By Marine Pfc. Keely M. Rogers
Defense Information School
Army Staff Sgt. Heather Denby calls on a student during a Basic Public Affairs Specialist Course class Dec. 16, 2016, at the Defense Information School on Fort Meade, Md. Denby was recognized in November as the school’s Warrior of the Quarter for the third quarter of 2016.
From the moment Army Staff Sgt. Heather Denby arrived at the Defense Information School on Fort Meade, she looked for better ways to do things.
She ditched the typical PowerPoint lectures and added interactive quizzes and game-show-style reviews to get students engrossed in learning. She spent six hours planning for a two-hour block of instruction, and she joined a group that was trying to start a social media course at the school.
Her colleagues immediately noticed just how good she was.
“As an intern, everything she tried to do was to meet the excellent mark,” said Gunnery Sgt. T.J. Atwell, a public affairs instructor at DINFOS. “She would search for the definition of what excellence looks like and try to meet that. She was never satisfied with satisfactory.”
Denby’s drive for excellence made her the perfect candidate for the school’s Warrior of the Quarter award, which goes to an outstanding enlisted member of the staff.
Denby, the Warrior of the Quarter for the third quarter, was recognized by Col. Martin Downie, the commandant of the school, on Nov. 9 in a ceremony in the DINFOS Hall of Heroes.
In winning the award, she followed Air Force Tech. Sgt. Antoinette Gibson, another member of the public affairs department and the eventual Warrior of the Year.
A native of Sylmar, California, she didn’t always consider joining the Army. She had gotten a scholarship to college and planned to go that route.
“I wanted to go to school and get my education, but my dad wanted me to have real-world experiences, not just a piece of paper,” Denby said. “I went to the recruiting station, and a week later I was in the Army.”
After her first tour, which she completed as a military police officer, Denby left the Army for two years before she realized it was her calling.
“I got out and did the stay-at-home mom thing for a little while,” Denby said. “I got a job at a bank. I ended up missing getting into mud and all that fun stuff. I hated water-cooler talk about who would be at bunco that week.”
She decided to re-enlist. At first, her recruiter offered her the explosive ordnance disposal specialty.
“My husband said he didn’t want me to get blown up,” Denby said. “Public affairs came up, and I went for it. I’ve loved it all.”
Actually she didn’t love all of it, Denby said. Photojournalism presented a few problems.
As an instructor, Denby pushes not only herself but others to be the best they can be.
When she finished the interning process, she kept pushing forward to find more effective teaching methods, Atwell said. She pushed her colleagues to do the same.
“She was like, ‘How about we do this? How about we play this game?’ or ‘Why don’t we use this quiz website instead of just talking for two hours?’
“It challenged me to be a better instructor,” Atwell said, “to do the extra things, to draw that extra thing on the board that’s entertaining to help the students see something instead of just listening to words. So, it pushed me in a lot of ways.”
Denby doesn’t just excel at being an instructor. She’s been called a “PT stud” for constantly being on-the-go and keeping workout equipment at her cubicle for when she doesn’t have time to go to the gym.
Denby has received a Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal for volunteer work.
“I’m a chronic high-fiver,” she said. “I’ll walk past my husband, and he will randomly put his hand up and we high-five. It’s a habit, so when anyone needs anything, I’m usually the first to volunteer. My hand just shoots up automatically.”
Preparing for the Warrior of the Quarter board took a lot of studying and time. Candidates are tested on general military knowledge, DINFOS history, leadership and uniform standards.
Her husband and daughter kept her motivated, Denby said. They are always supportive.
When she returned home from the board, her daughter had made her a card to congratulate her on her success.
“When I found out I won, I got really excited about the parking spot” that goes to award winners, Denby said, laughing. “I was also really excited that our department had won again. It gave me a sense of accomplishment and pride in my organization.”