Much obliged, Jim

  • Published
  • By Maj. Kelley Poree
  • 509th Contracting Squadron commander
Call me obliged. Some years ago -- never mind how long precisely -- having just completed basic training at Fort Benning, Ga. and entering Alpha Company 1st Battalion 29th Infantry Regiment as a newly-minted Army mechanized infantryman, I was finally free from the academic demands of high school -- Mr. Hester's English class, in particular.

Not long after I was introduced to my new squad leader in the unit, Staff Sgt. Zachary Hunt, I noticed a still, chiseled-chinned sergeant with piercing eyes standing next to him, Jim Nowitzke, my new team leader.

Jim was a family man attending college and from a hard-working family in Detroit, Mich. From day one, he demanded excellence not only in the technical and tactical aspects of effectively employing the Bradley Fighting Vehicle against America's enemies, but also in professional military education and taking advantage of educational opportunities. His stare alone required an answer to the question "what are you going to do with your time while in this unit?" Before I could respond, he led me over the Harmony Church Education Center and made me fill out a tuition assistance request form for my first college class (reluctantly at the time I might add, and ironically, that class was English).

What I did not understand then, I fully understand now, precisely 21.7 years later and as a commander with a file filled with TA forms--leaders at all levels, have an obligation to challenge, motivate and develop tomorrow's well-rounded competent leaders, today.

With Jim's actions as a backdrop and after a thorough assessment of our unit, I recently revised our mission statement from "maximizing our nation's global strike capabilities through innovative procurement of best value goods and services for our customers both at home and during contingency operations" to "[Our mission is to] execute responsive and compliant business solutions that enable Team Whiteman to accomplish their respective missions;[and to] develop and equip tomorrow's contracting leaders through comprehensive [leadership, career guidance, education professional],on the job training."

I am confident many of the leaders within our squadrons today will be the career field's senior contracting leaders of tomorrow!

Unfortunately in the summer of 2006, while on mid-tour leave from a one-year deployment to Iraq, I received sad news. Jim Nowitzke was critically injured in an accident in 1999 and later died in 2001. Stunned and at a loss for words in 2006, I realized that I would never have the opportunity to tell Jim, "Thank you" for the difference he'd made in my life. Well, as fate would have it, and after almost six years of searching, I located Jim's wife, Sarah Nowitzke and shared my story.

During our discussion we both realized that Jim had the same impact on her as well. After Jim's death, she headed for college and received her Master's in social work and is now the Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn Program Manager at Veterans Administration Ann Arbor Healthcare System in Ann Arbor, Mich., where she spends time making a difference overseeing the provision of care for returning combat Veterans.

To quote a well-known historian and guardian of records from the late 1800s, David Pulsifer: "Each person has an opportunity to help others no matter how little, this help is really more about making a difference that can assist others to improve their own life." Much obliged, Jim Nowitzke. You've definitely made a difference in my life and I am passionately obliged to do the same for others.