KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan - In the 30 years since 1981, the United States Army has seen its fair share of change; from the Cold War build up of the 80's, to the slimming down of the force during the 90's and on to the War on Terror following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But through it all, at least one thing has remained constant: the leadership and professionalism of Command Sgt. Maj. Drew Pumarejo, the senior enlisted Soldier of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke, who marked his thirtieth year of active service in the U.S. Army on March 26.

Pumarejo said he was just an average kid of 19, looking for some action and adventure, when he went to the joint recruiting station in his hometown of Harrisburg, Pa.

But for a slight twist of fate, he might've joined the Marines when their recruiter approached him first.

"The Marine recruiter intercepted me first," he said, "but I really wasn't smelling what he was cooking. As soon as he stepped out to grab me something to drink, the Army recruiter came by and brought me in to his office."

"When the Marine recruiter came back," he continued, laughing, "he brought the Army recruiter outside, and they got into a pretty heated argument. But the Army won out."

Lured by the idea of action, Pumarejo enlisted as an infantryman, planning to head to Hawaii for his first duty station with the 25th Infantry Division. But again, fate had other plans.

Half-way through his basic training, a recruiter from the 82nd Airborne Division came to talk to the recruits. At first Pumarejo had no interest, looking forward to serving in Hawaii, but his friends convinced him otherwise.

"I let them talk me into it," he said. "Eight of us signed up to go to jump school and the 82nd Airborne Division, but after the dust settled six of them had quit," leaving Pumarejo and one other private to go it alone.

"They left me," he said, "but I've got no regrets, and as it turned out it was the start of something really great."

Pumarejo has since served as a paratrooper in every enlisted rank in the army, from private to command sergeant major.

"That's one of the things I'm most proud of," he said. "Not too many Soldiers have done that."

In his long career, Pumarejo has borne witness to the myriad changes that the Army has undergone over the past 30 years.

During the Reagan administration in the Cold War era, he said he travelled a lot for training and operational purposes, and was able to attend a whole host of military schooling; just a few of which include Ranger School, Jumpmaster School, Arctic, Jungle, and Amphibious Warfare Schools.

The training was a lot more focused on traditional warfare in the 80's, he said, as opposed to today's counter-insurgency focus.

"Back then in the Cold War days, you conducted a parachute assault and you moved out to your objective," he said. "If you weren't on the offense, you were on the defense, digging your position."

In the post-Desert Storm 90's, Pumarejo saw first-hand the tightening of the military budget and the slimming down of the force.

"The motto at that time was 'Do more with less,'" he said. "Units weren't picking up and going exotic places like they used to. It was pretty much home-station training."

During that time, as the technology used by the Army started getting better, Soldiers started experiencing the more modern style of combat training that developed into the methods we use today.

"That's when close-quarter combat training began," he said, "and we started to see some changes to the weapon systems."

He said when he first enlisted, there was no squad automatic weapon; the squad's automatic rifleman was equipped with the same rifle as everyone else, except he got a 30-round magazine instead of a 20-round one, and a bipod for his weapon that "looked like a pair of salad tongs."
The introduction of the SAW in the mid-80's, and the M240-B machine gun in the 90's really marked a notable change in the weapon technology used by the Army, Pumarejo said.

"Equipment just started getting better and better," he said, "and I really started noticing that in the mid-90's."

Even with all the technological advancements that have come and gone over the years, Pumarejo insists that his Soldiers fighting in the mountains of Afghanistan are in essence no different than those that he fought and trained alongside in the 80's.

"It's not the kit that makes the Soldier," he said. "I caution Soldiers not to get too far away from the basics; there are always iron sights on the weapon, you should always make sure you can use those first, and then you put the optics on."

Pumarejo is getting ready to hang up his own weapon, iron sights and all, following this deployment and move on to the next stage of his life. But that doesn't mean he can start taking it easy now.

"I'm going to stay out with the Soldiers where I should be," he said, "leading by example and enduring the hardships. In fact, tonight two lucky Soldiers are going to get some extra sleep or chow, because Command Sgt. Maj. is going to take their guard shift for them."

As for the next chapter in his life, Pumarejo is still undecided, although the two things he's sure about are trying to grow out his hair and beard (which he admits probably won't work), and spending time with his wife, Dee, and their two young children, Abigail Faith, 6, and Drew Jr., 5.

"It's time for me to support my family," he said, pounding his desk for emphasis. "They've been following me all these years to all these different places. So I'm going to give back and allow my wife to pursue her career."

Still, that time is a bit far off for now, and he continues to concentrate on his task at hand: being the best leader he can be for his roughly 4,500-strong TF Duke.

When asked, he has difficulty picking a single most important piece of advice from his vast well of experience to give to younger Soldiers, but he expressed the six rules he's lived by for 30 years, that have made him such a successful noncommissioned officer.

"You do what you're told, when you're told, how you're told. You be a team player, you be respectful, and don't be a brown-noser. If you can do these six things, you'll be a success."

Page last updated Thu March 31st, 2011 at 05:35