WIESBADEN, Germany (January 29, 2014) -- The man looked curiously around the room. Nothing about the place seemed familiar to him. There were no nicely framed photos of family staring lovingly back at him. The words Army Lodging, which is printed on the bottom of a stationery pad, reminds the man that this is not his home.
Reaching down to lace up his sandy brown colored boots, he remembers when the reflection of his face could be seen in the shiny blackness of the boots he wore for most of his military career.
Hanging in the open closet across the room are three neatly pressed Army Combat Uniform jackets. Attached to the sleeve of each jacket are three identical and perfectly aligned 5th Signal Command patches. The image of three fire breathing dragons, marching single file, in a sea of digital green and tan pattern, is all this man sees as he rises to his feet. With pride, he walks over to the closet and carefully removes one of the jackets. As he meticulously dons the jacket around his large frame, reality hits him that this is the last day the dragon will march by his side.
Command Sgt. Major Gerald L. Tyce, former senior enlisted advisor, 5th Signal Command, husband, father, Soldier and friend, is set to embark upon the next stage of his life, after 33 years of service. Tyce is leaving behind a legacy of excellence, which has been exemplified through the lives of Soldiers he has trained and by the solemn oath he has faithfully upheld in service to his country.
For a career Soldier with 30 or more years of service, approaching retirement can often cause feelings of nostalgia, especially when a lengthy military career manages to sharpen the wits, while simultaneously betraying the body.
After 30 years of frequently missing family functions and often attending funerals of fallen comrades, a Soldier can easily be romanced by the idea of riding off into the sunset, collecting a handsome retirement check and finally living the "good life."
For Tyce, simply being a Soldier is the "good life". Never mind any dutiful words he may offer with his characteristically soft-spoken delivery suggesting the contrary. Buried deep behind the patch on his chest that brandishes the highest enlisted rank, beats the heart of the Army's most basic and coveted asset: A Soldier.
This does not suggest that the next chapter of his life is going to be overly arduous by any means. It simply bolsters the notion that spending over 30 years training, mentoring and leading Soldiers is more than just a job. It is a way of life.
"Once a Soldier, always a Soldier," conceded Tyce. "This will be a challenge for me. The Army has been my second family for over 30 years and it's never easy to leave your family."
Overcoming challenges and serving others are some things Tyce learned early in life.
Tyce was born during the summer of 1961 and he grew up in Charleston, SC. His mother gave birth to him at a very young age and circumstances forced him to live with his grandmother when he was just three-years-old.
When his grandmother died in 1964, his aunt, Laura Williams, moved from New York City back to Charleston, SC to assume the duty of raising him.
"My aunt Laura really took over as the leader in the household and she raised me with a stern hand," Tyce remembers. "She would always say she wanted me to be a man and able to take care of myself, because I didn't really have that father figure."
His upbringing was deeply rooted in the church. His aunt continued to push him. The environment she provided helped him to excel in academics, sports and eventually the Army.
His aunt died in April 2011, and Tyce reflected upon the profound affect she had on his life as he delivered her eulogy.
"I never wanted to fail her," a teary-eyed Tyce confessed. "She was one of my biggest inspirations. She was special."
Being a leader just came naturally to Tyce. After graduating as his high school's class president in 1979, he went on to attend college at South Carolina State University where he studied electrical engineering. He also participated in the university's Reserve Officers Training Corps, which would ultimately pave the way for his career in the military.
It was in 1980, while in college, he met the love of his life, Letitia V. Hills. By 1983 the two were married.
"Letitia and I met in college and we got engaged on Thanksgiving Day in 1981," said Tyce.
In the summer of 1982, Tyce decided to forego becoming an Army officer and opted to join the enlisted ranks instead. He attended basic training at Fort Dix, NJ in August 1982, where he immediately embraced the opportunity to be a leader.
"I was trained by Vietnam veterans," said Tyce proudly. "They immediately made me a platoon guide, which molded and taught me to always exceed the standard. So I adapted very well to military life."
