Since assuming duties as the 16th Sgt. Maj. of the Army (SMA), Michael A. Grinston has led the way to strengthen unit cohesion and build Army readiness. Across his thirty plus years in uniform, the career artilleryman has gained a reputation for being a Soldier’s Soldier of the highest character. Grinston previously served as command ser-geant major (CSM) of U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) and I Corps. Here are his thoughts on the role our noncommissioned officers (NCOs) play in building strategic readiness.How does the backbone of our Army fit into the Chief of Staff of the Army’s emphasis on building strategic readiness?On one end of the spectrum there’s strategic readiness and on the other tactical readiness. There’s a bridge between the two, and NCOs, depending on the level, span both. We ensure our Soldiers are trained and ready to go, which leads all the way from tactical to strategic. We’re putting emphasis on strategic readiness and we often think this is a huge, overarching thing. As NCOs, we hear it a lot: You want to be a strategic thinker. But fundamentally, I need to know my job. It’s the basis of everything we do. It boils down to an individual under-standing their capabilities as an NCO especially when it comes to how we’re looking at strategic systems, such as sustainment. If I don’t understand my job, it could ultimately have a negative strategic effect.The majority of our sustainment capabilities are in the Reserve components. Even just to mobilize for some sort of operation requires a lot of thought. If I don’t know my job, I can’t get mobilized, I can’t get all the lift assets, and so on. You can see how quickly the impacts amplify. It all flows from being ready as an individual up to the strategic level.Can you elaborate on finding the right balance between strategic and tactical readiness?It’s a difficult balance. If I’m not grounded in the fundamentals of my core responsibilities of my military occupational specialty (MOS), it’s difficult to communicate to the strategic level. So the balance starts with grounding yourself in your MOS; then you can start to understand the larger picture. On the other hand, if I only see the larger picture but I don’t fundamentally know my job, I can’t understand how my job impacts strategic readiness.The balance also depends on level of responsibility. Take the 92-core MOS, for example. Anywhere at the battalion level and below, you really have to know the tactical readiness of your job. I’d probably want 80% to 90% of what you know to be focused within your MOS and 10% or 20% on how you fit into the larger picture. But if you’re at the brigade level or higher, I expect you to understand how to bring all these pieces together to enable readiness.The higher you go, we expect you to know less about your specific MOS. For that same 92-core MOS at the brigade level and above, I’d want 80% strategic readiness and only about 20% MOS; we have experts at the battalion level and below who know how to enable tactical readiness. At higher echelons, it’s about how you integrate and synchronize this readiness to have a strategic impact.Can you discuss some of the initiatives you are working on as we become a Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) ready force?MDO is a concept where we really want to have long-range strategic effects. How do we support that? Again, if I’m not grounded in my job and don’t understand my core responsibilities, it’s hard to build an MDO taskforce. Whether it’s public affairs or logistics, you have to be an expert in your job or you’re not going to understand the effects in an MDO environment.So how do we ground NCOs at their core level?In recent years, we’ve put a lot of emphasis on how we get to the sergeants major level. We’ve looked at accessions. We’re going to build a 22-week one-station unit training. But what about our sergeants, staff sergeants, and sergeants first class? They are probably the most critical component of an MDO ready force. So I’m really trying to focus on enabling and empowering our mid- to senior-grade NCOs.Do we have the right level of tactical experience? Are we giving them all the information they need so there are no questions when they get put into an MDO environment?These are the Soldiers who will be our subject-matter experts. If I turn to that logistics NCO, they have to be ready and able to give me that expert information because there may only be one in the formation.How important is the sustainment community to our success on the battlefield?On the maneuver side, we have a responsibility in what we do. It’s extremely hard and it’s dangerous. But I can’t do it without a logistician. We can’t sustain ourselves; as a field artilleryman, someone has to bring me the ammunition. Someone has to make that round and it has to be shipped before I can even think about shooting it. If that process doesn’t work, I don’t care how good I am, I can’t fire back and I will have no effect on the battlefield.Understanding the whole process is critical. You don’t want any lulls on the battlefield because you didn’t forecast the ammunition. So we train this, continuously, at our training centers. Without getting the entire supply chain system aligned in the proper way, no one can do their job. You can go back to any battle in history and see that without the beans, water, and bullets to sustain the troops, there wasn’t a victory.Especially for this organization, I really appreciate the hard work and dedication of our sustainers. A lot of times the glory will go to the pilots flying the helicopter that comes in to save you and not to the person who maintained it. The actions of our living Medal of Honor recipients are unbelievable and heroic and cannot be replicated. But each one had to be picked up, transported, and treated; behind each was an army of logisticians helping.As you engage Soldiers, what’s on their minds in terms of future sustainment needs?It depends on who you talk to. For Soldiers, the biggest concern is, “am I going to get the parts when I need them?” For logisticians, the concern is, “once I have the request, am I going to get the funds approved to order the parts?”Fundamentally, I’d ask everyone to remember we’re all logisticians