UCS alumni share experiences in Army, moving up the ranks

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published May 31, 2021






SHELBY TOWNSHIP/UTICA/STERLING HEIGHTS — Sgt. Maj. Robert W. Ferguson II joined the Army in August 1996 as a combat engineer just after graduating from Utica High School.

The Sterling Heights native said he has had many memorable experiences in his Army career, and tied to each experience is a person. He remembers one in particular during his early training.

“My first month after basic training, I was able to go to Panama as part of ‘Jungle School.’ While that was tough, basic training prepared me for it, and I was able to keep up, for the most part, with my unit. That experience set the foundation for other hard training events and deployments for me. If I could get through jungle school, I could get through a lot more. 

“It was guys like Jameek Ayers, Jerry Alejandre, and Keo Santhavisouk, Rahman Akinkoulie and Shane Lorenzen that helped push me. They brought me on the team and my leaders: Sgt. Terry Harp and Staff Sgt. Brugger. I still talk to and visit these guys I served with over 20 years ago. They are all out of the Army now, retired, or having served in the Reserves or National Guard for a bit, but it’s an extended family. They are the reason I reenlisted — having people like that to your left and right made me want to stay in the Army as long as I could, and do as much as I can,” he said via email.

He said Sgt. 1st Class Larry Morgan was his platoon sergeant when he was stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia. 

“He would hold leader development sessions with me and others during his personal time (and ours of course). He put a lot on my plate, but he also put me in a squad leader position (leading a group of 8-10 soldiers) ahead of my peers. My three years ‘under his wing’ turned into some of the most rewarding development I’ve had,” he said.

He said he joined because he had always heard good things about the military and the Army. He said the Army helped him grow as a person.

“As much as I want to say that being a soldier is what I always wanted to be, it’s more like I always held the military in high regard, and I felt it was the best option for me at the time,” he said.

During his time in the Army, he has had many different duties, including as a sapper. He said he used to spend a lot of time training in the field in reconnaissance, explosives, obstacles and hasty construction.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned in the Army is that while our core mission is to fight and win wars, we are a ‘people business.’ I joined the Army for myriad reasons, but I’ve stayed in the Army because of the people. Even when I had some bad days, I’ve always been surrounded by great people. So I continue to serve, and do my best to take care of people the way people took care of me,” he said.

While in the Army he has received many forms of recognition including the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with three oak-leaf clusters, Army Commendation Medal with four oak-leaf clusters, Army Achievement Medal with 10 oak-leaf clusters, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Combat Action Badge, Sapper Tab, Driver’s Badge for wheeled vehicles, and the German Armed Forces Fitness Proficiency Badge. He is a member of the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club and a recipient of the Bronze Order of the de Fleury Medal.

This month, the Army kicked off its second annual nationwide hiring campaign, “Army National Hiring Days,” with the goal of hiring 1,700 new soldiers during the five-week event May 10-June 14. Ferguson said that he thinks others should join the Army because they will learn a lot about themselves and other people. 

“Everyone in the Army, from private to general, is a leader, and the leadership experiences you will gain will benefit you in any other profession, and in your personal life. Don’t be discouraged about the difficulties that are part of military service; embrace the challenges as they come, and you’ll surprise yourself,” he said.

Master Sgt. Christopher D. Stanifer, a senior military science instructor for the University of South Florida, Army ROTC, said joining the Army is a way for young people to learn how to be a part of a team. A Shelby Township native and Eisenhower High School graduate, Stanifer said the Army provides soldiers with the opportunity to represent the United States of America around the world, and it entrusts them to do things that would never be possible in other professions. 

He said the Army has given him the opportunity to learn how to take a group of individual soldiers from all over the United States and build a highly functioning, cohesive team of professionals. 

“I have taken dozens of courses to be certified in various aspects of my job, but learning how to develop a team and put soldiers first has been the most important thing I have learned,” Stanifer said via email.

“I originally went to the recruiting center on Sept. 17, 2001. I was certain that we would be engaging in some level of armed conflict after the 9/11 attacks, and I wanted to serve my country. I was also interested in earning college benefits and establishing a better resume for future employment, but I was mostly interested in serving my country after the 9/11 attacks,” he said.

People might weigh the pay, medical benefits, tuition assistance, housing assistance, worldwide travel and matching retirement funds when considering the Army, but for him, the people he serves with are the main factor in his service.

“To me, the biggest benefit is working with other people who are willing to serve, get up each day with a desire to excel, and have no fear of challenges,” Stanifer said.

Ferguson said he is proud to serve and to be from Sterling Heights.

“I'd like to thank the city of Sterling Heights for taking time for me, and supporting the troops. I truly love every chance I get to come back home. No matter where I live, I will always cheer for the Red Wings, Lions, Pistons and Tigers. I am proud to represent Michigan everywhere I go and show people around the world that I’m from the Mitten State, and I point out where I am from on the palm of my right hand,” he said.

To learn more about career and educational opportunities with Army ROTC, visit www.goarmy.com/rotc.html.