Category Archives: By Example

By Example: NCO’s improvisation on the battlefield helped team come home safe


By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

This story is part of a periodic NCO Journal feature that takes a closer look at an Army award in an NCO’s career. This month, we focus on the career of an NCO who was awarded the Bronze Star with “V” device. The Bronze Star may be awarded for bravery, acts of merit or meritorious service. The “V” device denotes individuals who were awarded a decoration in recognition of valorous acts performed during direct combat with an enemy force.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Skellie, the battalion operations NCO in charge for 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, was a staff sergeant serving in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2005 when his valorous actions under fire earned him the Bronze Star with “V” device.

Skellie’s platoon had just returned to its outpost when another platoon’s tank on patrol in Ramadi was hit by a large explosive and immobilized. Parts of Skellie’s platoon, along with some of the command group, went out in a mix of humvees and tanks to rescue the immobilized tank and its Soldiers.

“When I got out there, the turret of the tank couldn’t move,” Skellie said. “They couldn’t really defend themselves. Once I got on the ground, we were taking fire. The first thing we had to do was set up a hasty defense just so we could operate. We couldn’t even get out of our trucks. They had fire all around us. You could see guys running up and down the alleys shooting at us.”

After setting up a defensive perimeter and pushing the enemy back, Skellie and his platoon got the tow bars hooked up to the tank. But before they could move out, the company commander’s truck was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. So, while continuing the defense, Skellie hooked up the company commander’s truck to his truck. Everybody made it back to their vehicles and moved out to return to their post.

For his actions that day, Skellie received a Bronze Star with “V” device, and he has also earned two Army Commendation Medals with “V” device during his time in service.

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What do you hope your Soldiers and junior NCOs can learn from the actions you took that day?

They can learn, just as I had learned and had been taught by my fellow NCOs, how to not only react to contact, but be able to improvise. And they can learn that, as we have gone through all the things we have gone through during the past 10 or 12 years of war, the NCO Corps truly is the “backbone of the Army.” They have taught and been at the forefront of all of these years, as well as the entire time the Army has existed. The NCOs really have led from the front and taught all the Soldiers what they need to know.

Why have you continued to serve?

It’s the only thing I’ve known in my adult life, as a job, as a career. There’s a lot of good in it; I enjoy it. I enjoy all the interaction with Soldiers and teaching Soldiers the things I have learned, helping Soldiers grow in their career. It’s a lot of fun.

What is your MOS and why did you choose it?

My MOS is a 19K (M1 Abrams armor crewman). I actually changed my MOS early on in my career. I did that because I had always supported the tanks and enjoyed looking at tanks, so I decided I wanted to be on tanks. I think of the tanks as the tip of the spear, so that’s why I chose the MOS that I did.

What role have NCOs played in your development?

I wouldn’t be at the rank and where I am today if it wasn’t for many NCOs taking time to lead me, show me the right way, show me the things I needed to do, show me what real leadership is. There’s been a handful who have really taken their time with me. It definitely affected me and made me into the NCO I am today.

What makes a good NCO?

Not only do they know their job, but they care enough about their Soldiers to care for them not just on the job, but also when they’re off work. They really take care of you, really put in the time, invest in your life and steer you in a career path that they know is best for you. It may not be what you want to hear at the time, but they know that is what is going to help you succeed and make you a better Soldier.

What advice do you have for junior NCOs?

Take something from every NCO whom you run into, whether good or bad. Try to take a nugget and absorb as much as you can from every NCO whom you are around and put it in your toolbag. That way, as you progress through the ranks, you can use the wealth of knowledge and information you have gathered from many NCOs to help make you into the NCO that you should be.

How has the NCO Education System impacted your career?

When you go to combined arms, when you have infantry and armor and all those guys coming together, you get to learn a lot from your peers who are in other MOSs. You get to see a side of the Army that is not necessarily your side of the Army. You get to see other MOSs and how they operate. You get to see all the different aspects of the Army, because the Army is a fairly large organization, and people may do things differently in different places and different MOSs. You get to learn from all of them, and that definitely helps you as you move along in your career.

