She joined the Army because she didn’t have anything to do and could not afford to go to college. Now, looking back on 43 years, that decision gave her a career, but also amazing friends and mentors, a loving family and even, a Legion of Merit.
Army Reserve Sgt. Maj. Jane Decker, the last division personnel sergeant major for the 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training), joined the active Army in 1974 and was part of the Women’s Army Corps at Fort Jackson, S.C.
Decker originally asked to be put into a finance accounting job for the Army. However, through an error, or fate, she was given a supply accounting occupation. This incorrect assignment led the Spencerport, New York resident to another company and location. The error irritated Decker at first. But then, it all became worth it. “If I had not been put in that company, I would not have met my husband.”
For generations, there has been a popular phrase among Soldiers that sums up the toll Army life can play on personal time: If the Army wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one. Of course, both working in supply, Decker and her husband, Michael, immediately related to that phrase. “Since we were both in supply, we considered ourselves issued.”
The Army didn’t stop providing there though, according to Decker. “We conceived our first child while on active duty. So, she was issued too,” she said with a laugh.
After starting a family, Decker decided to hang up her uniform and got out of active duty. However, the stay-at-home mom who had already had a taste of military life missed the work. So when money got tight less than two years later, joining the Army Reserve seemed like a great option.
Serving in the Army Reserve gave Decker and her family some additional income, but it also gave Decker time out of the house, adult companionship and a common topic of interest with her husband again.
Like most people, Decker said the years serving as a Citizen-Soldier just all blended together. “One thing lead to another and the next thing you know, time flies and I was at 30 years [of service].”
U.S. Army Reserve photo by Maj. Michelle Lunato (Released)
Serving all those years was not always easy though, especially as a female. In those days, there were just as many cultural restrictions on women as there were job restrictions, said the retired sergeant major. The problem was, that Decker had not heard of those restrictions. Nor did she believe them. So when someone would tell her she couldn’t do something, it didn’t sit well with her. “Sometimes, I’d ask, ‘well, why does that make a difference?’ And most of the time, they couldn’t give me an answer.”
U.S. Army Reserve photo by Maj. Michelle Lunato (Released)
Therefore, with no real answer on why she could not do a task or job, Decker would just rise to the challenge with a can-do attitude. And as a bonus, sometimes, she even surpassed the person who claimed she was incapable in the first place, said Decker.
Outside of a few physical barriers, most restrictions are mostly self-imposed, said Decker. So over the years, she would encourage her Soldiers to try their best, regardless of what others believed they could do. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it because you are female. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it because you are too short. These are thing I heard.”
Instilling confidence in others was not just limited to her Soldiers though. Decker said her role as an Army Reserve Soldier influenced her two children as well. “I think they caught on to my confidence. Whether I felt confident in doing something or not, they saw it. And now, they have confidence and don’t let anyone push them around.”
Of course, passing confidence onto others was always easier than giving it to herself. Like most people, Decker was her own harshest critic. Even after 40 years of service, Decker wasn’t sure she deserved the Legion of Merit she received on April 20, 2017 in front of 100 plus other veterans at a 98th Division Alumni Luncheon in Rochester, New York. “As far as I know, I didn’t do anything above and beyond…I was just doing my job.”
But that wasn’t exactly true. For while she was doing her job, she was always making sure that those under her responsibility were “working to their best abilities” as well. She just naturally pushed people to excel while not even realizing she was doing it. “I’ve been told I was a born leader, and I never saw it.”
For years, she also didn’t realize that she was a born organizer too. With balancing her roles as a Soldier, mother, and wife, the Army Reserve Soldier had to learn how to manage her time. “I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time, but it was time management.” So year after year, task after task, “I just made it happen.”
And making things consistently happen in her 40 years of increasing responsibility, is just one of the many reasons why the 98th Training Division leaders chose to award Decker the Legion of Merit, said Sgt. Maj. Todd Priest, division sergeant major.
The Legion a Merit, which given out for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements, is just one small way we can appreciate all her service said, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Norbert Rappl, a former 98th Training Division commanding general who has known Decker for nearly 40 years. “You know, this medal is just a piece of metal and ribbon. It’s probably not worth a nickel altogether, but what it represents in this case, is 40 years of sustained, dedicated, selfless service, and I think that is just fabulous.”
Decker was touched and said receiving the Legion of Merit in front of all the veterans and mentors at the 98th Division Alumni Luncheon added even more meaning to the honor. “I find getting it here better suited, because many of these people I worked with through the years mentored me. They saw me in my early years…These people here are the ones who helped get me to where I am today.”