'Good Leadership Can Be Contagious'
December 2, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Credibility. The ability to inspire belief and trust. That's what every command sergeant major -- every Soldier and civilian, in fact -- should strive for as they serve the Army.
Developed with a mix of experience, knowledge, leadership capabilities and commitment to the Army values, credibility is the key to success in the Army. For Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Riling of the Army Materiel Command, it is what he hopes to bring to the table every time he talks with the command's civilian and Soldier work force, and when he advises its four-star commander.
"To be a good leader, to be an effective command sergeant major, you have to have credibility, and you build credibility by taking the tough assignments and doing the hard jobs," Riling said.
"All through my career, I've asked the Army 'Where do you want me to go? What do you want me to do next?' I've never questioned the answer to those questions. I went to the needs of the Army and did what the Army wanted me to do."
These days, the Army has put Riling in a position to help guide one of its largest and most significant commands. He joined the staff of the Army Materiel Command in August upon the retirement of Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Mellinger.
Riling's resume of nearly 29 years of experience certainly makes him a credible addition to the command's leadership. He is the recipient of a Silver Star, the third highest military decoration, earned during a combat mission to rescue a Marine squad in Ramadi, Iraq, while serving with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division of Fort Riley, Kan., in April 2004. He is also a recipient of the Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star with one oak leaf cluster and several other medals. Riling's last assignment was with the Forces Command at Fort McPherson, Ga., and other assignments have included serving in leadership positions with the 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry, Fort Lewis, Wash.; 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas; and First Army, then of Fort Gillem, Ga.
"I think by doing many different jobs at the senior level, it has helped me prepare for being the AMC command sergeant major," Riling said. "Being a former division CSM, First Army CSM and FORSCOM CSM have all given me different experiences and have prepared me to assume these duties.
"I tell folks all the time one of the reasons command sergeants major are put into positions is because of their experience and their leadership capabilities. Having a background with different assignments and different types of jobs, and working with many different leaders allows you to share ideas and experiences that you have learned from past jobs. In today's Army, we need leaders that can adapt and do different jobs, and who can share those experiences with others."
At the Army Materiel Command, Riling is charged with serving as the senior enlisted adviser to its commander, Gen. Ann Dunwoody, on matters pertaining to its 69,000 military and civilian employees, and its worldwide mission that impacts all 50 states and 147 countries. He is especially interested in Soldier professional development, safety, education, drug and alcohol abuse prevention, family programs and quality of life. He works with command sergeants major from the Department of the Army headquarters, Army Command, combatant commands and other Army commands on Army Materiel Command strategic themes, objectives and issues; advises in the command sergeant major selection process for the command's major subordinate commands; and serves as a member of the Sergeant Major of the Army board of directors, which advises the sergeant major and the chief of staff of the Army on issues such as the Soldier uniform and physical training standards.
Riling's path to the Army Materiel Command began with a phone call from Mellinger.
"The command sergeant major community is a very small community. Jeff was one of my mentors. We've been friends for a long time. There's been a lot of coaching and mentoring done by him," Riling said. "I am very honored to backfill a guy like him."
While his previous assignment at Forces Command involved leading an organization with a mix of 98 percent Soldiers to 2 percent civilians, the Army Materiel Command gives him nearly the opposite mix at 97 percent civilian and 3 percent Soldiers. It is the largest civilian organization in the Army.
"Taking care of civilians is just as important as taking care of Soldiers at AMC," Riling said. "We have as much dignity, respect and care of our civilians as our Soldiers. I am here to support and provide advice to any Soldier or civilian that works at AMC."
The Army Materiel Command has 11 major subordinate commands, including the Aviation and Missile Command, and the Security Assistance Command.
"The command sergeant major supports their commanding general. I am the eyes and ears for our commanding general," Riling said of his work both within the Army Materiel Command and throughout its major subordinate commands. "People will tell me things before they'll tell the commanding general. I have direct contact with the commanding general so that I can provide information that she can use to make good sound decisions for the command. Listening to others and sharing their ideas can be very powerful. My main purpose is to support the command and support the Soldier."
In that role, Riling knows he can help make the Army Materiel Command more efficient and effective by honing in on the needs of the war fighter.
