Top Enlisted Visits American Troops in South Africa
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
PRETORIA, South Africa, Feb. 12, 2006 The top enlisted servicemember in the U.S. Defense Department took time this weekend to visit American troops stationed at the U.S. embassy here.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, jokes around with children of U.S. military members assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, Feb. 11. Gainey had given the children each a "challenge coin" and jokingly made them raise their right hands and swear not to sell it. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"It means a lot to me that you invited me here to spend time with you," Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday to enlisted soldiers and Marines assigned to the U.S. Embassy here.
Gainey is midway through an official visit to South Africa. He spent the first week attending an international senior noncommissioned officers conference at the South African National Defense Force's School of Armor, in Bloemfontein. Most of the second week will be spent on familiarization visits to South Africa's military services.
He visited enlisted members, including the embassy's Marine security guards, during lunch at the Marines' residence yesterday, and today ate dinner at the home of the defense attaché with U.S. officers assigned here.
Speaking yesterday at the "Marine house" here, Gainey regaled the small group of servicemembers and family members with jokes and advice on marriage and family.
He also shared a personal mantra: "Pride is contagious." The motto is engraved on the challenge coins Gainey hands out wherever he goes, and it's an idea he expounds on at every opportunity.
"Be proud of what you're doing," he said yesterday. "As long as you're proud of who you are, it'll spread to others."
"(Pride) is something we can share with each other," he said in brief remarks after dinner today. "And it's something you'll never be investigated for sharing with each other."
Another theme Gainey lives by and speaks of often is love of family. He speaks lovingly of his wife of 29 years, Cindy, and his two adult children: daughter Erin, who is married to a U.S. soldier; and his son, Army Capt. Ryan Gainey.
The theme is never far from the sergeant major's mind, and he never misses an opportunity to share it. "The only reason he's successful is because he's got someone like you beside him," Gainey told a soldier's wife he met briefly at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport while on a layover en route to South Africa Feb. 3.
"Remember, your families are what makes it happen. Without your families, you're nobody," he told troops yesterday.
At both weekend visits, Gainey gave his official coins to several wives and children of troops assigned to the embassy here. He got loads of laughs when he made each group raise their right hands and promise not to sell the coins on an online auction site.
"When we go 'play' -- that's what we call it when we deploy -- who's at home so we don't have to worry about our families?" he asked wives of enlisted men here. "It's you gals."
After visiting the troops yesterday, Gainey explained why he makes an effort to visit servicemembers wherever he goes. "It's important to let them know that no matter how much responsibility or rank you get, you can never, never forget where you came from or where you started," he said.
He called yesterday's informal meeting a highlight of his trip. "Coming out here to spend time with them did me more good than it did them," Gainey said. "I want them to know that I appreciate, sincerely appreciate, what they're doing."