By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, Sep. 6, 2006 – For the man who now serves as the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, watching the televised image of an airliner hitting the World Trade Center signaled the end of an era as the country was thrust into war. Army Command Sergeant Major William J. Gainey, then regimental sergeant major for the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Polk, La., said he remembers returning home after an early morning run Sept. 11, 2001, and flipping on the TV news as he cooled down.
Gainey was transfixed by shots of smoke pouring from the World Trade Center and remembered an incident in the 1930s when a military aircraft hit the Empire State Building. As he watched, a second jet careened into the second World Trade Center tower, and he realized that what he was watching was no accident, Gainey said. He ran into the next room to awaken his wife, telling her, "Baby, we are now at war."
Gainey, a career soldier who had served in every leadership position from command group gunner to regimental sergeant major, said the events of Sept. 11 shook him to the core. Gone was the sense of security he'd always felt came from being a superpower with the world's best military. "When I watched those buildings crumble, I got kind of scared and realized we might not be as hard as we think we are," he said. "People can slip in on us. And it gave me a total sense of appreciation for what we need to do or what we might have to do."
As Fort Polk went into a defensive position -- closing roads, putting troops in Humvees around housing areas and sending patrols through the post -- Gainey wondered how the United States would respond to the attacks. "And I was very pleased when the president said we are not going to tolerate it," he said.
Nearly five years later, with the United States fully engaged in the war on terror, the tragic events of Sept. 11 have transformed the U.S. armed forces, said Gainey, now senior enlisted advisor to Marine General Peter Pace, the nation's highest-ranking military officer. After traveling the globe, visiting troops at home and overseas and reporting his findings back to Pace, Gainey said the military has never been stronger.
"It made us more ready than ever before," he said. "Our young men and women of all the services are better trained and have more combat experience than anyone in the last two generations." With better training, better equipment and more combat veterans within its ranks than ever before, the U.S. military has never been better, and its members have never been more serious about their mission, Gainey said. "Talk to any young man and woman and ask them how they feel, and they will tell you, 'We are focused, Sergeant Major,'" he said. "They are focused, and they believe in what they are doing."