After 37 years in the Army — and having served the last four as the third senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell is ready to move on.
Troxell will turn over his responsibilities during a ceremony tomorrow at the Pentagon. Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the Joint Chiefs chairman, named Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Ramon Colon-Lopez to succeed Troxell in the military's top enlisted post.
Traveling to and taking care of enlisted troops around the world and making a difference in their lives, Troxell said, ranks high among the highlights of his time in the position.
"What I was pleasantly surprised about is that I was able to go to places and see our troops doing wonderful things," Troxell said during a Dec. 9 briefing at the Pentagon. "Or, I could get into a place where there might be some contentious issues going on — like troops operating in an environment where they didn't have requisite resources like joint fires or [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] or personnel recovery, or something like that — and I could report that back to my leadership, and it made an impact."
Over the past four years, Troxell said, he's traveled to nearly 60 different locations around the globe to meet with service members, including places such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. He said he's also met with wounded service members, military families and Gold Star families to hear their concerns.
As a leader within a military that includes the strengthening of alliances and the attraction of new partners within the National Defense Strategy, Troxell said, he's also been proud of the work done during his tenure to help allied and partner nations realize the significance of their own enlisted forces.
In 2005, Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, then the Joint Chiefs chairman, appointed Army Command Sgt. Maj. William Gainey as the first senior enlisted advisor to the chairman. Not all nations' militaries have such a position, but that is changing.
"Based on the collective work the Defense Senior Enlisted Leader Conference has done with our international partners over the past four years, 27 countries have instituted a position of a senior enlisted advisor to the chief of defense," Troxell said.
Colon-Lopez most recently served as U.S. Africa Command's senior enlisted leader. Troxell said he has great faith in Colon-Lopez’s ability to take over for him, and that the two of them have talked about the challenges of the job.
"[He] just spent the last three years as a combatant command senior enlisted leader in one of the most contested combatant commands, and people forget about U.S. Africa Command," Troxell said. "So he is well-versed on how to operate at the strategic level. I think the advice he and I continue to talk about is [that] it's a marathon, not a sprint. And you're in here for two years with an extension for two more years, and when you become the SEAC — and this is I'm speaking on my experiences — you know, you look at the globe and say, 'Well, this is the operating environment for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so if I gotta gain the pulse for him, I gotta make sure I get out and about.'"
Colon-Lopez said that during his tenure, he will continue to support the chairman and enlisted service members. He cited the chairman's five priorities — sustaining values, improving joint warfighting readiness, developing the joint force of the future, developing and empowering joint force leaders, and taking care of people and families — as his starting points.
"You can see how much work needs to be done in every single one of those areas," he said.
When it comes to service members, he said, it's impossible to do enough for our them compared to what they do. "So our duty is just to keep them fighting and figure out exactly what needs to get done, when it needs to get done, to ensure that they're taken care of so they can continue to protect us."
Colon-Lopez made reference to a sticker he said he once had on the motorcycle helmet he wore. The sticker read, "For those who have fought for it, freedom has a taste that the protected will never know."
"That is what every single one of those young men and women are doing daily for each and every one of us," he said. "So I'll be shamed and damned if I don't put every ounce of effort into making sure that I make life better for them."