Provider 1SG displays resiliency in face of adversity
November 30, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - Anyone who has been a First Sergeant is well aware of the physical and mental challenges that come along with the job.
However, top those challenges with losing a Soldier. How do you find the motivation to continue to lead? How do you wear the face of strength when, deep down, you wonder how you could have done things differently?
First Sergeant Ralph Algiere knows this feeling all too well. He has had to do a final roll call four times in only two years.
The senior enlisted advisor of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, Third Infantry Division is inside of his third year as a first sergeant. And although he leads the largest, most complex company in the brigade, he said he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I never want to take my diamond off," said 1st Sgt. Algiere, who is married with 19- and 17-year-old daughters. "Getting promoted is not what drives me. It's taking care of Soldiers. If you take care of Soldiers, and they know you care about them, they will take care of you, and everything else falls in place."
Unfortunately, a series of losses has helped drive this lesson home. He was only a few months into being first sergeant of the 632nd Maintenance Company, 87th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 3rd Inf. Div., when a Soldier died in his sleep after celebrating his birthday with the unit.
"I asked myself what could I have done to avert it?" 1st Sgt. Algiere said. "From the first day that I became a first sergeant, I don't look at it as a company; I look at it as a Family. When something like that happens, it's like losing a Family Member."
He'd barely gotten past that death when he again had to do the final roll call. A second Soldier died just six months later.
"Again?" he remembered. "We do everything we can to avert something happening. Most first sergeants lose zero Soldiers, and I was on my second one. I started questioning myself."
He credits long talks with his battalion command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Cynthia B. Howard, with giving him back his confidence after the second loss. Eventually, the unit overcame the losses and prepared to deploy to Contingency Operating Base Adder, Iraq. The Soldiers quickly established themselves as maintainers, completing numerous convoys. Some even won the 103rd Sustainment Command's (Expeditionary) Soldier and NCO of the Quarter Boards.
"My guys were awesome! Captain (Jesus) Pena and I couldn't ask for a better group of Soldiers to go to war with," said 1st Sgt. Algiere, who often rode with them during their convoys. "Every day they would astound me with how great they were. I felt safe with my Soldiers."
As all leaders are taught, the first and last 60 days of a deployment are the most crucial, so 1st Sgt. Algiere regularly warned the unit against complacency as the end of their tour drew near.
However, on their last trip to Victory Base Complex, despite all their precautions, Murphy got a vote. The convoy had been hit by an improvised explosive device, and Cpl. Brandon Hocking was killed. An initial report told 1st Sgt. Algiere, who hadn't been on the convoy that day, that there had been no injuries, so he relaxed. The news came later that there had been a fatality.
"I felt like I had been hit in the stomach," 1st Sgt. Algiere said. "We were less than 30 days from going home. I was really wondering if I was cursed."
This death hit the unit the hardest because it was the only one that had been combat-related.
The first sergeant knew the Soldiers were hurting, because he was hurting. Yet, he offered to clean Hocking's MRAP himself, rather than let his Soldiers go through that pain. Fortunately, another unit offered to clean the truck. He still had to be strong, even though while other units were doing transfers of authority, he was calling the final roll call just weeks before going home.
"If the first sergeant isn't being strong, who is?" he asked.
Talking with his battalion chaplain, as well as hearing from his Soldiers, Family and friends through social media helped him through the rough time.
"What really did it was they told me that I was the guy who was needed; they were glad that I was the first sergeant to get these guys through because they knew how much I cared about our Soldiers," he said.
Once the 632nd returned in April, 1st Sgt. Algiere left the unit and moved over to HHC, STB.
Unfortunately, only three months into his new unit, he lost his fourth Soldier, this time to suicide.
"I was completely blown away," he said. "I honestly thought I was cursed."
A number of heart-to-hearts with the battalion chaplain, other first sergeants, and the STB command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Whitney, were what kept the first sergeant going after this final death.
"Command Sgt. Maj. Whitney is why I didn't quit," 1st Sgt. Algiere said. "He keeps me grounded. I know that I can count on him to give me the advice that I need to be a better first sergeant."
Master Sgt. Richard Russell, the 3rd Sustainment Brigade Master Resilience Trainer, explained that there are six core competencies connected to resiliency. Each competency assists Soldiers in its own way in bouncing back from adverse situations.
"First sergeant acts on the core MRT competency of optimism," said Master Sgt. Russell explained. "It helps him to stay positive and keep his head up. With Senior NCOs, you are the standard bearer. They observe everything you do, so if you can come into work and stay positive and motivated, the Soldiers will do the same."
Another competency that worked for 1st Sgt. Algiere is connections, which involves establishing strong relationships, positive and effective communication, empathy, and a willingness to ask for help and help those he leads.
"Pride will keep some people from going and getting help," 1st Sgt. Algiere said. "But I know I have a family life consultant I can talk to, I have (the battalion chaplain) I can talk to, and all these other people I can talk to without going through the official channels. We've also got each other."
Master Sgt. Russell agreed. "One of the good things about NCOs, and one of the good things we've always pushed, is having your battle buddy," he said.
Other escapes for 1st Sgt. Algiere are playing his guitar and leading his Saturday morning "Top's Run Club," an optional group for HHC Soldiers looking to better their run times. However, his untouchable moments are his time with his Family, from the bi-weekly date night with his wife, to the Sunday Family day his daughters have come to expect.
Today, 1st Sgt. Algiere continues to drive on as a self-described tough, but fair leader who will willingly give of his time.
"If you need help, with me it's a sign of strength to ask for that help," he said. "I'm not going to hold you back. I'm done; I'm through. I'm not doing a roll call again. If I can help, I will. The most precious thing you can give is time."