By Marine Pfc. Jon Sosner
Defense Information School
160506-N-HT014-074 FORT MEADE, Md. (May 6, 2016) Army Staff Sgt. Michael Sparks, a basic writing and announcing skills instructor at the Defense Information School on Fort Meade, critiques a student following a voice test at the school. Sparks was selected as the DINFOS Warrior of the Quarter for the first quarter of fiscal 2016.
Growing up in a military family in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Michael Sparks always knew he wanted to be a soldier. After a series of dead-end jobs, he enlisted in the Army in 1998 as an administration specialist.
Unhappy with his role in administration, Sparks became a cargo specialist after re-enlisting in 2001.
“I re-enlisted on Sept. 8, not knowing what was going to happen just a few days later,” Sparks said.
On Sept. 11, terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes and crashed two into the World Trade Towers in New York City, one into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and one into a field in western Pennsylvania.
The first U.S. troops were sent to Afghanistan in October to find the al-Qaida members responsible for the attack. A few months later, Sparks found himself on a plane to Afghanistan, surrounded by soldiers who had never deployed before.
It was there that Sparks, then a corporal, came into his own as a leader and started to enjoy the Army.
Sparks, now a staff sergeant and lead instructor for basic writing and announcing skills at the Defense Information School on Fort Meade, has steadily worked his way up the Army ranks and become one of the top instructors at DINFOS.
On March 21 in a ceremony at the school, he was named the DINFOS Warrior of the Quarter for the first quarter of fiscal 2016.
Deployed environments were extremely stressful for Sparks, especially since he was expected to take charge as a squad leader.
“Iraq was the most stressful of my deployments,” he said. “Driving in the convoys was when you’re worrying about whether the dead dog on the side of the road was going to explode or if someone was going to drop a grenade in the trailer of your truck while you’re going under an overpass.”
After he returned home, Sparks spent as much time as possible with his family. His son has a condition called hydrocephalus, in which the brain builds up too much fluid and cannot drain it.
Sparks re-enlisted, in large part to provide for his wife and son and make sure they were medically covered.
“It’s been tough, but we’ve managed to tough through it,” Sparks said. “He’s the main reason that I have stayed in the Army so long.”
It was after his Iraq deployment that he decided to become a broadcast journalist, attending DINFOS for the first time in 2009.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jon DuMond, also a basic writing and announcing skills instructor at DINFOS, described Sparks as a humble and soft-spoken leader whose life is dedicated to putting others before himself.
“He’s very driven,” DuMond said. “Even in his off time, he works in public affairs and communication. It’s really his passion. Whether it’s teaching or the fire department, it all revolves around communication.”
Sparks also works as the public information officer for the Lansdowne Volunteer Fire Department.
Sparks has covered events including visits by Robin Williams and Barack Obama to speak to soldiers in Afghanistan.
After arriving at DINFOS to be an instructor, Sparks became the only enlisted master instructor. He quickly completed the master instructor course and stood in front of a board and proved his mastery of his course.
“It’s kind of a big deal,” DuMond said. “He has such a wide breadth of knowledge and experience, and it’s great that he is so willing to share that with others.”
With only two years remaining before Sparks expects to retire, he is doing his best to pass on the reins to a new generation of soldiers.
“This is not my Army any more,” Sparks said. “It belongs to a new generation, and I am doing everything I can to prepare them to make an even stronger force than what we have now.”
Sparks is optimistic about returning to DINFOS in a different uniform and continuing with his passion.
“I’m going to stay right here and come back to doing it as a civilian,” Sparks said. “That way, I don’t have to do PT and I can let my gut grow out a little bit,” he added jokingly.