By Don Branum
Vermont National Guard Public Affairs
The newest command sergeant major for the 186th Brigade Support Battalion, 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain), might not have served beyond her first enlistment if not for a couple of non-commissioned officers who saw her potential and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Now, Command Sgt. Maj. Melinda Crosby wants to help bring out the potential in the Soldiers in her unit.
Crosby, a native of Burlington, started her career two years before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Army offered her a way to fund her education without accruing student loans.
“At a young age, my parents taught about financial responsibility, so in my junior year of high school, I weighed my options,” she said. “I decided the Army would provide the necessary benefits to get my professional career started.”
After 9/11, though, military culture and doctrine changed dramatically. Al-Qaida’s attacks had shown that insurgency could be as great a threat to national security as a conventional fighting force. The United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 and Iraq in early 2003.
Crosby was deployed with the 64th Forward Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, Task Force Ironhorse, out of Fort Carson, Colorado, in the initial wave of the Iraq invasion.
“I felt a major shift in our training and operations,” Crosby recalled. “At only 20 years old, I was sent on the advance party to receive our equipment, stage it, and prepare to move into Iraq.”
Initially, the plan called for Ironhorse to stage in Turkey and invade Iraq from the north. However, Turkey refused to allow U.S. forces to invade Iraq from Turkish territory, so Ironhorse instead had to move through the Suez Canal and around the Arabian Peninsula to deploy from Kuwait. Crosby, who had been assigned to Task Force Log, was the only mechanic in the battalion on the ground to download the tracked vehicles and equipment and stage them for the main body’s arrival and onward movement.
“We had a bunker, our weapons, MOPP gear, little guidance, unknown threats, and a huge responsibility,” she said. “Our minds were focused on accomplishing the mission, keeping everyone alive, and getting home, but that changed when word came that we were not going home until the following year.”
That year saw high points such as the capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but also lows: “pure exhaustion, constant attacks both direct and indirect, death on both sides.”
“It was a hard deployment, but it shaped me into who I am today,” she said.
Crosby returned to the United States and went onto inactive reserve status. That might have been the end of her Army career if not for a couple of key non-commissioned officers: an active-duty first sergeant and her original recruiter.
“I can tell you today that if it wasn’t for my former first sergeant on active duty who saw my potential, the Army would have lost me a long time ago,” she said. “As a leader, it’s so important to know the true character of your Soldiers.”
She had planned to work for General Motors in Lansing, Michigan, after getting out of the Army, but GM decided to shut down the plant when the economy turned sour.
“That changed the trajectory of my life,” she said. So when her original recruiter reached out to her again, she took the opportunity.
“I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask questions and see what options were available,” she said. “This time around, it wasn’t necessarily the short-term benefits but the long-term career benefits that enticed me to want to continue to serve.”
Vermont was appealing because of her family roots.
“When I made the decision to move back, it was based on finding a solid career that would support me and future family,” she said. “The Vermont Guard offered everything I was looking for.”
She deployed to Afghanistan with the 86th ICBT (MTN) in 2010 and served on the lead team for the brigade commander’s personal security detail. Their primary mission included daily security convoys around Bagram Airfield and Regional Command-East. Working alongside teams from North Macedonia, they responded to direct and indirect threats to the region. In addition, as just one of two women assigned to the team, she played a key role the region’s female engagement team – crucial in a society that prohibits women from interacting with unfamiliar men.
2010 also served as a personal landmark not just for Crosby but for thousands of service members. That year, Congress passed a law ending the Defense Department’s long-standing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.
“Throughout my professional career, I have always been protective of my personal life, primarily because DADT required me to hide my family,” she said. “Everyone else would talk about their loved ones and how much they missed them, but I would redirect and stay reserved, keeping a very small circle of trusted friends. I am grateful for leaders and mentors who helped me make it to 2010 and celebrated with my now-wife and I when it was repealed.”
Crosby’s served in several positions since 2010, including battalion assistant supply NCO, unit supply NCO, brigade transportation NCO, and the Logistics Directorate’s senior enlisted adviser. However, an assignment as first sergeant gave Crosby the strongest sense of calling. Based on the BSB’s logistics-related military occupational specialties, Crosby said she felt she was a good fit for the unit.
“I found a connection with a deeper personal purpose to serve Soldiers, their families, and the community around our installations,” she said. “As a logistician by trade, the BSB has always been near and dear to my heart. They’re extremely talented.”
Crosby advises Soldiers who want to make a career in the Guard to look for opportunities that might scare them a little.
“Be open and objective to opportunities outside your comfort zone,” she said. “This will open the door to many experiences, and you’ll gain critical skills and knowledge that you otherwise would never be exposed to. Know the organization and continue to grow professionally and personally. Because this is a small state, your experience will make you competitive, and having objectives can lead you toward your career goals.”