at some point. It’s not my job to produce the rounds or bring them forward. But fundamentally, you can’t order a part if you don’t know it needs to be ordered. At some point in time, we all have to be invested in the sustainment process and can’t rely on someone else to do it. Often there’s a sense of “that’s somebody else’s responsibility,” but it is our responsibility. Every person in our Army has a part in the sustainment process.The other caveat for our logisticians is adapting to the Global Combat Support System-Army. Anything new is a challenge. We are absolutely going in the right direction as we change the system of record and how we process information, but it takes some time to work through all of the kinks. To our logisticians, keep an open mind and keep that momentum going.How important is mastering the fundamentals when it comes to training?It’s absolutely critical to do the small things right and have a system in place. I don’t know if you’re about to run out of fuel if you don’t tell me. If you don’t master that in training, what happens when you’re deployed in a real world situation? If you run out of fuel, you can’t move to your objective. You have to train as you fight and be able to sustain yourself.It takes both sides. Sustainers need to be ready to push based on predictive analysis: You’ve been out there for a certain amount of time, according to my chart you should be ready for fuel and water. From there, how do I package that and get it there? If I need ammunition, because I’m in a hot environment right now, what does that package look like? Does it get dropped off by a helicopter? Is it in some sort of container delivery system bundle? Or something else? We have to practice all of this and master the fundamentals.On the other side, our maneuver folks have to be able to pull and order parts and supplies. We have to train it over distance and time so it becomes routine. I can’t get to combat only to figure out that I don’t know how to order what’s required to make mission.If we don’t train both sides, none of this is going to work. If I bring you water and you need fuel, well… thanks. We’ve certainly done some heroic things in combat, but we can’t just expect this epiphany to work itself out. It’s critical we have good, disciplined systems in place that have been practiced in training.Can you discuss how cohesion at the squad level will ultimately lead to a more ready Army at all echelons?“This is My Squad” is something I’m incredibly passionate about and my favorite topic to discuss. Wherever I am, I ask, “Who’s in your squad”? It’s not just about an infantry squad; everybody has a squad. Who do you turn to when you want to talk to somebody? Who do you look after? The whole premise is a very different and positive way of looking at things.If you have that personal pronoun—it’s my squad— it means you have some ownership of it. When I know you’re in my squad, I know you as a person; I know your spouse; I know your strengths and weaknesses, and so on. When I have all that working, if there’s a change, I’ll recognize it. The ultimate goal is going from compliance to commitment.I want people who are committed to their squad and to their organization: If we’re a strong, cohesive unit, we’re well trained, highly disciplined, and fit. We work at that all the time and then we truly know each other. That commitment to something bigger than yourself—to the squad, to the Army, and to the higher goal—creates the readiness that each higher echelon builds upon.If you get hurt, we’re going to rehabilitate you because you’re in my squad. If something happens, we’re going to get it fixed because you’re in my squad. We’re all in. That’s incredibly powerful and I truly believe in it. There's nothing we can’t do together. Nothing. I’m committed to my squad; are you?What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned throughout your career?Since I became SMA, I’ve put a lot of thought into that question. I recently read a book called “The Slight Edge” that centers on choices in life: To do or not do something. How do you stay committed to something for 32 years? That’s my biggest lesson and really defines who I am.Believe it or not, the higher you go in the Army, there are choices. I have a choice to get up and do physical training (PT) every morning; some people don’t have that choice. When you have a choice to do something— and it’s not just about PT—are you committed for the long term? The person that reaches FORSCOM CSM or SMA, they’ve been committed to something bigger than themselves for decades. Every day, they get up and they do PT; every day, they try to read something and make themselves better. Nobody comes to my house and says, “Hey, did you do your PT or read that?”It sounds really simple, but to be committed to something when no one is watching, and to be disciplined every day for 32 years? That’s the greatest experience and probably the hardest to articulate.-----------------------------Sgt. Maj. Edward A. Bell serves as sergeant major of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Headquarters, Department of the Army, G-4. He holds an associate’s Degree in Management from Summit University, a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Business Administration from Touro University, and an Executive Leadership Certification from University of Kansas, School of Business.Arpi Dilanian is a strategic analyst in the Logistics Initiatives Group, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Headquarters, Department of the Army, G-4. She holds a bachelor's degree from American University and a master's degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.Matthew Howard is a strategic analyst in the Logistics Initiative Group, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Headquarters, Department of the Army, G-4. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Georgetown University.-----------------------------This article was published in the April-June 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.RELATED LINKSArmy Sustainment homepageThe Current issue of Army Sustainment in pdf formatCurrent Army Sustainment Online ArticlesConnect with Army Sustainment on LinkedInConnect with Army Sustainment on Facebook