A final conversation with CSM Eric Gordon
June 12, 2013
SCHWEINFURT, Germany (June 12, 2013) -- The outgoing command sergeant major here shared his thoughts June 10 about his departure from Germany and his upcoming retirement.
In command since Sept. 17, 2010, the U.S. Army Garrison Schweinfurt command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Major Eric Gordon, served side by side garrison commanders Lt. Col. Everett Spain and Col. Michael Runey, who relinquished command May 23.
Command Sgt. Maj. Eric K. Gordon spoke with me about his time in Schweinfurt, what he hopes to leave the community, eating the tradition Franconia dish Schäufele and more.
So you are about to leave USAG Schweinfurt. Where are you heading, and what are are you going to do when you get there?
Well I am going to Atlanta. That's where my mortgage is. I intend to pursue either a public circle or civil service. I think that's the career that I am akin to. My new employer is yet to be determined. Whether it be federal, state, local or even non-profit organization. I haven't really pinpointed that. I have time. So my official date of retirement is 1 November. So I have a little bit of time to get things in order. But I know it's not a great deal of time, given the process that has to go on, but we'll see how that goes. I'm confident. God has led me to this path so far, and He will continue to do so.
Of all the things you have learned in the military, what do you think is the most applicable to working as a civilian?
I think our Army values hold sway mostly. Also, doing more than what is required. Going above and beyond or helping out without being asked or told. And I think that surrounds initiative. I think our Army values, our initiative are super combat-multipliers in the civilian world, if you will.
How did being the Command Sergeant Major shape your career?
It gave me a greater perspective on city management and community relations. I've dealt with community relations for the better part of my Army career. I will tell you it has refined my transformation leadership skills as well as conflict management and resolution.
What has been your observation about seeing the Soldiers of USAG Schweinfurt and the way they interact with the local nationals here?
I believe it's good. We have a great community, and I thinks it's because of the folks -- and I tell people this. I tell this to people on the installation and off the installation, because with that kind of build-up, or that kind of grouping, if you will, it makes a much better place for us to live, work and serve.
How did you change the way the USAG Schweinfurt Soldiers interact with the German community?
As I stated before, we have some great folks here. But I also believe in modeling behavior, so letting people see what right looks like. Demonstrating not only that you know how to do the job, but you are also willing to pitch in and help to get things moving along, too. So, you know, to show a young soldier especially that you are more than someone just barking or telling them to do things, but actually getting involved with whatever the activity is.
What do you feel was your greatest success while you were in command here?
I think the greatest success here is building community -- at least being a part of that major growth of this community. And my real belief is that when people embrace a sense of community and engage one another by participating, everything improves. When neighbors help neighbors, teamwork becomes a natural occurrence. And that's pretty awesome. [USAG Schweinfurt garrison commander] Colonel Runey and I did a lot of studying, and we dug down and did some research on community. What does that really mean? And actually, at its core it's a pretty awesome thing. And because the Army itself is built of a community and once we have that sense of community, things kind of synch and link in together. And it's pretty cool. It only improves conditions. It makes for a better place to live, makes a better place to work and it makes a better place to serve. And that goes beyond just the Soldier. We're taking families and our host nation folks that they come in contact with daily.
What do you hope to leave the people of Schweinfurt with?
Friendships, great memories and a community that cares.
What has been the most memorable thing to happen to you since you have been in Schweinfurt, personal or professional?
Now that was a challenging question because a lot of great memorable things have occurred since I have been here. Mostly positive, some negative. Or tragic in some senses, but I am going to focus on things in a more positive light, because I think we should always leave on a positive note. Other than running my first marathon, the Rowdy River Race, mountain biking in the Rhone with the chief of police -- he's an awesome dude and a good biker too. The most memorable thing I think was availing myself to others. Having mentioned before, just because you come in here doesn't mean you're in trouble. However, there are folks that come in here and trouble is redefined as "I need some help." Personally, mentally, physically whatever the case may have been. And I think being available to others no matter what time of day or night -- and sometime it's just divine appointment I think where you happen upon folks and you provide them with time. And time is precious commodity. But cutting out a piece of time for others, I think, was most memorable, because you see a different transformation later. Most were successful encounters, which makes you feel warm here [points to heart].
Did you say 'divine appointment?'
It can be. It's another term I use. 'Providential,' or whatever some people call it. It just seems sometimes like you walk up on something and it's the right time at the right moment, and sometimes you save peoples' lives.
Do you have children? And how has this position impacted your family?
I do. I have a daughter. She's 21. Her name is Rachel. She stayed back to go to school. I didn't like the distance because you lose a little control. Maybe I've been over-controlling, at least she told me that [laughs]. So it allowed me to allow her to grow a little bit. I know it can wear on the family sometimes, and I won't necessarily say my daughter because she is an adult now, but you do become a target of opportunity from time to time. Whether purposefully or not, it happens. The thing that I learned from past commanders is we are not in it for the fame and glory. And it is never about us. It's always about them. But I can see sometimes where the spotlight falls. My wife is not a big spotlight person. She is just as satisfied to stay in the backdrop and say "whatever you need to take care of is OK" kind of thing.
