Soldier served to give others a better life
June 27, 2012
Ask Col. Chandler "Skip" Sherrell anything about his Army career and chances are the pronoun "we" will come up in his answer.
Since commissioning in the Army in 1986 following graduation from Auburn University, Sherrell has thrived on the Soldier's life, enjoying the camaraderie, the commitment and dedication to service, and the teamwork atmosphere that has permeated every unit he has served with and led.
And so has his family.
"Hopefully, we have made some degree of difference," Sherrell said of a 26-year career that has truly been a team effort between the Army, and himself, his wife and three daughters.
"Hopefully, we have positively impacted the lives of others. Hopefully, we served in all of our communities and in the countries where we've been assigned in a way that gave others a chance to have a better life. I hope I'm remembered as a caring leader. But I really hope we are remembered as an Army family that hopefully made a difference for other Army families. Serving Soldiers and Soldier families is part of our DNA."
The chief of staff of the Aviation and Missile Command -- with his family by his side -- is retiring from the Army life Thursday during a 10 a.m. ceremony in Bob Jones Auditorium that will be officiated by recently retired Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers. Col. James Macklin is the incoming chief of staff.
With his retirement, Sherrell and his family are settling down in Madison, bringing to an end the 15 moves they've made with the Army and joining other family members who have made the area home.
"This is a great place to retire and to continue working in some capacity in support of Soldiers," Sherrell said. "It's an opportunity to be near family and to continue to serve. I always wanted to retire in this community. Huntsville and Madison County are recognized as being very supportive of the military."
That opportunity to be near family was an added bonus for Sherrell when he was assigned in the summer of 2010 to help lead the Aviation and Missile Command. The assignment came after a one-year deployment in Operation Iraqi Freedom as commander of Task Force 49, a composite aviation brigade that flew missions in multiple locations in Iraq, and graduation from the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery.
"I've thoroughly enjoyed it. I can't imagine a better assignment for an Army aviator who has led Soldiers in combat," Sherrell said.
"Being part of this AMCOM team has been a fulfilling final Army assignment both professionally and personally. To be involved in the responsibility for the sustainment of our aviation systems has been rewarding. It's been a real pleasure to be part of the AMCOM team and the enterprise that supports the Soldiers so well."
Sherrell knew about AMCOM's reputation long before he came to Redstone.
"I certainly knew about the support Redstone provided us in the field at the very top level," he said.
"But I didn't understand the incredible impact the team of AMCOM, the Program Executive Office for Aviation, the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space, and the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center has as they work together to support the Soldier. I fully didn't appreciate the expanse of what AMCOM was involved with around the world. The incredible teamwork of Redstone Arsenal has an influence on the Army as a whole."
Sherrell, who is trained as both an Apache and Black Hawk pilot, has a Legion of Merit and Bronze Star among his many military awards. His career has included assignments with the 6th Cavalry during Operation Desert Shield/Storm, the Total Army Personnel Command and the 3-229th Aviation in Bosnia. He commanded the Multi-National Corps-Iraq Combat Aviation Brigade in Balad in 2007-08 and the Multi-National Division-Center Combat Aviation Brigade in Baghdad in 2008, where he commanded a whole fleet of aircraft including Chinooks, Black Hawks, Apaches, Kiowas, fixed wing and unmanned aircraft.
He also served as an Apache battalion commander in Korea, as a brigade commander in Alaska, and as deputy legislative assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, working as a liaison to Congress and as a Soldier's advocate on Capitol Hill for equipment modernization, and improved systems and protection.
But it's been the people, not the positions, that have kept Sherrell in the Army.
"Every assignment is about the people you serve with. It's always been about the people and the families," he said. "The quality of the individuals across the board -- civilian, contractor and Soldier -- is exceptional. They are incredibly talented and committed professionals. The people God has placed in our lives the last 20 some years are incredible. We always respected those we worked for and with. Shared hardships that people have gone through certainly make a special bond."
Each assignment has come with its own set of challenges. And that is no different at AMCOM, where Sherrell was charged with managing the day-to-day operations of the command and implementing the guidance of the commanding general.
"I didn't expect to be involved in a transformation while still supporting the combat mission and doing the basic mission we're required to do," he said.
"Throughout my time here, I've been helping manage the transformation that our leadership has been very much involved in while still supporting the war fighter in harm's way and trying to adjust as the budget has become more restrictive. It has affected both our people and our missions."
Sherrell got his first lessons in leadership and management during his first assignment as a troop commander in Operation Desert Storm. As a captain with little experience in leadership, Sherrell assumed command of C Troop, 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, of Storck Barracks in Illesheim, Germany, only two days before the unit deployed to the Persian Gulf for operations Desert Storm/Desert Shield.
"It was one of those life changing events," he said. "I was surrounded by some incredible non-commissioned officers and warrant officers who taught me, personally, a lot about teamwork, leadership and pulling together for the mission. It was an extraordinary effort for 100 hours of intense combat. Our squadron was made up of some incredible professionals that allowed us to overcome some tough situations."
His unit was small -- 32 Soldiers -- and because of that they worked closely as a team, becoming a band of brothers facing war together.
"That experience really had an impact on me. It taught me a lot about taking care of Soldiers," he said.
"It taught me about having responsibility for others as opposed to just being responsible for myself and I became more tactically proficient. It also taught me about the responsibility for caring for the families at home and my wife, Lauri, took on a lot of that responsibility while being pregnant with our middle daughter. Ever since that assignment, all the command tours we've had were where we had the chance to give back the most."
All four times Sherrell has commanded he has led troops that were forward deployed or deployed in a combat zone while his wife has led family support groups at home.
"The bonds that tie families together and the bonds that tie Soldiers together really make the Army strong and we've enjoyed being a part of that," he said.
Sherrell's Army career began during the Cold War. It ends with the Army transformed into a deployable, expeditionary force that relies on the best technology to perform the mission.
"The technical nature of our weapon systems certainly improved over what I ever anticipated," he said. "The advances in the Apache and in the use of unmanned aircraft vehicles have come a long way in a very short period of time. It's amazing how far we've come from a technological aspect because of more than 10 years of war."
And despite all the advances in technology, at the heart of the Army still remains the Soldier and the Soldier family. Sherrell said substantial improvements have been made in the areas of family programs, family support groups and medical support for wounded warriors. And although multiple deployments and the optempo of the Army have been hard on families, they have also grown stronger because of those hardships.
"One of the most challenging things has been the impact deployments have had on Army families," he said.
"Fortunately, with my family, the deployments have made them more resilient, stronger and more appreciative of our time together. They have seen a lot more of the world and we're closer because of the hardships we've gone through. I don't want to minimize the toll deployments take on families. It is hard on families, and I've got a very special family who has really supported me through my whole Army career."
Sherrell hopes to continue working in service to the nation's military. He also hopes to find time in retirement to golf a little bit more, take care of things around the family's home and spend more time with his wife and daughters -- Ashley, who is a University of Alabama graduate now working as a University of Alabama-Huntsville contractor in support of the Security Assistance Command; Heather, a senior at Auburn University in early childhood education; and Christina, who will be a freshman at Auburn this fall.