DIXON — Since he signed up for the Army National Guard, Johnny O’Brien had his sights set on this day.
In front of family, friends and colleagues Wednesday at the Dixon Armory, where his service started 17 years ago, the Amboy native was promoted to first sergeant of company recruiting for the Army National Guard.
Making the day even more special, his 4-year-old daughter, Samantha Nauman, pinned the stripes on O’Brien’s uniform, slapping the Velcroed stripes to his chest and bringing his dream to fruition.
“For her to see this meant the world to me,” said O’Brien, who will deploy to Afghanistan in February for the first time. “It was great to have all my family and friends here to see it.”
Sgt. Maj. Greg Dooley referred to the first sergeant position as the toughest in all of the Army and a position many strive to get.
A first sergeant is in charge of recruiting and training every soldier. As O’Brien put it, “their well-being is in my hands.”
“When you think of first sergeants, you think of mean guys,” Dooley said. “He has a way of showing it, so he gets what he expects out of them. Only the most patient, resilient and hard-working people get this promotion. He’s in an elite group of guys. Most people retire as a sergeant first class, which is one grade down.”
O’Brien grew up in Amboy and joined the National Guard in 1995. He started recruiting just before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks 11 years ago. He became a sergeant first class about 7 1/2 years ago, and has been striving for that promotion to first sergeant ever since.
“I’m very proud of him,” said his mom, Joyce O’Brien. “He’s been talking about a promotion for the last 6 or 7 years, so this is a very huge day.”
O’Brien served as an interim first sergeant of his company when the previous first sergeant was deployed to Afghanistan. The job he did while filling in won him the promotion, Dooley said.
Colleagues from all over the state drove to Dixon to join O’Brien. Among his family members were his father, Mike, his mother, siblings and aunts.
As his colleagues formed a line to congratulate him, those with a higher ranking gave a friendly punch at his newly pinned stripes.
“That’s an old tradition,” O’Brien said with a laugh.
“I’m just so thankful for all of those who drove up here to be with me. This was a special day.”