LANDSTUHL, Germany — A handful of 21st Theater Support Command soldiers handed out Valentine’s Day baskets of candy and games to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center patients and their families Monday, marking the first event of a newly created regional chapter of the Sgt. Morales Club.

The club, a European counterpart to the stateside Sgt. Audie Murphy Club, was designed to groom noncommissioned officers for leadership positions using senior officers as mentors.

Soldiers are often hand-picked by senior leaders to go through the club’s grueling selection process that includes three panel interviews, where applicants are tested on their ability to handle real-world situations.

Sgt. Morales is the fictitious name of an NCO who was put in a leadership position and excelled in the job, according to an Army news release.

Morales demonstrated professionalism and regard for the welfare of his soldiers, the release said.

Those who make the cut find themselves on the fast track to promotions, club members said.

“It’s all about teaching them and having them go out and plant seeds in others,” said 1st Sgt. Charles Shank, 34, of New Orleans, who works to make leaders out of the younger members of the group.

Sgt. 1st Class Steven Perkins, 30, of Cincinnati, was tapped to join the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club in 1999 while at Fort Eustis, Va.

He was a “young buck” sergeant at the time and understood that he was being handed an opportunity to develop leadership skills and make a mark within his battalion, Perkins said.

Now, Perkins works to identify young leaders in the Kaiserslautern area.

“We are the (21st Theater Support Command) sergeant major’s eyes and ears on the ground,” Perkins said.

At the Fisher House next door to the military hospital at Landstuhl, members of the new chapter handed baskets to family members of wounded soldiers and one hospital patient staying there.

The patient, Dennis Wallace of Albuquerque, N.M., a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers attorney, awaited more tests for a sinus problem he developed while working in Baghdad.

Reporters were not allowed to tag along as the group handed baskets to wounded soldiers inside the hospital.

Club members said they planned to “adopt” the Fisher House, meaning they would help solicit donations for the house, where families can live while wounded and ill soldiers recover at the hospital.

That came as welcome news to house manager Kathy Gregory. Gregory is not allowed to solicit donations because of Army restrictions on organizations that use non-appropriated funds, she said, even though the house depends on donations to cover about three-fourths of its operating costs.

“One day our ship will come in,” Gregory said.

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