KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Minutes after Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston led his team to victory in the Bowl Championship Series championship game on Jan. 6, 2014, he was conducting a post-game interview with a reporter on national television.
During the interview, with cameras and reporters surrounding him, Winston gave a shout out to his cousin, Army Spc. T’Ola Winston, a 4th Infantry Division soldier currently serving at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.
“My cousin in Afghanistan [is] watching this game -- T’Ola Winston,” he said.
Thousands of miles away, T’Ola, who indeed was in Afghanistan watching the game, smiled in joy. It was joy not for herself -- after all, not everybody gets a shout-out on national television immediately following one of the biggest sports events of the year -- but joy for her cousin Jameis, or “Jaboo” as she calls him.
“In that moment, it’s beyond words,” T’Ola said. “You can’t even explain the joy I felt for him, knowing how hard he works.”
T’Ola is a signal support systems specialist who joined the U.S. Army in January 2011. She is currently stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., with Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, and she deployed to Afghanistan -- her first deployment -- as an orderly room clerk.
She was originally scheduled to leave Afghanistan in January -- making for about a six-month deployment -- but when the need for a reliable soldier to work in the Regional Command South command group arose, T’Ola’s name entered the discussion as a candidate.
At the time, T’Ola, who had previously wanted to stay in Afghanistan longer and serve as an orderly room clerk for another company in the battalion, was prepared to return to Colorado. When she was later notified about the possible position with the command group, she was hesitant at first.
After talking to her family and praying about it, T’Ola decided to take the job as the administrative assistant for Army Command Sgt. Maj. David M. Clark, RC(S)and 4th Infantry Division command sergeant major.
“She was one of the names that popped up,” said Army Staff Sgt. Patrick Young, T’Ola’s supervisor. “After talking to her, the boss decided she would be the one we would bring up here.”
T’Ola has been in the job for only about three weeks, but Young, who also works for the RC(S) command group, believes she was the right choice for the job.
“I have a junior soldier with a lot of potential,” Young said, adding: “She’s been helping the division command sergeant major out greatly.”
T’Ola, who considers Hueytown, Ala., and Bessemer, Ala., as her hometowns, is also an athlete; she played basketball at Bevill State Community College.
After she received her associate degree at age 22, she considered joining the military -- something she says had been a big desire.
After her friends and family talked her out of it, however, she later became a substitute teacher and an assistant basketball coach for Hueytown Middle School -- at the same time Jameis Winston was a student there.
Years later, in 2011, she finally decided to join the U.S. Army.
“I was 28, and it was a now-or-never type of deal for me,” she said. “I decided to follow my desire.”
It is a decision she is glad she made. She even added an extra year of service to her contract during the deployment and would like to serve in the military for the long term, she said.
“We live in the greatest country in the world, and serving in the military is a good thing to do,” T’Ola said. “The military has been a great experience for me. I’ve enjoyed it.”
She is also thankful for the opportunity to continue serving in Afghanistan as she supports the International Security Assistance Force mission of training, advising and assisting Afghans as they continue to lead security missions protecting their country.
Before she started working for the command group, T’Ola served as the orderly room clerk of Company C, HHBN, 4th Infantry Division. She helped maintain accountability of the soldiers in her company, managed the company’s awards system and prepared the personnel status report every day.
Now, as an administrative assistant for Clark -- who is the senior enlisted adviser for RC(S) -- she organizes his calendar, schedules appointments, and is in charge of his administrative duties. It is a job important to the daily management of Clark’s schedule.
“Being in the command group has been a great experience,” T’Ola said. “I’m glad I made the decision to stay.”