By Petty Officer 1st Class Derrick Ingle, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 1, 2007 - With a South Carolina accent, words of wisdom and a little physical fitness, the U.S. military's most senior enlisted member captured the hearts of some of the Army and Air Force's most promising leaders of tomorrow. Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, yesterday visited with 40 Airman Leadership School graduates at this northeastern Italy base.
The school prepares Air Force senior airmen and Army specialists and below to be noncommissioned officers. While the six-week course gets young soldiers and airmen ready for the next pay grade, the most senior NCO in the Defense Department used only 60 minutes to do his bit to prepare them for life.
"Most of you don't know me, do you?" Gainey asked. "You heard some old sergeant major was coming to visit and said, 'OK, what's the big deal?'
"All I care about is that you know who your first-line supervisor is, because guess what? One day that's going to be you. Don't worry about who I am," Gainey said. "Worry about your young soldiers and airmen when you become an NCO. You have to listen to your people. This is my motto: I put my God first, my family second and my job or service third. As long as you prioritize in this order, the rest will fall into place, I promise you."
From motivational mottos to metaphoric examples of how each branch of service makes up the "apple pie" called the Defense Department, the 32-year Army veteran used parables -- and about 600 push-ups -- to relate to the military's next generation.
Gainey had several volunteers come to the stage for a physical challenge. "He said he'd add up all the push-ups we can do and do one more," Air Force Staff Sgt. Odell Straughter said.
"He did just that, too. Out of nine of us, we did around 600. He counted it up, dropped down and did one more," Straughter continued with a laugh. "It was a listening tool. He said, as future NCOs, we have to listen to exactly what our people are saying, not what we think they're saying."
The "push-up challenge" not only served as a wake-up call for some to open their ears, but as also enlightenment reminder to maintain physical readiness.
"I do 100 push-ups every morning. If you don't embrace physical fitness, how can you carry a wounded lad out in the field?" Gainey asked. "If you're not in shape enough to be there for your troops, shame on you."
With Gainey's stern, yet welcoming, on-stage presence, the young troops where quick to take heed of his advice.
"He's such a dynamic speaker," Air Force Senior Airman Bradley Von Hawgg said. "He knows how to draw you in. Everything he was saying was right on. He was talking to us and not at us. He's able to talk to the chairman at the Pentagon on one level and then come to Italy and still relate to non-NCOs. How does he do it? Last week I was thinking about leaving the Air Force, yet after meeting the SEAC, I'm not so sure."
Those who know Gainey best say he was a contagious motivational leader long before becoming the top NCO in the Defense Department. From the sands of the Middle East to the halls of the Pentagon, this South Carolina native has always been referred to as "a soldier's soldier."
"I've served with him before his appointment to Washington, D.C.," Army Command Sgt. Maj. Earl Rice, of the Southern European Task Force in Vicenza, Italy, said. Gainey also visited Vicenza during his trip to Italy.
"The secret of his success is he didn't forget where he came from. He remembers what it's like to be a young private, a young sergeant, and an NCO. He's using that same mentality at DoD's headquarters that he had out in the field. It's an honor to have him come out a visit us."
(Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Derrick Ingle is asigned to the Joint Staff.)