A special place for last words: Battalion run one CSM’s final JBLM hurrah
June 2, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - As Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Graham pushed through the last few hundred feet of a 4.5-mile run May 31, he was all smiles and jokes " on the outside.
On the inside, he was coping with the fact that it would be his last run on Joint Base Lewis-McChord; his last morning of physical training in the Pacific Northwest; but most of all, his last big hurrah with the 23rd Chemical Battalion Soldiers he’d spent the last 27 months getting to know.
For Graham " now the battalion’s former command sergeant major " one last formation run from the unit’s headquarters on North JBLM to Solo Point Beach and back was the perfect way to go out.
“I just wanted to give the Soldiers the opportunity to do something to prove themselves,” said Graham, who officially relinquished responsibility of the battalion June 1. “I was trying to give them something tough to do, so they could accomplish it and make me proud.”
But they didn’t need to prove themselves to Graham.
“They make me proud every day just by being who they are,” Graham said. “They’re the best damned chemical Soldiers in the United States Army.”
The real reason Graham brought his Soldiers to Solo Point was that it epitomizes the Pacific Northwest scenery he grew to love " it was the best place he could think of to express to them his final gratitude.
“Coming down to Solo Point " it’s kind of a special place for me to give my final words of thanks to the battalion and the Soldiers,” he said. “This is the Pacific Northwest, and it’s a beautiful part of the country. My wife and I are going to miss it.”
“And we’re going to miss leading these Soldiers,” he added.
Graham led his Soldiers, who are dispersed across five separate companies, three of which are located on JBLM " the other two at Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort Stewart, Ga. " through more than two years of distinguished accomplishments.
Graham, who came to the battalion in March 2009, cited the battalion’s successful deployment of two of its companies " one to Kuwait and one to Iraq " as just one of the accomplishments during his tenure.
The battalion also had Soldiers and noncommissioned officers take top honors at Soldier and NCO of the year competitions at 555th Engineer Brigade and at the battalion’s Fort Hood, Texas-based parent brigade, 48th Chemical Brigade.
One of Graham’s companies " the 61st Chemical Company " was even voted the Army’s best chemical company.
Most recently, the battalion’s combatives team took third place overall last month in the second-annual JBLM combatives tournament.
Reflecting on his 27 months, Graham stood at Solo Point " the halfway mark in their run route " before a neat formation comprising the approximate 300 members of his battalion on JBLM, overlooking the South Puget Sound.
“The only thing I look forward to in the morning,” he told them, “is getting up and seeing you succeed.”
“And you’ve done that,” he added without missing a beat.
It’s a bittersweet transition, Graham said. He’s leaving the best Soldiers he’s ever served with, but he’s moving on in his career.
“The good thing is that I’m going to the 48th Chemical Brigade to be their sergeant major,” he said. “But I’m going to wear the same patch, and I’m going to check up on them from time to time.”
To Lt. Col. Sean Kirschner, the battalion’s commander, Graham will be sorely missed.
“He’s been the heartbeat of this battalion ever since I’ve been here,” said Kirschner, who arrived in June 2010. “He was the true standard bearer.”
Kirschner said Graham genuinely cared about the individual Soldier and that nothing gave him the level of satisfaction he derived from the achievements of his Soldiers.
“He was never happier than when his Soldiers were successful and accomplished,” Kirschner said. “He would get physically emotional when his Soldiers accomplished something they worked hard to do.”
First Lt. Peter Ahching, the battalion’s assistant operations officer, echoed that sentiment and said Graham was all about families.
“He would let Soldiers go to spend time with their kids when they got out of school early, or if a family member was sick,” he said. “There would be no problems letting a Soldier off for those things.”
Ahching said the most important thing Graham taught him is to always remain a family-oriented man first " something he said applies all across the board in the battalion.
“He taught me that if you take care of your Soldiers’ families, the Soldiers will work hard for you and give you everything they’ve got,” he said. “More importantly, they’ll give you loyalty " they’ll give you heart.”
“That’s Command Sergeant Major Graham " all heart,” he added. “That’s what he is to me.”
After praising his Soldiers for some time, Graham put one last thing at the forefront of their minds.
“We still have to go back up this damned hill,” he said.
Graham’s replacement, Command Sgt. Maj. Denise Jackson, comes from the 18th Medical Command out of Fort Shafter, Hawaii. Graham will assume responsibility of the 48th Chem. Bde. in late June.