A soldier who has been Fort Sill’s Career Counselor of the Year each of the past three years placed third in this year’s competition for Secretary of the Army Career Counselor of the Year.

The competition first decides the best career counselors within certain major Army commands. Then the winners go on to compete at the Department of the Army (DA) level. This year it included written tests, the Army Physical Fitness Test and the Army Combat Fitness Test performed back-to-back, and a board examination.

This was the first time those in the Army-wide finals got to see and compare their scores. Fort Sill Staff Sgt. Robert J. Lawniczak learned he was only three points away from winning. He was one of eight active component career counselors to compete at the DA level.

Lawniczak represented the Medical Command in fiscal year 2018 and Training and Doctrine Command each of the past two years. Currently he is career counselor for 30th Air Defense Artillery (ADA) Brigade.

Lawniczak is one of approximately 950 career counselors in the active Army. When he was with Fort Sill Medical Department Activity, his senior career counselor was now-retired Master Sgt. Christie Holloway, who challenged him to enter the competition. So he submitted a packet containing his administrative information and dove in.

“What she did was help train me on all the things I need to do to compete, practice with me, give me study material, practice exams, things of that nature so that I could be successful.

“We competed in San Antonio multiple times, and actually, we were surprised that I won. But it’s something that you really have to work at, and you have to strive to be who you want to be as a career counselor and really study the regulations,” he said.

Lawniczak said competing sets career counselors apart from their peers and makes them better at their jobs.

He would still like to get that elusive Sgt. Maj. Jerome Pionk Excellence in Retention Medal that goes to the best in the Army, but his next assignment with the 173rd Airborne Field Artillery will take him to Grafenwoehr, Germany, in June, so he’ll have to re-examine what’s possible once he gets there.

Lawniczak’s unique background is another factor that helps him advise newly arrived enlisted soldiers on how to advance their Army careers and others who are getting ready to transition to civilian life. Sometimes he advises soldiers to retake the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) so that they’ll have the possibility of reclassifying to a different military occupational specialty — just as he himself once did.

“At my point in my career, I had to figure out what was best for me to continue to serve, and so I chose this path because it was good, because I could help people,” Lawniczak said.

The Green Bay, Wis., native enlisted in the Army in February 2004. He attended basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., and advanced individual training at Fort Lee, Va., to become an automated logistical specialist. He exited the Army in May 2011 to pursue a career in government contracting and got a job working as a supply inspector for a company in Afghanistan.

“I did that for about 10 months and then I came back to the United States, and that’s where my plan went bad,” he admits.

He worked as a team manager at an Advanced Auto Parts distribution center for six months, but he came to realize that without a bachelor’s degree he could not progress. So he rejoined the Army in December 2012. He re-classed as a career counselor in March 2016, and meanwhile he has been taking online courses through American Military University. He recently earned his associate’s degree in transportation and logistics management, which puts him halfway to a bachelor’s degree. His long-term goals are to complete a master’s degree in management and to become the Senior Army Career Counselor.

Lawniczak and his wife of 10 years, Tanesia, together have five children: Kaylon, 20; Kayla, 11; Amaya, 10; Amelia, 6, and Kolton, 4.

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