. At the end of the five years, Stallard confessed: she had fallen in love with the Army.
She had not achieved her education goals due to deployments and the active-duty lifestyle, but she was happy. She even reenlisted. After a few more years of active duty, she found herself at the end of another contract but was in a much different place in life. She was pregnant with Heather and decided to "take a leave of absence from active duty."
She had a new life plan. She would join the Kentucky National Guard, stay home for a few years raising her daughter, go back to college, and return to the Army once Heather was of school age.
That is not how it went.
Stallard was assigned to the 223rd MPs in Louisville. She quickly found a military home and a sense of professional purpose--which was different from what she experienced on active duty. She was on missions like Thunder over Louisville and the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. It was exciting for her.
Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Carrier of the 198th Military Police Battalion states the following concerning Stallard's impressive Guard career.
"Her duty-performance is exemplary and in keeping with the highest standards of honor and professionalism," said Carrier. "Within her career, she has accomplished numerous tasks for the battalion and her personal life. Her strong work ethic and dedication to succeed has earned her The Adjutant General's Security Excellence Award, not once but twice.
According to Carrier, she served in multiple roles in the 198th MP BN. She served as Readiness NCO at the 223rd MP CO, Assistant Operations NCO for the 198th MP BN, and currently the Operations NCO for the 149th MEB. Most recently, she also completed the Antiterrorism basic and advanced courses.
"She is a tremendous asset in physical security and Antiterrorism," Carrier added. "Her knowledge and experience are unmatched. She is a dedicated and loyal senior noncommissioned officer. And I would like to mention; she has accomplished this much in her professional and personal life, all while raising a family of three."
Stallard is the right leader for the job. She attributes her leadership strengths to the mentors who have encouraged, motivated, and believed in her career.
There was of a moment of professional stagnation in Stallard's career. As a staff sergeant, E-6, she was not progressing in the way she wanted.
According to Stallard, Retired Command Sgt. Maj. John Sallee once said to her, "I see potential in you," She recalled from a previous conversation during his retirement celebration. "You're going to make it. Just hang in there, invest in your soldiers, and you will get promoted. You will be a leader somewhere."
The sergeant major's encouragement reached Stallard's inner strength.
"Sometimes, it just takes that one person to identify and see the potential in you," Stallard said. "That's what happened to me. And, now I get to be that leader for the next generation of Soldiers from my home unit; it is a blessing."
Stallard's role as the first sergeant comes at an incredibly hectic time for the 218 Soldiers of the 223rd. This past August, more than 120 Soldiers returned home from a successful deployment and greeted the remaining unit members stateside. Reintegrating the forward element, deployed Soldiers, and the company's rear detachment is a significant priority for Stallard's new position.
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic is heavily affecting traditional National Guard drilling operations. Command teams are now confronting additional hurtles not typical of this reintegration scenario.
"[My Soldiers] are going through a lot," She said. "They are transitioning during post-deployment while having a new first sergeant and new company commander, trying to survive a pandemic, and now the holidays are here."
No one is more up to the task than Stallard. It will be challenging, but her most significant strength is knowing her Soldiers, understanding their needs, and learning how to assist them in times of distress and comfort. Her display of consideration, duty, and respect for her subordinates made her the best fit for this rank and position.
"First Sergeant Stallard's energetic leadership, professionalism, and keen judgment have earned her the respect and admiration of her superiors, peers, and subordinates alike," said Carrier. "Her words and actions epitomized the Army Values and the NCO creed. Taking care of Soldiers and instilling a high standard of excellence among the Soldiers of the Thoroughbred Battalion is the cornerstone of her success as a leader."
As 2021 approaches, she looks forward, optimistically, to her career. She is mentoring her Soldiers to become the next generation of Kentucky Guard's first sergeants and command sergeants major. Her desire to develop strong leaders for tomorrow is the motivation that propels her personal goals and dreams.
"I will dedicate myself to the soldiers, their families, and this unit," she says confidently. "I will give one-hundred percent of my effort to make sure everybody has what they need to train, and to ensure they are mentally, physically, and spiritually fit to meet the mission. I have a unit full of dedicated Soldiers ready to work and great AGRs. I have no doubt that together as a team we will be a successful unit. I earned this position, and I truly believe that I am the best fit for my company. Automatic!"
On December 12, 2017, Stallard attained a bachelor's degree from the University of Louisville in Organizational Leading and Learning, fulfilling a lifelong dream.