By Barbara Wilson
Joint Force Headquarters - Illinois National Guard
SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS – Illinois Adjutant General Brig. Gen. Richard Neely has named Command Sgt. Maj. Dena Ballowe of Litchfield, Illinois to serve in the most senior enlisted position in the Illinois National Guard as the Senior Enlisted Leader effective July 1, the first woman to serve in the position.
“I have the utmost confidence in Command Sergeant Major Ballowe’s leadership,” said Neely. “She has excelled as a Soldier in the Illinois National Guard throughout her career and I know she will excel in this position.”
In the position, Ballowe, who enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard in 1991, will work with both Command Sgt. Maj. Sean Carney, the Senior Enlisted Leader for the Illinois Army National Guard and Command Chief Master Sgt. Jimmie Flinn, the Command Chief Master Sergeant of the Illinois Air National Guard, to “help change and improve upon guidance directly affecting enlisted members of the Illinois National Guard.”
“The Adjutant General’s vision for the position is to provide guidance to him on the training, the welfare and well-being, and the processes and procedures that directly impact the enlisted members of the Illinois National Guard – both Army and Air Guard,” Ballowe said. “As the Senior Enlisted Leader, I will be going from a tactical position and direct involvement with troops to a strategic-level position.”
Although the position is not new to the Illinois National Guard, the position has been vacant for several years. Ballowe said the new job, while seemingly overwhelming at times, is a phenomenal opportunity to assist in shaping and influencing the future of the enlisted corps in Illinois National Guard”.
“This position will broaden my scope” she said. “While I can’t imagine not being with Soldiers, I will be able to help influence and guide policy for the entire Illinois National Guard. I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to help General Neely make the best decisions for our enlisted members.”
In selecting the Senior Enlisted Leader, General Neely provided a board of officers his criteria, which he said candidates should meet in order to be considered. He wanted a highly successful senior NCO that has served as command sergeant major or a command chief. He wanted someone with multiple deployments and who has a record of achievement and someone who has excellent physical training scores. He also wanted someone who can help represent the rich diversity of the Illinois National Guard.
“With Command Sgt. Maj. Ballowe, we got all of those traits,” Neely said. He recognized that it will be difficult for the senior leaders in the Illinois Army National Guard to find someone to fill Command Sgt. Maj. Ballowe’s boots as she leaves her unit, however she is needed at the next level.”
Ballowe said watching Operation Desert Storm unfold on national television heightened her desire to serve in the military. She enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard as a logistical specialist, serving with the 3637th Maintenance Company. She rose through the maintenance company ranks to sergeant first class, serving as a platoon sergeant.
In 2005, Ballowe was selected as first sergeant and hit the ground running.
“I had one drill as the unit’s first sergeant, before we left to assist with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina” she said. “Then we were notified we had to transform the unit into a support maintenance company and recruit and fill the company with the positions we needed. And we also began our road to war training.”
Once Ballowe returned from the Iraq deployment, she moved into financial services at Joint Forces Headquarters.
In 2012, Ballowe began taking distance learning courses through the Sergeants Major Academy, and at the same time completing classes for an associate’s degree in real estate. Typically a two-year distance learning course, Ballowe completed the Sergeants Major Academy course work in one and one-half years, graduating in 2013, and again began gearing up for another deployment – this time to Kuwait with the 108th Sustainment Brigade.
In 2016, Ballowe was promoted to Sergeant Major, Support Operations, 108th Sustainment Brigade, followed by a selection in May, 2017 as Command Sergeant Major, 232nd Combat Service Support Battalion, overseeing 1,100 Soldiers.
In Sept. 2018, Ballowe was selected to become the Command Sergeant Major, 6th Battalion, 54th Security Forces Assistance Brigade (SFAB), at Rock Island Arsenal, Rock Island, Illinois.
“There are six SFABs in the U.S. Army, five are in the active-duty component,” she said. “The sixth is a National Guard unit, with elements amongst six states. The logistics element is in the Illinois National Guard. The position has been very challenging, but eye opening.”
Ballowe attributes the challenges to working with other elements in each of the other states making up the SFAB.
While Ballowe is the first woman selected to serve in the three-year appointed position as Senior Enlisted Leader, she strives to be a strong influence and mentor all members of the Illinois National Guard can look to for encouragement. However, Ballowe does offer a piece of advice to female Soldiers.
“I’m thankful females have opportunities to serve in all positions,” said Ballowe. “It’s been too long coming. I would tell female troops that if I can do it, so can they. They can do it but they have to hang in the fight. Lead the way, but don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
“I look forward to serving as the Senior Enlisted Leader because I have the opportunity to affect positive change in the Illinois National Guard.”