Senior Enlisted Advisor Explains Duties, Philosophies
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 13, 2005 The senior enlisted advisor to the chairman will spend more time listening than talking, he said during a Pentagon interview Oct. 11.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Peter Pace chose Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey as the first senior enlisted advisor to the highest ranking military officer last month.
Gainey will serve as the chairman's eyes and ears on enlisted force matters. The sergeant major will advise Pace on enlisted education, health, welfare, morale and housing issues for servicemembers in joint billets.
"The key to that is 'joint,'" he said. He won't get involved in service-specific matters. "They already have senior enlisted advisors," he said.
He will, however, work closely with the service senior NCOs and they will constantly share information and impressions with one another. "All six of us working together - because the Coast Guard is a big part of this too - and, staying focused on the servicemembers, the winners are the servicemembers," Gainey said.
He said that military and civilian leaders owe servicemembers four things.
First, they need to give servicemembers "all the responsibility that they can hold."
"Then we have to give them the authority they need to be responsible," he said.
Thirdly, he said the military must hold people accountable for their actions. "People want that," Gainey said. "Everyone wants to be accountable for their actions, good and bad."
Finally, he said, senior personnel must stand ready to assist servicemembers when they stumble. "I will help you by coaching teaching, mentoring and training," he said.
Gainey has been a noncommissioned officer for 29 of his 30 years in the military. He said NCOs must constantly ask what they can do as leaders "to help our young people."
He comes to the newly created position after service as the command sergeant major of the Army's 3rd Corps. The corps served as the command element of Multinational Corps Iraq during a deployment that ended Feb. 10. "So I'm used to working in a joint environment," he said. "We had all services working together in Iraq."
Gainey also has family members in every service but the Coast Guard. "And I'm working on that," he said with a laugh. He said he has known many of the senior NCOs in the sister services for years.
Gainey doesn't intend to change the way he has been doing things. "I've been a sergeant major for 10 years," he said. "There's two ways sergeant majors can do things: They sit behind a desk and they figure out what should happen, or they get out and see what's happening. And the best way to figure out what should happen is to get out and talk to the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen.
"Those folks tell me what their concerns are, and then I establish my objectives."
He said in his first year he will get out and listen to the concerns of servicemembers around the world.
While his primary focus is on joint service, he will not ignore anything. "If I see something that concerns me, I'll work to solve it at the lowest possible level," he said.
Gainey said the U.S. military has learned the lessons of jointness, and the younger servicemembers inherently understand that. He said when he was in Fallujah, he asked a young Marine how he liked fighting alongside the Army. "He told me, 'Sergeant major, we got it figured out. You old guys haven't figured it out. We know together we are unbeatable.'
"We have to fight together, because when you fight alone, what do you have? Nothing but yourself."
The biggest change he has seen in 30 years of service is the willingness to give servicemembers the responsibility and authority and let them do the mission. "When I came in 30 years ago, young PFC Gainey couldn't do anything without permission," he said. "It was a lockstep. Now we expect young people to think and then to act."
Gainey said he can't foresee the day when the military services lose their individual culture and identity, but he does expect closer cooperation among the services.
"When I was in Iraq and spoke with servicemembers, I would ask them to take their fingers and cover up their branch," he said. "I'd ask, 'What do you have left?' They'd answer, 'U.S.' I'd tell them, "That's right - 'us.' We're not trying to take away their identity, we need them to understand we have to work together with one focus."