By Example: ‘Leaders cannot afford to lose their Soldiers’ trust and respect’


STAFF SGT. CHRISTOPHER HARPER
82nd Airborne Division, Public Affairs 

In this special edition of “By Example” the NCO Journal looks back at the 36-year career of Command Sgt. Major Thomas Capel.

Times were different 36 years ago when 18-year-old Pvt. Thomas Capel, a North Carolina native, enlisted in the U.S. Army. The country had only just emerged from conflict in Vietnam and was locked in the midst of the Cold War.

This is a month after a career that spanned more than three decades, Capel retired as a command sergeant major at a ceremony at Fort Bragg, N.C. where he previously served as the command sergeant major of the 82nd Airborne Division.

Capel spent the majority of his career leading paratroopers from the 82nd. From squad leader to division command sergeant major, he served nearly 27 years as a paratrooper at Fort Bragg.

“There’s something special about knowing you belong to an elite group of men and women,” Capel said. “These paratroopers are so highly trained and are ready to perform any task anywhere in the world in defense of their country.”

In his career, Capel saw missions shift from Cold War-era readiness to combat in Iraq (during two separate conflicts) and Afghanistan, where he deployed to on six different occasions.

“During the 80s, we focused on developing what it meant to be a professional noncommissioned officer in the United States Army,” Capel said. “It was important to re-establish the value and the responsibility of the NCO. As a corps we lacked the trust and discipline we needed to be the kind of leaders the Army was going to need in an uncertain future.”

During his career, Capel molded Soldiers entering the Army as a drill sergeant and later trained and mentored NCOs at the XVIII Airborne Corps NCO Academy.  It was in these roles that he felt he could refine and define what it meant to be a professional Soldier.

“Mentoring, training and taking care of Soldiers is an NCO’s currency,” said Capel about what makes the noncommissioned officer a unique asset in the U.S. Army.  “Officers value our experience and trust in our abilities.”

Following two tours leading U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan as the Regional Command-East senior enlisted adviser, Capel served as the U.S. Army Europe command sergeant major.

In addition to advising the commander and improving readiness and quality of life for Soldiers in Europe, Capel focused on liaising with partnered nations and promoting the value of the noncommissioned officer corps. While there, Capel organized the Conference of European Armies for Noncommissioned Officers. Leaders from more than 40 countries participated.

“Most, if not all, future conflicts are going to be either joint or partnered, and establishing and maintaining those relationships with our counterparts in other armies and even among our own sister services is essential to maintaining readiness,” Capel said.

In January 2012, Capel received a call from Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the International Security and Assistance Force commander. Allen asked him if he’d be willing to deploy to Afghanistan and serve as the ISAF command sergeant major.

During his time as the ISAF senior enlisted advisor, Capel led service members from more than 50 countries in the efforts to promote the Afghan National Security Forces, defeat the enemies of Afghanistan and ensure security for the Afghan people.

He developed a unique personal relationship with many of the senior Afghan leaders to include the sergeant major of the Afghan National Army, Sgt. Maj. Roshan Safi.

“Command Sgt. Maj. Capel is one of my closest friends and a friend to all Afghanistan,” Safi said.  “He is famous here; everyone knows and loves the sergeant major.”

Together, Capel and Safi championed one another’s cause to create a more professional ANA noncommissioned officer corps and foster relations between the coalition troops and the ANA soldiers.

Capel left Afghanistan confident in the progress and capabilities of the ANSF.

“The ANSF is more than 360,000 strong and is growing and developing into a professional force,” Capel said.  “I have every confidence that patriotic force is capable of protecting the Afghan people for long into the future.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas R. Capel speaks to friends, family and former colleagues during his retirement ceremony at Fort Bragg, N.C., Nov. Paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division stood in formation during the event, supporting the grand finale of the former Division Command Sergeant Major’s 36-year career. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kissta DiGregorio, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs.)
Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas R. Capel speaks to friends, family and former colleagues during his retirement ceremony at Fort Bragg, N.C., Nov. Paratroopers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division stood in formation during the event, supporting the grand finale of the former Division Command Sergeant Major’s 36-year career. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kissta DiGregorio, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs.)

Why did you decide to join the Army and why did you continue to serve for more than 30 Years?

