Near End of the Line at Redstone
August 19, 2009
- [Soldiers] need to understand the technical and tactical side of the house when they leave here.
- Lt. Col. Sean Cusker is the new - and last -- commander of the 832nd Ordnance Battalion located at Redstone Arsenal.
- "We have a vested interest to make sure these Soldiers adhere to the Army culture and know what it takes to be a successful Soldier."
- "It's one of those things that when your unit is going to war and your buddies are going, you want to go, too."
Lt. Col. Sean Cusker has walked in the boots of both an enlisted Soldier and an officer.
With duty on both sides of the spectrum, he brings a unique point of view to his new assignment as commander of the 832nd Ordnance Battalion.
Yet, no matter how he looks at it, building physically fit, confident, moral and highly skilled Soldiers ready to answer their nation's call is the top priority of Cusker's command team.
"We want to be successful in making sure the Soldiers who come through here become a positive contributing member of their organization from the first day they arrive at their first job assignment," Cusker said. "They need to understand the technical and tactical side of the house when they leave here. They also need to understand the operational Army.
"We have a vested interest to make sure these Soldiers adhere to the Army culture and know what it takes to be a successful Soldier."
Besides commanding a battalion that oversees Soldier training in Army values and its ordnance fields, Cusker will also hold the distinct honor of being the last commander to lead the 832nd while located at Redstone Arsenal. As called for by the 2005 BRAC recommendations, the battalion will relocate along with the 59th Ordnance Brigade to Fort Lee, Va., in the spring and summer of 2011 as part of building the Army's sustainment center of excellence.
"We'll be moving the third and fourth quarters of fiscal year 2011 all while still training Soldiers," he said. "We still have a full mission of training for fiscal year 2011. We will move portions of the battalion between training sessions. If a Soldier starts his training at Redstone, he will finish it here before that portion of the battalion can move. Once all that happens, we will case the battalion colors at Redstone, relocate and then uncase the colors at Fort Lee along with undergoing a change in command."
This Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom veteran has nearly 23 years of success in the Army. He enlisted in January 1987 in the simultaneous members program, whereby he served as a military police officer in the Reserves while at the same time participating as an ROTC cadet at Montana State University.
"When I enlisted the Cold War was still going on," Cusker recalled. "The wall (separating East and West Germany) was just coming down. The Warsaw Pact (a 1955 agreement between Europe's communist states to protect each other against aggression from NATO nations) wasn't dissolved until 1991. I saw a lot of changes after I enlisted. Enemies became our allies."
And then Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm interrupted his college studies.
"It's one of those things that when your unit is going to war and your buddies are going, you want to go, too," said Cusker, who was a sergeant in 1991. "That was my job. My heart was there, so I was going."
Cusker was first drawn to the duties of a military police officer because of the work they do to help people in crisis situations. He put his training to full use during his deployment.
"I was a traditional Reservist who was activated," he said. "My mission was to help run the prisoner of war camps in Saudi Arabia. The prisoners were pretty amazing. Most of them were either National Guard Iraqis or Republican army guards. They were glad they were no longer being bombed at and shot at.
"Then, I worked a refugee mission in southern Iraq. There were thousands of Shiites running from Saddam Hussein and his Republican Guard. It was a huge humanitarian mission. I worked in a dislocated civilian camp where we were documenting the refugees and providing them the basic necessities of life."
When he returned to the U.S., Cusker rejoined the ROTC program at Montana State, graduated and was commissioned into the Army as an armor officer. He served as an armor platoon leader at Fort Carson, Colo. He then attended the combined logistics officer's class (quartermaster) at Fort Lee. In 1995-96, Cusker served in Operation Sea Signal as the quartermaster lieutenant at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, during the Cuban/Haitian migration to the U.S.
"We had 60,000 Cuban and Haitian migrants at Guantanamo Bay," he recalled. "We had to provide everything for the families, things like diapers, batteries, cots and three meals a day."
Cusker also served with the 302nd Forward Support Battalion S-3 in Korea, and as an aide to a two-star general and as a commander of a quartermaster supply company at Fort Lewis, Wash. His next assignment took him where he started - back to Montana State - where he recruited operations officers for the Army.
