Year of the NCO: three-time Iraq vet continues to lead
July 23, 2009
- "As a first sergeant, there's tons of stuff that you do for your Soldiers and the families of Soldiers," Hamil said.
- "You make sure you have your finger on the pulse of the company. You have to be fair and impartial with rewards and punishments."
- "I don't know when I joined up if the Army needed me, but I know I needed the Army. That's exactly right. That's perfect for me, too."
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Not long after being recognized as the Army's 2009 recipient of the 1st Sgt. John Ordway Leadership Award, 1st Sgt. Terrence Hamil stepped up into the boots of the command sergeant major for the 832nd Ordnance Battalion.
The assignment, which is temporary, was made practically overnight after Command Sgt. Maj. Willie Pullom, Hamil's mentor and the senior ranking Soldier who nominated him for the Ordway award, was suddenly called for duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom. A replacement for Pullom will report for duty in August or September.
Until then, Hamil sees his acting role as an opportunity to test his leadership skills in one of the Army's most commanding jobs.
"This is the craziest thing in the world that's happened," said Hamil, a three-time Iraqi war veteran and a two-time Bronze Star recipient.
"To assume the responsibilities of command sergeant major, although only for a short while, is a chance for me to try my abilities at the job. I was the most senior ranking first sergeant, so the job came to me. This is all very new to me. It's an honor to try to fill the place of a command sergeant major like CSM Pullom. I just hope I do the kind of job he expects me to do."
Hamil's abilities as a first sergeant have become well known on Redstone Arsenal since he was assigned to the 832nd Ordnance Battalion in November 2007. He first served as the first sergeant for Headquarters & Alpha Company. In December 2008, he was put in charge as first sergeant of Bravo Company. The assignments gave him an opportunity to familiarize himself with the operations of the battalion, and its Soldiers and their families.
"As a first sergeant, there's tons of stuff that you do for your Soldiers and the families of Soldiers," Hamil said. "You make sure you have your finger on the pulse of the company. You have to be fair and impartial with rewards and punishments, and you lead by a positive example. It's a multi-functional role where you juggle several administrative tasks at the same time."
Hamil was selected as the Army's recipient of the annual 1st Sgt. John Ordway Leadership Award after being nominated by Pullom. He received the award, along with the Army Reserve 1st Sgt. Mickey Hines and the National Guard 1st Sgt. Doug Witt, during an awards ceremony at the Army Birthday Dinner on June 9. Both the dinner and the award program is part of the activities of the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army.
As a first sergeant for the 832nd, Hamil has insisted that his Soldiers and their families participate in the Army Family Team Building program, and that they become aware of the support programs the Army offers its Soldiers and families.
"A Soldier comes in here as a student. They are usually new to the Army and so are their families," Hamil said. "A lot of times the younger Soldier and his wife have a hard time communicating because the Army language is different from civilian language.
"Army Family Team Building is offered to us through Army Community Service. It provides a classroom environment where the wife learns to understand Army acronyms and the different Army language. The Soldier attends the class with his wife. This class is good for the family because they both become more knowledgeable about how the Army works and, plus, togetherness is a good thing for them both. It's about fostering a good relationship between the Soldier and his spouse and the Army and the Army family."
It's not difficult for Hamil to pinpoint which Soldiers need access to the program.
"When they are in-processing I ask them 'Are you married' Are your family members here''" said Hamil, who is very direct and frank in his approach to his Soldiers. "And, if they are, I tell them I'd like them to take this class."
As acting command sergeant major for a battalion of about 850 Soldiers, Hamil's leadership responsibilities have increased and include the battalion's entire Soldier population.
When new Soldiers are in-processed, which usually occurs on Mondays of each week, Hamil reviews several topics with them, including safety, professionalism, discipline, pride, physical training, accountability, equal opportunity and family. He carries an outline of these topics on a 3-by-5 card in a system of index cards that help him stay organized and prepared.
