Alaska Native First Federally
Recognized Female Sergeant Major
October 17, 2009
Camp Denali, Alaska - Military life is difficult; it's
challenging and sometimes, it's just downright hard. Soldiers
make sacrifices everyday to serve in the military and have the
privilege of wearing the uniform.
For one Soldier of the Alaska Army National Guard, those sacrifices
and challenges have paid off. Lillian Aukongak, an Inupiaq Alaska
Native, is the first female Alaska Native to be federally recognized
as a sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank in the Army, in
the Alaska Army National Guard. She was pinned Oct. 1 in a promotion
ceremony held at the Alaska National Guard Armory.
Sgt. Maj. Lillian Aukongak's
daughters, Sasha and Holly change her shoulder boards to the
rank of sergeant major Oct. 1 at her promotion ceremony that
was held at the Alaska National Guard Armory. Lillian Aukongak,
an Inupiaq Alaska Native, is the first female Alaska Native to
be federally recognized as a sergeant major, the highest enlisted
rank in the Army, in the Alaska Army National Guard.
Photo by Capt. Guy Hayes, DMVA PAO
"Right now I'm still kind of in disbelief," Aukongak
said. "It's kind of hard for me to grasp that I'd be the
first female Alaska Native in the Alaska Army National Guard
to be federally recognized as a sergeant major. To me it's a
privilege and a very humbling experience."
Challenges, however, are nothing new to Aukongak. She faced challenges
at a young age. At six-years-old, she was orphaned and entered
into the foster care system where she and her seven sisters and
two brothers were split up and sent to separate homes. Although
Aukongak, the second to youngest of the girls, was paired up
with her youngest sister, she continued to look to her older
sisters for guidance.
"Everyone has challenges and not everyone goes through what
I went through," said Aukongak, who calls Golovin and White
Mountain home but was born in Nome. "But that didn't stop
me from pursuing my goals and following my dreams. I've always
had very positive sisters who kind of mothered me; because I
lost my parents at such a young age, I really looked up to them
and admired them from a distance."
Even at such a young age, her older sisters Emily, Colleen and
Nina always encouraged Aukongak to get her education.
"When you're a child, I don't think anyone really wants
to go to school," Aukongak joked. "But as I entered
my late teens, I decided I really wanted to pursue a civilian
education; I really wanted to earn a college degree."
When Aukongak was 18 years old, she decided that she needed to
make a change in her life. She made a decision that would begin
her journey to success and enlisted in the Alaska Army National
Guard in Nome on Oct. 14, 1986.
Starting out as a radio operator for 1/297th Infantry (Scout)
Battalion, Aukongak held several different jobs and moved up
the ranks quickly. She joined the Active Guard Reserve program
in 1991, but the idea of earning a college degree stayed at the
front of her mind. Aukongak began taking college courses while
working full-time and received her Bachelor's degree in Human
Services in 2007.
Aukongak, believes that education played a key role in her success
and encourages Soldiers to take advantage of all the educational
opportunities the Alaska Army National Guard has to offer.
"Attend your military education schools to progress in your
career field," Aukongak said. "I encourage Soldiers
to take advantage of what's offered to them and to do their best."
Twenty three years into her career, the new sergeant major challenges
Soldiers to take control of their careers and see how far they
can make it.
"Always have the right attitude because it's so easy to
get complacent in your jobs," Aukongak warned. "Anyone
can do just about anything they want in their career if he or
she works hard enough. You can't succeed by yourself though.
I had a very solid support; my sisters, my church family and
pastor and the people from my past have always encouraged me."
Aukongak is aware that because of her ethnicity and accomplishments
she is a role model for more than one reason, but insists that
everyone can be a mentor and inspirational example.
"I believe that when you wear the uniform, regardless of
your rank or background, you are a role model," Aukongak
said. "You have Soldiers who admire you from a distance,
whether you acknowledge it or not. The higher grade you make,
the more you put yourself in a position to be a mentor and role
model; I call it being admired from a distance.
"I personally have a lot of people whom I've admired from
a distance," Aukongak added. "Command Sgt. Maj. Pamela
Harrington and Sergeants Maj. Jane Dennis and Kerry Averett are
just a few people I've admired from a distance."
"I think Sgt. Maj. Aukongak's accomplishment is a great
triumph and success story," said State Command Sgt. Maj.
Gordon Choate, Alaska Army National Guard. "She is a leader
who our Soldiers can look up to, and she epitomizes the truth
that Soldiers who live the Army Values can achieve the highest
ranks through leadership and hard work."
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