By Staff Sgt. Sierra A. MelendezMay 21, 2018
FORT STEWART, Ga. - Sgt. Maj. Eugene Johnson III has an impressive career chock-full of accomplishments that stack up as high as his towering stature.
The Detroit native will be retiring this year from the United States Army after 32-years of service to the land of liberty.
"In my senior year of high school, I attended a career day," said Johnson. "A recruiter approached me and showed me all these cool posters and told me I could see the world."
"He got me," chuckled Johnson.
Shortly thereafter, Johnson said he found himself in Fort Sill, Oklahoma - home of the artillery - building the foundation for the start of his vocation as a fire control specialist.
"Honestly, I didn't look to make it a career," said Johnson. "In Detroit, there really wasn't any installations near me so the military life was very foreign to me. I had to give myself some time to figure out if it was really what I wanted."
Johnson said he was lucky enough to have Germany as his first assignment. He reminisced on the words of his recruiter in Detroit and how they came to fruition.
"Once I forced myself out of the barracks and began to see the world, I realized it wasn't that bad," said Johnson. "I began to really integrate myself with my unit and build relationships."
"After that, the rest is history," said Johnson. "I was hooked and knew this was absolutely what I wanted to do with my life."
Johnson reflected on the leadership he has had throughout his career, both beneficial and deficient, and attributes the experiences from both as the bedrock of his leadership style.
Johnson said he adopted a 'cafeteria' frame of thought by picking and choosing the characteristics he wanted to amass and throwing away those that he felt didn't reflect the type of leader he wanted to evolve into.
Johnson urges today's noncommissioned officers to do the same.
"I've been around for three decades, so I've seen some changes," said Johnson. "We talk about 'toxic' leaders, but I think at their core, they don't intend to be malicious. I believe they weren't developed right."
Johnson offered up some advice to both junior and senior NCOs on how to prevent that occurrence.
"The minute you get a Soldier fresh from basic training and AIT [advanced individual training], keep up their momentum," said Johnson. "They have spent the last few months with their sole focus on training. Sustain that momentum and take it to the next level."
Johnson said the profit of continuous training is two-fold.
"It develops that individual - that future leader," said Johnson. "It also makes the organization more efficient - whether it be a company or a platoon."
Johnson said that the developmental process doesn't stop once a Soldier gains their stripes.
"Chevrons don't equate to being all-knowing," said Johnson. "Never stop learning. Never stop seeking knowledge and development just because you're an NCO."
Johnson offered up professional development sessions conducted by senior leaders as a mean to combat that issue. He said he regularly expressed to sergeants first class the urgent need to conduct NCO development programs at their level.
"When I first enlisted, the operational tempo was drastically different than what it is now," said Johnson. "Back then, rotations at training centers were our versions of deployments. Now you have young kids graduating basic training and going straight into combat. There is little room for error so we have to continue to train and develop."
Johnson said the high OPTEMPO can sometimes create stressful scenarios for Soldiers. He noted a pivotal moment in his career where a Soldier succumbed to the pressures and stressors of life.
"In addition to training, we have got to remain engaged with our Soldiers," said Johnson. "Before the modular barracks that we have today, we were each other's counselors. There were three or four of us to a room, we knew when something was up. We have to do better and talk to our Soldiers. Get to know them so we can recognize symptoms and indicators."
Johnson is rounding out his career in the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia, with his final assignment being the operations sergeant major for the 3rd Infantry Division Artillery.
"Time flew by," said Johnson. "I'm sad it is coming to an end, but I'm excited for this Army - my Army's - future."