It was pretty simple why I joined. I was working in the fields around my hometown of Ellerbe, N.C., doing some pretty tough labor, and I saw the Army as a chance to better my life and get new experiences. I stayed in the Army for more than 36 years because I loved to train and mentor Soldiers. I loved seeing young Soldiers develop into leaders and own what it means to be a noncommissioned officer.

What role have NCOs played in your career?

NCOs have played a very important role in my career. The noncommissioned officer is the trainer, the councilor and the disciplinarian. They maintain the operational readiness and keep their Soldiers up to par physically and mentally, and ready to go to war anytime they’re called upon.

Although you are retiring, what would you like to see from the NCO Corps in the future?

I think we’ve come a long way in the NCO Corps, and it’s still getting better every day.  We already have the best noncommissioned officer corps in the world. But we cannot afford to just lay back and rest on our past performance. We have to continue to look into the future and make our corps stronger. We need to remember the past, but live and train to fight and win on the battlefield of tomorrow. We have to continue to develop the best leaders to take over when our time is up.

How much did the role of the NCO change from pre-9/11 to post-9/11?

Our noncommissioned officers have been at war for the past 13 years, and we’ve been focused on training our Soldiers to fight, win, survive and return back home to their families.  That being said, we have some things we need to go back and refocus on, such as discipline, counseling, and garrison operations and procedures. NCOs pre-9/11 were raised in the garrison environment and now, we have so many great NCOs raised during wartime. They’ve proven themselves as leaders in combat and now we owe it to them to help them learn how to be good leaders in garrison. We need to teach them how to deal with things like suicides, sexual harassments, assaults, hazing and adjusting back to family life. We need to focus on the NCOs’ role in combating these issues and teaching and leading Soldiers in the right direction for the future.

What makes a good NCO?

For me, it’s plain old discipline. Ninety-nine percent of the time, people know when they’re doing right or wrong before they even do it. It boils down to self-discipline and being able to know if actions or behaviors will embarrass myself, my family, my organization or the United States Army. The quality of the good noncommissioned officer is built up from character, loyalty and discipline, and it is rooted in the Warrior Ethos and Army Values we rely on to guide our decisions. When your Soldier see you living those values they will follow you anywhere. They recognize what kind of character you have, what kind of person you are, and they know and respect what you live by.

How did you set the example?

I set the example every day. I’m not about to say that I was perfect, no one is—at least none who I’ve ever seen. But, I do know when I’m doing things wrong or when I see things that aren’t right. I wouldn’t tolerate it. I had no problem making on-the-spot corrections and seting the proper example for my Soldiers. I’m not going to preach safety standards and then go out there and violate them by drinking and driving or using illegal drugs. Our Soldiers see that in their leaders, and they know if those leaders are practicing what they preach. Leaders cannot afford to lose their Soldiers’ trust and respect.

Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Capel, International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces - Afghanistan senior enlisted leader, awards a U.S non-commissioned officer with a leadership coin at Forward Operating Base Warrior, Ghazni province, Afghanistan, May 29, 2013. Capel recognizes troops for excellent performance while executing their missions(DoD photo).
Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Capel, International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces – Afghanistan senior enlisted leader, awards a U.S non-commissioned officer with a leadership coin at Forward Operating Base Warrior, Ghazni province, Afghanistan, May 29, 2013. Capel recognizes troops for excellent performance while executing their missions(DoD photo).

What changes would you like to see Army wide?

When you want to talk Army wide, that’s a big broad subject, the Army is very large and encompasses many people and units to include our brothers and sisters in the National Guard and Army Reserve. I’d like to see each unit focus on their own challenges as they try to meet the larger Army goals and objectives, to include readiness, resiliency, family and taking care of our veterans. We don’t know when we’ll be called to fight again; we’re still involved in Afghanistan and not off that battlefield yet. We need to continue to focus on taking care of our guys and girls that are still in harm’s way, and getting them home safely to their families.

What advice do you have for junior NCOs?

You look at the road ahead of you, and it appears long. But, I’m telling you it’s not that long.  I woke up one morning, and I’m raising my hand to join the United States Army. Then I opened my eyes up, and I’m standing on the retirement stage with 36 years’ time in service. Those young NCOs are the future—our future senior NCOs, first sergeants and sergeants major. I’d ask them to strive to be the best they can be in their current positions, because the young Soldiers you lead expect to get the best possible training to make sure you are capable of getting them home alive. Don’t ever take shortcuts, because your Soldiers and their families are counting on you.

