By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, Aug. 18, 2006 – Just short of 10 months into his job as the first senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Command Sergeant Major William J. Gainey said he's making important inroads between servicemembers and their leaders but is still "working it hard" to build on them. Since moving into the position Oct. 1, Gainey has spent more days on the road than at home, hopscotching the globe to meet with as many soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen as he can and reporting his findings directly to Marine Gen. Peter Pace.
"I am truly his eyes and ears," Gainey said of his relationship with the chairman. And just as importantly, Gainey said, he sees himself as the voice of the servicemembers he meets with back to their own service senior enlisted advisers or, when necessary, Pace. Since appointing Gainey as his personal adviser on enlisted force matters, Pace has given him free rein to do his job. "General Pace has the confidence in me to get out and do the right thing," Gainey said. "He never questions where I go or when I go. I keep him informed. He never questions why because he knows I'm out checking or seeing, visiting our young men and women of the different services on his behalf."
So far, Gainey has visited eight of the nine combatant commands and every service's senior leader academy, and he regularly attends service school graduations to offer his insights. Every visit is fast-paced as Gainey tries to squeeze in time with as many troops as possible to talk about things that matter to them -- not just those related to the mission, but also about education, health, welfare, morale and housing issues.
The only real free time he allows into his trips are early-morning runs he religiously makes no matter how overscheduled he might appear. On a recent trip to Alaska, for example, Gainey turned down what many would consider a golden opportunity to go fishing. "They pointed to a spot where you could see something like 400 fish," he said. "But I told them I'd rather go see 400 troops. Show me 400 troops."
When he meets with those troops, Gainey said he resists sticking to concrete schedules. He bristles at well-meaning gestures from staff members intent on keeping him on time. "When I'm talking to a servicemember, that's the only person in the world to me," he said. "I don't want someone else tapping their watch and telling me that it's time to go somewhere else."
Gainey constantly assesses morale and command climate in units he visits. "I can tell within 20 seconds of entering a unit if the command climate is good or bad," he said. "That's how I judge morale." He talks with individual troops, but recognizes they're likely to gloss over any problems they're experiencing. "You look at a person and ask how their morale is and they might say, 'Oh good, Sergeant Major. It's wonderful. Kumbaya. Let's eat eggs and go picnic,'" he said.
So Gainey goes to their comrades. "I talk to your buddy. I say, 'How's your buddy's morale?'" he said. "And what they say is really the true picture." Overall, morale among the troops is good, he said. "And the reason is that they understand the mission, a lot more than I did when I was a private, because of the information flow from their leaders. The command climate in the places I am going now is unbelievable."
Gainey reports his observations back to Pace every day, limiting them to a set of bullets that fill no more than a 2-by-1.5-inch window on his Blackberry personal digital assistant. "He likes bullets," Gainey said of Pace. "Any more than that and I'm rambling." The two have developed a close working relationship and a strong sense of trust. "General Pace is my battle buddy, and I am his battle buddy," Gainey said. "I wouldn't say that ... unless I thought it was really true."
After 31 years in the Army, including 30 years as a noncommissioned officer and 12 years as a command sergeant major, Gainey said he's never seen a higher-quality or smarter military force. He recalled someone telling him he thought the Army is getting soft. "I agreed with him and said, 'You're right. The Army is getting soft,'" Gainey said. "It's getting Microsoft."
"Our young men and women are so much smarter -- and I take nothing away from myself or anyone else in my year group," Gainey said. "They are so much smarter than we could ever be at the same level when we came in (to the military)." "And do not think they are not as patriotic as we are," he said, noting that it was patriotism, not educational benefits, that prompted him to enlist into the new all-volunteer force in 1974 under the Delayed Entry Program.
Today, educational benefits are a big draw for incoming recruits, he acknowledged. "But do you know something? They are just as patriotic as you and I could ever be," he said. "And that's what old guys like myself have got to understand. It's a different generation. It's the 'now' generation and it's our future generation. We should be proud of them."
The more exposure Gainey gets to the different services, the more convinced he becomes that the concept of a joint force is working. He said he was particularly struck by the jointness he observed during his recent trip to Alaska, a synergy he attributes to local leadership emphasis as well as geographic necessity. Gainey said he's gratified to see he's having an influence in forging new relationships between services and commands. He sees himself as a "forcing factor" to help "bring the forces together and help them understand that we have one common cause."
Together, the services can do that well, he said. "Separately, somebody is going to pay the price. And it's not going to be us leaders. It's going to be the young men and women who trust us to do the right thing." Gainey said he's come to realize that despite their different cultures, the services have far more similarities than differences. He once laid out each service's core values on a piece of paper and realized that the only real differences came down to wording. "There is no difference between the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Coast Guard and the Marines," he said. "We train, equip and organize differently. But the bottom line is, we are all the same. And people have to realize that."