By Annalee Grant, Belvoir EagleJuly 11, 2014
Fort Belvoir, Va. (July 10, 2014) - She's a leader who often greets her Soldiers with a wide smile or a hug.
As U.S. Army Garrrison Fort Belvoir Headquarters Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Carolyn Reynolds retires after 28 years of service, one thing is for sure: she will be deeply missed.
"She is the most effective people person I've ever worked with in over 20 years," said USAG Fort Belvoir Headquarters Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Brian Zarchin. "She just has a huge heart."
It couldn't be truer than when observing Reynolds with her Soldiers, to whom she has provided years of mentorship.
Fort Belvoir Headquarters Battalion operations officer Maj. Geoffrey Earnhart said her experience has been invaluable.
"Any kind of training we do, I run it by her because she's been in the Army for 28 years," he said. "That's not something you ignore if you know what you're doing."
Reynolds, who is originally from Glasgow, Va., herself, admits she's lost sleep over the years worrying about her Soldiers.
"I care so much about our Soldiers. If something was to happen to any of them, it would really affect me," she said. "I just feel like they're Family. They're part of my Family. That's the reason that I'm in the Army today."
Zarchin said he was lucky to finish out his own career in the military with Reynolds by his side.
"She's genuinely sincere. She's totally compassionate and she just has a huge heart," he said. "When it comes to dealing with people, you couldn't ask for a better command sergeant major."
Reynolds and Zarchin worked on the Character Counts program together. The pair was nominated for an award by the Fairfax County School Board for their efforts.
After finishing out her time at Fort Belvoir, Reynolds and her husband will be heading to Elgin, S.C., in September.
"He's been following me around for 28 years, so I told him he could pick the state that we retired in, but I would pick the house and the area," she laughed.
Reynolds joined the Army when she was 27 years old, already married and a mother of one. She was the oldest person in her Basic Training class her first day, Oct. 1, 1986.
"I was in this big open bay with all these young Soldiers straight out of high school. They don't care how old you are, you're a private. You're in there with all these young kids," she said.
She originally planned to do her four-year tour and step away from the Army.
"I came in with a purpose. I joined the Army to travel," she said.
And travel, she did. Reynolds has served as supply sergeant with the 122nd Main Support Battalion in Hanau, Germany; as property book NCOIC, Headquarters and Headquarters Company Division Supply Command at Camp Kasey, Korea; and as detachment sergeant, 221st Base Support Battalion at Wiesbaden, Germany.
Reynolds quickly found her passion, which launched her 28-year career.
"There's so much more to it now. I look back at that time in my life versus now, and my priorities have changed so much. It's all about freedom and what we stand for as an Army. I'm glad I stayed in.
"I was going to do four years, and get out and then four years passed, and I re-enlisted, and two more years passed, and I was constantly re-enlisting."
Reynolds said she never lost her passion for service.
"To me, the 28 years went by fast. But never once did I get up and say, 'Man, I wish I had never joined.' Never once have I ever said that," she said. "I look at my album sometimes, and look at where I started, and where we are now today as an Army as a whole. I've seen a lot of changes."
Of all her assignments, Reynolds remembers her time at Fort Greeley, Alaska fondly due to its unique set of challenges.
"It was a great assignment. I would have stayed there," Reynolds said. She recalls the struggles of Northern living for her Soldiers. The command had to take special care to keep Soldiers busy so they didn't fall into Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter when daylight is scarce.
"We used to have to keep people entertained. We had to find ways to get them out of the house."
When Reynolds arrived at Fort Belvoir two years ago, Zarchin received a well-trained, knowledgeable team leader already familiar with command.
"From a pure business perspective she understands how installation command works. Having been at Fort Greeley for four years, she gets it," Zarchin said.
Reynolds was deployed during Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"She's one of the few people (still serving) in the Army who've seen two wars," Earnhart said.
During Reynolds' career, the Army has seen a number of changes. She began her military career in a time when the Women's Army Corps was a not-too-distant memory.
"It was kind of cool to pick her brain about being from that era," Earnhart said. "She's seen almost the entire spectrum. Now she's leaving the Army when we're seeing women serve in combat."
First Sgt. Tamika Wynn, Installation Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, said she often looks to Reynolds' leadership style.
"Sometimes, in the military, it's very hard to find a great mentor. As a senior NCO, we seek a mentor whom we can forge a candid and close relationship based on common interest and values," she said. "When I arrived on Fort Belvoir, I immediately knew CSM Reynolds was going to be my mentor."
Earnhart said one thing he respects about Zarchin and Reynolds' leadership style is how they interact and welcome new Soldiers with an orientation. The two leaders will welcome the Soldiers, and sit informally in a circle out of rank. Earnhart said it goes a long way to show the Soldiers they are at home.
"It sort of sets you at ease," he said.
Col. Gregory D. Gadson, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Belvoir's former commander, said their commitment to knowing their Soldiers on a personal level has set Zarchin and Reynolds apart.
"I say all the time, we're not ranks, we're all Soldiers, we're all people, and we're not empowered by our rank, we're empowered by who we are and how we treat people," he said. "All that they have accomplished as an organization, they've done so because of that leadership style."
Gadson himself has taken lessons away from his time with Reynolds.
"Command Sgt. Maj. Reynolds has been a huge mentor to our Soldiers, and even me. There's nothing that Carolyn wouldn't do to support Fort Belvoir," he said.
Wynn, who herself plans to become a command sergeant major one day, said she bases her leadership style on Reynolds.
"I strive to be a sergeant major like her," she said. "She is an outstanding coach, always challenging you to be a better leader and demands that you do your best."
After working closely with Reynolds over the past 11 months, Earnhart said Reynolds' success and the way she carries herself should be an inspiration to anyone.
"I think anyone should look up to her as a role model," he said.
That should serve Reynolds well in her post-retirement career. She plans to work with Troops to Teachers to become a Kindergarten to 5th grade teacher after a few months off.
During her time at Fort Belvoir, Reynolds said some of her favorite moments were heading out to the cemetery on post to deliver flags on Memorial Day and clean up the site. She enjoyed going for a 'ride-along' with the military police, learning about their day-to-day activities and participating in intramural sports like softball and volleyball. But above all, Reynolds said it's the people who have made it so special, such as Gadson.
"He's just a great person. Being able to work under his command has been a highlight of working at Fort Belvoir," she said. "Col. Gadson to me is a very humble hero."
The Army and Soldiers Reynolds will be leaving behind are echoing the same sentiment as the Headquarters Battalion Change of Command and Change of Charter Ceremony, set for July 11, nears: her mark has been permanently left on Fort Belvoir.
"It has been a huge privilege to work with her," Zarchin said.
Wynn looked back on Reynolds' achievements on post.
"CSM Reynolds is a superb senior noncommissioned officer, and she has done so much for Headquarters Battalion, our Army and our nation," she said. "She will be truly missed."
Reynolds hopes the Soldiers in her Battalion will continue to strive for excellence long after she's gone - and she does plan to keep in touch.
"They can do anything they want to do and be anything they want to be. If they want to be a sergeant major, they can make it to that point. They just have to continue to strive to be the best at whatever they do," she said. "Look at everything in a positive light. If they have negative thoughts they have to do away with them. Think positively about life in general. I didn't get to where I am today without having good character.
"Live life to the fullest. Love life, and don't let anybody steal your joy."