Fifteen years ago, Sara Higgins was simply looking for structure in her life.
Now, it’s an eye-opener when she realizes the Chief of Staff of the Army is under her command.
“I can try to play off the things and be humble, that what I do is part of the job,” she said from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Fort Myer, Va. “But, you kind of have to sit back and think, ‘Well, dang, look at that.’”
Recently promoted to Company Commander at the U.S. Army headquarters at the Pentagon, Capt. Higgins offers administrative support to more than 4,500 Army personnel. As commander, she can assign investigative officers to determine if an allegation heads to court martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
On a brighter note, Higgins also helps military personnel advance their career, and is in charge of the overall “readiness” of personnel in terms of correct pay, promotion, health assessments, etc.
“I try to bring my ‘A’ game to the table every day,” she said. “I make sure soldiers have what they need to accomplish their mission, and that my commanders have what they need.”
Higgins’ steady climb started with the JROTC program at Ottumwa High School, where she graduated in 2008.
Five years later she joined active duty in the Army, then spent nine months in the Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan in 2014 and 2015 before returning stateside. She’s been on active duty for 7 1/2 years.
Of her time in Afghanistan, Higgins said, “it was an interesting time.”
“We were starting to draw down, so a lot of my mission was to assist in that we had complete accountability of personnel within my unit and with contractors,” she said. “I had to be tied into the operations and what they were doing and what the plan was. I worked with a great team who valued my input.”
While the tour in Afghanistan was something Higgins knew about well in advance, assisting with relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 was spur-of-the-moment.
“Sometimes we get surprise orders, but for that, I got a phone call at 1 a.m.,” she said. “The surprise element happens, but for large deployments to Afghanistan or Germany, we know significantly ahead of time.”
Yet, it really all began with something to try with JROTC.
“I really just wanted to experience something different. But something just kind of clicked in high school, where I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself,” she said. “Serving the country all of a sudden mattered to me. At 14 or 15, I had no intention of joining the military, but about a year in the program and being around the lifestyle, I wanted to enlist, but it made more sense to go to college and continue in ROTC.
“When you start fresh out of college (as a 2nd Lt.), you’re just taught to learn everything you can,” she said. “I had great mentors when I first started. They took the time with me and made sure I understood what I was doing and what the impact was, and not just moving paper across my desk. Now, I’m turning around teaching the exact same thing to the next 2nd Lt.”
Has Higgins been in the right place at the right time? Sure, but she’s also taken opportunities as they’ve come and “put everything I have into being a soldier,” which has led to the steady rise up the chain of command. She’s well-entrenched in a career she hopes lasts at least 20 years. Her next step would be a major.
“I think one of things I’ve learned is patience, that not everything will always go the way you want to,” she said. “You have to be flexible, and that’s been big for me. I’ve seen different cultures and diversity.
“It’s really been a wonderful experience.”