A side question: Do you think that selflessness of focusing on everyone around you and not focusing as much on yourself has changed since you have been in the Army? Is that a long process that you go through from when you come in?
I think so. When I joined the Army, I didn't know jack about the Army. It was an experiment.
And you stayed this long? How many years has it been?
It's been thirty years. I'm on my thirty-first year. By the time I retire I will have thirty-one years. I tell people I have been in the Army twenty-six years longer than I ever thought I would be. So again, I think so. When people start out -- and there are some folks that are much better than I am and more mature and their focus is not on themselves -- I don't know if that was my main purpose when I came in. I think I was part of the 'me' generation, too. I listened to the same radio -- WIFM, "What's in it for me?" But I think yeah, over time as you mature, and there is a maturation process, I see that. I hope that for everyone. But I don't think it was for me in the beginning. I had to go through the maturation process, because I had to come to the realization that it's more than me. There's a whole lot of others out there. When you're not helping others, you never know what goes awry.
But certainly when you get to your level or position it has to be less about you and more about the Soldiers that you serve with?
It should be. If you look around today, you still see some selfish leaders.
So what do you think is the most important quality you have gained that you can apply to another job or another area of work?
There is a lot I have gleaned from this assignment, but it's also a mixture of past assignments, too, because my past assignments that I have built upon shape me to be who I am today, to engage the way I engage today. What will I take away? My hope is to be a better citizen -- for our nation, for our country, for our families, because citizenry is not a lost art, but we don't talk about it anymore. I whole-heartedly believe that the Army builds good citizens. Though sometimes we pull out stuff and highlight all the negative stuff that goes on, but it's reality. I think we create better citizens for America. So I hope I am part of that.
Is there anything you would change about your Army career if you could?
I don't think so. Not really. And I say that because if I could have taken a different path or a different route and those were really available. There were many different means to go many different ways and most people don't realize that. In the Army there are vast opportunities to do different things. Or even to leave the Army. But to change my career? Yeah, you know I thought about it -- what if? But then I thought, wait a second. If I had went that way, even at the urging of others to go this way, I would never have been able to meet the fine folks that I have encountered today. I mean really. I have met a lot of great people and I am in awe that I had that opportunity.
What will you miss most about Germany?
I think the travel. I think God has blessed me on this career thing. Here's why I say that. I think the thing I will miss most about Germany is it's an adventure. I say travel because you're in the heart of Germany. And in any direction you go starting with Schweinfurt, you're going to find a cool place, an interesting place. Whether it be a town, a city, a dorf or even a country. Three and a half hours this way, you're in Prague. Another, what, six hours you're in another country. Five hours you're up in another part of the country. So you if keep circling you will find so much history. And you don't even have to be a history buff or a history major to enjoy it. It just hits the cool factor! So I think I will miss that the most. Think about it. Where else can you go and have a four day weekend and say 'Hey! Lets' go to Paris!' Boom. You leave first thing in the morning and you're in Paris by that evening. And then you stay for a couple of days and then you get back on the road and you get back here late that night, get some shut-eye and go back to work. Now where else can you do that? Unless you own your own Gulf Stream, you can't. I thought that was kind of neat and advantageous for us.
What will you miss more? German food or German beer?
Mostly the food. I am more of an eater than a drinker.
Any particular dishes you have come to like since you have been here?
I am not afraid of the pig. That's why I'm in Schweinfurt, I guess. I love the Schäufele, which is a pig shoulder. The Brauhaus (restaurant in downtown Schweinfurt) has the best. There are so many it's hard to single them out. And Wirsing, which is actually savoy. I call it the green goo. You've got to try it sometime. I think it's ground-up cabbage of some sort.
If you could offer one piece of advice to the Soldiers here what would it be?
You asked me to say one piece, but it's a continuation piece: Set goals. Whether it be academic, vocational, personal or professional. Doesn't matter. Set goals. With time lines. And remember, don't let anything stop you. And take care of others along the way. Because too often we get self-focused and you have seen people who have great achievements but leave a field of debris behind them. I know there is a better way, and I have seen that success where people have done great achievements and brought a whole bunch of others along with them. So I think if you set your goals, put time lines on them, don't let anything stop you and remember other folks and take care of them along the way, you will be super successful.
But that's easier said than done though, isn't it? It's easy to get lost in the sauce when you are going about your day-to-day life.
The tragedy is that some people step on other people along the way. It's not that they leave them behind. Think about the word 'leader.' A leader is not a guy or a gal that is pushing people because some folks don't want to go. So a leader should never push anything. They should be out there leading. Sometimes you have to drag people to success. And yes, it's easy to get self-centered. That's the human nature you have to resist. And in order for the greater good there has to be others. If you want to be successful, that's fine. But be great. The other advice I would give people is that I want them to get out. Get out of your house, get out of the barracks. And we talked about it before. I think travel is pretty awesome. You never know if you are going to come back. We would like to believe that we will always be able to come back. But as you stated sometimes we get so wrapped up in life that we miss the opportunities. Like that old man from the country says, an opportunity past is an opportunity lost. Take advantage of the assignment you have. We need to try to move Soldiers outside the virtual world, if you will.