A fond farewell
December 3, 2013
Command Sgt. Maj. William Berrios has served as U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria's top enlisted Soldier since May 2008. He will retire at the end of the month with more than 30 years service in the U.S. Army. The Bavarian News sat down with Berrios recently and asked him to reflect on his career.
1. What do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment during your tour at USAG Bavaria?
Wow. It's a combination … what you do is try and take care of Soldiers. It's a major satisfaction when Soldiers come up to you and say 'Thank you for taking care of us and doing A, B and C.' Or 'I was just deployed for a year and my wife came to see you and you were able to fix A, B and C.'
(The position encompasses) fixing Soldiers' barracks, making a better quality of life for Soldiers and their families … improving customer service ... from area beautification to making this garrison the best looking garrison in Europe.
So it's a lot of different arenas that the garrison sergeant major touches. It is a combination. You see everything come together.
2. What was the hardest lesson you learned?
Transitioning my military mind. You get used to dealing with Soldiers and then you come into an organization that is mostly civilians. So you have to learn how to interact with and motivate civilians. (You have to ask yourself) how can I get through to civilians the same way that I get through to Soldiers, which is sometimes a little bit different because of the culture.
You have to transform yourself into the job.
3. What changes have you noticed in the Army as a whole or here in Europe over the course of your career?
A lot of the benefits Soldiers have -- the locational benefits. Better opportunities for Soldiers to go to schools, free tuition assistance and a better chance for Soldiers to improve themselves -- opportunities that Soldiers should be taking advantage of.
Housing is much better these days. A private now lives in a house that a colonel would have lived in when I was a private.
Quality of life overall has improved. Barracks .. (Back then) we're talking about four people per room, and now we're talking about 1+1 standard. One person per room, individual bathrooms with a kitchenette. World class gyms … ACS and the programs and the services they provide are outstanding.
Medical -- all the clinics that we have from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder clinics, behavioral health services -- there's no longer a stigma associated with going in and using those services. Now the Army is ready to help and assist Soldiers and families.
I think leaders just need to continue to enforce standards that are already established. Sometimes it's because a leader did not recognize what the standards are, or if they know what they are, they did not enforce them.
We're still doing the same things we were doing 30 years ago, it's just about how you enforce the standards. The same tasks, to the same standards. It's no different.
4. If you could go back in time and give one piece of advice to Pvt. Berrios, and one piece of advice for young Soldiers just starting their Army careers now, what would it be?
Advice for Pvt. Berrios: I should have taken advantage of education earlier, and used the educational benefits earlier in my career. Doing that will benefit you throughout the entire process (for example, in the promotion process). Don't wait until you're about to retire to go back to school.
For Soldiers: You need to strive for the hardest jobs at the earliest stage in your career -- that Ranger or Airborne school. You have to take the tough assignments. Don't be shy. Take all the tough, demanding jobs early in your career. Don't wait. You don't want to be 50 years old trying to go to Airborne or Ranger school.
But at the same time you have to balance work, schooling, education and your family.
Family is very important. Sometimes we work and work and work and don't spend enough time with our family. They're going to grow and they're going to go. And the time you don't spend with your family you won't get back.
5. What will you miss most about the USAG Bavaria community?
People. Families, Soldiers, our German hosts. This is a very tight community. Everyone wants to do the right thing, everybody's involved. This is a great community and one of the best communities I've been in.
My wife, Nancy, and I going to miss it after we depart. People are what make this community a very strong community.
6. Where are you headed now and what is your plan for retirement?
I'm going back to where I came from -- a small town called Orocovis, Puerto Rico. It's in the mountains and I have a small farm there. My plan for retirement: I'm going to go fishing.
I spent more time in the Army than I spent growing up there. So it's hard to say where you're from, right? I'd like to start a small business later on … I want to do charters to go deep-sea fishing or diving.
Does your wife have plans, too?
I think she has a list of stuff for me to do -- it's still classified Secret. She hasn't shown it to me yet but I'm pretty sure I'm going to be a very busy man.
7. Is the van coming with you (Berrios owns a distinctive white 2004 Ford E-150, similar to the Econoline vans from the 1980s)?
The van is gone. It is on a boat right now. That thing is part of the family. That thing has been with us everywhere. From Fort Bragg to Salt Lake City to El Paso to Korea to Italy and then here.
So most of the people know me because of the car -- I'm planning to keep it for a little bit longer.