New command sergeant major strives for overall excellence
April 4, 2011
''Whatever job you do you've got to do your best - always."
This credo has informed the career of Command Sgt. Maj. Necati Akpinar, the new command sergeant major for Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. Originally from Turkey, the 20-year career Soldier said he strives for excellence.
''As a person when I start something I want to be the highest you can be. I think anybody can be average," he said. ''I believe that if you do something you do the best."
Akpinar got his undergraduate degree in physical education before coming to America where he completed dual master's degrees in aviation safety and aviation management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
''I went to high school and got my four-year degree in Turkey and then I moved to the United States to make my goal come true," he said. ''I left Turkey in 1984 and I joined the Army on Oct. 1, 1990.
''In Turkey everyone speaks about the United States," he explained. ''I wanted to see it with my own eyes. I knew the colleges and universities were very advanced in the U.S. Initially I wanted a master's in physical education, then I came to the U.S. and changed my mind.
''When I came here I didn't speak any English," Akpinar said. ''I arrived in the USA with a student visa to go to college and learn English. My plan was to get a master's degree in physical education and join the U.S. Army and be an Airborne Soldier.
''When I first came to the U.S. I went to Ohio State University to study English. Then I moved to Miami to attend Miami-Dade Community College for several years," he related. ''I improved my English when I was in basic training and advanced individual training. Later, when I got stationed with the 82nd Airborne Division I had to learn English very fast ... to help me get where I wanted to be.
''I learned some [English] words while I was living in Turkey, but when I was in high school and college I took French lessons," he said.
Akpinar was in Army Airborne Infantry for five and a half years before he grew restless.
''I wanted to try something different," he said. ''I had started my masters in aviation and one of my commanders said, 'Hey, why don't you go into [Army] aviation since you're doing your masters [in the subject]'' I took his advice and it worked out very well for me."
Before coming to JBM-HH, Akpinar was command sergeant major for 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Diamond Head, at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
''In my job [as command sergeant major] I'm a supervisor. I'm a manager," Akpinar said.
''What I like about my job is I'm able to reach out and touch people. I'm able to help someone when they come to my office, or when I ask, 'What's needed' What can I do''" Whether Soldier or civilian, as command sergeant major, Akpinar wants to be seen as a resource for the JBM-HH community.
''People are people. It doesn't matter if you have a uniform or you don't," he said. ''I don't separate [between the two]. I don't see titles. If anybody needs help, if I can, I will go for it. I will not miss an opportunity to help someone.
''If you see something and can make it better, why not'" he asked. ''That's why I really enjoy this job."
Akpinar said he's still in the process of getting acquainted with the players in the JBM-HH community.
''It's a very unique job. I'm still making connections and getting to know people," he said. ''If I don't know them or know what to do, I cannot help them." He said it would probably take him a couple more months not to feel like a tourist."
The command sergeant major said he doesn't think the role of NCOs has changed radically since he joined the Army two decades ago.
''It hasn't changed much. As leaders we learn that we need to adjust to new things," he said. ''There's a smarter generation, no doubt. You need to be careful what you tell the Soldiers. You cannot give them wrong information because probably they will teach you. They are that smart.
''Officers tell us what they need to do but nothing will take place until NCOs make it happen. I believe strongly that the NCO is the backbone of the Army," he emphasized. ''They are the ones who make the Army work; make things happen.
''I got this ring because of Soldiers," Akpinar said, lightly touching the Sergeant Major Academy ring on his hand. ''That's the bottom line. In [enlisted] promotions there is no E-10. I'm an E-9 and I'm a command sergeant major. It cannot get any better than this for me. It's time for me to give back to Soldiers and help the ones who are going to replace me.
''As senior leaders we pick those Soldiers [who advance]. We give them the path to get promoted. They are our replacements. That's how I look at it," he said.
Mentoring is important to Akpinar because he had leaders who fulfilled that role for him coming up.
''I had a sergeant major when I was in Infantry [in Vicenza, Italy, 1992] - Command Sgt. Maj. Ike Parks," Akpinar said. ''I learned from him not to quit.
''I was going for my [Expert Infantryman's Badge] and I finished the road march," he related. ''As soon as you finish the road march, there's a test where you disassemble your M-16. I got so tired and was shaking while the sergeant major was watching. He made me nervous.
''There's a small pin called the extracting pin. It was so difficult to pull... I tried to use my teeth to pull it out because I wanted it so bad," he recalled. ''I made it, and we get to formation and everybody gets their EIB and Sgt. Maj. Parks gave me mine.
''He said, 'There are not many people who impress me in my life, but Sgt. Akpinar, you are one of those people. You never quit. I watched you. I'm proud of you.' And he gave me a big hug. He was a good mentor to me. I'm still in contact with him."
Akpinar lives on JBM-HH with his wife Regina and four-year-old son Nikolas not far from the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Fitness Center. That's convenient, because he's a fitness buff, especially fond of tennis, running and rowing. When he was living in Turkey, Akpinar taught tennis and was on the national rowing team for many years -- single scull and double. ''I was a champion in Turkey seven years in a row," he said. The command sergeant major hopes to connect with a local high school and help coach its rowing team.
''When I go to schools and graduation ceremonies," Akpinar said, ''I always say, 'Hey look. I came from a different country, I didn't speak the language and I made sergeant major in 17 and a half years - with a double master's degree! There is no difference [between us]. You can do it too."
The American dream is sometimes taken for granted by people who were raised in this country and may know nothing else. Seeing it through the eyes of an immigrant, someone who enthusiastically chose to live here, can provide a fresh perspective.
''I say from my heart, if you cannot make it in the United States you cannot make it in any other country. That's the bottom line. I've lived in a different country, I can compare the opportunities. This is a country where if you do the right thing you will excel."