What advice do you have for senior NCOs to include new command sergeants major?

Senior NCOs need to do everything to show their units that they are the right leaders to take their organizations forward. That means you need to sit down and talk with your Soldiers, talk to your leaders, talk to your boss, and make sure you understand how you can use those people to take care of Soldiers and contribute to mission accomplishment and, ultimately, unit success.  You need to prepare those NCOs below you to take over. You may not be promoted anymore, but there are other opportunities like those division, corps and major command positions available. They expect you to know what you’re talking about and know what you’re doing. You need to have proved you can manage Soldiers and organizations successfully.

What is good leadership?

What makes me so proud is when I’ve gone and visited those units, those companies and platoons out there on the battlefield. Some Soldier I may be having breakfast with says, “I have a really good sergeant major. I have a really good first sergeant. I have a really good platoon sergeant or squad leader.” That means the world to me. That means that somewhere in that chain of responsibility, good things are happening and they’re doing right by their Soldier.  Those young Soldiers will probably do the same thing I did, and re-enlist to become great leaders themselves. I couldn’t wait to find my re-enlistment guy or girl so I could raise my right hand and reenlist again. That’s what good leadership brings. I think we’re displaying that around the Army today. I think we’re doing a great job ensuring that we keep the best noncommissioned officers in our service to continue to do what they need to do to train our guys and girls to fight, win and survive.

What impact have you seen NCOs make on Soldiers?

It’d be negligent to underestimate the impact NCOs have on their Soldiers. They rely on their NCO to look after them, train them and return them home safe to their families. NCOs are the backbone of the Army, and without a strong corps, we would find the organization we love struggling to meet the needs of our great nation. Conflicts are won and lost based on the strength and resilience of the Soldier. The quality of the Soldier is any army’s best asset, and the power of the United States Army comes from its ability to train and lead those fine men and women who volunteer to serve.

Sgt. 1st Class Jason Stadel, NCO Journal, contributed to this report

 

By Example: Trust in leadership helps when battle begins


By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

This story is part of a periodic NCO Journal feature that takes a closer look at an Army award in an NCO’s career. This month, we focus on the career of an NCO who was awarded the Bronze Star with “V” device. The Bronze Star may be awarded for bravery, acts of merit or meritorious service. The “V” device denotes individuals who were awarded a decoration in recognition of valorous acts performed during direct combat with an enemy force.

Today, Staff Sgt. Frank Thayer is a platoon sergeant in the 472nd Military Police Company at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. But in May 2008, in Logar Province, Afghanistan, he was still a month away from being promoted from specialist to sergeant when he earned the Bronze Star with “V” device for his valorous actions under fire.

“I was responding to a QRF (Quick Reaction Force), basically a distress call,” Thayer said. “We were going toward the unit that was needing help. As we got to a little village, all the lights were off, which is kind of a telltale sign. I keyed the mic up and said, ‘Hey guys, be aware.’ As soon as I unkeyed the mic, I looked over and one of the Taliban had an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) pinged at my door.”

Despite being injured in his right leg, Thayer was able to get out of the vehicle and return fire.

“I looked at my buddy, and I said, ‘I’m not dying on this road! I’m not dying in Afghanistan,’” Thayer told WSPA-TV.

The ambush included about 25 people, Thayer said. He was able to kill two insurgents and hold off others as the crew returned to base without suffering any fatalities.

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How do the actions you took that day represent the best of the U.S. Army?

It all goes back to one of our main goals over there … I got promoted to E-5 over there, and six months later, I was promoted to E-6. When I left there, I swore to myself that my main goal was to make sure my Soldiers — my squad, my platoon, everybody — came back. I think it all came down to the battle drills that we do in the Army over, and over and over. A lot of the guys in our squad were new and had never seen any type of combat. This was my fourth deployment. They reacted well. I was proud of them. This attack was in the first three weeks. It was a telltale sign of how this yearlong deployment was going to go. As far as the Army, what they instill in us to lead, to take care of each other — all of that tied into our actions that day.

