Face of Defense: NCO Brings ‘Tough Love’ to Landing Zone
By Army Staff Sgt. Luke Graziani
7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Oct. 11, 2011 Army Staff Sgt. Shannon Politte says she draws on her experiences as a tough, New Orleans-raised tomboy in her job as noncommissioned officer in charge of the landing zone at Forward Operating Base Sharana here.
Army Staff Sgt. Shannon Politte says her experiences as a tough, New Orleans-raised tomboy helps her to succeed as noncommissioned officer in charge of the landing zone at Forward Operating Base Sharana, Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Luke Graziani
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The daughter of parents who both had served in the military, Politte grew up with nine brothers as the only girl in the family.
While she always had an independent personality, Politte said, she also depended on her large, tight-knit family for guidance and support. Her parents pushed her to seek greater things outside of her New Orleans neighborhood, she said, and with their help, she attended college. But partway through, she chose to pursue a military career.
Politte said she looks back on her formative years with pride, because they made her who she is and enabled her to become a successful NCO.
“I had to struggle and work hard for what I wanted,” she recalled. “My parents didn’t give a lot. We had to earn a lot.”
Her father, who served in the Air Force and her mother, who served in the Army, emphasized duty and responsibility, she said. “It’s my duty to serve my country and do what I have to do,” she added.
Politte spent three years as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, S.C., before being assigned to Company A, 172nd Support Battalion, 172nd Infantry Brigade, Task Force Blackhawk.
Instructing new recruits at basic training taught her not only about training and leading soldiers, Politte said, but also about who she was as a person and leader. She now has 18 soldiers assigned to her.
“I knew this was going to be a challenging role,” she said. “I have three sections in one. I knew I had to stay on my toes.”
The landing zone is a 24/7 operation. There is always something going on, whether it be flights coming in or passengers or equipment going out, Politte said.
“I knew it was going to be stressful,” she added. “Sometimes it can be very demanding. It’s a big responsibility and a big challenge.”
With so much happening all the time and with an area of operation so spread out, Politte said, it’s almost as if she has to be at multiple places at once.
“I can’t be everywhere at one time,” she said. “But I have to know all things that go on here.”
Managing stress is vital to maintaining her soldiers’ mental health, and her own as well, Politte said. She keeps a vigilant eye on her troops, but is able to take time to decompress herself by keeping in touch with her family.
“I’m really family oriented,” she said. “I center myself around my family. I talk to them every day or every other day. It makes my day much brighter. As long as I talk to them, I’m happy.”
Politte said she and her soldiers take pride in their jobs and their vital role in the overall mission, noting the importance of running things smoothly at the landing zone so equipment and supplies get to the outlying areas.
“It makes me feel good that I’m supplying the war,” she said. “If we don’t supply them, how will they get it? Some of those [places] don’t have goat trails or roads to get there.”
It’s not just mission-essential items that Politte and her team push out to the units. Sometimes, when the moment arises, she is able to get comfort items to the soldiers in the outposts. Some of them don’t have hot meals, she explained, and she has been able to ship out barbeque pits and coals so the soldiers can enjoy a little bit of home.
Politte will be eligible for promotion to sergeant first class soon, but her mind is focused on helping her soldiers climb the career ladder.
“I push promotion,” she said. “I push that knowledge. Not just what they study out of the books, but what they know and what they display as a leader. I push my soldiers so they can become greater than me. I let them use me as a stepping stool to get to that next level. I push them hard.” And while she’s tough with her soldiers, she added, it’s with their best interests in mind.
“I give all the credit to my soldiers,” she said. “I feel that if my soldiers are happy, I’m happy. An old sergeant major told me, ‘You can’t give a soldier everything they ask for; don’t spoil them. [Give them] tough love and make them happy with basic necessities, … and that soldier will work for you all day long.’”