Brookhaven native earns Army honor

Published 5:00 am Thursday, June 9, 2005

A Brookhaven native has the possibility of being the soldier ofthe year for the U.S. Army.

Staff Sergeant Richard Anthony Baker was named the U.S. CentralCommand’s Noncommissioned Officer of the Year in February. Thataward places him in competition with soldiers from another commandsto claim soldier of the year honors during a week-long competitionin Washington, D.C., in September.

“I’m looking forward to it, but I need to bear down on it andget ready,” Baker said.

The competition will gauge the soldiers in weapons proficiencyand knowledge, land navigation, physical training and knowledge ofthe Army, among other subject areas. The soldier of the year willbe the soldier who demonstrates the best overall ability.

“It’s a tough competition,” the 1988 Brookhaven High Schoolgraduate said. “I’ll be competing against the best the Army has tooffer.”

Baker, the son of Alonzo and Elsie Cameron of Brookhaven, saidhe was “shocked” when he learned he had been chosen as USCENTCOM’sNCO of the Year.

“But what really surprised me was all the different functions Ihad to go to afterwards,” he said.

Since receiving the designation, Baker, who is stationed atMacDill AFB, Fla., in a joint command, has met with Floridalegislators, USCENTCOM commanding Gen. John Abizaid and thegeneral’s deputy commander, Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, among otherinfluential personalities.

Baker said he had met Abizaid once before, but the circumstanceswere completely different.

“He came through the shop before, but it was more of aninspection,” Baker said. “I spoke to him one-on-one this time.”

Baker, who enlisted in the Army in September 1992, said he plansto eventually retire from the Army. His decision to remain with theArmy is supported by his wife, Kamwanna, and their three daughters,Arayanna, 5, Brianna, 3, and Jaidah, four months.

Jaidah’s birth came on a special day for Baker and made the datemuch more memorable, he said. He was about to attend the mainceremony naming him as USCENTCOM’s NCO of the Year when Kamwannawent into labor.

“I had to rush to the ceremony, get my goodies and tell them Ihad to go because my wife was in labor,” Baker said.”Understandably, they let me leave early.”

Baker’s military experience includes extensive training in rapiddeployment units and special operations. He has participated inthree National Training Center rotations and numerous trainingexercises, such as two Victory Focus exercises in Fort Stewart,Ga., Bright Star in Egypt, Atlantic Resolve in Germany and theWarpath I and Ulchi Focus Lens exercises in Korea.

He has attended the Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course and thePrimary Leadership Development Course. He is currently enrolled atCampbell University in Campbell, Fla., pursuing a bachelor’s degreein business administrative management.