What do you hope your Soldiers and junior NCOs learn from your actions that day?

All plans go out the window when first contact happens, but trust in your training and trust in your leadership. Some people get caught up in not making the decision, but luckily the Soldiers made all the right decisions [that day]. Trust in your leadership; trust in your equipment. We all train on not getting complacent. All that training helps your reaction when the time comes.

Why did you decide to join the Army, and why have you continued to serve?

Staff Sgt. Frank Thayer earned the Bronze Star with "V" device in May 2008 while serving in Logar Province, Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy Staff Sgt. Frank Thayer)
Staff Sgt. Frank Thayer earned the Bronze Star with “V” device in May 2008 while serving in Logar Province, Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy Staff Sgt. Frank Thayer)

I’m an Army brat and hadn’t decided to join. I grew up in it. I was born at Fort Jackson, S.C. I was going to college. My parents, especially my mom, told me I was a career college student. I didn’t join until I was 24. My mom passed away in 2000, and that’s when I joined. I don’t know if I was running from something, or deep down in my soul I knew I was going to go into the Army. I just couldn’t face the facts. But I think it was the right decision. I’ve enjoyed it. The camaraderie is great. Every deployment I’ve been on, I’ve volunteered for, except for one that just fell into place. I always think of the guys to the left and the right of me, because that’s what it’s about. It’s about each other. The main reason I stay in is the Soldiers I enjoy being around. I like to show them how to do things, and having them teach me. You can learn something new from a private, just as you can from the Sergeant Major of the Army.

What makes a good NCO?

Pressing yourself first. You can tell somebody to do something all day long. My family goes back to West Point. My great-grandfather was at West Point. My dad served 29 years. My brother is still in. And I’ve always been raised that you have to make people want to work for you. If you can encourage your troops, lead by example, then give them a reason to work for you, it makes your life easier. And you help those Soldiers succeed and pass that down. That private you have may one day be the Sergeant Major of the Army, or he may be a sergeant major in charge of his unit. If you show them the right way, and leave them to have to make some decisions, I think that’s the way to help them.

What role did NCOs play in your development as you came up in the Army?

By doing a lot of what I just mentioned. [Retired] Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Guyette was my sergeant major. I think he’s at USASMA now. (Editor’s note: Guyette is currently director of the Directorate of Training at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas.) I had him as one of my biggest mentors. We went to Iraq and back together and went through a lot of firefights together. He and Gen. Phillips, our brigade commander, said, “The only thing that makes us different from you all is that we came in years before.” They showed me right and wrong.

What advice would you give to junior NCOs?

Take care of your Soldiers, that’s the main thing. Take what you can learn from your senior NCOs, the other ones around you. But taking care of Soldiers is what it’s about, because that’s where it’s going to fall down to. The Soldiers and NCOs are the backbone of the Army, but the Soldiers are the ones who make things happen. They can either make you look outstanding, or they can make you look like the worst person in the world.

 

By Example: Special Forces NCO prepared his mind, body for combat


By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

This story is part of a periodic NCO Journal feature that takes a closer look at an Army award in an NCO’s career. This month we focus on the Silver Star.

Master Sgt. Michael Lindsay is the Special Forces Advisor to the Alaska National Guard, 196th Infantry Brigade, Fort Shafter, Hawaii. But on Sept. 10, 2007, he was a Sergeant First Class serving as detachment communications sergeant with Operational Detachment Alpha 083, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) when he earned the Silver Star for actions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Samarra, Iraq.

“We had received intelligence that there was a weapons cell and a training cell in the outlying deserts of Samarra, Iraq,” Lindsay said. “So we did a mission using two Black Hawks, and we put down outside of the village. We had to put down in an alternate landing zone because the pilot saw that the original landing zone was a giant marsh, so that threw our plan into chaos.”