"This job is on a tremendous scale," he said. "It takes a career to make a sergeant major. Command Sergeant Major Pullom was a great player who taught me and mentored me and showed me what right was all about. He had a very professional leadership style that allowed me to foster a tremendous amount of learning. It is a very humbling experience when you sit in the chair of a team player like Command Sergeant Major Pullom."
There are many who probably think the same of Hamil, who endured the dangers of serving his country in Iraq during three tours. Hamil joined the Army in 1987, after one semester of college in Oklahoma.
"I grew up on a farm," he said. "I realized I wasn't ready for college and I didn't want to stay in a small town in Oklahoma. I was 19 when I signed up. But, even though I was of age, I asked my father's permission to join the Army. My dad is a very important person in my life."
And the Army turned out to be one of the best things that happened to Hamil, second only to his marriage to his wife, Lorronica.
"The neatest thing in the whole world is that I was awarded the 1st Sgt. John Ordway award the year after (now retired) First Sergeant Paul Grosch received it," he said. "I want to borrow the words First Sergeant Grosch said about the Army. He said 'I don't know when I joined up if the Army needed me, but I know I needed the Army.' That hit home to me. That's exactly right. That's perfect for me, too."
Hamil joined the Army as a radio signal (communications) Soldier, a military occupational specialty that was reorganized as an Ordnance MOS in the mid-1990s. His career began with the 440th Signal Battalion at Darmstadt, Germany (where, some 20 years later, he would serve again as a first sergeant).
Hamil first deployed in 1991 with the 3rd-502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. He served on the front lines of Desert Storm/Desert Shield, where he provided radio communications.
"I was a specialist and I didn't know anything. I knew how to repair radios, but I didn't know a lot about infantry stuff," Hamil recalled. "I was part of the flanking movement on the back side of Kuwait. We marched up from Saudi Arabia into Iraq and were 50 or 60 miles for Baghdad before they told us to stop and come back."
During that deployment, Hamil discovered what makes a Soldier.
"It was tough. We got involved in a couple of engagements," he said. "We lived nine months out of our ruck sacks. We had to build our own showers, tents, cots, everything and we had to carry it all with us. We road marched for the first couple of months. We were tickled to death when we got vehicles. I learned a lot and that experience helped me when I went back two more times as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom."
He earned his first Bronze Star while serving in Iraq from March 2002 to July 2003 as the senior most enlisted Soldier from the 1st Infantry Division attached to the 173rd Airborne.
"I went from a specialist that didn't know anything to a sergeant first class. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, I knew exactly what was going on," he said. "I commanded 22 Soldiers of the Combat Services Support Force Integration Module. We served in Baghdad and in places like Irbil, Mosul, Tikrit and Kirkuk during our 15-month tour."
The unit provided logistical support to the entire northern combat area of operations.
"That was the hardest and toughest job I've had in my entire career. The 22 of us selected for the CSSFIM were not all from the same unit, but we became a logistical asset to the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Whatever they needed, we had to work the system to get it in a war environment," he said.
Hamil's third tour was from October 2005-06 in Baghdad, where he was assigned to the Headquarters Company, 22nd Signal Brigade, as the noncommissioned officer in charge of providing electronic maintenance and force protection for the brigade.
"During that time, we found Saddam Hussein, and he was tried and convicted and hung," Hamil said. "There was a lot of responsibility with force protection. We provided guards for people like the lawyers involved in the case."
During that tour, Hamil was awarded his second Bronze Star. He also sustained a minor injury during a helicopter flight that caused him to be re-assigned to Garrison in Darmstadt. Then, he was assigned to Redstone Arsenal, where he and his wife and their three children have made a home.
The Army has been a blessing to Hamil, something he hopes to share with other Soldiers who come under his command as either a first sergeant or a command sergeant major.
"This is more and more a family focused organization," Hamil said of the Army. "It's important to get Soldiers to understand that the Army really cares. We're in the people business. And, for a first sergeant, the most important thing is taking care of their Soldiers and the families that support them. If it wasn't for my wife, there is no possible way I could be a Soldier."