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This is Carolina: Conway High School grad earns prestigious military award

Published: Aug. 13, 2021 at 2:52 PM EDT
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CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - Twelve years in the United States Army has taught Chaqueena Bennett a lot.

Unwavering perseverance is one thing she practices and it paid off.

After not achieving the Sgt. Audie Murphy Award in 2016, she tried again. Now in 2021, she’s been inducted into the prestigious Sgt. Audie Murphy Club.

“Overall, if you have a strong mentality, you can overcome anything. Change your mindset or make a choice and continue to better yourself,” Bennett told WMBF News. “Being a part of this organization is basically not just about being great at one thing. You have to be a whole soldier.”

Award recipients have to exemplify their all-around toughness through a series of physical and mental tests. It includes but is not limited to a 1,000-word essay and a physical fitness test.

According to the US Army, “awardees have to achieve expert marksmanship, score a 270 or above on the Army Physical Fitness Test, hold excellent NCO Evaluation Reports throughout their career and have outstanding experience in relation to their peers. They are awarded following a four-level determination consisting of nomination, performance testing, an initial brigade-level selection board and a division-level selection board.”

Performance testing includes disassembling and reassembling weapons, map reading, navigation and a six-mile ruck march, Bennett said.

The evaluations are done over two days.

Like other recipients through the years, Bennett was nominated through the chain of command.

“(The Sgt. Audie Murphy Award is) a private club for Army non-commissioned officers. The club itself is really big on helping out in the community. Helping soldiers and helping their families. So, it was only natural for me to be a part of the organization because it’s something I’m very passionate about already in general,” Bennett explained.

Sgt. Leon Audie Murphy is one of the most decorated American war heroes in history. He was a combat soldier in World War II. He died in a private plane crash at age 45 in 1971, according to the club’s website. The original club was started in his honor in Fort Hood, Texas in 1986.

Bennett said the award is touching. She said she focused on bettering herself when she didn’t win the award in 2016. Bennett said the difference between herself is noticeable. She said she’s gained experience since then, become more humble and learns from junior soldiers and her peers. She said she took a lot of time to prepare herself to win the honor, but is proud to be trusted to mentor and lead others.

Her mom, Queen Bennett, is equally proud. She contacted WMBF News to announce her daughter’s award. It turns out it isn’t the first time WMBF has met the family. WMBF was part of Chaqueena’s surprise homecoming from Qatar in 2014.

“Because they always doing something positive. Always trying to stay on the right track,” Queen said.

She has another daughter in the military, and her son, who recently passed away, also served.

“I just want to tell my family I love you, and thank you for your support,” Bennett said.

Bennett had been stationed in Indianapolis, Indiana as a military pay instructor with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.

She was on leave at home in Conway when she spoke with WMBF News, before heading to her next assignment in Germany. She said in Germany she will be the inspector general and NCO for the 7th Mission Support Command. She plans to be there for three years.

You can learn more about the Sgt. Audie Murphy Award here.

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