Then-Sgt. 1st Class Michael Lindsay kneels after a firefight that re-took a village in Iraq. (Photo courtesy Master Sgt. Michael Lindsay)
Then-Sgt. 1st Class Michael Lindsay kneels after a firefight that re-took a village in Iraq. (Photo courtesy Master Sgt. Michael Lindsay)

The change in landing zones meant the Black Hawk had to land less than 30 meters from the enemy, throwing any element of surprise out the window. With the dust causing brown-out conditions, Lindsay, along with Staff Sgt. Jarion Halbisengibbs and Capt. Matthew Chaney took fire immediately. Iraqi police were supposed to take the lead on the mission, but with the poor conditions and bullets flying, the Iraqis froze, leaving the three Americans to take on the enemy force.

“We fought our way into the nearest building,” Lindsay said. “We used a grenade to enter the building because we saw personnel and weapons on the inside. We followed the grenade in and we took heavy fire from that first room. I was shot in my stomach, and the two guys I was with, both were also shot. We returned fire, and we continued to engage the enemy through the house.”

All three were then hit by an enemy grenade at close range. All three were seriously injured, and Lindsay and Chaney were blown out of the house.

“I thought I was in a little bit worse than trouble because I knew was hit in the stomach,” Lindsay said. “I couldn’t tell how bad. There was some bile coming up in my throat. Bile and blood, which is never good. And then I saw the black blotches in my eyes. And when you see that at night, that’s not good either. I was struggling to stay conscious. Really I was trying harder to stay conscious than to aim my weapon because I knew if I passed out, I was going to die; they were just going to walk up and shoot me. So that’s what I was thinking. More than aiming my pistol I was thinking, ‘Just don’t pass out. If they’re going to kill you, they are going to have to put up a fight. They’re certainly not going to walk over here and kill me.’”

“We essentially just staved off the enemy until the rest of the team managed to get to us. Once they had established a base of fire and suppressed the enemy into a couple of different buildings, we were carried to the Black Hawks. Once we got accountability of everyone we were medivaced out.”

All three injured Americans survived, while a total of 11 enemy fighters were killed in the battle, according to Lindsay’s Silver Star citation.

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How do your actions that day show the best of the U.S. Army NCO corps?

The NCOs, they are really what make the Army go. In the NCO creed it says they are the backbone of the Army, and I think NCOs should always lead from the front. I think an NCO should always be in the thick of the fight, living out the warrior ethos. Being part of the Special Forces is unique because it’s really only NCOs. There are few officers, and there are no privates. So being a part of that, I saw the best of the NCO Corps every single day, and I made it a personal mission to live up to that standard that I saw.

What do you hope your Soldiers and junior NCOs can learn from your actions that day?

When I think back to it, I think the most important part of me surviving that was how hard I trained my body and spirit. A lot of people look at PT as something they do each morning as just part of the routine. But that’s not what it’s all about. It’s not about just being physically fit or just looking good at the beach. I look at it as preparing your mind and body for the worst possible circumstances. Once you face that adversity, once you get hurt, once you are under extreme duress and the adrenaline is pumping, it prepares you to drive on and succeed with the mission. If I didn’t train myself physically so hard, I don’t think I would have made it. But I was in what I consider to be tip-top physical condition, my mind was strong because I had put myself through countless severe training events, and I was strong, my constitution was strong, and I think that’s why I still here today.

After you landed, your Iraqi partners apparently didn’t help much. How did you deal with that?

Master Sgt. Michael Lindsay (top, right) poses with other Soldiers on a mountain in Colorado. (Photo courtesy of Master Sgt. Michael Lindsay)
Master Sgt. Michael Lindsay (top, right) poses with other Soldiers on a mountain in Colorado. (Photo courtesy of Master Sgt. Michael Lindsay)

I learned the hard way on several occasions that you can go and train these armies and all that other stuff and turn them into legitimate soldiers, but when the bullets start flying, it’s only the other Americans you can really rely on.

You were seriously injured, and then 11 months later you were back serving in Iraq. Tell me how, physically and mentally, you were able to do that.

Like I said, physically, I have trained my body to sustain itself, and I healed really fast and the doctors were like, hey, it’s definitely because you take such good care of yourself. But also, I have established a high expectation. I was back doing physical stuff probably a lot quicker than I should have been, but I had the expectation that I was going to heal, I was going to get back to where I was, and I was going to get back into the fight. I didn’t want to let my comrades down. To me, the worst possible scenario was the last time I was ever on the battlefield, I was getting carried off, wounded, unable to defend myself. That would have been the worst possible thing. So I made it my mission in life to get back to where I was to prepare for the next deployment. So I did that, and I’m happy about it.

