REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- It doesn't matter whether you are in uniform or not, Command Sgt. Maj. Bob Lehtonen is your command sergeant major.
If you work, live or play on Redstone Arsenal, he is your "Soldier at the tip of the spear" for checking into issues, getting things done, answering questions and speaking about concerns with Team Redstone senior leaders.
And he's ready to make that happen right now.
Fresh off of a deployment to Kuwait and the Middle East as the brigade command sergeant major for the 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Lehtonen doesn't see his assignment to Redstone Garrison as a chance for downtime from combat. Rather, it's a new assignment with just as many challenges with a bit of change in the leadership dynamic -- switching out 4,000 Soldiers for 37,000 civilian employees.
"This is absolutely a new challenge for me," Lehtonen said. "Everyone who comes through the gate at Redstone, I'm their command sergeant major. And, I know, as a command sergeant major, I can have a positive impact immediately."
Only a few weeks into his new job, Lehtonen has been quick to notice the Southern hospitality from the Team Redstone family and the community outside the gates.
"Everyone is so nice and welcoming. This is my first time in the South and this Southern hospitality is absolutely real," said Lehtonen, who spoke at his first public event at the Oct. 26 Day of the Deployed ceremony at the Veterans Memorial in downtown Huntsville.
"It's amazing. Everybody is so nice and welcoming and supportive of the military, and not just Soldiers, but the whole realm of Soldiers and their families and the Redstone community. It's the whole deal here."
But it's not his first time working as a Soldier with the Installation Management Command, which oversees the management of Army installations through its Garrison organization. He served as the installation command sergeant major at Brussels, Belgium in 2010-12 between wartime deployments, where the Garrison included three embassies, a NATO headquarters and a unit of 25 Soldiers.
"This is different than what I've been exposed to because of all the different federal agencies here. When I look out my office window, I have International Space Station operations right across the road from where I'm sitting. There is also a four-star headquarters here," he said.
"It's different, but in some ways it's familiar. As much as I like to be in a division organization that's familiar, this is a broadening assignment for me with IMCOM. This is an enterprise where I can learn basically how the Army installations are run and managed versus how a unit trains and prepares for combat or whatever their mission is."
As the Garrison command sergeant major, Lehtonen is charged with assisting Garrison leadership with providing services for the Arsenal's 70-plus tenants and their employees. Those services range from gate security and fire protection to providing family support programs to the recreational offerings at the gyms, golf course and bowling center.
"I want to be available, and I want to make sure everybody knows I'm available to them," he said. "The Army is about relationships. I want to develop good relationships with everybody across the Garrison and all Team Redstone organizations so that I am able to help this organization as much as I can."
As the newcomer at Garrison, Lehtonen hopes to help, first, by bringing a fresh look at the Garrison's operations.
"The civilian workforce is the continuity that you can always rely on to keep you on track. The civilian workforce knows the background and the history of an organization. They can give you the full understanding of what's going on. They are the foundation, the glue that keeps everything together," he said. "Military rotating into an organization like this can give a fresh set of eyes to a situation or a concern."
Lehtonen's 29-year Army career has included leadership positions with light infantry and armor units as well as with Garrison.
"I've been blessed with the Army managing my career. I couldn't ask for it to be any better," he said.
"The Army is about new people, new experiences and new places, and I want to get the full experience. I am experiencing the different sides of IMCOM. I have experience with the Training and Doctrine Command, and in leading thousands of Soldiers in armored brigade combat teams."
Typical of many young people who came of age during the 1980s when the nation's economy was in a depression, Lehtonen joined the Army in 1985 because he was in bad need of a job. A native of northeastern Ohio, he entered the workforce at a time when heavy industry and manufacturing jobs were disappearing, and factories were closing.
"I was thankful to have a job. I joined the Army for two years. I had no plans of staying in," he said. "But those plans changed because of the great leaders I served with. I learned there was nowhere else I'd rather be. The Army had me hook, line and sinker."
Lehtonen was a field artillery cannon crewman, with his first assignments giving him plenty of experience in all cannoneer duty positions for light and mechanized artillery. As he went through the ranks, the young Soldier learned about leadership from the noncommissioned officers who set good examples for him.
