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In a ceremony steeped in military tradition, Command Sgt. Maj. Dena Ballowe of Carlinville relinquished responsibility as the Illinois National Guard Command Senior Enlisted Leader (CSEL) to Command Sgt. Maj. Kehinde Salami of Homewood, Sept. 8, at the Illinois Military Academy, Camp Lincoln, Springfield.
“This transition of responsibility is really significant,” said Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the Adjutant General of Illinois and Commander of the Illinois National Guard. “The Command Senior Enlisted Leader position is extremely unique and has only been used in the last four years that Command Sergeant Major Ballowe has been in the position in Illinois.”
Neely thanked Ballowe for her service and welcomed Salami as the Illinois National Guard’s Senior Enlisted Leader.
“Command Sergeant Major Ballowe, thank you for the amazing work you have done over the years. Thank you for not just being my senior enlisted leader but also a partner in running the state,” Neely said. “A special thank you to Command Sergeant Major Salami for stepping up to this position. I know the amazing record you have as a professional and a noncommissioned officer working through each level of command. I’m looking forward to working with you.”
Neely said Ballowe has worked hard to develop the position.
“Dena has had a lot to do with how this position has developed nationally,” Neely said. “We’re engaging at both the national and international level. It is important the Command Sergeant Major is in lockstep with me throughout the process. We were able to focus on key leadership and key legislative initiatives nationally.”
Neely said Ballowe stepped up in Illinois and nationally to develop policy.
“We have spent a lot of time with the Soldiers and Airmen especially during domestic operations,” Neely said. “Each of those events is really important to understand what troops had and what the challenges are on the ground.”
Neely said when Ballowe was selected in 2019, she told him she wasn’t sure if she was the right person for the position.
“When I asked her to step into the position, her first inclination was she may not be the right person for the job,” he said. “She was absolutely the right person. She’s quick to give others credit, quick to step out of the limelight and quick to protect and take care of the Soldiers and Airmen no matter the issue.”
Salami, who was born in Lagos, Nigeria, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1993 as a medical laboratory technician, serving with the 801st Combat Support Hospital, a reserve unit at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. He served with the 801st until joining the Illinois Army National Guard in 2008.
Salami has served in a variety of assignments including Command Sergeant Major of the 108th Multi-Medical Battalion and most recently Command Sergeant Major of the 108th Sustainment Brigade. He deployed to Egypt from 2012 to 2013 in support of the Multinational Force and Observer mission, serving as the first sergeant of the 708th Ground Ambulance Medical Company. Salami is retired from the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Ballowe assumed duties as the CSEL on July 1, 2019. She enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1991 as a material control and accounting specialist. She has held multiple leadership positions throughout her career including Command Sergeant Major of the 232nd Combat Service Support Battalion and Command Sergeant Major of 6th Battalion, 54th Security Forces Assistance Brigade.
Ballowe will retire in October after serving more than 32 years in the Illinois Army National Guard.
“It was a great honor and privilege to serve as the Command Senior Enlisted Leader,” Ballowe said. “It was a new position, so we were treading new ground, but our members demonstrated time and time again a tremendous amount of professionalism.”
Ballowe said she was a little intimidated when she first assumed her duties.
“When you’re a battalion or brigade Command Sergeant Major, you take the Standard Operating Procedures from the last person and improve on it,” she said. “When you’re the first, and you have to figure it out on your own. It can be a little daunting.”
Ballowe thanked fellow service members for their unwavering support.
“I can’t begin to describe the tremendous amount of support I’ve received both from the Army and Air Guard members,” she said. “It has been a great honor working to develop the position. I truly enjoyed every minute.”
Ballowe also thanked Neely for the opportunity to serve in the position.
“Sir, I appreciate the opportunity you gave me,” she said. “The battle buddy-wingman team has been amazing. From our world travels, the TAG conferences, from floods to COVID, civil unrest, insurgency on the Capitol, the southwest border mission, every bit of it – it may not have been the brightest time in our country but the way the Illinois National Guard responded to it was always a shining moment.”
Ballowe also thanked husband, Illinois Air National Guard Master Sgt. Donald Ballowe, for his support throughout her career.
“The absolute best battle buddy – wingman team I could ever ask for is the love and support of my husband Donnie. I couldn’t have done it without you and it means more than I ever tell you,” she said.
As Ballowe prepares for her next chapter, she said she will miss the job and most importantly the people.
“I will miss being in this amazing job,” she said. “I will miss being in the midst of our amazing members and all they accomplish daily. I will miss watching the plan go from the plan to execution because it’s a beautiful thing and they do it amazingly. I will miss working with all our partners. This has truly been the highlight of my career. I only hope I have represented all of you in the most exemplary manner that you wholeheartedly deserve.”
Ballowe congratulated Salami on his new position.
“I know the Illinois National Guard is in good hands moving forward and I know you will take it to the next level,” she said.
Salami congratulated Ballowe on her service in the Illinois National Guard.
“Command Sergeant Major Ballowe thank you for being a trailblazer and I look forward to building on the foundation you’ve laid,” he said. “I’ve spoken with some of the other states’ Command Senior Enlisted Leaders around the nation and they have had nothing but good things to say about you.”
Salami spoke briefly about his own 30-year career.
“I enlisted as a private E-1 with no idea of what was ahead,” he said. “Look at me now. Standing in front of you as the Illinois National Guard’s second Command Senior Enlisted Leader.”
Salami said it was easy for him to live by the Army’s values when he enlisted in 1993, thanks in part to his upbringing.
“My parents raised me with loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage,” he said. “I look forward to the challenges ahead and am determined to fulfill the duties of this position without any reservations.”
Salami thanked his wife, Juanita, and his family for their unwavering support throughout his career.
“I could not have had this amazing career without your support,” he said.