By Army Spc. James Wilton
Iowa National Guard
PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan (6/15/11) – Army Command Sgt. Maj. Richard J. Burch, the command sergeant major of the Army National Guard, visited Soldiers from Troop A, 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment at Joint Combat Outpost Pul-E-Sayad, Afghanistan May 27.
The visit was a part of a battlefield circulation Burch and Army Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond Chandler, command sergeant major of the Army, conducted in Afghanistan over the past week.
“The main reason the sergeant major of the Army and I came out was to talk with the leadership and the Soldiers to make sure we are working on the right things back in D.C. to help them in their missions here in Afghanistan and making sure that they’re prepared, equipped, trained and ready to conduct the missions that are expected of them here in theatre,” Burch said.
Burch spoke with Task Force Redhorse Soldiers, a part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Red Bulls, about life on the JCOP, their plans for the future and whether they keep up with family back home.
The Soldiers had a range of questions for Burch including changes in uniform standards, the effect of the active force draw down on National Guard troops and the upcoming change to the Army physical fitness test.
Burch addressed these concerns during an informal sit down at the JCOP’s dining facility.
“The biggest thing that anyone in a leadership position needs to make sure and relay to the Soldiers is that we want to hear what is important to them, and we are working on those issues to try and help make the quality of life for the Soldiers better,” he said.
“We must ensure that our focus is on the Soldiers, the units and the missions that they are going to be expected to participate in. These things must receive our attention so we can make sure that we are doing the right things to best prepare them for the future.”
The Soldiers said they appreciated his insights.
“I think his comments and answers had a positive impact on the Soldiers,” said Army 1st Sgt. Chad Schweitzberger, the Troop A first sergeant. “It seems we are serving in the Iowa National Guard and the U.S. Army in a time where there are a lot of questions about the present and future. These questions seem to be on everyone’s minds so it was great he was here to provide us with some of his insight on the topics.”
Answering Soldiers’ questions is only part of visits like these which also help to connect Soldiers with the Army’s higher-level leadership.
“Solders see their leadership in pictures on walls, read articles about their leadership in magazines and on the Internet, [but] when they get an opportunity to meet them in person it adds something more to it,” Schweitzberger said. “I think the Soldiers have a better appreciation for leadership after the visit is over. It shows the Soldiers he cares enough to come and see how they are living and conducting day-to-day operations.”
Burch said, like many leaders in the armed forces, he does care about his troops and their families and he wanted to make sure they were aware of that.
“We obviously recognize the sacrifices that the families and employers are making and we want to make it perfectly clear that we know that we can’t do what we are doing these days in Afghanistan and Iraq without their continued support and continued understanding,” Burch said. “The big picture can’t happen without that support of those families and employers out there.”
On a final note, Burch touched on a subject that is troubling him and many leaders throughout the military.
“The National Guard and the Army as a whole has experienced a very troubling spike in suicides in 2010,” he said. “There are so many stressors that impact our Soldiers and our families out there and the military is part of those stressors that hit them. We don’t want to continue to be part of the problem. We want to be part of the solution.”
Emphasis on communication and seeking out assistance is needed in order to not let things like financial or relationship trouble get to a point where Soldiers think they have no other way out, Burch said.
“It is not all about always being ready for the missions. It is about being there and being ready to assist the Soldiers and the families in their times of need,” Burch added. “Whatever it might be... we are here and always ready to be there for them, to help them out.”