1st Sgt. Carrie Kavanaugh and Maj. Zachary Abrams
Interview By Sgt. 1st Class Darleen G. Adkins, Public Affairs NCO 104th Division (LT)
They came together as a team in June of 2018 and 1st Sgt. Carrie Kavanaugh and Maj. Zachary Abrams have been a collaborative, complementary force ever since. Although their paths have been divergent on their way to this position, their foundations and ideologies are remarkably similar.
Born in Oxford, Nebraska and growing up in Beaver City, Kavanaugh lived in a city of just over 600, graduating High School with a tri-county combined class of 47, while Abrams was born and raised in the “big city” of Tucson, Arizona and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Both Soldiers however, had family members that went before them in military service, with Kavanaugh loving the military from a young age and Abrams deciding while he was in high school to follow in his brother’s footsteps.
“Resilience and reliance are things I have found to be important. Resilience is a bit more within yourself. Resilience is drinking water, going to bed on time, taking care of yourself, seeking help when needed, patience. It is the get back up and keep trying mentality.“Reliance is maybe even more challenging if I am using the term right. It takes trust and vulnerability to rely on leaders, subordinates, team mates but without sharing the load with others, things are much harder to do. I could not do my job without the help of my HHC team and many others.”— 1st Sgt. Carrie Kavanaugh
“I loved this American war trivia game as a kid,” explained Kavanaugh. “Especially the Vietnam stuff. I memorized most of the cards yet now I couldn’t answer many of the questions. I loved watching “Tour of Duty” and “Platoon” growing up and was fascinated by sneaking through the jungle, looking for bad guys.”
Abram’s path to the military began slightly later, and he started looking seriously at the possibilities the winter of his junior year in high school.
“My older brother enlisted in the Marines which made the military a consideration for me,” Abrams remembered. “His best friend from high school attended West Point and would come to our house and share stories about his time there.”
With their legacies intact; Kavanaugh’s father having served 26 years in the Nebraska National Guard as a tanker and Abram’s brother still serving as a Public Affairs Officer at Marine Corps Base, Hawaii, the pair headed off to military training, approximately 10 years apart.
Kavanaugh knew that the military was a way for her to accomplish her goals. “My family did not have a lot of money and I knew I needed to figure out a path for my education,” she explained. “ My family did not suggest I join. My Dad always thought he’d share Army stories with his son but it ended up being me,” she laughed.
Basic training for Kavanaugh began August 1997, at Fort Jackson, South Carolina where she quickly found a battle buddy to help her through the challenges.
“I made a great friend, BeeJay Walls in basic,” Kavanaugh said. “She wasn’t in my platoon but at the end of the day we would try to catch up with each other. She was very supportive of me when I was struggling through the M16 qualification. We ended up both going to Ft. Lee for AIT together and just became great friends. I wasn’t really that close with many of the other females in my platoon so it was nice to have her. We would talk about home and everything else.”
By contrast, when Abrams left for West Point in June, 2006, his strength through challenge was his faith.
“Prayer and reciting Bible verses I had previously memorized helped me persevere through difficult times,” explained Abrams. “ I tried to take my time at West Point one day at a time.”
Although different in his approach, Abrams was similar in Kavanaugh with his desire to use his Army benefits for school.
“My primary motivation to join the military was to attend a good engineering school, obtain a bachelor’s degree debt-free, and be personally challenged by the demands of military life,” admitted Abrams. “I saw the military as an honorable profession.”
Both leaders credit their parents for influencing their decisions and being supportive.
“My mom signed me away to the Army Sep 20 1996, a couple months before I turned 18,” said Kavanaugh. “I heard someone ask her why she let me join and she said something like she knew I’d just do it once I turned 18 anyway. She has always supported me.”
Likewise, Abrams found his father a strong, supportive role model.
“My biggest role model was my dad,” said Abrams. “He is a man of integrity and has a strong work ethic. I saw him put God first in his life while leading our family well. He is currently retired after serving in school administration for 34 years. He was my principal from 7th to 12th grade.”
Even with Kavanaugh joining the Army Reserve and Abram joining the active Army, the two leaders still continued to distinguish themselves from their peers and sought opportunities to excel.
Originally selecting an occupational specialty in the Quartermaster branch to expedite her entry into the force, Kavanaugh quickly realized her desire to do more than just reap school benefits and when the opportunity to join the Medical Corps arose, she took it.
“When I joined the Reserve in McCook, Nebraska I just picked whatever was available,” explained Kavannaugh “… I could get into this school sooner and I think it was a little shorter. I didn’t really care at that time about the job itself, just the school benefits. When I moved to Washington in 1999 and needed to find a new unit I pursued the 7229th Medical Support Unit because I wanted to go to dental hygiene school.”
“I really liked my time in the dental unit, getting to go on MEDRETEs and practice my skills and advance skills of extracting teeth,” Kavanaugh continued. “I loved the opportunity to travel to new and different places and see other parts of the world. I feel lucky to have the life I do, not because as an American I have a better life and easier life, but I feel more fortunate to freely travel the world generally speaking. The people in other countries I have visited don’t have the freedom, financially or otherwise to explore the world.”
Abrams commissioned as an Engineer officer and attended the Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC) and Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, which, despite the nickname “Lost in the Wood” was a welcome reprieve to the young officer.
“Compared to West Point this felt like a paid vacation,” enthused Abrams. “My friends and I used this time to explore the area and spent a lot of time with some of the locals in Rolla, Missouri. I graduated number three in my class and attempted to walk onto Sapper School as one of five officers with walk-on slots. Unfortunately for me they only accepted the top two.”
