A Bristol native who joined the military when still a senior at Mt. Hope High School has risen through the ranks over a 20-plus-year career, and on Sunday reached the pinnacle — becoming the highest ranking noncommissioned female officer in the state.
Sgt. Major Deborah Pontes Storm became Command Sgt. Major Deborah Pontes Storm during a change of responsibility ceremony Sunday at Camp Varnum in Narragansett, when she was put in command of the regional training institute for the RI National Guard. As the first full-time noncommissioned officer in command, she will oversee the Officer Training School and Military Police training academy at the 243rd Regiment Regional Training Institute.
“Coming up through the ranks, I never saw that coming, “ Sgt. Major Storm said. “I’m humbled I was able to attain that. It’s pretty significant for me.”
Sgt. Major Storm grew up in Bristol, the daughter of a single mother who immigrated from Portugal in her 30s. While she has fond memories of Bristol — including being a member of the first class to graduate from the regionalized Mt. Hope — she longed to see the world beyond the small town. She also felt a need to serve.
“I remember my mom being so happy to be in this country; I wanted to serve my country,” she said. “I came from a humble upbringing. I didn’t feel I had the financial support to go to college, so I figured I’d go in the military and see the world outside Bristol. I needed to do something different.”
And see the world she has, having been deployed to Hungary, Croatia and Bosnia in 2000, and to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2009. Beginning as an E-1 Private in the National Guard, she has risen through the ranks to E-9 Sergeant Major, the highest ranking a non-commissioned officer can attain.
“If you said back then I’m going to reach the top rank, I’d say it’s never going to happen,” Sgt. Major Storm said. “But with hard work, it’s achievable.”
Sgt. Major Storm now makes her home in Swansea, Mass., with her three children and her husband, Henry Storm, himself a National Guardsman stationed at the Command Readiness Center in Cranston, where she was previously stationed.
Achieving such a high rank hasn’t gone to Sgt. Major Storm’s head, who said she’s humbled by the opportunity to continue serving the soldiers of the Army National Guard. She didn’t set out to be an inspiration to women and young soldiers, but hopes her rise through the ranks can be an example to others.
“I hope so; I think I am. I’m glad to fill that role,” she said. “It’s important for junior soldiers — not just female, but all soldiers — to see you can be successful in life, even without college. It’s hard work; it doesn’t just happen. But with hard work, anything is achievable.”
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