DAVIS: We spend a lot of time talking about the war, and day in and day out we get snippets of information –- some of it from the Pentagon, some of it from the media, some of it from any one of a number of sources, some of it from calls from people who are listening to this show on the internet where I am king of afternoon drive in Baghdad. There is nothing more satisfying than that.
But I’ll tell you, this is also very high on the list, the opportunity to take advantage, once again, of the Pentagon’s increasing effort to make us aware of things that are going on in the war and general military issues.
If there’s an interesting job to be had, it sounds interesting and it is, Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is Army Sergeant Major William Joseph Gainey, and he joins us from the Pentagon. Welcome, sir. It’s an honor to have you.
CSM GAINEY: How are you doing today?
DAVIS: Doing absolutely superb.
I want to get into some specifics but first, let’s work on the business card for a second. What is the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Joint Chiefs?
CSM GAINEY: Well, what I do is I go out and I visit all the services throughout the world, and I’m the Chairman’s eyes and ears, and the voice of the servicemembers back to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
DAVIS: The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of course is General Peter Pace. For those who just sort of need the quick lesson, the Joint Chiefs are a compendium of top guys from each branch. What do they really spend their day in, week in, week out, month in, month out life doing?
CSM GAINEY: You ask me what everyone up here does?
DAVIS: The function, why do we have a roundtable of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?
CSM GAINEY: Well, they cover all the issues worldwide affecting all our servicemembers. But more importantly, now that the Chairman has a sergeant major, I get to go out and travel and to see, no-kidding, how our young men and women are no-kidding doing on the ground versus in a meeting room.
DAVIS: Tell me about your most recent trips then. Let’s go right to your daily life.
CSM GAINEY: Well, I just got back from the Persian Gulf and I spent time out there on the USS Ronald Reagan, spent a day and night on that aircraft carrier. I got the opportunity to watch our young sailors do their job. I’ll tell you what, it is amazing what our young men and women can do.
You know, I was sitting up there on the bridge watching these young men and women and I said God, I am the luckiest person in the world to be able to see this and report back to the Chairman just how well our servicemembers are doing.
DAVIS: What is the average American to think? There are struggles in the war, there are challenges in the war, there’s a death toll and a cost in the war. So what is the best way for us to keep –- Talk about lucky, not everybody in our audience is lucky enough to hook up the satellite to the Pentagon and get stories like this from you every day. So what would you recommend? What’s the answer to the often-heard complaint that we don’t hear enough good of what’s coming from the war.
CSM GAINEY: Well, what I tell folks is one thing we have to remember, regardless of which branch of service our young troops serve in, they are the most committed young men and women I have ever seen. They have the same hopes, dreams, desires, sense of loyalty and honor. They have personal courage and integrity beyond reproach, and their devotion to duty I’m telling you after 31 years of serving I’ve not seen devotion to duty like this in my 31 years. We are a bunch of lucky people to be on their team.
DAVIS: And it stands up against particularly tough times. There are a lot of guys over there who signed up for the Guard, never knowing they would go to war, and they are. There are some guys who went once and were told we might need you to stay a little longer, or we might need you to go back, and it’s an all volunteer service. So under all of those circumstances, there could be a ton of grumbling, there could be a ton of morale problems, and no fighting force is unanimous, but I want you to give me a moment no what your observations were on the overall morale of the folks over there doing the fighting.
CSM GAINEY: Well last week, again, I visited a lot of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen and even some Coasties that were over there. What I did, Mark, is I asked them, I said tell me how the morale is of your buddy. Not you, so to say, but your buddy. And I asked them to gauge it between one to ten. Now understand, I was talking to these young men and women, not the leadership. I never went below seven. The average was seven and eight.
DAVIS: I can hear people asking me, ask him this, ask him this. If you’re standing in front of them though as the representative of the Joint Chiefs, is there any part of you that thinks maybe they feel obligated to say that?
