New ARDEC Sergeant Major to "close the gap" between Soldiers and engineers
December 8, 2010
- "We don't have years when today and tomorrow Soldiers are engaged in battles that decide whether they live or die"
- Son of a retired Soldier follows in his father's footsteps - has 24 years of military service
- Infantryman at heart - will use his training, experience and background to help ARDEC "close the time gap" in responding to Soldier's needs
- "When you see a warfighter, all you have to do is have a conversation with one...and listen."
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Countless hours devoted to mission accomplishment, sleepless nights, blistered feet from long ruck marches.
Then there is long exposure to the inclemency of weather; advanced marksmanship training; battle-focus training, battle and crew drills to hone a warrior's proficiency. All are part of the daily life of an Infantryman.
"Being an infantry Soldier is a tough job," said Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) Sgt. Maj. Dewey L. Blake, Jr.
"To be the epitome of a Soldier you have to be the consummate professional with ingredients like Airborne, Air Assault, Pathfinder and Ranger-simply put-be the standard for all to emulate."
Blake has earned the Bronze Star Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge for his actions in combat. He has patrolled streets in Kosovo and Macedonia and was a Track Commander for more than 300 miles across the desert with the 3rd Infantry Division, where he led Soldiers into battle during the initial 2003 U.S. thrust northward into Iraq.
<b>IN FATHER'S FOOTSTEPS</b>
The son of a retired Soldier, Blake follows in the footsteps of his father's distinguished years of service. With 24 years' service of his own, he proudly bears the title he had always sought: Infantryman.
Blake's own son continues the tradition. Terrance Blake recently graduated basic training and is now stationed with the 24th Infantry Division in Hawaii.
Blake has also worn "the round brown" and title of drill sergeant. This ominous role in the formative weeks of every new Soldier is widely known as the job where the duty day never ends.
While assigned to the 1st Battalion 72nd Armor regiment in Camp Casey, Republic of Korea, he held the position that is the toughest yet most desired job for enlisted Soldiers-first sergeant.
"First sergeant is the ultimate test of a life spent learning how to 'Be, Know, Do,'" Blake said, using words from an Army field manual that distill the essence of Army leadership.
Known as the "life blood" of a company, the first sergeant has a critical position in units generally numbering 120-400 Soldiers or more. The first sergeant is provider, mentor and standard-bearer. The first sergeant literally maintains possession of the company standard and, moreover, upholds the company's highest standards of military professionalism.
"In Korea, the Soldier's mission is always to train and be ready. The slightest mistake or incident in Korea could mark the start of a conflict with enormous implications worldwide," said Blake.
"Every Soldier trains and lives as if he was going into combat every day. An untrained, unprepared Soldier puts that Soldier, his buddies and unit's mission at risk. Demanding, enforcing, and participating in a tough training regimen was imperative."
<b>NEW POSITION, NEW MISSION</b>
At Picatinny since August, Blake will use all of his training, experience, background and unique point of view-who he is-for an explicit purpose: to directly link the people who develop combat gear with those for whom the gear is developed.
"I'm the first ARDEC sergeant major," said Blake. "But as I visit the different labs, I'm alerted to basically everything I fired as a young infantryman-all right here. The Squad Automatic Weapon (M-249 machine gun), AT-4 (anti-tank missile) Claymore (M-18 directed fragmentation mine), hand grenades, you name it."
From his days as a paratrooper, Blake remembers that the carrying handle on an earlier version of the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon was designed in such a way that it occasionally struck Soldiers' knees during parachute landings. The solution-a folding carrying handle- arrived not in weeks or months, but in years.
"I want to get feedback on the weapons systems and close that time gap between getting problems fixed. We don't have years when today and tomorrow Soldiers are engaged in battles that decide whether they live or die," said Blake.
<b>ARMS ROOM MENTALITY</b>
Not only will Blake work to close the loop to resolve equipment issues, he will also establish the precedents for his new position, which includes working within the Army and alongside other RDECOM sergeants major. One goal is to offer an alternative to something he has seen before: "the arms room mentality."
He describes that thinking from the Soldier's perspective: "If a weapon doesn't work, you just go to the arms room and get another one."
Replacing the weapon may have solved that Soldier's immediate problem, but a better option would be for the Soldier to provide feedback on the weapon's problem. That way, engineers throughout RDECOM could immediately address the issues for the Soldier, his unit, and perhaps the Army as a whole.
"I know ARDEC has demonstrated again and again that it has the capability deliver solutions very rapidly," said Blake. "I'm not so certain that the arms room sergeants and the Soldiers know this capability exists."
To amplify on the concept, Blake takes out a document on the Army's "Way Ahead," a capstone concept document from the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. He points to the section on the importance of agility, the ability to adapt rapidly to changing demands as they occur. "I'm here to support that," he says.
The scientists and engineers of ARDEC-their innovation, their high level of unique skills-are what Blake calls the "bang for the buck" that makes the Army an agile organization.
Coming up through the ranks, Blake was unaware of what Picatinny Arsenal has produced and fielded over the years.
Now, he will nurture relationships with the scientists, engineers and other civilian employees. Since his arrival, Blake has been learning about engineering processes by touring facilities and meeting with scientists and engineers, who he said have been helpful in explaining their work.
Blake will also spend time in combat centers, in Army combat divisions, and visiting Iraq and Afghanistan, where he will serve as a conduit between the warfighter and ARDEC.
<b>TALK TO SOLDIERS</b>
"No one knows better the concerns with that weapon system than the primary user," said Blake. "Be it the sergeant or the private, they will all have my ear equally."
Describing Picatinny personnel, Blake said, "They're very proud and good at what they do-which is evident in why ARDEC was awarded the Superior Unit Award."
"I used the phrase 'military minded' because it widens the inventory to include civilians, Soldiers alike forming a true combat arms team like never before. This may not be the defined war fighting unit, but it certainly has the warfighter mentality."
Blake said there is a simple thing that civilian employees can do when they see a Soldier: "When you see a warfighter, all you have to do is have a conversation with one...and listen.
"There are Soldiers returning from combat with experiences that will last the rest of their lives.
"They have followed orders that involve capturing or killing the enemy without question.
"These Soldiers are now faced with ever-changing challenges daily. They have issues and concerns that must be addressed," Blake added.
"I have personally known six Soldiers killed in action. I will make it a priority and purpose of my life, to let them know they are appreciated and not forgotten," said Blake.
"Any and all accolades rendered to warfighters returning from theater are very well deserved."