By Staff Sgt. Lindsey KiblerSeptember 13, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - During his initial service obligation as a young lieutenant, Bill Gayler received two important pieces of advice that changed his life's path and paved the way to the achievement he celebrated Sept. 3.
It was on this day, the 7th Infantry Division's deputy commanding general for support stood before hundreds of his family members, colleagues and friends as his wife, Michele, their three daughters, and Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, 7th Inf. Div. commanding general, pinned the rank of brigadier general on the coat and shirt shoulder boards of Gayler's Army Service Uniform - a uniform brightly decorated, telling a nearly three-decades long story of an Army professional.
Growing up, the self-proclaimed "Army brat" called Monticello, Ga., home. Although proud of his family's history of service, Gayler said he had no intentions of joining the service when he was in school.
"I never came in the Army to be like my dad, but I take great pride in the fact that my dad was a two-time Vietnam veteran and a helicopter pilot in Vietnam," said Gayler.
Even after his father retired, following 20 years of service, Gayler still remembers him taking a job that required him to be away from the family. But, he said, he understood.
"My dad was very driven. He's got the best work ethic, and professional drive, of any human I've ever seen," he said. "I clearly remember, even after he retired and was working a job that took him away, and he would work late nights, playing football in high school, and my senior year, before every game, I could always look up and see my dad standing there at the top of the bleachers with his work clothes on.
"He never missed things, no matter how hard it was for him to get there. My mom was the same way, and very supportive ... I wouldn't say they were strict disciplinarians, but they were strict disciplinarians," he joked.
It wasn't until his junior year at North Georgia College in Dahlonega, Ga., that Gayler began to realize he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. He said he figured the Army would be "a great way to figure it out."
He entered into the ROTC program and attended Advanced Camp the summer before his senior year, which put him on the path to service in the United States Army. Gayler graduated N. Georgia College as a Distinguished Military Graduate. On May 25, 1988, he was commissioned as an aviation officer.
As a lieutenant, Gayler didn't necessarily feel as though the Army was his calling. The idea of leaving the service, when the time came, had crossed his mind on several occasions, he said. What he did find, however, in those weeks and months that passed, was a source of happiness and of purpose - his soldiers.
"I had a warrant officer come up to me - Randy Noble, and I can still picture him as clear as day - and he basically said, when he saw me a little frustrated, [was] 'Sir, do not ever allow [someone] to take you away from the thing that you love doing, which is being with soldiers.'"
Gayler credits his current attitude, in part, to this advice. It was the first of two very important pieces of advice Gayler received that, ultimately, solidified his choice to stay in the Army. The second was soon to follow.
When Gayler went on to his next assignment as a company commander, he served under then-Lt. Col. Dan Fleming, the battalion's commander.
"[He] showed me the power of a positive attitude, and a mentoring, teaching, coaching-type demeanor, that never belittles, never yells, never digs and micromanages but holds people to a standard," he explained. "It taught me a very valuable lesson because that's more my personality anyway, so I think I grew into that very naturally.
"He said, 'be yourself, be positive, and teach. Through your positive attitude, soldiers will want to be like you, and they will want to follow you anywhere.'"
It was in his command position that Gayler said "the passion switch came on."
"I absolutely loved every minute of commanding, and it made me love every minute of service. I was surrounded by incredible people, talented [noncommissioned officers], officers and soldiers. It made me want to do nothing but serve," he said.
And so, he continued his service.
His most memorable assignment, however, was his time as the brigade commander of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Div. (Air Assault). Gayler said his experiences were unparalleled. He led the storied brigade during a deployment to Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
"You saw firsthand, and experienced, the absolute best of people and the worst of times. It was amazing, to me, to watch. The camaraderie of the ground maneuver forces and the air [support forces] and the artillery were unbelievable," he recalled. "You see graphically, and literally, the Warrior Ethos, and I remember very vividly a battalion commander ... demonstrating leadership and the Warrior Ethos in contact with his soldiers, and demonstrating compassion amongst the chaos. It was incredibly momentous and something I will remember until the day I die," Gayler said of the unit's deployment.
Although Gayler's command time came to a close, he said he is looking forward to his tenure with the Bayonet Division. In his current role as the deputy commanding general for support, Gayler oversees many aspects of troop support.
With more than 20 years of experience in aviation, Lanza has leveraged Gayler as a liaison, of sorts, with the division's 16th Combat Aviation Brigade. His technical skills in the field of aviation, coupled with his combat experience, are an invaluable tool for the 16th CAB's aviators.
Budget, leader development, and unit status reports are also under Gayler's control.
"I am here to make brigade commanders and battalion commanders and their sergeants major successful...I make sure we are all moving in the same direction, toward a common goal," he explained.
There is not a day that passes that Gayler is not engaging leadership at the brigade level. He spends time circulating the joint base and its training areas in order to get a better feel for command climates and talk to leaders at the battalion and company levels.
Flemings' advice is something Gayler said he uses, to this day, when he visits with soldiers from the division's seven brigades.
While visiting soldiers, he is constantly reinforcing Lanza's vision and mission, one which focuses on engaged leadership and leader development, accountability and the care of soldiers and their families.
"I'm walking through the motor pool and I see lieutenants, and I want to see their hands. I want to see if they are dirty," Gayler explained. "You should do everything your soldiers do, and demonstrate to them this is all a part of service because you can't lead from behind."
It is this style of leadership that Gayler wants to share with the more than 20,000 soldiers of the Bayonet Division.
"I [hope] to bring mentorship, leadership and to demonstrate, daily, a positive attitude about the importance of our profession and service to our nation," Gayler said.
None of this, he says, would ever - or could ever - be possible if it were not for his family.
"It took me a period of time in the Army before I realized exactly how important family is," Gayler explained. "That's why balance is incredibly important. There are plenty of times you will be away from your family, you don't need to be away from them if you don't have to be. So, my wife and I, and our kids, we are out together doing something every chance we get.
"I can't say 'thanks' enough to my family, and I think most people in the Army feel that way, because your decision to stay in the Army is your family's decision as much as it is yours. If I had decided to depart the Army 20 years ago, my family would have departed the Army, too. So, without their support, I wouldn't be where I am today. They are truly the best thing in my life."
With his family by his side, Gayler said he looks forward to shaping the future of the 7th Infantry Division and its soldiers and families.
"Twenty people, or more, could be in my position right now. I don't ever take that for granted," Gayler explained. "I am humbled and honored by the opportunity to continue to serve, frankly. I understand the magnitude and I will try to earn it every single day."