By Army Staff Sgt. April Davis
United States Division – Center
BAGHDAD (7/7/11) - Army Staff Sgt. Kelly Ann Pels of the Ohio National Guard had an unforgettable Independence Day: Not only was she here supporting Operation New Dawn – she also got a personal phone call from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
“I was honored to have the opportunity to talk with the secretary of defense,” said Pels, 27, of Cincinnati.
The defense secretary, sworn into office July 1, marked the holiday by calling 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 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 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 was tasked to find a Soldier serving in Iraq to represent the National Guard.
The office asked units to nominate Soldiers. Army Col. Heather Meeds, chief of National Guard Affairs for USF-I, selected Pels after reviewing submitted biographies.
“Staff Sergeant 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 Army Lt. Col. Robert Preiss, deputy chief of National Guard Affairs, USF-I.
“I was especially impressed that 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. They discussed her previous deployments, current deployment here 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.”
Army Capt. Lawrence Bogan, commander, 1st Battalion, 174th ADA Regiment, was in the room when Pels took the call. He said it was an experience unlike any he had anticipated.
“I am so proud to have Staff Sergeant 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 previously deployed to Kosovo and Kuwait. She worked for Clermont County, Ohio, assisting veterans before this deployment and plans to study physical therapy when she returns to the United States.
Other service members who got Independence Day calls from the defense secretary included: Army Spc. Darwin Siquig, of Kahuku, Hawaii, serving in Afghanistan; Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Shain Frazier Jr., from San Diego, serving in Afghanistan; Air Force Tech. Sgt. Frankie Lizcano, of San Antonio, serving in Afghanistan; Marine Corps Cpl. Jay D'Amico, of Surprise, Ariz., serving in Afghanistan; and Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Brandon Frawley, of Newport, N.C., serving in Bahrain.