By Army Sgt. Antony Lee
International Security Assistance Force Regional Command South
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Jan. 10, 2014 – In early September, during a “meet-and-greet” for a national cartoonists’ visit here, a service member waited in line to see Jeff Keane, a cartoonist who creates the comic strip “The Family Circus.”
The service member approached Army Spc. Jacob Upchurch, a soldier helping to organize the event, and asked if he could meet Keane instead of the other cartoonists on the tour. His mother, who had recently died, used to read the comic to him, he explained.
So Upchurch, who is with 4th Infantry Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, did what he says now was the “normal” thing to do: he made sure the service member met Keane and got to spend even more time with him.
“To me, that’s normal,” said Upchurch, a Princeton, Ky., native.
Upchurch is a plans and operations specialist for the International Security Assistance Force’s Regional Command South, and is serving on his second deployment. He has been stationed at Fort Carson, Colo. – his first duty station – since August 2009.
One of Upchurch’s many jobs is to help in organizing visits from celebrities who come here to meet and entertain deployed service members. He has helped to organize visits from country music star Kellie Pickler, comedian Tommy Davidson and hypnotist Chuck Milligan, among other celebrities.
Upchurch said that “seeing soldiers happy when we get visitors” is one of the things that keeps him motivated.
Army His supervisor, Maj. Tony Noce, said Upchurch is the epitome of what a junior soldier should be like.
“He’s the hardest-working soldier I’ve ever worked with,” Noce said, adding that Upchurch has grown immensely in the past six months, since both have been in Afghanistan. “He could probably organize and execute a tour all by himself if he had to.”
Although he is a specialist, Upchurch has actually been working in a noncommissioned officer role. “He works levels above his pay grade,” Noce said. “Without Upchurch, 70 percent of everything we do wouldn’t be possible. That’s how important he is to the operation.”
During his first deployment, in 2010-2011, Upchurch served in Iraq as an actions and awards clerk and mail clerk. He said he learned important lessons since his first deployment and has applied them during his current deployment, including how to be self-sufficient.
“Although I do let my leadership know about the decisions I make, they have allowed me to make choices on my own as a leader,” he said.
Upchurch, who joined the military in 2009 because of his love of country and because he wanted to serve. “I felt like it was my duty to give back after so many had given,” he said.
Upchurch also runs the “Hero of the Day” program, in which Regional Command South units recommend soldiers who go above and beyond their average duties for recognition. The soldiers are then recognized by the commanding general and division command sergeant major at the headquarters compound.
Upchurch has several other responsibilities, such as setting up video teleconferences and creating information cards of casualties and fallen warriors. Noce likened him to a utility player in baseball – someone who can play several positions.
Upchurch said he works out when he has free time, and that he is enjoying his second deployment. “I think it’s going great. We’ve got a great platoon, and my leadership is excellent,” he said.
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