By Ms. Mary Ann Davis (IMCOM)April 18, 2017
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- After 24 years, 13 moves and decades of experience, Command Sgt. Maj. Ulysses D. Rayford knows what needs to be done at U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz -- foster trust, hone efficiency and cultivate mentorship -- and he's the Soldier to make that happen.
Rayford, who accepted responsibility as the garrison's highest enlisted non-commissioned officer last December, spent his first 100 days of leadership listening to Soldiers and family members and prioritizing the important tasks that need attention.
Rayford said the first and most important task is earning Soldiers' trust.
"Our Army mission is to deter war. If we can't deter war, we have to fight and win. Along the way, we have lost the trust of many of our Soldiers at the lower levels, and they are probably the most impacted by the decisions made at the leadership level," the command sergeant major explained. "Sometimes at the leadership level, we don't think about the second and third-order effects. What I try to do is go out there and gain their trust by engaging with them as customers about the services we provide. I allow them to vent, provide feedback and solutions or listen to anything they want to address. This allows me to hear what is important to them -- and if it's important to them, it's important to me."
Caring about what is important to Soldiers and military families comes from being a part of a military family himself. Rayford's stepfather retired Master Sgt. Lewis Powell served in the Army for 22 years, as well as many of his uncles who served in the Army and Air Force.
"Actually, I wanted to become a teacher like my mom, which I'm still going to do through the Troops to Teachers Program -- that's my next calling," the CSM said of his mother, Alma, who taught elementary school in his hometown of Columbus, Ga. "But I eventually followed in my stepdad's footsteps. It was great to say I became a Soldier like him."
Rayford enlisted in 1992 as a multichannel systems communicator and initially saw himself staying in for four years, but as he learned more about the Army and enjoyed serving, he began considering it a career. Over his 24 years in the military, the command sergeant major served the Army in many capacities, even wearing the "round and brown" as a drill sergeant from 2001 to 2004, during which time he was named the 2003 Fort Gordon Drill Sergeant of the Year.
"Initially I wanted to stay in for 20 years, but over time after I became a drill sergeant and a first sergeant I thought, 'This is what I want to do, because at the end of the day I'm helping people,'" he said. "As a green suiter or civilian employee, you're helping to better society. The Army is able to do that in so many ways, and I enjoy that part of the Army. So, here I am today trying to make a better society."
Making the Rheinland-Pfalz community better is what he aims to do by improving efficiency.
"There are some areas we need to work on as far as efficiency, because our mission is so large," Rayford said. "My main focus is to become more efficient in our day-to-day operations. We need to look at processes that don't bring value to the team to understand why we still do them or how can we do those processes better. This can help us cope with 'doing less with less,' but still take care of our biggest customers -- our Soldiers, civilians and families."
Although the merger of four garrisons into one happened more than three years ago, Rayford said there is still more work to be done to make USAG RP more cohesive.
"We are in the process of planning events, moves and changes that will happen over the next 10-15 years, and right now we need to put some foundational standards in place so all those big moves can be supported. I want to keep the ball moving forward, down the court until the time comes where two, three or even four USAG RP command sergeant majors down the road, they can pick up that ball and make a slam dunk because of the foundation we established today," said the command sergeant major, using the analogy of a point guard in basketball who controls the ball and makes sure it gets to the right players at the right time.
To build a good solid foundation, Rayford said he wanted to ensure policies are in place to fix problems that weren't addressed in the past to get the community synced and postured for future success.
"We've got great people here -- a great garrison commander and deputy garrison commander, civilians and higher headquarters command team that really don't receive a lot of attention, but they are the unsung heroes that do the heavy lifting," he said. "So when people come back to Germany 10 years from now, they'll look at the initiatives we started when they left and see a better end product when they return."
A large part of making changes is communicating to Soldiers about how important their work is to the bigger Army picture, the command sergeant major said.
"Around here we have a lot of things going on, but we need to make sure that day-to-day, we communicate with our subordinates. I'm trying to work on that here," he said.
Rayford explained that many times people just come to work, do their jobs and go home. Although that is good in some cases, it's not enough.
"We need to communicate the mission to all our garrison Soldiers and civilians so they can gain understanding of the mission and the command's intent. This is very important, because they have to see how their job contributes to the overall mission. Knowing how they impact the mission will make them feel important too. It's important to me, the garrison commander and the deputy garrison commander that people feel valued. Currently, we don't have a recognition program for civilian employees. I want to start that because it really fosters the environment of healthy competition, and it allows us to highlight someone every month or every quarter. At my last unit, that was a big ticket item that everyone looked forward to because it was a big deal," said Rayford, referring to his previous assignment as the command sergeant major of Information Systems Engineering Command at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
Another thing he wants to instill from his previous assignment is mentorship. Initially there wasn't a mentorship program at his previous command. When a program was initiated at Fort Huachuca, he said leadership gained the trust of the workforce because subordinates saw how they were being postured for the next rank or level.
"In the Army, we are taught to be mentors. We are taught to reach back and pull Soldiers up. With civilians, it's more difficult. Some of them are great planners and managers, but as far as being mentors, I don't think that skill is being used as well as it should be," he said. "Our work force needs to be concerned about their mentorship. What I'm trying to do is start mentorship for our junior civilian employees because they need to have some direction for where they're going."
Rayford's mentors are retired Command Sgts. Maj. Ruben Peppers and Stephon Watson, who gave him advice and direction as a young Soldier. Watson was the first one to tell Rayford he had unlimited potential and steer him to do things that brought meaning to the words "unlimited potential."
Both Watson and Peppers mentored Rayford as a drill sergeant.
"Peppers was the first command sergeant major to sit me down and say, 'Sergeant Rayford, you can do this.' Even after he retired, he kept in touch with me and was there when I made the rank of sergeant major," he said. "Stephon Watson has always been there, and I really appreciate him and everything he did for me. I consider him as a big brother," he said. "Those two had the biggest influence on my life as far as mentorship. They had the most impact on me as a Soldier and a man. They were both about families and taking care of yourself emotionally, physically and spiritually. I wouldn't be here without them."
He also wouldn't be here without his tireless effort, which is the one word he said that describes him best.
"As I became senior in rank, one of my favorite commanders, Brig. Gen. Maria Barrett, told me, 'If your desire and your effort are not the same, you'll never get anywhere,'" he said. "So I've always tried to put maximum effort into whatever I'm doing. I'm not trying to say that every day I put in 100 percent effort because I'd burn out, but I make sure my effort is focused. I want Soldiers to know that no matter what is going on, they will always see my effort. It's easy to say, 'I take care of Soldiers and civilians,' but people need to see your effort."
Lastly, he praised the Rheinland-Pfalz Soldiers, civilian employees and family members for what they do.
"This is a close-knit community, where people try to help each other when they can," he said. "We have a lot of work to do, but we're doing it and our efforts will pay off, maybe not now, but years down the road people will see it and think about those who started it. I want our Soldiers, civilians and family members to see that my main concern is them. Every day I put my efforts toward them to make it happen."