"I remember a time when my mother had come to visit me and I rented a roll-away bed for her. Before I could turn it back in, I was out in the field training and I was worried about this bed rental and how I was going to get it back and how I was going to pay the late fee," he said.
"My NCO, Sgt. Andre Jones, heard my concern. When we got back from field training, while I was washing the vehicles and putting everything away like privates are supposed to, Sgt. Jones went to my apartment, got the rental bed, turned it in and paid the late fee. That's when I realized that being an NCO was about more than training Soldiers. It was also about taking care of Soldiers. It was about a sergeant taking care of me, the Soldier. Because of Sgt. Jones, I'm still here 29 years later."
Lehtonen served in all the traditional roles -- instructor, drill sergeant, gunnery sergeant, platoon sergeant and first sergeant, to name a few -- and has served at the Field Artillery Training Center, the 75th and 214th Fires Brigades, the 1st Armored Division, and the 2nd, 4th, 8th and 10th Infantry Divisions with overseas assignments in Saudi Arabia, Korea, Qatar and Jordan, among others.
Among his favorite assignments was with Charlie Battery, 229th Field Artillery in Germany in 1988-92, during which he deployed to Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield.
"That's when I literally knew that the Army was going to be my career," he said. "That's when I made sergeant. I went from being a worker to being responsible for Soldiers."
Another was with Bravo Battery, 1st of the 15th Field Artillery at Camp Casey, Korea, where he served as a platoon sergeant.
"That's where I learned to be a senior NCO. In Korea, you are there with your Soldiers. There's a lot of opportunity for Soldiers to get in trouble but through your leadership you can mitigate a lot of that," he said.
"Of my 55-man platoon, not one Soldier got in trouble because I was a very engaged platoon sergeant and we enforced the battle buddy system. Our sergeants were trained to take care of their Soldiers and to make sure they were doing the right thing at all times. Soldiers were able to have a good time, but they also had to be safe and responsible. It was an assignment where I learned how to manage systems and personnel."
His deployments to theater have also been among his most meaningful assignments.
In 2007-10, Lehtonen took on the responsibility of a battalion command sergeant major with the 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, from 2007-10. During that time, the unit deployed to Afghanistan.
Following that deployment, Lehtonen served at the Garrison in Belgium, and then went on to deploy a second time, this time to Kuwait and the Middle East, as the brigade command sergeant major for the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado, from 2012-14.
"When you have decentralized operations like you do in a war zone, you have to have leadership of competence and character," he said. "You have to have Soldiers and leaders who know how to do the job and Soldiers of unquestionable character. It wasn't like in Korea where the platoon sergeant could be there with his Soldiers at all times.
"To prepare for decentralized operations, you have to train and train a lot. Training is where you hone your skills in both your military occupational specialty and as a leader. Training is where you are tested for the real thing."
Along the way in his career, Lehtonen earned an associate degree in General Studies from the University of Maryland and a bachelor's in management and administration from Excelsior College. His military decorations include a Legion of Merit and Bronze Star, and he is an 8th Infantry Division/1st Armored Division Distinguished Leader, a member of the Sgt. Morales and Audie Murphy Clubs, and a recipient of the St. Barbara Medallion.
Now, with the Army drawing down and many troops returning from theater, Lehtonen sees plenty of opportunity to provide even more opportunities for Soldiers to be better, stronger and even more competent.
"We have not seen how good our Army can be compared to the Army of the future. We are getting better every single day," he said. "It's incredible how our sergeants, lieutenants, captains and all our Soldiers with multiple deployment experience will now have all this training. We are getting back to the Army as a profession. There's never been an Army as experienced and as professional as the Army of today and in the future."
Lehtonen has learned a lot from the Soldiers he has led and served with. The lessons he has learned are all found in the Army values, Soldiers creed, NCO creed, and Army standards and discipline.
"Most Soldiers are extremely patriotic and want to do the best they can possibly do for their country," he said.
"The Army is a bonding experience like no other. It's an Army family built on trust and shared experiences. Soldiers won't ever let you down. I was raised in a formation by my platoon sergeant and my first sergeant, and every situation was an example of right and wrong. Those examples are still with me as I work to be the best command sergeant major I can be every day."