By Brian Hill, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (March 5, 2024) — After positively impacting the lives of thousands of service members over the course of 18 years in the Army, 1st Sgt. Michael Calkins is still assisting in recognizing excellence — even after death.

Calkins, who passed away in 2015, while serving on active duty at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, was memorialized by the leaders of Company C, 701st Military Police Battalion, for the impact he made in the 31E military occupational specialty — Army Corrections/Detention Specialist — via a dedication of the company’s standard distinguished honor graduate award.

That newly dedicated award was presented for the first time by members of Calkins’ family during a Feb. 23 ceremony in Fort Leonard Wood’s Nutter Field House for the Soldiers and Marines graduating the company’s corrections training course.

Calkins’ widow, Debra, called the dedication “an incredible honor for him,” though she said he would “absolutely hate it.”

“He was extremely humble,” she said. “Anytime he was recognized for anything, he was never saying ‘thank you’ for him; he was saying ‘thank you’ for his Soldiers. He believed that anything and everything that he ever achieved was because of his family and because of his Soldiers. He was all about the Soldiers, from the time he woke up until the time he went to bed.”

For those reasons and more, Charlie Company 1st Sgt. Chad Hickey said Calkins was the correct choice for this award’s dedication.

“The Army has a rich history, and if we can dedicate an award to somebody who came before and somebody who led the way and meant something to the Army, it not only recognizes greatness, but it also pays honor to those who came before us and sets the example for us to follow,” he said. “(Calkins) impacted thousands of Soldiers over his career, and we felt the award was a great way to honor his dedication to both the Army and the MOS.”

The inaugural recipient of the 1st Sgt. Michael J. Calkins Distinguished Honor Graduate award was Marine Pfc. America Contreras, who, Hickey noted, had the highest GPA of the 86 service members graduating the class, along with being a first-time “go” on all evaluations and practical exercises.

Contreras, from Staunton, Virginia, said she joined the active-duty Marine Corps to gain experience — and her goal is to one day work in federal law enforcement.

“My mom, she worked in federal law enforcement,” Contreras said. “I want to follow the same path.”

The award “means a lot,” Contreras added.

“I know a lot of the command here really admired the first sergeant, and I feel really honored to receive the award,” she said.

After the ceremony, Debra spoke with Contreras, who will next move on to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

“I just wanted her to know the type of person he was,” Debra said. “The whole reason that he is getting this honor is because he was for his Soldiers. They remember him; they remember the lessons he imparted; they remember the fights he had for them, the lessons he taught them.”

As they spoke, Contreras visibly held back tears and tried to maintain her military bearing. The two women parted with a hug.

“I think it’s very special,” Contreras said of the moment. “I’m honored for them to be here.”

Marine Pfc. America Contreras, who graduated from correctional specialist training with Company C, 701st Military Police Battalion, and was the inaugural recipient of the 1st Sgt. Michael J. Calkins Distinguished Honor Graduate award, poses for a photo Feb. 23 in Nutter Field House during the graduation ceremony with members of Calkins’ family, who were on hand to present the first iteration of newly dedicated award.
(Photo Credit: Photo by Brian Hill, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office)















About Fort Leonard Wood

Fort Leonard Wood is a thriving and prosperous installation that has evolved from a small basic training post 80 years ago to a premier Army Center of Excellence that trains nearly 80,000 military and civilians each year.

Fort Leonard Wood is home to the U.S Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and three U.S. Army schools: the U.S. Army Engineer School; U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School; and the U.S. Army Military Police School. In addition to training engineer, CBRN and military police specialties for the Army, Fort Leonard Wood also provides gender-integrated in-processing and Basic Combat Training for new Soldiers.

Fort Leonard Wood also hosts and trains with the largest Marine Corps Detachment and Air Force Squadron on any Army installation as well as a large Navy construction detachment.