CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – Staff Sgt. Mitchell Willyard, a U.S. Army soldier deployed to support the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Transatlantic Expeditionary District, was inducted into the U.S. Army Central Command’s chapter of the prestigious Sergeant Audie Murphy Club at the Camp Arifjan base theater, in Kuwait, on Jan. 30, 2022.
Willyard, originally from Lebanon, Illinois, joined the Army Reserves straight out of high school in 2012. Although military service wasn’t a family tradition, factors like living near an Air Force base, and observing the larger-than-life persona in a family friend who worked Army military intelligence, influenced Willyard to join the Army.
Since then, Willyard has served as a reservist in drill status for four years, then served in the Active/Guard Reserve program for another four and a half years.
“I grew up next to Scott Air Force base in Illinois and always wanted to join the military,” he said. “I also saw it as a way to pay for college while developing and challenging myself.”
Over the years he has served in many different human resources positions, often with duties far above his rank.
In early 2021, based on a recommendation from one of his mentors, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Johnny Johnson, he volunteered to deploy as the personnel administration non-commissioned officer for the Expeditionary District at Camp Arifjan.
For a non-commissioned officer like Willyard, being a Reservist, and moving around frequently to units who have short-term vacancies to fill, it is often difficult to be considered a candidate for the award. In this instance his perseverance, timing and hard work played key roles in his opportunity to be inducted.
Staff Sgt. Willyard recites the biography of Sgt. Audie Murphy at Willyard's induction ceremony. (US Army photo by Richard Bumgardner)
“When I got to Camp Arifjan in August 2021 I actually saw a flyer for the club in the dining facility and reached out to get started on the process,” Willyard said. “Once Sgt. Maj. Tomagan signed my letter of recommendation I began the lengthy study and preliminary process which involved going to club meetings, completing study and volunteer hours, passing the Army Combat Fitness Test.”
Willyard also had to demonstrate warrior tasks and battle drills, the ability to instruct a class, and make it through two preliminary selection boards.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jacinto Garza addresses the audience (US Army photo by Richard Bumgardner)
"Audie Murphy was a strong sergeant and strong sergeants make strong Soldiers,” said the event’s guest speaker, Command Sgt. Maj. Jacinto Garza, who traveled from USARCENT headquarters at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. “Staff Sgt. Willyard's induction into the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club clearly strengthens our non-commissioned officer corps and our Army!"
Agreeing, Sgt. Maj. Jun Tomagan, the senior enlisted advisor at Expeditionary District, was proud that Willyard came into the unit and exceeded those standards since his arrival.
“As Audie Murphy once said, ‘You lead from the front,’ and that’s Staff Sgt. Willyard,” said Tomagan. “I’m honored and grateful that I have a very hungry, professional leader that is within our expeditionary district.”
Had Willyard not volunteered to deploy, he might never have had the opportunity to find himself in front of USARCENT’s Sgt. Audie Murphy board, led by 1st Theater Sustainment Command’s Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Perry.
The award, based on the exploits of Audie Leon Murphy, son of poor Texas sharecroppers who rose to national fame as the most decorated U.S. combat soldier of World War II, is one of the most prestigious awards for soldiers in the Army with less than two percent that exceed the standards and are selected.
Willyard credited his father and many mentors and leaders for helping him get to this point in his career.
“I’d really like to thank Sgt. 1st Class Jarrod Lerch, Chief Warrant Officers Johnny Johnson and Jason Ackles, Capt. Michael Moll and his wife Amelia, Maj. Christopher Rojewski, Col. John Yorko, and the man who raised me, my father, Mark Willyard,” he said. “They have all played a significant part in my life and I can’t thank them enough for taking an interest in my development, both personally and professionally. I would not be where I am if it wasn’t for them, and I hope I have made them proud.”
Willyard was also recently told that following this deployment, he should prepare for, and will be attending, next year’s Army’s Officer Candidate School.
“It’s an honor to have him here in the district and I congratulate him as this is not a small feat, this is a huge accomplishment in his career,” Tomagan said. “If he chooses to stay a non-commissioned officer or he becomes a commissioned officer, I hope he uses this as a learning tool, to keep it in his tool bag, and share it with the rest of the force.”
Editor's note: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Division’s Expeditionary District is the premier engineering, design, and construction district for all DoD agencies in the Kuwait and the Republic of Iraq. As the newest district in Army Corps of Engineers’ Transatlantic Division, the Expeditionary District employees play a critical role in the readiness of U.S. forces in the region and actively manage construction projects in support of Operation Spartan Shield and Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.