REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama -- SMDC's senior enlisted leader reflects on the people who made his 35-year journey in the Army memorable as he prepares to retire and relinquish his responsibility for the command.

With U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command's Command Sgt. Maj. Jerome Wiggins preparing for the change of responsibility March 22, he reflected on his time serving with and leading Soldiers and civilians.

"I appreciate the opportunities the Army gave me to lead Soldiers," Wiggins said. "I came in with Lt. Gen. David Mann and am going to end with Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, and the relationships I have established at the command are priceless. For me it has always been about the people and it will always be about the people."

The native of Pineville, Louisiana, joined the Army in August 1984. He has held a variety of leadership positions including platoon sergeant, first sergeant, command sergeant major and he served as Air Defense Artillery School and Regimental command sergeant major at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, before arriving at USASMDC/ARSTRAT in May 2015.

Wiggins has served in assignments in Fort Sill; Fort Bliss, Texas; Germany; Japan; Korea; and others.

Looking back on his years of service, Wiggins said his favorite duty assignment was an adventurous as well as a demanding one.

"My most interesting job was with the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, in Osan, Korea," he said. "I thoroughly enjoyed that assignment on Osan Air Base. My brigade commander at that time was Col. Brian P. Dunn and I served there from 2009 to 2011. To this day, it is still my favorite assignment and I can officially say it was a demanding assignment, but a rewarding one as well."

Wiggins said his father was his greatest influence, but there were many who inspired him and made him a better leader.

"The person who influenced me the most was my father, who was a former Soldier himself," Wiggins said. "Another Soldier who greatly influenced me was Command Sgt. Maj. Phillip G. Rowland. He was perhaps the most influential Soldier in my career because he forced all of those who served with him to be better than they thought they had the ability to be. He pushed us beyond what we thought our normal capabilities were. He was extremely hard; but he was fair; he had the most impact on my career as a Soldier and a leader.

"Additionally, Command Sgt. Maj. Garland J. Sullivan influenced me both personally and professionally," he added. "He taught me the technical side of the Patriot missile system and we remain best friends to this day."

He also talked about what event changed him the most as a Soldier.

"A turning point in my career was when I was a staff sergeant and got frustrated with the Army and its processes and signed a Declination of Continued Service Statement," he said. "By signing the DCSS it gave me two options, I could exit the Army in 90 days or I could serve to the end of my current enlistment and I chose to finish out my enlistment. After signing that DCSS, I came to the realization that I had a known date I knew I was going to be separated from the Army. I had an opportunity to reevaluate some things and determine what was important to me. That event kind of catapulted my career and made me realize that I wasn't really finished with the Army and how much I enjoyed it."

Of all the things Wiggins has accomplished, he discussed his proudest moment as a leader during times of conflict.

"My proudest moment as a Soldier is that each time we deployed into a theater, I was fortunate to bring home all the Soldiers who deployed with me," he said. "I am proud that the people I have had the distinct privilege of leading and taking to multiple combat theaters, I was able to bring home to their families."

Wiggins said an improvement in the Army he has witnessed during his career is that the Army now invests resources in ensuring enlisted Soldiers have an opportunity to go to school and be better educated.

"I have seen a change on the institutional side of the Army where the Army now ensures our enlisted Soldiers not only know their military occupational specialty but are also afforded an opportunity to receive an education similar to our officers," he said.

Wiggins commented that the current class at the Army's Sergeants Major Academy, which is now known as the Noncommissioned Officer Leadership Center of Excellence, are now graduating with undergraduate degrees.

"That is one of the best thing I have seen in my duration in the Army," he said.

Wiggins said one thing that has changed the most is that the Army now promotes at a faster rate.

"I am not saying that is a bad thing, but what I am saying is that should be the exception and not the rule," he said. "There is no substitution for experience. I just don't believe a sergeant major with 16 years in the Army has the same experience as a sergeant major that, typically when I came through, has 22 years in the Army."

He then discussed how he would like to see the Army change for the betterment of the Soldiers.

"If I were king for a day and in charge of the Army, the thing I would like to change is to make sure that the Soldiers' leadership has the desire to lead and are not there for their own aspirations," Wiggins said. "My choice would be that they would be there to facilitate the Soldiers and their family's success and they are doing it out of duty and moral obligation more so than they are doing it for themselves.

"I would like to ensure that all command teams who are afforded the distinct privilege of leading our Soldiers are doing it because they are the right individuals, with the requisite skill sets and the desire to lead."

Wiggins said he would tell young Soldiers just entering the Army that it is a great way of life.

"It is worth the investment in people," Wiggins said. "I would tell them to not look for awards and promotions, but think about the people they are going be affected by and those who they will affect in the future. The Army is a great life, and it is a very rewarding career."

As he prepares to leave the command Wiggins talked about his experiences at SMDC and how the Soldiers and civilians made him a part of their family.

"The civilian leaders here at the command, from Julie Schumacher to James Johnson and Tom Webber, Richard DeFatta, Dr. Steve Pierce and others, have been really tremendous," he said. "Serving alongside the workforce in support of our Soldiers has been a highlight of my career. SMDC will always hold a special place in my heart.

"I appreciate the people and relationships here in SMDC and throughout my career. I am going to miss the Army and the people," Wiggins said. Paraphrasing Maya Angelou, Wiggins continued, "People may forget what I have said, but I hope they never forget how I made them feel."

Wiggins said that as a young Soldier he never thought he would retire as a three-star command sergeant major.

"In 1984 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, I never saw this coming," he said. "My goal when I came in was to retire as a sergeant first class with 20 years because that is what most people were retiring at. I have been blessed beyond measure and if someone would have told me I would make sergeant major and then a command sergeant major working for five different general officers I would have perhaps said, 'not Jerome Wiggins.'

"You absolutely cannot plan this. You do good work for people and you get recognized for the work you do and it works itself out. There is no way I could have planned this."

Wiggins said his focus after retirement is to dedicate himself to his wife as she continues her Army journey and said the future will take care of itself.

"My plan is to support my wife, Lachelle, who is a Soldier, as she is about to become a sergeant major in the U.S. Army," he said. "And because she supported me, my role will reverse, and I will support her and along the way I will decide if I want to go back to work. But for the near-future my role will be to support my wife in her endeavors as she chases her dreams to become a command sergeant major."

Along with his wife, Wiggins thanked his family who have supported him as he has dedicated his life to the Army and the Soldiers he served alongside.

"My family is my permanent hand receipt," he said. "They are my rock and have inspired me. All the things I have done has been to protect them. I have had a great support system and my family has been the reason I have been able to press so hard to be the best I can be."