Chairman's Enlisted Advisor Heads South to Visit Troops
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
MIAMI, Nov. 22, 2005 Nestled here in the "capital of Latin America," U.S. Southern Command ensures American defense leaders keep an eye pointed southward.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks to enlisted servicemembers over lunch at U.S. Southern Command in Miami, Nov. 21. Photo by Kathleen T. Rhem
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. "Joe" Gainey, recently appointed as the first senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited the command Nov. 21 to learn the lay of the land and impart bits of his own brand of wisdom.
"I'll give you an honest answer, even if it hurts your feelings," he told a group of senior noncommissioned officers as he encouraged them to discuss issues affecting their troops.
His main point of advice for the senior enlisted leaders was to maintain their focus on their most important priority -- junior servicemembers. "If you've got your head stuck up in the stars, then you forget about what's on the ground, which is where the soldiers are," Gainey said.
An Army scout who started his career as a tanker, Gainey admits he still slips and says "soldiers" even when he's referring to members of all services. After 30 years in the Army, "soldiers" is a hard habit to break.
In his new position, which he's held since Oct. 1, Gainey has experimented with saying "servicemembers," "troops" and "warriors." He said he has used "heroes" as his term of choice in the past but doesn't want to devalue the term for true battle heroes.
Whatever he calls them, Gainey's passionate concern for the welfare of junior servicemembers is genuine. He carries a laminated photo of Army Sgt. Matthew Maupin, the only servicemember missing from operations in Iraq, in his wallet.
Gainey was the senior enlisted advisor for Multinational Corps Iraq when Maupin went missing during an attack on his convoy and was later classified as captured. When a conversation early Nov. 21 turned to media reports on the alleged demise of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Iraq's al Qaeda terrorists, Gainey pulled out his photo of Maupin.
"We owe it to this young man right here (to catch or kill Zarqawi)," he said, pointing to the photo. "People talk about warriors; well, this guy was a warrior. He stood and he fought and he got captured.
"He'll stay with me until he comes home," Gainey said, tucking the photo back in his wallet.
Gainey explained to SOUTHCOM senior leaders that he has four roles in his new position:
- To be in the "communications chain" to explain defense policies to servicemembers, the American public and other constituencies, such as the Congress;
- To provide oversight of various issues affecting servicemembers, particularly the enlisted force;
- To be the chairman's spokesman and provide a link up and down between the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, and service and combatant command senior enlisted advisors; and
- To integrate solutions to common problems among the services and combatant commands.
Gainey said the third role, to be the chairman's spokesman, is most important. "If he (Pace) has a concern, that's automatically my concern," he said.
During the visit to Southern Command, the organization's deputy commander, Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard Mentemeyer, brought up an issue that concerns another of Gainey's priorities: to be an integrator. Throughout the day, the sergeant major repeatedly called himself an integrator. "If one service has an issue, I'll see if other services have similar issues and if any of them have had any success dealing with that issue," he explained.
Mentemeyer and Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Balch, SOUTHCOM's senior enlisted advisor, told Gainey that one big personnel concern was commonality of benefits among members of different services deployed to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the Defense Department maintains a detention facility for enemy combatants captured in the war on terrorism. Benefits and allowances for troops deployed there vary from service to service, as does whether servicemembers get "credit" for serving in a joint unit.
"We need to integrate more on enlisted issues," Mentemeyer said.
While troops at Guantanamo Bay may not have to worry about being shot at, working "inside the wire" is extremely stressful. Balch said duty at Guantanamo can be even more difficult than serving in Iraq from a stress perspective, because the island base is under such a microscope of public scrutiny.
"Every mistake they make they'll see on the front page of the Washington Post and the Miami Herald," Balch said.
"They read the papers, and they take it personally," Army Lt. Col. James Marshall, SOUTHCOM deputy public affairs officer, said.
Mentemeyer told Gainey he has a unique perspective on enlisted issues and a deep appreciation for noncommissioned officers because his father is a retired Army command sergeant major.
He also said it's important to ensure servicemembers have equitable pay, benefits and tour credits, because such issues and their impact on the troops' families affect retention rates. "We need to do more and more (to retain families) and not just pay lip service to it," Mentemeyer said. "(Troops) know lip service."
Gainey agreed. He said he credits his wife with encouraging him not to retire after 20 years.
After lunch with SOUTHCOM's enlisted members of the quarter and of the year, Gainey toured Special Operations Command South at nearby Homestead Air Reserve Base. He called the special operators there "a very dedicated bunch of warriors" who take what they do very seriously.
He noted with interest that many members of the command had served on teams together for three or four years. "They treated each other like brothers," he said after the visit.
The sergeant major said he was also struck by how little family time these troops have. "They're always in training, on a mission, refitting, or preparing to train," he said. "It shocked me and really disturbed me. That's something we need to work on."
Gainey said he gained a whole new appreciation for special operations troops during his tenure in Iraq, where such forces are at the forefront of the war on terrorism. "I used to be like everyone else, thinking you guys were the 'special' guys," Gainey said he told members of the command. "But when I saw what you do in Iraq, I realized just how special you really are."