With early Engineer training at the National Training Center, time on deployment to Afghanistan and an internship with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers all on his resume, Abrams considers his time in Kandahar Province as career defining.
“Two men in my platoon were severely wounded during our operations and it is only by God’s grace that I am alive today,” said Abrams. “my deployment to Afghanistan including surviving a Taliban ambush in December 2011 and completing a grueling four-day mission in May 2012.”
From overseas assignments to CONUs duty stations, the leaders have variety in the backgrounds, and much like their varied approaches to challenges, Kavanaugh and Abrams have differing hobbies outside the military.
“Climbing, hiking, backpacking, trail running afford me a chance to physically and mentally push myself,” shared Kavanaugh. “ A place for me to see the beauty of nature. A place to form friendships. To be humbled and to also feel like a badass and very lucky. I have climbed Rainier 9 times? 4 routes. And, many peaks in the Cascades, Wyoming, Ecuador, Peru and Nepal. Summiting Ama Dablam in Nepal in 2017 on my second attempt has been my biggest climbing achievement. Losing my mentor and friend on the same mountain in 2018 makes it bittersweet. We attempted in 2015 together, both of us turning back. I hope to have the opportunity to climb it again someday and take his ashes there if that is what his family decides.”
Abrams doesn’t consider himself to have traditionally viewed hobbies, but does take time to recenter himself in more individual ways.
“I have a wonderful wife and two healthy children which keeps me busy.” explained Abrams. “I’ve read through the whole Bible 10 times. If I die of old age in my 80s I’m hoping to get through it 50 more times.” He wasn’t sure it counted as a hobby, but does consider his time spent reading, studying, and memorizing the Bible as a passion.
FInding the balance between Army life and Civilian life for a Soldier is often quite the juggling act, but both leaders make their responsibilities to the HHC a priority.
“The Commander and I come in at least once each month to prepare for Battle Assembly and to catch up,” said Kavanaugh. “Putting the newsletter together each month gets a mental image of what needs to be done. Depending on the tasks for each month, I reach out to whomever seems fitting to advise on how best to get the tasks done!”
Abrams agreed that collaboration leadership was his preferred style as well.
“My leadership style is to lead through collaboration with a team,” he explained. “Whenever possible I try to discuss our direction and plan with 1SG. Once we’re on the same page it’s a matter of communicating with our training NCO, HR NCO(s), and supply sergeant(s), to make these happen. This is a two way conversation and I try to listen first.”
Unlike other jobs, the Citizen/Soldier role also requires a certain amount of resiliency to deal with the challenges and changes in the environment and leadership the military traditionally deals with.
“Resilience and reliance are things I have found to be important,” said Kavanuagh. “Resilience is a bit more within yourself. Resilience is drinking water, going to bed on time, taking care of yourself, seeking help when needed, patience. It is the get back up and keep trying mentality.”
Kavanaugh added the second word that she thought went hand in hand with the concept.
“Reliance is maybe even more challenging if I am using the term right,” she said. “It takes trust and vulnerability to rely on leaders, subordinates, team mates but without sharing the load with others, things are much harder to do. I could not do my job without the help of my HHC team and many others.”
With his biblical background, Abrams strongly related resiliency to the parable in Matthew that talks about two people who each built a house. “The houses were constructed the same way from the ground up, but the foundations were very different,” he explained. “One person built their house right on the ground as it was. The other person spent time digging until they hit bedrock and built their house upon the rock. When a severe storm struck both houses, the house with a solid foundation remained standing, but the other house was destroyed. Our own resilience in the storms of life will reveal the nature of our foundation. Take the time to build your life on the rock.”
As leaders, both Abrams and Kavanaugh bring something different to the table, and work together to create a successful training environment.
“I think I mostly bring enthusiasm and positivity to the teams I work with,” said Kavanaugh. “I think I am decent at finding the right person for the job. I don’t claim to know a lot but hope that I can find and encourage the person that does. I hope I can show that it is more important to at least try than to do nothing and not be too scared to fail.”
In complement to Kavanaugh, Abrams feels that he brings humility, transparency, and work ethic that helps create a positive team atmosphere and admits that he often needs help with the details.
Both leaders enjoy the weekends where they can take their Soldiers out of the drill hall for training.
“My favorite weekends are when we get out and train,” enthused Kavanaugh. “The range and obstacle courses were awesome in that generally people seem to have a greater sense of satisfaction and accomplishment on these weekends.”
Abrams was in complete agreement.
“One of my favorite training weekends to date was running through the obstacle and confidence courses on JBLM in August, 2019,” he said. “ I had a lot of fun competing against the other teams in the obstacle course and was impressed to see Soldiers face their fears in the confidence course.”
As they work together to successfully lead the Timberwolves, Kavanaugh and Abrams both want their Soldiers to take something positive from their time in the unit.
“My hope for the Timberwolves is to see them grow and develop personally as they learn to consider and serve their fellow Soldiers to their right and left,” said Abrams. “Ultimately the strength of our organization is determined by the health of the relationships between squad and section members. External pressure will only accomplish temporary results. Internal drive inspired by a sincere concern for the welfare of your fellow Soldier, subordinates, and leaders, is transformational and long lasting. Seek to impact one or two people in your unit positively and watch the ripple effect that ensues in the years to come. This is not a quick process but it is the only way to influence true change.”