Giving back hallmark of new command sergeant major's career
May 15, 2014
Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part interview with the Command Sgt. Maj. David M. Puig, the new Army Contracting Command senior noncommissioned officer.
Command Sgt. Maj. David M. Puig learned early in life what it means to be an American and to be a servant leader.
The Army Contracting Command's new command sergeant major, Puig has always tried to give back, something he learned from his father at an early age.
"My family hails from Cuba and my father worked hard to become a naturalized citizen. He is a very devout American to the point that though we had a Cuban heritage, he did not want Spanish to be spoken in his home. He is a true-blue American through and through. So I grew up with that sense," Puig said about his father.
"My father wanted to serve in the military," said Puig, from Lebanon, Oregon. "But with bad knees he was medically disqualified. He tried multiple times to enlist but they wouldn't take him. So I grew up with a sense of wanting to serve."
Puig enlisted in the Oregon National Guard in 1985 during his junior year in high school. He spent that summer in basic training then went to his advanced individual training the summer after high school graduation.
"I had a desire for helping other people, I think that's why I initially came into the medical career field," said Puig. "At the time I thought it was the best field for me to be to give something back. It was only a few months from getting back from AIT that I decided the Army was something I wanted to do full time. So I transferred to active duty."
Puig worked as a line unit medic in an infantry battalion as the division was reducing its numbers. He earned the expert field medical badge, what he called the most highly coveted award for a field medic.
"It took me two tries," he added. "I was one of only 12 out of 200 in the 9th Infantry Division to get it."
He soon found himself in a new unit and in a position of having to make a career-changing decision.
"I wound up in a main support battalion and was one of five expert field medical badge holders. I thought I'd be able to do some great things. I ended up being the unit armorer and the first sergeant's driver," said Puig with a tint of disappointment in his voice. "It was a dead-end job for me and that's when EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) raised its ugly head and I jumped on it with both feet.
"I found a way to serve and for me, selfless service is extremely important. There's no better way to serve than to put your life on the line to save others."
His service took him to Operation Desert Storm in 1991 where he and his EOD teams disarmed countless unexploded ordnance, clearing the battlefield for friendly forces. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan, by now a first sergeant then a command sergeant major, during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. It was in 2003 when he earned his Combat Action Badge.
His convoy was attacked in Fallujah by daisy-chained improvised explosive devices, what he characterized as one of the first uses of multiple IEDs linked together and detonated at once.
IEDs were new to the battlefield, he added, so the unit was riding in "clean" Humvees--not up-armored as they would be later in the war--when 155mm projectiles exploded in the front and rear of the convoy. He suffered from blast overpressure, but no serious injuries. He said good convoy procedures kept the unit from sustaining serious injuries.
"As an EOD operator I've unfortunately been in the right place at the right time to earn it many times over," he said, adding that the CAB is awarded only once.
As time moved on, Puig's rank and responsibilities continued to increase.
Selected to attend the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, he was also selected to serve as a battalion command sergeant major. From there he went on to be the first command sergeant major for Joint Task Force Paladin in Afghanistan. JTF Paladin's mission was to combat the rising number of improvised exploding device attacks in Afghanistan. The task force ended its mission in January.
His next assignment was one he said that took him out of his comfort zone.
"I competed for the Joint Munitions Command's command sergeant major position," said Puig whose background wasn't in dealing with the industrial side of the Army.
Puig saw the position as an opportunity to lead the way. There had never been a nominative command sergeant major in the EOD career field so he decided to go for it. In doing so he was selected as the first JMC command sergeant major and became the first nominative EOD command sergeant major.
His next challenge would be learning the Army industrial base along with how to advise the commander in a command with more than 15,000 civilians and only 40 Soldiers.
"At the time nothing in my noncommissioned officer professional development had prepared me to be the command sergeant major for an almost purely civilian organization," said Puig. "I had a huge learning curve but thank God for some great staff members and a lot of time and patience. I was able to learn not just the industrial base of the command but how to lead a civilian organization.
"Just like when I was a brigade sergeant major, nothing gave me more pleasure than engaging the troops down to the lowest level. The same held true at JMC only in this case, instead of engaging with troops in the trenches, I was engaging with a phenomenal workforce that was managing production lines and working in ammunition plants and storage depots. They were just as hard working as any Soldier and just as critical."
Following his tour with JMC, Puig accepted the command sergeant major position with the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiation, Nuclear, Explosives Command, the higher headquarters for Army EOD and operational chemical forces stateside.
"For an EOD sergeant major this is as good as it gets," Puig said. "You're leading 90 percent of the EOD forces in the Army. The command is dispersed similarly to ACC so the opportunity to travel and train with Soldiers made the job exciting."