by Gloria Montgomery, Fort Hood Warrior Transition Brigade Public Affairs
Life in the Army for Warrior Transition Brigade (WTB) cadre member, Staff Sgt. Roger Pates has always been about the Abrams. It didn’t matter if it was a 60-ton or a 70-ton tank, he just wanted to be its master.
On August 1, surrounded by more than 400 warriors from his former unit –the 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division– the master gunner achieved the pinnacle of his Army career: knighthood and membership into the prestigious Order of St. George.
Lt. Col. Arthur Sellers, commander, “knighted” the kneeling Pates with two saber taps on the shoulders and the presentation of the order’s black medallion that is given to deserving junior officers and enlisted tankers and cavalrymen who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and technical competence.
The order, established by the United States Armor Association in 1986, recognizes the very best tankers and cavalrymen among its members. Its origins date back to a twelfth century Italian legend that depicts St. George slaying a dragon in exchange for the community embracing Christianity.
For Pates, who now works with brigade operations, the opportunity to get knighted was the driving force behind his decision to enlist and go “armor” three months after his 1993 high school graduation.
“I just thought that being knighted was the coolest thing I had ever heard about,” said the Kansas native, who first learned about the order from an Army friend. “Ever since I was a kid, too, I wanted to drive tanks, so this just made sense to me.”
Being knighted also was the fifth and final career goal Pates had set for himself when he enlisted.
“I wanted to make rank, be a tank commander, make master gunner, become a knight, and..,” said Pates, hesitating a bit, “Go to war.”
In 2003 Pates got his wish for war when his unit was one of the first to invade Iraq.
“I was a little nervous at first because I’m in a bomb on wheels,” the 37-year-old Pates said, “but it was also pretty awesome because I’m in a practically indestructible war machine.”
Pates credits Army training with preparing him for the fight.
“It was exactly like our Army training, only this time it was for real,” said Pates, who deployed three times to Iraq. “There were real bullets firing at real people, and real people firing back. It was a very surreal experience.”When his third deployment ended, Pates had achieved all his goals except knighthood.
Lt. Col Sellers nominated Pates for his demonstrated tactical and technical competence as an armored leader and for his contributions to the mounted force.
“He had numerous dismount and vehicle kills, and is one of the few Americans with a confirmed kill of a T-34 tank,” wrote Sellers. Sellers specifically cited Pates heroism during the invasion of Iraq when, in the absence of a tank commander, Pates took over the tank and is credited with fighting in seven major battles: As-Samawwah, Al-Hillah, Al-Qut, Al-Mossayib, Karbala Gap, Baghdad Airport and Baghdad.
“He’s done some amazing things within the armor community throughout his Army career,” said Capt. Christopher Mitchell, Pates’ former company commander. “As my master gunner, he built the company’s gunnery training plan from scratch and oversaw the training. He worked his butt off to get everyone qualified. He’s very deserving of this award.”
Staff Sgt. Roger Pates is one of hundreds of junior and senior enlisted personnel who volunteer for assignment as cadre members within Warrior Transition Units (WTUs) around the country. Cadre come from every aspect of Army life, from human resource to finance specialists to combat medic to chaplain’s assistant, and they are considered the backbone of WTUs. Pates serves as the WTB’s non-commissioned officer for operations, in charge of writing operation orders. The armorman was injured during the invasion of Iraq, and he joined the Fort Hood WTB cadre in April 2013.
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