By Megan Paice, RDECOM Public AffairsAugust 25, 2017
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- What was initially going to be a six-year enlistment turned into a 27-year career for Command Sgt. Maj. James Snyder, the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's senior enlisted advisor.
"The Army seemed to be the venue for me. Without my parents knowing, I took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test (ASVAB). I came home and I told my dad that I enlisted for six years," Snyder said.
"I hope you like it. Six years is a long time," was his dad's response.
Snyder retires Aug. 25, after serving 27-years in the Army. He will be succeeded by Command Sgt. Maj. Frank C. Gutierrez after a change of responsibility ceremony, Aug. 25 at 10:00 a.m. in the Myer Auditorium.
Following graduation from a small high school in a rural Indiana community, Snyder had a hard time finding a career path that was both physically and mentally challenging.
"I grew up hearing all the stories of what serving in the military meant and what it was like. That really piqued my interest as a kid, and I was always playing Soldier," Snyder said.
Growing up on a farm, Snyder enjoyed working with his hands and tinkering with cars, farm machinery and small engines. With a high score on the ASVAB, he opted for aviation maintenance and began his career working on Apache helicopters. He eventually worked on every type of aircraft in the Army inventory.
Snyder deployed to Bosnia 1997, which had a big impact on him.
"I was a brand new staff sergeant, and was assigned as a platoon sergeant for a heavy maintenance company, responsible for 24 helicopters, as well as my platoon."
As a staff sergeant, Snyder developed an understanding of how aviation maintenance fits into the lifecycle of an Army helicopter. He shared this information and mentored his platoon of 40 young Soldiers, with whom he remains in contact through social media.
"Hopefully, I gave back more than I received. I had a myriad of equipment but did not fully understand how to account for it. I was lucky to have mentors step in and provide me with more knowledge," Snyder said.
In 2015, Snyder became command sergeant major of RDECOM, which was not a well-known organization throughout the Army at that time. His duties required him to attend events, cultivate relationships and pitch his "elevator speech" about RDECOM.
"I brief units about an Army organization that can support you and your needs, you just have to let us know. Fostering those working relationships between RDECOM and individual units is important. Even when staff changes, it's about the Army unit remembering the phone number. Units absolutely know what RDECOM is now, which tells me there's been growth and we are fostering a climate that's beneficial for everybody," Snyder said.
He says the most rewarding part of being command sergeant major is that he has been able to connect with leadership in the operational Army and brief them how RDECOM benefits Soldiers.
One of Snyder's fondest memories at RDECOM was an early visit he made to the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center's Night Vision Lab, where a discussion on quantum physics took place.
Snyder remembers thinking, "What have I gotten myself involved in? I have no idea what they are talking about."
A week later, when someone asked him about his transition to RDECOM, Snyder said he didn't understand the quantum physics discussion.
The response was, "To be honest with you, no one understands quantum physics. That's why we haven't gotten anywhere with it yet."
That was the perfect introduction to RDECOM, he said.
Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins, RDECOM's commanding general, said, "The valuable part about CSM Snyder is the wealth of knowledge he brings and his ability to brief a commander on the effect that something may have on Soldiers. Even though he is a senior non-commissioned officer in uniform, he has the ability to communicate and listen to the civilian workforce."
Wins notes that Snyder never appears overwhelmed or intimidated by science and technology, and he has been instrumental in linking RDECOM to the operational Army to support Soldiers and their missions.
"His operational experience is extremely valuable to the command. He is an advocate, conveys clear messages and communicates to our senior officers and NCOs at each research, development and engineering center and lab to keep the Warfighter as their number one focus," Wins said.
When asked about retirement, Snyder said the best person to talk to is his wife.
From the same small, rural town, Snyder met his future wife, Jamalene, at a New Year's Eve Party where mutual friends introduced them to each other. They married 2 years later and have been married for 23 years.
As a military spouse, Jamalene supported her husband through numerous deployments and always maintained a normal home life for their two children who are now adults. Jamalene helps other military families, especially during overseas deployments and on holidays and special occasions when loved ones are not there.
Her advice to potential military spouses, "Don't come into this lightly. It's not easy but it is worth it in the long run. It takes two people and a lot of communication to always know where the other person stands. Enjoy every moment and take every minute as it comes."
The family plans to move to Huntsville, Ala., where Snyder will fish, hunt and possibly purchase a hobby farm that agriculture students from local high schools can help manage.
"For the good of my marriage, it is important to find something that gets me out of the house. I grew up on a farm. It's near and dear to my heart, and I miss it. I want to tie back into it." Snyder said.
The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities for decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the Joint Warfighter and the Nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.