Why have you continued to serve, after all you’ve been through?

I’ve always enjoyed being in the Army. Leaving the Army at a time of war, to me, is almost criminal. I just couldn’t have turned my back on the Army at any point during the past 10 years. I was in the same unit, 10th Special Forces Group, for the entire Global War on Terror. So I knew guys intimately, I’d worked with them for a long time. So, I could never leave the Army during that time. And the Army is important to me. It’s made me everything I am today. The lessons that I know as a man were taught to me in the Army. I know at some point my time in the Army is going to come to an end, but for me, it will be a sad day, because the Army is all I’ve really known. I’ve flourished in it, and it’s been good to me.

What makes a good NCO?

I think a good NCO is defined by a few things. It begins with technical and tactical knowledge. As an NCO, you have to know what you’re talking about. It’s also about the ability to lead, to mentor and to motivate. A good NCO in my opinion can do the job of his officer and enlisted superiors. And he can also do the job of his subordinates. The NCO has to be the master of all trades. Essentially, what goes into a good NCO is not only being able to do the job, but being able to teach others to do the job and motivate them to be the best they can be.

Are there any changes you’d like to see happen Armywide?

I think about this a lot because I’ve seen it come full circle. When I came in during the late ’90s, there was no war. There was the “garrison army.” And now it’s going back to that, with Iraq gone and Afghanistan going to be gone soon, we’re sinking back into that garrison mindset. I don’t really like it. What I’m hearing a lot from the upper echelons is trying to enforce new standards about trimming sidebars and trying to dictate how people dress on the weekends. What I want to hear is, how can we improve the force with, let’s say, better, more focused combat PT? How about instilling some legitimate performance standards, or instituting more realistic training? When I came in, all anyone cared about or talked about was boots and haircuts. When 9/11 happened, we were caught with our pants down because we were an undertrained, underequipped Army. And what I fear is that’s going to happen again and we are going to forget all the lessons we have learned.

What advice do you have for junior NCOs?

In the past 10 years, the Army changed, and one of the things that changed a lot was that the promotions were at such an accelerated rate that people were essentially outgrowing their abilities. Everybody wants to get promoted and expects to get promoted, but I would tell the junior NCO to be really careful what you ask for, because being a mid-level leader is the most fun in the Army, I think. You’re still in the fight, you have a chance to interact with Soldiers every single day, you have a chance to do a lot of things that you don’t get to do when you are a senior-level NCO and you are stuck at a staff job. My advice would be, stop worrying about getting promoted. Start worrying about being more proficient in your job. I think the Army would be a lot better off if people stopped worrying about getting promoted and just applied themselves in their day-to-day jobs.

What impact have you seen NCOs make on Soldiers?

An NCO can make or break or Soldier. A good NCO can make a good Soldier out of just about anyone. I’ve seen Soldiers that everybody was ready to give up on and throw to the wayside, but a good NCO took that Soldier under his wing, made that Soldier feel like a person, an individual, and slowly made a good Soldier out of him, chipped away all the bad pieces and made something out of him. I’ve seen great NCOs make great Soldiers out of ordinary Soldiers. So, when I talk to NCOs whom I respect and they reminisce about their younger days of being a Soldier, each one of them was affected by a great NCO, so I know for a fact that every great NCO was spawned from another great NCO.

 

By Example: Training and repetition pay off when enemy arrives


BY JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

This story is part of a periodic NCO Journal feature that takes a closer look at an Army award in an NCO’s career. This month we focus on the Army Commendation Medal with “V” device for valor.

First Sgt. Justin Stewart is currently serving as first sergeant for Bravo Battery, 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, in Hawaii. But in August 2005, he was a staff sergeant with Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment when his actions earned him the Army Commendation Medal with “V” device.

Stewart’s squadron was part of an effort to “clear, hold, rebuild” in the area of Tal Afar, Iraq. The effort was difficult in Tal Afar, Stewart said, because “there were a lot of foreign fighters — from Syria, Iran, other places were all in there. It was getting pretty ugly.” During a period of several weeks, the Army cleared neighboring areas, chasing the enemy into Tal Afar. Then the effort to clear Tal Afar itself began.

