Saturday, March 1, 2008

Face of Defense: Real Estate Agent Chooses to Serve

(Rizzo's not from Georgia, but thought you might enjoy reading about the path this Real Estate agent chose!)

A little more than two years ago, Juliana Rizzo was a real estate agent living in Long Island, N.Y., with her two children, Angelo and Amanda, when she decided it was time to fulfill her childhood dream.

That dream was to join the United States Army.

"As a little girl, I always wanted to join the Army, because my father and grandfather spent several years in the military and served their country proudly," said Rizzo, a supply specialist in Company E, 3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, Task Force 12, Multinational Division Baghdad.

"I don't know if my father ever deployed, but my grandfather served in the Korean War and Vietnam," she said. "They've both become very successful (in jobs outside the military), but they started their education in the Army."

Rizzo, the daughter of an airplane mechanic and granddaughter of a NASA radio communications transmitter, also has achieved plenty of her own success in the short time she's been in the military.

"When (Rizzo) arrived to unit, only three days after the unit was established, she was a private fresh out of advanced individual training and she had a hip problem that really bothered her," said Army 1st Sgt. Foy Dix, of Company E. "I had a talk with her and told her that being in the Army means sometimes you have to overcome pain. Within 60 days, she nearly scored (the maximum) 300 points on her physical fitness test."

In addition to overcoming physical adversity, the new private also had to learn her job quickly and with little supervision.

"Her supply sergeant went to the basic noncommissioned officer course while the unit was still being set up, so she had to set up the unit supply office by herself," said Dix, a native of Ventura, Calif. "She also helped run a company that had no commander -- just a first sergeant and three flight lieutenants."

Even though her leaders said they already were impressed by her work ethic and determination in keeping track of more than $3.5 million worth of unit equipment, Rizzo's most attention-grabbing performance was yet to come.

"When we were in (Hohenfels, Germany) going through 'Iron Warrior' training, she went up to the Iraqi role players and started talking to them in their own language," said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Chad Cuomo, 3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, a native of Troy, N.Y. "Nobody knew that she spoke Arabic, and it especially shocked the role players; she was definitely the hero of the battle out there."

"I learned Arabic in my Long Island neighborhood, and I pretty much taught myself a lot of the (words and phrases) I didn't know," Rizzo said. "I'm not very fluent in Arabic, but I do know enough to communicate. I also speak Spanish, and I know some phrases in Hindu."

Rizzo does a lot more than just handle unit supplies; she operates the company arms room, does public affairs for Company E, and she takes time to listen to some of the issues her fellow soldiers are having, Dix said.

She made such a strong impression throughout the battalion that she was sent to the Warrior Leadership Course as a private first class, Cuomo said. Soldiers usually attend the course at the rank of specialist or sergeant.

"I went down and talked with the WLC sergeant major two days after the course started, and I asked him, 'If I had a high-speed private first class, would you take that person?'" he said. "The course was a little rough for her, because she was the only private first class there, but she made it through and graduated in the top 17 percent of her class."

Rizzo was promoted to specialist shortly after arriving in Iraq and went to the sergeant's promotion board four months later. She received 150 points in the promotion board, and was recently laterally promoted to corporal. She continues to set the standard and then to exceed that standard, Dix said.

"I just try to give 100 percent in everything I do," Rizzo said, "and I always try to do above what is expected of me."

The soon-to-be sergeant is taking online classes toward a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. She said she hopes to one day be an Army career counselor or an Arabic linguist.

Dix said he won't be surprised if Rizzo is selected to be a staff sergeant by the end of her deployment.

"If she continues to do what she's doing know, I see her being a sergeant promotable before we leave Iraq," Dix said. "I know I couldn't do as much she does and continue to smile. I have no doubt that if I had five of her, I could run an entire platoon."

Author Army Sgt. Brandon Little serves with Task Force 12 Public Affairs in Multinational Division Baghdad.

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