FORT BRAGG, N.C. –
Usually, a conversation that begins with “what are you doing at 3 a.m. Friday morning” sounds suspiciously like trouble, but when it is asked by Sgt. 1st Class Kristen Bell, Civil Affairs Team Sergeant, 404th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), it’s advance notice that she is about to add one more accomplishment to an already impressive resume.
This time, it turned out Bell had set her sights on completing the Norwegian Foot March Badge Qualification Ruck March that took place here, March 25, just as Women’s History month was coming to a close.
Bell stumbled on the opportunity almost by accident. An Afghanistan deployment from June 2019 to May 2020 bonded Bell with Soldiers from the 2nd Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB), Fort Bragg, N.C.
With Bell currently working as a MILTECH for the 1st Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Training Brigade, the friendships formed during deployment were easy to maintain, and weekends found the Soldiers running, rucking and just supporting each other in their day to day lives. When Sgt. 1st Class Ross Dumlao called and invited Bell to participate in the Norwegian foot march on March 30, 2021, she responded “it’s a no brainer, LET’S DO IT!” It wasn’t just about challenging herself at that point, it was about supporting her brothers in arms.
In order to qualify for the coveted foreign badge, competitors had to complete the 18.6 mile course in the time allocated to their age/gender, complete the foot march using an issued or military-style ruck weighing a minimum of 25 pounds, complete the event prior to the start of Begin Morning Nautical Twilight (BMNT), and fulfill official duties for a full duty day following the completion of the event.
Bell’s ruck weighed in at 31 pounds, and she completed the march well within her allotted time, ensuring her receipt of the badge.
“Given that I am a female and 35 years old, I had to complete the 18.6 miles in five hours,” explained Bell. “I had a personal goal of four hours and 30 minutes. My official time was 4:38.”
An airborne qualified Soldier and recent graduate of Jump Master school, Bell has some impressive accomplishments to her credit, but here in Women’s History Month, her drive to continually challenge herself seems all the more prescient.
“We all know the Army is a male heavy environment,” commented Bell. “Though women’s empowerment is on the rise, there are some times I feel we don’t have enough representation. I feel that each time I attempt something challenging, I am representing female Soldiers, past and present.
“I appreciate those who have paved the way for me. Now let me further that for my Sister Soldiers.”
One of those sister Soldiers was watching as Bell crossed the finish line.
"Sgt.1st Class Bell told me she was going to be completing the Norwegian foot march two
days before,” explained Sgt. Teresa Gonzalez, 1st Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Training Brigade. “She is always talking about something new to make her military career better. This is exciting, motivating, and it makes you want to get out there and do something similar.”
Turns out there is a lot of inspiration happening over at the 1st Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Training Brigade. Before her middle of the night ruck march inspired Gonzalez, Bell was inspired by another of her Soldiers.
“I don’t think I realized how hard the Foot March would be,” laughs Bell. “Last month I had the opportunity as a Sponsor to ruck with one of my two Soldier’s as she competed in the 353 CACOM Best Warrior Compaction. It was 12 miles with a 35lb ruck. Seeing how hard my Soldier pushed herself, the emotions of just wanting to complete it. I used that to push myself… I could do this; I can push myself in honor of her.”
Bell did end up pushing herself, both emotionally and physically. The march stepped off at 2000 hours (8 p.m.) Thursday, meaning that it would technically be the next day before she was finished.
“The last few miles, I’d say after mile 15, was an emotional roller-coaster,” said Bell. “At first it was positive self-talk ‘you can do this’ or ‘you have overcome other obstacles,’ and so on. Then it became ‘the pain, my feet, I don’t know how much more I can take, WHERE IS THE END?!?’ It seemed with each step it changed from one emotion to another. I was beyond proud of myself for finishing.”
`Gonzalez was beyond proud of her mentor as well.
“She doesn't know this but, when I see her succeed, it motivates me to do better because I know that if she was able to do something, then I can too," enthused Gonzalez.
It seems fitting that Bell would compete to distinguish herself in one more area in a month where we honor female Servicemembers for their accomplishments and the roads they have paved for those serving now.
“I have worn BDUs, ACUs and now OCPs.,” said Bell. “I never thought I would be one of those ‘back when I came in…’ but I find myself telling stories. I envy the female Soldiers now serving in combat arms MOSs. Keep driving on!”
“I love being a Soldier,” she continued. “Becoming an Army Reserve Soldier opened so many doors I didn’t know were possible.”
One of those doors was the 73rd D-Day commemoration, in Normandy France. Bell walked the beaches our troops stormed, visited historical sites, and was able to visualize the World War II battles that took place. Local families entered a raffle for the honor of hosting a Soldier in their home for a meal, and still keeps in contact with the family that she was paired with.
Her experiences living in the memories of the past allowed her to maximize her effectiveness during her deployment where she herself would be part of history.
Bell worked as a Civil Affairs chief in Southeastern Afghanistan in support of the 1st Armored Division, serving on a general officer level staff. She helped lead a U.S. team of female advisors to train, advise, and assist more than 45 female Afghan National Police officers during a series of female searcher training events for Afghan police officers to properly understand physical security procedures and techniques for female voters during the 2019 Afghanistan Presidential Elections. Her efforts helped maintain a safe election for the Afghan people in Southeastern Afghanistan.
Additionally, Sgt. 1st Class Bell helped process and distribute humanitarian goods and services to suffering families impacted by Afghanistan's ongoing struggle to fight terrorism. For her efforts, she was awarded the Bronze Star. Although quiet about her personal accomplishments, she was obviously personally touched by the humanitarian mission.
“During my deployment to Afghanistan, a combined operation of US and Afghan military forces took back the town of Jaghatū, District in Ghazni Province, from Taliban control,” she explained. “Displaced civilians were later identified and in need of aid. I worked and secured Humanitarian Assistance for those families. This was my first ‘real word’ Civil Affairs Operation, and I was taken back by the impact it had on these families.”
When she is not on military orders, Bell serves as a MILTECH for the 1st TB, and is a Human Resource specialist where she prides herself on taking care of Soldiers, ensuring her unit's individual and collective tasks requirements are maintained for mission readiness.
“My military career has given me the opportunity to learn what is needed to support Soldiers even when I am not in a ‘drilling status’,” explained Bell. “I am proud to be Ms. Bell during the week-days and honored to be SFC Bell in the 404th CA BN (A) on the weekends,” she concluded.
Jump Master, Soldier, leader, mentor, humanitarian, inspiration, mother, friend. This is just one of the female Servicemembers that show us what right looks during this month of honor.