For Sgt. 1st Class Antoni Bukowski, receiving the Army Reserve’s 2023 Career Counselor of the Year honor felt like winning an Academy Award.
A former waste management contract specialist in civilian life and now a full-time Army Active Guard Reserve career counselor in Hawaii, he said when his name was announced, it “just meant so much.”
Bukowski was the recipient of two distinctions: the Military Meritorious Service Medal and the Sgt. Maj. Jerome Pionk Excellence in Retention Medal.
But it was the Pionk medal that had Bukowski ecstatic.
“I didn’t really care about the Army award that I got … the Military Meritorious Service Medal,” he said. “I wanted this Jerome Pionk Award, which is the excellence and retention, which is basically like the highest award that we can get in our profession.”
Secretary of the Army Christine E. Wormuth stated in a recent Army News Service press release that career counselors play a crucial role in ensuring the retention of the Army’s skilled workforce and augmenting its investments in soldiers while allowing soldiers to invest in themselves.
“This is a responsibility and a charge that has never been more important, probably in the entire 50-year history of our all-volunteer force,” Wormuth said during a March ceremony.
Bukowski’s former supervisor, Lt. Col. Jim Hannigan, said Bukowski always puts the soldier first and definitely earned the award.
“He’s done that at great personal cost,” Hannigan said. “He’s invested in the Army Reserve. He’s invested in his soldiers. And he sacrifices a lot to make that happen … always killing his own mission.”
Bukowski’s father, having seen an Army recruiting commercial that pitched a free pair of socks, inadvertently set his son’s military career path in motion in 1996. Later that summer, Bukowski answered a phone call from a recruiter asking for his father. The elder Bukowski was a bit too old for the service, but the recruiter began pitching Bukowski. The fact that his college would be paid for was an incentive, but attending basic training is what really appealed to the career counselor.
“It was just the notion of attending basic training. Drill sergeant yelling at you and all that good stuff,” Bukowski said. “And before I knew it, she was at my house, and I was signing a contract. I still have those Army socks that I have not worn them to this day as like a memento of the reason why I joined.”
Bukowski began his Army Reserve career as a personnel administrative specialist. But when he arrived at his transportation unit, only manual labor positions were available and he chose to operate a locomotive.
One of his unit teammates left to become a career counselor and suggested Bukowski consider a job in an administrative unit. After a month, his former teammate called him and recommended a career counselor position.
“I wound up being on orders and shadowing what he did to see if I wanted to do it,” Bukowski said. “A couple months later, I went to reclass school, and then a couple of months after that I got an AGR, or a full-time position, doing the job. So it kind of happened really quickly.”
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Bukowski still isn’t sure what he wants to do “when he grows up,” but that hasn’t prevented him from helping others find their professional selves.
“I love talking to people, and I love assisting people any way that I can,” he said. “And it’s ironic that here I am a career counselor instructing or, you know, kind of advising or recommending, suggesting what other soldiers should do with their lives when, again, I don’t even know what I want to do kind of thing. But, you know, it’s rewarding.”
Not all the situations are successful, but Bukowski said positive outcomes occur more often than not. One soldier he helped with reclassification and a change of MOS is now set on a six-figure civilian career path.
Spc. Alec Sanders credits Bukowski with guiding him to success. He knew when he met the career counselor that he was different.
“And I remember when I went to meet with him the first time, [he was] just absolutely the most friendly guy in the world,” Sanders said.
The specialist told Bukowski he was interested in a cyber unit but other people he reached out to didn’t know how to refer him to that particular unit and didn’t make any effort to, attempting to steer him in another direction instead.
“And right away, he walked over, took my case, and then immediately called the colonel of that unit,” Sanders said. “And immediately the next day he had me set up with everything, so I went. I was able to sign the papers. He did everything in like a super timely manner. Just a super friendly guy through the whole process.”
Bukowski’s award is a result of his success, predicated on the success of the soldiers he counsels. And their success circles back to Bukowski’s determination to be a caring and responsive career counselor and retention specialist who approaches his vocation with a singular purpose.
“So, again, that’s what makes me feel good is just that the end game of some of these soldiers is definitely helping them in their civilian lives … you did something right in your job when that happens,” Bukowski said.Read comments