Nominative command sergeants major across U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC), focused on their families at the first Executive Enlisted Strong Bonds retreat in downtown Honolulu, Hawaii March 23-24, 2019.
A nominative command sergeant major is the highest enlisted rank in the Army and is rated by a general officer (GO) or member of the senior executive service (SES).
Sergeant Maj. Murphy Morissette, along with other members of the USARPAC chaplain's office, facilitated the retreat. Morissette believes this kind of executive level non-commissioned officer retreat is a necessity throughout the entire Army, and that taking care of one's self is a real problem at this level.
"The Chief of Staff of the Army created a general officers readiness initiative after a suicide of a general officer in 2017," said Morissette. "That initiative requires general officers to take 14 days of consecutive leave, but that initiative doesn't reach down to their enlisted counterparts, who are often times working very similar hours with similar stresses."
Senior leaders are not immune to the stresses placed on their families in the military.
"I have watched great leaders, who were superstars in their careers, but parted the military without their families because they put all of their energy into the Army," said Morissette.
At the beginning of the retreat the couples were separated into two different rooms to discuss the challenges they face as senior enlisted soldiers and spouses. USARPAC Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Elian Strachan and his wife Dana both thought the event was needed for Headquarters.
"For the first time in his entire career I got an opportunity to connect with other spouses whose husband's careers are in the same place as my husband," said Dana. "It was nice to talk to other people who have experienced the same challenges as I have and see that I am not alone."
According to the senior leadership in attendance, they average anywhere from 50 to 70 hours in a single work week. That is not including 24 hours and seven days a week of availability by phone.
"Our job is to take care of Soldiers so that means I need to be where the Soldiers are throughout the day," said Strachan. "I have to come to the office around 4:30 a.m. so that I can get my administrative work done before I lead Soldiers."
Strachan saw this weekend as care for the care givers.
"Senior Leaders take care of everyone in their formation," said Strachan. "This wasn't just a getaway, this was a readiness exercise. These are tools to use for your family that you can share with your 1st Sgt.'s and platoon sergeants."
With high demands and large numbers of Soldiers to take care of, spouses and children can often feel the brunt of the limited time availability.
25th Infantry Division Command Sgt. Major Brian Hester and his wife Lynette found the retreat to be an eye opener for where they place their priorities.
"Even after 24 years of marriage we still have issues we have to work on," said Lynette. "The further he gets in his career, the more responsibilities he has and that means the more responsibilities I have at home and we can lose sight of each other. This allowed us time for reflection and to focus on what is most important, family."
The topic of time management came up at the event, and it was a consensus that the senior leaders in the room struggle with it.
"You want to give all of your time to other people, but you have to remember to give some of that time to yourself and your family," said Hester. "Opportunities like this are important, and attending sends a message to my formations that this is important, that family is important. We should all make time to be with our families."
U.S. Army Pacific Command Sgt. Maj. Benjamin Jones, closed the event and admitted that he too has been guilty of not making the time to attend events like this. Although, now he sees it as a priority.
"This is the first time in my Army career that I have attended a Strong Bonds retreat," said Jones. "Events like this help me to be a better husband, father and Soldier. As leaders, too often we say that we don't have time for things like this. We don't have time to take time off. We do have time. We just have to make that time."
The USARPAC chaplain's office is submitting their after action review (AAR) comments from the retreat to the Office of the Chief of Chaplains in hopes of making Executive Enlisted Strong Bonds retreats an army wide program.