U.S., Honduran Senior Enlisted Build Ties
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras, Nov. 23, 2005 The new senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his counterpart at U.S. Southern Command did a little international teambuilding on a visit here Nov. 22 and today.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, participates in an early Thanksgiving meal Nov. 23 with members of Joint Task Force Bravo in Honduras. The task force's officers and senior noncommissioned officers served the meal to the unit's junior enlisted members. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Command Sgts. Maj. William J. "Joe" Gainey and Michael Balch met twice during the visit with Honduran army Command Sgt. Maj. Carlos Valle, the first sergeant major of the army in his country's history. Valle, Gainey and Balch also joined all of Joint Task Force Bravo in a four-mile Thanksgiving "fun run" at 5:45 a.m.
The three also enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving meal with all the fixings at JTF Bravo troops in the dining facility. The command celebrated a day early so the troops could have an extended free weekend.
Valle, speaking through an interpreter, said his job is difficult because Honduras only started building a professional noncommissioned officer corps in 2000. The sergeant major of the army position was opened two years ago, he said.
"You guys are the greatest because the weapons don't fire themselves," Valle told a gathering of senior NCOs from throughout Joint Task Force Bravo. "The missile (firing command) might go through a computer, but somebody has to push the button."
Gainey, who has served as senior enlisted advisor to Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since Oct. 1, told Valle he understands the frustrations of being the first person to hold a new position. The important thing in bringing change is to take it a little bit at a time. Gainey's position was 15 years in the making but was only established this year.
"Take the race in paces, rather than sprinting to failure," he said.
Both men said it's important to set the stage for their successors. Valle said he is hoping to "plant proper seeds" for people who follow.
"We have a lot in common," Gainey said of Valle. "He's doing his thing first, and I'm doing my thing first, and we both must be successful for those that come behind us."
Valle shared his thoughts on why his country needs a professional NCO corps and challenges to building such a corps. "Officers always want to think with their heads, but things don't move if all you do is think," Valle said. "They need NCOs to react and do stuff."
Resistance to change among Honduran officers makes Valle's job more difficult. He noted that he tries to get officers to see that NCOs can take much of the work off their shoulders. In some cases in his army, "lieutenants are just looking to see if the bathrooms are swept," Valle said.
He said some Honduran officers have told him he'll never bring an NCO corps to the level of the U.S., but he disagrees. With the right work ethic and attitude, he believes his army can get there.
Balch, SOUTHCOM's senior enlisted advisor, offered to bring a team of officers and senior NCOs to Honduras to educate the country's officers on just what a professional NCO corps will do for their force. "Officers need to understand no one is trying to take their authority," he said.
Valle said he hopes to model Honduras's infant NCO corps on the U.S. model of parallel NCO and officer chains of command. Balch noted that leadership skills are a great strength of U.S. NCOs. The lowest soldier or highest leader can step into the next higher role when the mission calls for it, he said.
"It might be a steep learning curve, but that's the strength we have that's paid us dividends on the battlefield," Balch said.
But he cautioned Valle that U.S. experts don't expect Honduras' army to transform exactly like the U.S. Army, but to transform into something that allows Hondurans to best carry out their own missions.
As every NCO knows, caring for servicemembers in their charge is their greatest responsibility. Gainey and Valle seemed in lock-step on their views regarding caring for their troops.
"Even though it is difficult and I have to confront officers and convince them (of the value of NCOs), it's worth it -- soldiers come first," Valle said.
Gainey told Valle to instill in his NCO leaders that they must be a link between officers and soldiers. "If you want to know the heartfelt truth, ask Private Gainey," he said, meaning any junior servicemember. "He's not smart enough, or dumb enough, to lie to you."
He told of befriending an Iraqi sergeant major while assigned as senior enlisted advisor for Multinational Corps Iraq. "In that culture, a command sergeant major is more of an aide, a coffee maker," Gainey said. He said he went to that sergeant major's commander and educated him on how a sergeant major should be the eyes and ears of the commander and the voice of the soldier.
"You should insist that NCO leaders do what their soldiers are doing," Gainey told Valle. "If I ask a soldier to go over a wall, then I go over the wall, and if I ask a soldier to go into a fight, then I go into a fight."