Then, after attending the Army's Command and General Staff College, Cusker deployed again in 2005-06 with the 29th Support Group S-3 in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, where he was the joint logistics command chief of operations and plans in support of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command. His three-year position with the 29th Support Group S-3 also took him to Romania, where he worked on a logistics planning task force. He then served as a transportation battalion executive officer in Japan for a year before transferring to Redstone Arsenal in 2008.
"My first job at Redstone Arsenal was as the deputy director for the missile systems and electronics training department (Ordnance Munitions and Electronics Maintenance School)," Cusker said.
"I took command of the 832nd on June 17. This is an awesome job because I'm getting a chance to work with a great cadre and our mission to train these Soldiers is really a super job. I love Huntsville and Redstone Arsenal. This is really a great place to serve. It's a wonderful community. I've enjoyed all my overseas time and I've had the opportunity to see the world. But this is a unique and special place to be."
Cusker's wife, Leah, and three children have often followed him around the world, living in both Germany and Japan. His 21-year-old son is now a corporal in the Marine Corps while his two daughters attend elementary school in Huntsville. Cusker's father is a retired Army colonel, his twin brother is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and his older brother serves with the Montana National Guard.
Cusker hopes to draw on his experience as both an enlisted Soldier and an officer as well as his family connections to the military to lead the Soldiers of the 832nd.
"The experience I gained as enlisted paid lots of benefits as an Army officer," he said. "I've gone to basic training and advanced individual training. I've been a private and a sergeant. I have those experiences under my belt. I know personally what it is like to go through this process."
Cusker also benefitted from the Army's extensive educational opportunities, both within the military and through college. He hopes other young Soldiers will take advantage of those opportunities.
"The training we receive reinforces our profession," he said. "It really boils down to warrior ethos and values, and what defines us as a Soldier. The Army is a great way for young people to give to their country and to have a job that has some value, meaning and purpose to it.
"There are lots of opportunities in the Army. It offers a life experience, a technical MOS (military occupational specialty), a chance to see the world - all while serving the country. But it's not about the individual. It's about what you are doing as part of a team in support of the Army. It's about working together to achieve the mission. It's about being mentally and physically fit to do the job. But, number one, it's about discipline, about doing the right thing when no one is watching."
While the job of commanding the 832nd is certainly rewarding and worthwhile, it is also challenging for many reasons, especially when it comes to serving as a gatekeeper for the Army.
"We have to identify those who aren't able to embrace Army values and culture and the discipline and the physical and mental attributes of the Soldier. We want them to be successful, but if they can't then it is our job to move them out," Cusker said.
Every Monday, Cusker and his command team welcome new Soldiers to the 832nd. With MOS classroom instruction varying in length for each technical specialty, the roster for the 832nd is continually changing. Currently, the battalion includes 1,000 Soldiers, but that number is expected to climb to 1,050 by the end of August and continue to increase after that. Much of the growth is attributed to the increase in Soldiers being trained or retrained in explosive ordnance.
"These Soldiers are here and assigned to us while they are getting their advanced individual training," he said.
"As director of their instruction and as their battalion commander I am working with a command team that is continuing their soldierization process. While they receive technical training for their military occupational specialty, my cadre is working with them on discipline, customs and courtesies, drill and ceremony, warrior tasks, physical training and battle drill training. We are helping them to understand and embrace the Army values and the Army culture. We are helping them transform from civilian life to becoming a Soldier."
The 832nd's Soldiers range in age from 19 to 42, with the average age being 22. The battalion consists of three companies - Headquarters & Alpha consisting of MOS-qualified Soldiers who are reclassifying to another specialty, participating in the Blue to Green program that allows Air Force, Navy and Marine members to switch their branch to Army or transferring from the National Guard and Reserves into the active Army; and Bravo and Charlie consisting of Soldiers who have completed basic training and are now receiving their initial training in their MOS.
When they complete their training, it is Cusker's hope each Soldier leaving the 832nd will be ready to serve the Army wherever the call may be or whatever it may require.
"The goal is to see each Soldier graduate and really embrace the Army culture and values, be physically and mentally fit, be technically and tactically proficient, and be a warrior and an ordnance Soldier," he said. "If we've done that, we've succeeded in our mission."