Ohio Army National Guard Soldier, Staff Sgt. Kelly Ann Pels, 27, of Cincinnati, Ohio, had an unforgettable Independence Day. Not only was she serving in Baghdad in support of Operation New Dawn during the holiday this year, she also received a personal phone call from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
“I was honored to have the opportunity to talk with the Secretary of Defense,” Pels said.
The Defense Secretary, who was sworn into office on Friday, marked the holiday by making phone calls to six service members deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bahrain to thank them for their sacrifices far from home on the nation’s birthday. The six service members who received phone calls represented each of the military branches; Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, National Guard, and Coast Guard.
Pels was chosen as the National Guard representative and was the only service member in Iraq to receive a phone call from the Defense Secretary. She is currently serving as a training non-commissioned officer with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 174th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, under United States Division – Center.
The National Guard Affairs office for United States Forces – Iraq received a tasking to locate a Soldier serving in Iraq to represent the National Guard for this occasion. The National Guard Affairs office asked several units to nominate Soldiers. Col. Heather Meeds, Chief of National Guard Affairs for USF-I, selected Pels after sorting through the submitted biographies.
“Staff Sgt. Pels came highly recommended as a Soldier of excellent bearing, high motivation and experience of three deployments, so we knew she would represent the Army, the National Guard, and USF-I well,” said Lt. Col. Robert Preiss, Deputy Chief of National Guard Affairs, USF-I. “I was especially impressed the she had done some research and reviewed the new Defense Secretary’s biographical information prior to the phone call.”
Pels said the Defense Secretary was very down-to-earth during the phone call. They discussed her previous deployments, current deployment in Iraq, and her plans when she returns home.
“I did not get nervous,” she said. “I mostly felt privileged that I was nominated to speak with such a respected, decorated and accomplished military figure. He mostly wanted to stress his appreciation for what we are doing over here and all branches of service.”
Capt. Lawrence Bogan, commander of 1st Bn., 174th ADA Regt., was in the room when Pels took the phone call. He said it was an experience unlike any he had anticipated.
“I am so proud to have Staff Sgt. Pels selected as the National Guard representative for this tremendous honor,” said Bogan. “She is an exceptional Soldier who can be relied upon to get any job done well and I am grateful that she was honored with this call.”
Pels arrived in Iraq on Dec. 25, 2010. She has previously deployed to Kosovo and Kuwait. She worked for Clermont County, Ohio, assisting veterans prior to this deployment and plans to study physical therapy when she returns from Iraq.