Tyce and his wife celebrated the birth of their first daughter in 1984, while Tyce was attending a Professional Leaders Development Course (Now called Warrior Leaders Course).
"I was pulling charge of quarters duty when I got the call that my wife was having the baby," said Tyce. "Once I arrived, she had the baby about four minutes later."
By 1990, Tyce had already become a noncommissioned officer. In February of that year he and his wife celebrated the birth of their second daughter.
"Our second daughter was born, February 10th, right around the same time Mike Tyson got knocked out by Buster Douglas," giggled Tyce.
Over the years, Tyce's family adapted well to military life, despite the countless hours he spent training and mentoring Soldiers. His wife is currently a Department of Defense employee at Fort Gordon, Ga. His oldest daughter is a lawyer in New York City and his youngest daughter is a grade school teacher in Augusta Ga.
"It wasn't easy for any of us," said Tyce. "My family made sacrifices too numerous to count, so today I feel very blessed to have them in my life. They are as much a product of this great Army as I am."
An extremely storied career as a signal Soldier would land Tyce in various assignments around world. The "AA" patch that he wears proudly on the right sleeve of his uniform is a reflection of his time at Fort Bragg, NC, as a deployed member of the 82nd Signal Battalion (Airborne).
Tyce is very proud of his career, yet almost bashful, when discussing his many professional accomplishments.
"There was a time when achieving awards was okay, but my main focus has always been about the Soldiers," urged Tyce. "Soldiers need good leaders to teach and lead them. That is what I am about."
His most recent assignment in Germany with 5th Signal Command served as a platform to launch the next stage of his life. It is also where some of his closest friends and colleagues pay homage to his many successes and tell stories about the man they know.
"I describe him as a tough, hard, standards bearer. But at the same time, he is caring and compassionate with a high moral compass," said Col. Mitchell L. Kilgo, commander, 5th Signal Command.
Tyce's propensity for correcting Soldiers, whether he was correcting a sergeant or an officer is legendary according to Kilgo.
"He really cares about what is right," added Kilgo. "Some leaders might have a fear of correcting a senior officer, but he doesn't have that fear. He is very open and candid."
"I was tough, especially on my NCOs," Tyce said. "It's because I hold them to a special standard."
The professional side of Tyce's personality made him a unique asset to the officers he has worked for.
"He is the type of NCO that I want in the room with me when we are discussing the direction of the organization," Kilgo explained. "As officers we don't normally bring our NCOs in on those conversations, but he has a unique ability to see how the decisions we make today will affect our force in the future."
Outside of work, Tyce is still cognizant of being a good mentor to his friends and their families. He uses his skills as a leader to selflessly guide and teach others.
"He is our big brother," said Frederick L. Nickens IV, retired Army first sergeant. "He just gives all of himself. That is just who he is."
It's obvious the passion to teach and mentor others still burns strongly within him. Some people might wonder why Tyce would elect to retire, especially when he still has so much left to give.
"I am not really ready to go because I still have that fire, but I am not begging to stay either," stated Tyce. "I will be very happy to go home and be with my wife."
"At some point, this Army profession ends for all of us," exclaimed Nickens. "He was the command sergeant major for 5th Signal Command, the top signal command in the Army! Where do you go from there? Home, that's where!"
After hearing his name called, he turns and approaches the podium. He takes a moment to clear his throat. Looking out across an ocean blue floor, he gazes upon the 5th Signal Soldiers standing in formation at his change of responsibility ceremony. He gracefully thanked his family for their many sacrifices. He diligently thanked his commanding officers for their leadership. He then turned and once again faced the Soldiers and offered them this message.
"You are the reason I get up with pride everyday and put on this uniform," said Tyce. "It has been my honor to serve with all of you. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this family."
As it is with most legends, remembering Tyce will not be difficult. He was a tough leader, a dedicated mentor, a compassionate big brother, and a loving husband and father. But all these descriptions of Tyce were better summed up by the man himself. Over the years, he has said it many times when he ends a speech, and nothing could be more fitting as the last words he would ever say to the public in uniform.
"My name is Tyce, and I'm a Soldier."