CSM GAINEY: I don’t think so, because if you knew me, and if I ever get to meet you you’ll see, I’m down to earth. I’m very down to earth. I’ve not forgot where I came from. I understand what a Private Gainey feels like. And I tell them, no-kidding, be straight up with me. How do you feel? That’s the only way I can get it back to the Chairman, if you’re honest with me. If you blow smoke, then I can’t tell that to the Chairman. You’ve got to tell me how you feel. And I believe the young men and women that I talked to last week were telling me the truth of how they felt that their buddies’ morale were.
DAVIS: Let’s talk a little bit about where you’re from and how you got there. I’ve got the resume in front of me, but where did you grow up? I’m fascinated by dialects. What are we hearing there?
CSM GAINEY: I was raised in South Carolina, God’s country. I stayed there until I joined the military, and started my career at Fort Hood, Texas. I just came from Fort Hood to here, from the 3rd Armor Corps. So I’m a South Carolinian.
DAVIS: Well it doesn’t get any better than that.
And you were talking about being on ships named for people, the Ronald Reagan carrier. There’s a ship I want you to tell me about. It set sail from Norfolk I want to say a couple of days ago, the USS James E. Williams, the most decorated Sailor in the history of the Navy. His family knows him as Elliott. Tell me what you know about this gentleman.
CSM GAINEY: Well, he’s my first cousin. We have always spoke of him highly when we was growing up, and as I got older in my life, got to communicate with him a little bit more and more, and a very important part of my life, he taught me to prioritize my life. He was a very good person. All the Sailors can actually learn from his, who he was, how he lived, and the thing that you’ve got to be a Sailor first, you’ve got to be a Soldier first, an Airman first, a Marine first, a Coastie first, you’ve got to put your heart in what you’re doing.
DAVIS: I love the reference to the Coasties. I love that.
You’re an Army guy. The Joint Chiefs of course, contain representatives from all the services.
Is there, either in this war time or in general in your years of service, are there big or small cultural differences? We all hear about the Marines, that’s just a whole different cut of cloth, Army, Navy. Are they 98 percent similar with just some fine-tuning changes? Or are there really differences in what branch you’re in?
CSM GAINEY: Well of course there’s differences. It’s just like, I guess you’re from Texas and I’m from South Carolina. We have a difference in the way we talk and the words we use, but that does not mean that you and I cannot come together and understand the way we operate. And I can tell you, Mark, that in my 13 months in Iraq I had the honor to serve with the Marines and the Air Force and the Navy, and they all know how to fight and they understand each other and they’re learning more and more and more about each other which is a very healthy thing.
DAVIS: In our final minute or two here, and boy we’d welcome you any time and what a joy it would be to absolutely meet you in person. It would be my great honor. And as we spend each day taking a look at the honorable service of all these men and women in uniform, how do you think this year is going to pan out for them? If you’re part of the Joint Chiefs sort of inner circle there, I’m sure there’s a lot of talk of the possibility of troop reductions. If that happens it must mean that things are going better rather than worse, so what’s the buzz that you hear of what happens as spring turns into summer?
CSM GAINEY: Well, the leadership knows what’s going to happen. They’ll make the best thing happen for the young men and women.
What I would like to tell you if I could real quick is remember that this is Military Appreciation Month, and I would encourage everyone, every time they see a servicemember to go up to them and thank them, because they’re not politicians. They’re young men and women that are doing what they do to keep our nation free. Just go up to them and thank them and say hey, I am so lucky that I am a part of your team. That’s what I would ask people to do.
DAVIS: And no better time to check into a wonderful web site called AmericaSupportsYou.mil. The Secretary himself tipped us to that web site just a few days ago, and any time you folks want to fire up the satellite there at the Pentagon and join us, you’ll have friendly ears here.
God bless you, sir, for your service and the young men and women you represent and safe journeys, because I know you’ve got a lot coming up.
CSM GAINEY: Thank you very much. And thank you for supporting our troops.
DAVIS: It’s our great honor, sir. Thank you so much. That is Sergeant Major William Joseph Gainey, US Army, Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.