By Sgt. 1st Class Mary S. Katzenberger
Sgt. Shandora R. Brooks is excited about growth.
Brooks, a petroleum laboratory specialist deployed at Erbil Air Base with the Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based 264th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion (CSSB), is one of many soldiers staffing the unit’s support operations center, or SPO.
Since September 2021, the 264th CSSB, through its SPO, has been the sole provider of sustainment support for both U.S. and coalition forces assigned to Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve in areas of Iraq and Syria.
Brooks said serving in the Army — and currently in a combat zone — has exposed her to many uncomfortable, but gratifying situations.
“The deployment has been very rewarding,” Brooks said. “I came here as an E-5, non-promotable, brand new to staff and brand new to a position.”
“I’ve grown a lot professionally since I’ve been here,” she continued. “I’ve learned how to brief, I’ve learned how to forecast fuel, I’ve learned how to sit in meetings with people of a higher caliber than me, I’ve obtained my promotable status, and I’ve finished four college classes.”
Brooks said she is proud of her growth and had no idea that when she accepted a $20 bet many years ago that she would be where she is today, that is, in a state of constant professional and personal development.
A Wager For a Better Future
Brooks was raised in Valdosta, Georgia, a municipality located approximately 250 miles north of the Florida state line.
“I wanted more out of life,” Brooks said. “I was 25 years old, I had a 2-year old daughter and I was working at a pharmacy as a pharmacy technician.”
“My daughter was growing up, and it was in a small town, and I wanted her to be able to see and explore the world,” Brooks continued. “I knew working at the pharmacy that that probably wouldn’t happen.”
The sergeant said her interest in the Army arose when her best friend had enlisted, but Brooks did not think enlisting was a possibility for herself because of her status as a single parent.
“I started going to PT with my friend just to see if I could do it [and] get in shape,” Brooks said. “Jokingly one day my friend bet me 20 bucks that the Army would enlist me — I said they wouldn’t, I was a single parent — so I walked to the recruiting office.”
“They took me,” the sergeant said, smiling.
Brooks said her decision to enlist on Jan. 16, 2016, was the best decision she had ever made for herself and her daughter, Lauren, at that time, and one that continues to benefit her family today.
“I am now married to a soldier, and we have an 8-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son,” the sergeant said. “I think being in the military is the best thing I could have ever done for my children, they have stability and they’re able to travel the world.”
The sergeant said military service provided opportunities for growth right out of the gate.
After completing basic combat training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where Brooks said she took on a motherly role and served as a mentor to younger soldiers, she then moved to her first duty station — Fort Campbell, Kentucky — where she learned how to balance the demands of military service with her responsibilities as a single parent.
“My daughter and I learned what a village was at Fort Campbell,” Brooks said. “I was away from home, so I had to build a family there with my unit and my coworkers.”
While serving at Fort Campbell, Brooks met her husband, Vincent. The two soldiers have since married, have had a son together — Gavin — and have conducted a permanent change of station to Fort Bragg.
In that time Brooks also became a noncommissioned officer (NCO).
“Pinning E-5 was scary for me, but overall it was a good experience,” Brooks said. “I pinned at two-and-a-half years into the Army, so I was still fresh, learning my job and perfecting my craft.”
The sergeant said she sought to become an NCO because she knew she had the potential to be a leader the Army needs.
“Just growing up in the Army, I saw my NCOs and the way they handled things — some good, some bad — and I knew I wanted to be a leader to make a positive impact on the Army overall and on the soldiers that are coming up in the ranks under us,” she said
“The part of the NCO creed that means the most to me is, ‘All soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership, I will provide that leadership,’ [and] I always wanted to ensure my soldiers were provided good leadership at all times, at all levels, and that even if I couldn’t help them with the issue, I could elevate the issue up so that we could help them,” Brooks continued.
The sergeant said she has embraced the challenges that come with being an NCO with open arms.
“Some positive aspects I’ve had about becoming an NCO is when soldiers come back and thank you for whatever you’ve done,” she said. “I love that about being an NCO, I love having someone that looks up to me and I can give advice to them, or mentorship, or guidance.
“There are definitely challenges with being an NCO,” Brooks continued. “Sometimes you have to put the job in front of your family, you put personal things aside to complete the mission.”
The sergeant said she has worked hard during the deployment to open the gate to the next rank of staff sergeant. She attended the promotion board three times before she received a “go.”
Reflecting on her service up to April 2022, Brooks said her service has helped her grow and mature in many aspects of her life.
“I used to be very introverted, I didn’t talk to many people, but being in the military, networking is everything,” she said. “I think it has helped me to be dependent on other people, to allow people to help me with things, and to not be so dismissive of people trying to give you help or trying to give you advice.”
During the deployment here, Brooks said she has learned a lot from her colleagues and superiors, and from working with her fellow service members in the coalition forces.
And through it all, the sergeant has done her best to continue to play an active role in her family’s life through programs such as USO’s Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program.
The program provides service members with the opportunity to record themselves reading a book to their loved one, and then have that recording sent back home – and a copy of the book shipped as well – via the USO. Brooks said she was grateful for the program, as it has helped her and her daughter remain connected.
“Those moments are everything, I’ve had really rough times here where I’m just mentally drained,” she said. “Just being able to go and get on video with her and read, it helps me, it comforts me.
“It lets me know that even though I’m away — because sometimes I just struggle with just being a mom and leaving your children — that, ‘Okay, I can do this, we’re okay, I’m alright, we’re going to make it through this, I haven’t failed as a parent because I’m here,’” Brooks said.
The sergeant said regardless of missing her husband, daughter and son, she would not change anything for the world.
“My daughter looks up to me,” Brooks said. “I always wanted to give her a good life and something to look forward to and someone to be proud of.”
-This story originally appeared on DVIDShub.net. It has been edited for USO.org
More Stories Like This
First Army Nurse Credits Army Values for Shaping Her Career Path
Meet First Army chief nurse Maj. Mary Ugaddan as she reflects on the Army values that both helped shaped her career and compelled her to become a soldier.
From a Second Chance at Life to the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club: A Soldier Success Story
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Zoe Marie Kimbell, adopted by an American family from a Chinese orphanage at just 18 months old, decided to later give back to her adopted country by joining the U.S. Army.
Deployed Soldier Helps Younger Brother Celebrate His Birthday via the USO’s Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program
An American soldier deployed to Poland in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is using the USO's Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program to stay connected to his little brother back home.
Every day, America’s service members selflessly put their lives on the line to keep us safe and free. Please take a moment to let our troops know how much we appreciate their service and sacrifice.
More from the USO
May 31, 2023
USO Camp Shows, D-Day and Entertaining Troops on the European Front Lines in WWII
USO Camp Shows, Inc., a subsidiary of the USO, was tasked with providing live entertainment to troops during World War II. From the moment the U.S. entered the war — to D-Day, VE Day and beyond — USO performers gave over 420,000 performances for 130+ million service member attendees.