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Senior Enlisted Leader Visits Fort Knox

By Maureen Rose
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT KNOX, Ky., Oct. 29, 2007 – The military’s top enlisted servicemember visited this Kentucky base Oct. 26 and addressed an audience for the post’s Retiree Appreciation Days event.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, catches up on old times with his former platoon sergeant, Army retiree Dale Cleveland. "You're responsible for what I am today. So if they don't like me, I blame you," Gainey said jokingly. Gainey touched base with Cleveland and other veterans during a visit to the annual Retiree Appreciation Days banquet held in Fort Knox, Ky. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Derrick Ingle, USN

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

“We owe a good deal to retirees sitting in the coffee shops talking about the good old days. The past is the reason we’re a great nation,” Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey said. “We all focus on the young men and women of now, but if it were not for the young men and women of the past, we would not be in the position we’re in now -- which is free.”

Gainey, a former Armor Center command sergeant major, is the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a position created by the former chairman, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, and filled by Gainey since its inception in 2004.

Gainey’s primary job is to gather information for his boss, Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, who succeeded Pace as chairman Oct. 1. “He uses me as his eyes and ears to get out where he can’t travel to and come back and, no kidding, tell him how the young men and women on the ground are feeling,” Gainey said.

However, the information flow is in the opposite direction this time. “I told Admiral Mullen I was going to be here,” Gainey said, “and he wanted me to express how proud he is of (the retirees).”

Gainey observed a retiree wearing a Vietnam logo on his cap talking to a younger, active-duty Marine who was traveling with Gainey.

“I try to make our generation -- the young people I’m with every day -- understand every time they pass a retiree, like this former Marine sitting right here, stop and look them in the face and say, ‘Thank you for your service,’” he explained. “That’s the message; I’m trying to let them all know to do it. Every time we pass a retiree, we should all say ‘thank you.’”

The street of gratitude goes two ways, Gainey said. When he visits young people serving in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, he tells them Americans appreciate their service.

“It’s not all me saying, ‘Hooah, we’re doing a great job.’ I let them know constantly, because I travel a good bit, how proud our country is,” he said. “It’s important, no matter what political affiliation you belong to, that we support our soldiers, men and women, Marines, airmen, Coasties -- anybody, our warriors who fight this war -- it’s important that we let them know that we’re behind them. We might not agree to the overall policy, but who cares? We have to support those men and women.”

Gainey said he always thanks new enlistees, as well. “I see the guys and gals coming in off the streets and, with the mission they’re about to hit, I thank them, too,” he said. “They’re enlisting knowing they’re going to go to war.”

Interrupted frequently during his visit by those who recognized Gainey from previous assignments, he waved and shook hands like a politician.

One retiree, however, got a bear hug from Gainey. His name is Dale Cleveland. “He’s the reason I am what I am today,” Gainey said with a laugh. “He was my platoon sergeant years ago, so if you don’t like me, blame him!”

Cleveland returned the compliment, thumping Gainey on the back. “I can give you the skinny on him,” said Cleveland, a retired Fort Knox first sergeant.

“We used to have young soldiers over to our house for dinner all the time in Germany, but we had no idea he would end up there,” Cleveland’s wife, Gabi, said with a gesture skyward.

Crystel Swaite also wanted a chance to shake hands with Gainey. She was the soldier of the year in 2002 at Fort Hood, Texas, where Gainey was her post sergeant major. “He was very motivational; he’s one of the reasons I stayed in,” she said.

Realizing that retirees sometimes are overlooked, Gainey said he soon will understand firsthand how that feels. “I’m retiring April 25, after 33-1/2 years,” he said. “I’m nothing more than a torch-carrier for (the retirees).

“And someday,” he added, pointing to his young aide, “he will be a torch carrier for me.”

(Maureen Rose is a staff writer for the Fort Knox Turret.)

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Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, USA

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