“We started dropping fliers all over the city to say that anybody out on the street was going to be considered a combative,” Stewart said. “So it really took a turn toward a more force-on-force linear conflict, as opposed to the counterinsurgency as we were normally treating it.”

First Sgt. Justin Stewart earned the Army Commendation Medal with "V" device for valor when he was a staff sergeant serving in Iraq in 2005.
First Sgt. Justin Stewart earned the Army Commendation Medal with “V” device for valor when he was a staff sergeant serving in Iraq in 2005.

Stewart’s troop was clearing a block when a tank was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade and was disabled. Though recovery efforts began immediately, the tall buildings and high roofs of Tal Afar allowed enemy fighters to swarm to advantageous positions. “[The tank crew] started getting attacked pretty heavily by small-arms fire,” Stewart said. “We were able to see RPG teams starting to maneuver to attack the recovery vehicle, as well as the disabled tank and crew as they were forced to get out and hook up tow winches.

“I’m a fire support specialist (13F) by trade, forward observer,” Stewart said. “I was in a Bradley, and we maneuvered into position to provide direct fire support with the 25-millimeter gun. I was able to engage and destroy two of the RPG teams that maneuvered onto the roofs overhead as they were trying to attack with direct fire. I started calling in indirect fire from the 120-millimeter mortars that were attached to the troop, so we were able to put down indirect fire to basically break up the merge coming down the street from the north. I was able to engage some of the rooftop RPG teams as they were trying to kill the tank and crew recovering it.

“We pulled them out and were able to recover the vehicle. No loss of life, so a successful day. We moved the tank out and continued our mission.”

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 How do your actions that day show the best of the U.S. Army NCO Corps?

Just in itself, watching out for Soldier welfare, making sure the mission gets accomplished. Our mission was taking the area and destroying the enemy. Really that’s the uppermost responsibilities in the noncommissioned officer’s mind: accomplishment of the mission and welfare of the Soldiers. So, I guess in that case, it was taking care of the Soldiers in the other vehicle, taking care of the Soldiers in my vehicle, making sure they were able to recover property and life and moving out. And then, we continued to accomplish the mission.

What do you hope your Soldiers and junior NCOs learn from your actions that day?

Repetition and training pay off. We spent so much time every day not letting complacency get to us out at our base. We made sure we were continuing to practice our fire support craft, even though at the time, that deployment, we hadn’t been doing much of it. It was where we stepped off the high-intensity conflict, started more stability support. So you didn’t get to do much indirect fire. But practicing and not letting that complacency kick in, making sure the craft was still honed, that’s what ensured that when the time came, I was still able to call for fire and put down effective rounds and, ultimately, kill bad guys.

Why did you decide to join the Army and why have you continued to serve?

I’ve always wanted to be a Soldier ever since I was a little kid building guns out of Legos. I don’t know if I should blame Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Commando movies, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. As I’ve stayed, my motivation has evolved. As I’ve matured as an adult, so have my goals and my reasons for continuing to serve. What may have started out as just an underlying, ‘I want to be a combat Soldier. It’s fun; it’s cool.’ … as I’ve been shaped, I’m starting to understand the Army Values, what it means to lead and train Soldiers. That’s what motivates me now — the ability to continue to stay in touch, continue to train, and watch these Soldiers develop into leaders themselves.

What role have NCOs played in your development?

From my very first chief, who I still stay in contact with … I can remember meeting him the day I hit the ground at my unit. Unfortunately he got wounded in Iraq after we had parted ways. I was a staff sergeant, and he went on to Korea, then back to Iraq, and ended up getting injured and medically discharged. But I still stay in touch with him. The training from day one from him about how to call for fire, how to properly employ the equipment, I used it that day out there and continue to use it and pass it down to my Soldiers.

What makes a good NCO?

Discipline, accountability and leading from the front.

What advice do you have for junior NCOs?

Never waste time. Leadership starts first thing in the morning. You have to take ownership and accountability of every aspect of training and every bit of time you get, from the moment you start doing PT, until the moment the day ends. Don’t waste time. Be accountable for your Soldiers, be accountable for their training.