By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
June 22, 2007 – The Defense Department's top enlisted member said this week he has submitted his retirement paperwork, but that he plans to stay on through July 2008 until his replacement is on the job. Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said his week-long trip here will be his last to visit troops here. He finished a visit to camps and bases across the peninsula today.
"It was a personal choice that I felt like I had to make after 33 and a half years," Gainey said. "I think it's time to let someone else in this position."
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael G. Mullen, if confirmed by the Senate, will replace Marine Gen. Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Oct. 1.
Gainey said his retirement timeline will give the next Joint Chiefs chairman time to select a senior enlisted advisor.
"I think I owe that to Admiral Mullen, who I think is a very fine officer," Gainey said.
Gainey is the first noncommissioned officer to hold the senior enlisted advisor post, which Pace created, and has served in the job since Oct. 1, 2005.
Since then, he has traveled the world talking to troops and hearing their concerns. Gainey said he will continue his whirlwind travel schedule, talking with servicemembers and advocating on their behalf until the day he retires.
"I'm not going to be a ROAD - 'Retired On Active Duty.' I will talk to troops until the day that I walk off the field," Gainey said. "I'm not going to slow up. I owe it to the troops."
Gainey said he will miss working for his current boss. He said it has been a pleasure working for an officer who has such a passion for taking care of servicemembers.
"He has the ability to make troops feel like they are the most important people in the world," Gainey said of Pace.
Gainey plans to retire near Fort Hood, Texas, where he and his wife of 30 years, Cindy, will build a new home. He said he plans to relax and spend time with his children and grandchildren, as serving in positions of increasing responsibility over the last 10 years has limited his time with family.
Gainey said he would like to work in some capacity that will allow him to speak on the behalf of servicemembers and "the benefits they deserve."
This week, Gainey talked with hundreds of servicemembers at town halls and on call-in radio shows and was guest speaker at a Warrior Leader Course graduation. Using humor mixed with his easy-going "South Carolinian" demeanor, Gainey put the troops at ease so he could hear their concerns about serving in Korea and about life in the military.
"What keeps you up at night?" was the recurring question Gainey posed to troops. "My roommate snoring," was one answer shot back. More serious responses included questions about promotions, uniforms, curfews, medical care, transformation and tour lengths. Gainey recorded the comments and said he will take them back to the appropriate service chiefs and to Pace.
He constantly reminded the servicemembers that he is not in their chain of command, and that he "didn't want to be another ugly picture on the wall" of a headquarters building. Gainey also emphasized that he while he would not resolve their concerns directly, he is a conduit at the Pentagon for getting their concerns to the right person.
Gainey noted the progress made on the Korean peninsula as leadership there begins its transformation from a Cold War formation and begins restructuring bases and camps to improve servicemembers' quality of life. He visited the troops serving here last year at this time.
"The biggest impression I got from this trip was the progress that was made, especially at Camp Humpreys. It was like I was walking into a totally different environment," Gainey said. "The motivation and the morale of the leadership to take care of the troops was also even greater this year."
Gainey said he would talk with the chairman about ensuring proper funding and resources be funneled to Korea to ensure the transformation is complete by 2012.
"One thing I'm going to talk to the chairman about is the commitment we made. We made a commitment ... that we would expand Camp Humphreys," Gainey said. "(Servicemembers) didn't ask to move. They were told to move. Now we owe it to them to take care of them with funding and any other resources they need."
Once the transformation is complete, Camp Humphreys will be the home of U.S. Forces Korea and Eighth U.S. Army. It will be the largest installation on the peninsula.
Gainey said he fielded more concerns this year about the Tricare military health system and Department of Veterans Affairs benefits. Also significant were questions on allowing more command-sponsored families to accompany their military sponsors to the area.
Gainey also said that the troops seemed more focused and motivated this year.
"The soldiers, sailors, airman and Marines here are some of the most focused individuals you will ever meet, because they know that, just like their motto says, they could be fighting tonight," Gainey said. "When you hear the term 'train as you fight,' they truly train as they would fight."
Gainey said he will miss touring Korea. The next time he returns it will be as a civilian on vacation. He has traveled to Korea nine times during his career.
"Korea is a great place. I hear people call it a hardship tour. I can't figure it out," he said.
Nearing the end of his military career, Gainey offered simple advice to those starting theirs.
"Be the best you can be. Learn as much as you can from your leadership. Watch for the good and bad. Mimic the good, record the bad. If you remember the bad, you won't make the same mistakes," Gainey said.
Most importantly though, "Always remember nobody is greater and more important than the troops and their families you are given the privilege to serve," he said.