"We are the single Army command for logistics. We work with other services and the Department of Defense to sustain our combat forces deployed worldwide. We provide America's war fighter with the decisive edge" in terms of equipment and supplies, he said.
"As I visit major subordinate commands, I am seeing very effective organizations that are making AMC better every day. I'm seeing really great organizations of Soldiers and civilians who take a lot of pride in what they do and who are very dedicated to supporting the war fighter."
Although he knows he won't be able to visit all Army Materiel Command sites and the sites of organizations affecting the command during his three-year assignment, Riling will visit as many as possible while balancing that mission with his work at the headquarters facility at Redstone. Recently, he has visited the 407th Army Support Brigade at Fort Hood and the Human Resources Command in St. Louis.
Riling began his career in the Army in 1983, enlisting straight out of high school.
"It was the adventure that really attracted me," he said. "I wanted to be a member of a team of an elite force. I wanted to serve my country and defend America. And I wanted to see different parts of the world and go to different places."
As a young Soldier, he listened to his mentors, who told him the tough assignments would pay off.
"I've always had pride in serving the Army and serving Soldiers. I'm the guy who wanted tough assignments and the challenge," he said. "I always wanted to do my best. I didn't want to always be the best. But I always wanted to do my best for the Army, and I wanted to make sure I did the best for my team. I wanted to pull my fair share."
As he assumed positions of more responsibility, Riling developed his leadership skills, and learned what it took to guide other Soldiers to success.
"You have to coach sometimes and other times you have to teach. You have to mentor others to be good leaders and show Soldiers how to get where you are at," he said. "You have to show them what right looks like. … We have to mentor and mold the junior non-commissioned officers who will one day replace us. We have to set what right looks like for the future."
An effective command sergeant major also has faith and trust in his Soldiers, he said.
"Nobody wants to come to work and fail their leaders. Let your subordinates make decisions and allow them to learn from their mistakes, and help to keep them from failing," he said.
Riling has seen tremendous changes in the Army during his years of service, with much of that change coming in the past 10 years of war.
"We've become a much better war fighting Army. In 10 years, the Army has gotten good at combat operations," he said. "We also have better Soldiers. They are much more educated than ever before because of the Army emphasis on Soldier self-development. In World War II, Soldiers on the battlefield took orders and did what they were told. Today, Soldiers on the battlefield are making decisions in the absence of officers."
The Army has also made great strides in protective equipment for Soldiers. Quality of life and pay for Soldiers among other things are much better than in years past.
"The strength of our formation is our Soldiers -- the men and women who serve our nation," he said. "It is imperative that we do our best to protect America's most valuable commodity, our Soldiers, our 18- and 19-year-old sons and daughters who are fighting for America. We need to give them the very best equipment and the very best leadership so they can be successful."
Riling has enjoyed every assignment he has had in the Army, all of which helped him work his way up the Army leadership chain to where he is today. But serving and leading in combat, he said, has been the most rewarding.
"Being a division sergeant major in combat (with the 1st Infantry Division) was probably the most rewarding and the most humbling. That division included 13 combat brigades with 38,000 Soldiers assigned to Baghdad," Riling said.
"It was rewarding to see all the accomplishments that the division did while in combat. I got to see those Soldiers train for war, and then I took them to combat and got to see all their successes. Eight different patches supported our division. I was out all the time in combat, out on the streets patrolling with Soldiers. You can't know what's going on with the war fighter until you get your eyes on the ground with the Soldiers."
That philosophy -- of being hands-on leaders -- permeates the entire Army, Riling said. It's also something that will be seen throughout the Army Materiel Command as Riling works with Dunwoody to set an example of leadership.
"Setting a good standard for others to follow and living by that standard is important. You have to set a good example," he said. "Being a good role model, and listening to other's thoughts and concerns allows you to make good recommendations and good decisions for the command. Having a good relationship with your team and being approachable allows others to approach you with issues.
"I want people to see the commander and the command sergeant major of the Army Materiel Command and think 'I want to be like that command team.' Senior leadership that works well at the top filters down through the organization. Good leadership can be contagious."