Choosing greatness more than one weekend a month

By Sgt. Michael Crawford | 354th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment | March 14, 2016

March 11, 2016 — FORT DIX, N.J. – The U.S. Army Reserve requires Soldiers to serve as little as one weekend a month, two weeks a year. But great leaders don’t come about from part time effort.

Staff Sgt. Jason Leabo, a wheeled vehicle mechanic for the 309th Transportation Detachment based in Panama City, Fla., has a long military history. After serving 11 years in the U.S. Air Force – three of those years spent as a ground combat school instructor – Leabo says the last six years in the Army Reserve has been his greatest challenge yet.

“We’re there to fill in wherever we’re needed,” said Leabo, a native of Panama City, Fla. “You have to produce active duty results with limited time with Soldiers, so you can’t just make good decisions sometimes. You have to try to make good decisions all the time.”

Those decisions resonate with his younger Soldiers.
“The amount of effort he’s put in to preparing for us to come down here is unreal,” said Sgt. James DiStano, who served for five years with the 7th Special Forces Group. “It’s almost like he had a full-time job doing it.”

But Leabo doesn’t have a full-time job preparing for annual training. In fact, Leabo’s full time job requires a great deal of his time.

“Right now, I’m a farmer,” Leabo said. “There’s a lot of negotiating. It’s very humbling; you’ve got to ask for help a lot. You’ve got to work with your neighbors. If there are barriers you’ve got to be able to cross those barriers.”

Leabo has been around – Afghanistan, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia – and has learned a lot about people. In his role as non-commissioned officer in charge at Combat Support Training Exercise 2016, Leabo’s people skills come in to play as he negotiates alongside his commander during key leader engagements.

“I got to see a lot of different cultures, speak to a lot of different people, unfiltered and unbiased, to get their opinions,” Leabo said. “Respect is the most important thing to people, and typically when there’s a problem, it’s rooted in some kind of respect, whether it’s their land, their people or their belief system. By knocking down those walls and getting to the root issues, you’re able to build bridges much faster.”

Leabo’s varied experiences have helped from a management perspective as well.

“He’s had all kinds of jobs, and that’s shown in how he’s been able to manage the trailer transfer point,” said Distano, now a wheeled vehicle mechanic with the 309th Trans. Det. “He’s pretty well rounded. He’s done a really good job as far as making us functional and giving us a pretty good defense layout.”

While he loves to hear his training has positively impacted his Soldiers, Leabo doesn’t want to be anyone’s hero.

 “A lot of Soldiers come in and are looking up for someone to be a hero,” Leabo said. “We don’t follow mythical eagles into battle … so the thing is when you close your eyes and you try to imagine what an American hero – your hero – should be, you should see yourself, and you should try to become that person.”

To Leabo, that means wearing the uniform the right way and doing the right thing, even when it’s hard.

“If you can’t find someone to follow, then become that person, and lead the other people down that road,” Leabo said. “Sometimes that’s not always easy, but when you exceed the standard, that’s what makes great leaders.”