Senior Enlisted Advisor Approaches Retirement With New Outlook
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 18, 2008 As he approaches retirement next week after 33 and a half years of service, Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. “Joe” Gainey said he’s preparing for the next phase of his life with a new outlook: It’s not necessary to always be “Number One.”
U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presents Oscar Brown, a retiree, with a coin during a tour of the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C., Feb. 5, 2008. Gainey made the surprise visit due to his upcoming retirement April 25. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Derrick Ingle
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
In his final “all-hands call” with enlisted members of the Joint Staff here today, the first senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff explained the dramatic genesis of his change of heart.
In his past two and a half years as senior enlisted advisor, Gainey has told servicemembers in the most far-flung reaches of the globe that they should always strive to be Number One.
A favorite adage was: “You’ve got to strive to be number one, because number two is just the first place loser. It’s like a team of sled dogs -- the first dog sees white snow; all the other dogs see the butt of the dog in front of them.”
Gainey was in Walter Reed Army Medical Center here earlier this year recovering from surgery to correct an old neck injury that had not healed correctly when he suffered a stroke. Doctors kept him in a medically induced coma for seven days; and he spoke here today a mere two weeks after leaving the hospital.
His voice was slightly slurred -- but still easily understood -- as he spoke to the enlisted servicemembers. And he joked that the feeding tube he still must use because he has problems swallowing is more like being refueled like an airplane than eating.
But the brush with death changed him, he said. “Being Number One is not what matters; I know that now,” he said. “Being the best you can be in your job is what matters.
“Where you sit doesn’t matter. It’s what you do for others that makes you value-added,” he added. “If each of us can’t do something for somebody else every single day, then why do we come to work?”
Gainey recounted visiting the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and being greeted by young sailors who took pride in what they did. Even the sailors who kept the flight decks free of debris realized they had a vital part in the ship’s mission and took pride in what they do, he said.
He also urged servicemembers to maintain the professional standards of their individual branches of service even when serving in a joint environment, like the Pentagon. “Even though you’re in a joint world, remember what uniform you have on. Do your joint job, but every morning look at your … uniform and remember that you are in that branch of service,” the sergeant major said. “You are a sailor, airman, Marine, soldier, Coastie first. The reason I say that is, maintain your appearance for whatever your service is.”
After Gainey’s remarks today, enlisted members of the Joint Staff told him they had dedicated a bench in his name at the Armed Forces Retirement Home here.
In his time as senior enlisted advisor, Gainey has been a tireless advocate of the home for retired enlisted servicemembers. He and his staff routinely visited residents there, completing projects and sometimes just visiting at bedsides. He recounted that he and his wife, Cindy, visited just yesterday.
“If you’ve never been out there, you have to make time,” he said. “They are our past warriors.
“Their eyes just light up,” he said about elderly retired servicemembers he’s visited at the home. “If they want to tell you war stories, listen to them, because that’s the life they lived.”
He particularly encouraged women servicemembers to visit the Armed Forces Retirement Home to spend time with a 97-year-old former member of the Women’s Army Corps. “That’s your history,” he said. “And when she passes, it’s gone.”
Residents at the home die at the rate of eight to 15 per month, and Gainey regularly attends monthly memorial services. He pressed servicemembers on the joint staff to do the same. “I would love to see that chapel filled with troops for those monthly memorial services,” he said.
The home is funded partially through $.50 monthly deductions from enlisted servicemembers’ and warrant officers’ paychecks, and Gainey urged the troops here today to lobby their service leaders to approve an increase of that deduction to $1 per month, which would result in $7 million in addition funding per year for the home, Gainey said.
“I’ve talked to, I think, well over 5,000 troops and asked them, ‘Would a dollar a month break your bank?’ No one has said ‘yes’ yet,” he said.
“I’m a believer that, if we cannot take care of the past, how do we take care of the future?” Gainey said. “If we can’t take care of our past, how in the heck are we going to be able to take care of our wounded warriors in the future?”
Gainey will retire April 25 in a full-honors retirement ceremony at Fort Myer, Va.