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Why I Serve: Top Sergeant Loves Seeing Troops Get Promoted

By Spc. Allison Churchill, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT HOOD, Texas, March 18, 2005 – "I wanted to serve the country and I knew there must be something better than working in the steel mills of my hometown," Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Zettlemoyer said, explaining why he joined the Army.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Zettlemoyer said he joined the Army because I knew there must be something better than working in the steel mills of my hometown. Army photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image)

In 1979, the command sergeant major of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, originally planned to return to Bethlehem Steel Corporation in Bethlehem, Pa., the mill where he worked briefly before joining, and from where his father and brothers eventually retired. "The sense of urgency and mission requirements during the Cold War era in Europe made me feel like I really was contributing to our country's defense," he said.

After basic and advanced training at Fort Knox, Ky., Zettlemoyer went to the Combat Support Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. He said his company was lacking noncommissioned officers. Either by luck, or from being a couple of years older than other unit members, Zettlemoyer was recognized for leadership positions early on, he said.

By his two-year mark, Zettlemoyer was promoted to sergeant. When he re-enlisted, he passed the staff sergeant promotion board at his five and a half-year mark. Shortly thereafter, in June 1986, he was made a charter member of the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club, created to recognize outstanding noncommissioned officers.

Zettlemoyer recalled being nervous to go in front of a board of sergeants major instead of the first sergeants who usually run a promotion board.

"When these senior leaders tell you you're successful, that's when you realize you're in for a career," Zettlemoyer said.

The support Zettlemoyer received as a young NCO shaped his view of his role as a command sergeant major.

"You can measure your success when your subordinates get promoted," Zettlemoyer said, adding that he regularly scans promotion listings in the Army Times for names of past platoon sergeants or first sergeants. He said he thinks modularity - creating the Army's new unit structure as a brigade combat team - offers great opportunity for growth for willing soldiers.

A recently created unit, 1st Armor, 66th Battalion, reminds Zettlemoyer of his first unit. Currently, there are few NCOs, but many soldiers fresh out of advanced individual training. Mature soldiers have the chance to step up to the plate and take leadership roles such as squad leader, which will lead to quick promotions, Zettlemoyer said.

"I love seeing soldiers get promoted," he said.

Zettlemoyer supports his soldiers any way he can. In November 2002, shortly after taking over as command sergeant major of 1st Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, he and his brigade commander, Col. Anthony Ierardi, were invited to participate in the Manchu Mile, a 25-mile overnight ruck march through the hills of South Korea, a requirement for soldiers serving in the 9th Infantry Regiment. Upon completion, soldiers receive the Manchu belt buckle, the only other authorized buckle in the Army.

Zettlemoyer said he and Ierardi went back and forth, but ultimately decided to participate as a show of support. He said being better prepared would probably have made recovering easier, but he's proud he was able to complete the march at age 43.

Seeing soldiers' faces when they are awarded the Manchu belt buckle "is enough to make anyone proud," Zettlemoyer said, "but to stand among them was just fantastic."

Zettlemoyer, a recipient of numerous Army awards, wears his Manchu buckle every day. But with 25 years of service, he said, he's now more concerned with seeing his soldiers earn awards. He enjoys visiting the barracks and seeing awards and coins displayed, he said.

"It's nice seeing young soldiers proud of their awards," Zettlemoyer said.

(Army Spc. Allison Churchill is assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs.)

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