FORT HOOD, Texas – Behind the cement walls of the 48th Chemical Brigade on Fort Hood, a soldier with 30 years of PT under his belt commands his enlisted soldiers for the final time. The end of a long and incredible military career has come to a close for Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Ronrico Hayes.
Introspective and regimental, Hayes has been known to command with an unwavering and empathetic presence as evidenced by the respect and love his Soldiers unanimously display for the retiring leader.
“He’s the best advocate for his soldiers,” said Col. Maria Bochat, 48th Chemical Brigade Commanding Officer. “He’s built a sense of community. We are so dispersed around the world but he’s still managed to make our Soldiers feel deeply a part of this brigade.”
As the Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. of the only active component chemical brigade, Hayes was responsible for the training, readiness and care of four battalions organized into 20 companies that comprise over 1,800 Soldiers total. But what Hayes has truly accomplished, according to his Soldiers, leaders, family and friends, has been much greater than anything measured on his military records.
“Across the board, I think he’s made major contributions to soldier morale and welfare,” said Lt. Col. Richard Miller, 48th Chemical Brigade Deputy Commanding Officer. “He holds himself to the same standards as his soldiers and even has elevated standards that he sets for himself.”
A native of Kingsport, Tennessee, Hayes began his military career at the young age of 18, right out of high school. Joining the military was always a part of Hayes plan, but it was never a plan he thought would last three decades.
“As a kid, I always knew I wanted to be a Soldier in the Army,” Hayes said. “My initial thought was to do one enlistment and go to college, but 29 years later, I’m still here.”
The admiration and respect for Hayes is apparent not only in the halls of the 48th but throughout the Chemical Brigade’s entire community, from the battalions to companies located all over the country, and is even felt by the many lives his leadership has influenced throughout his 30 years.
Thirty years of military service is no easy task, and means Hayes has served in numerous positions all over the world with the Army. But Hayes has seemed to close the loop on his military career in a symbolic way, ending his career within the same command it began with.
Hayes began his Army career in 1990 at Fort McClellan, Alabama where he attended basic training and advance individual training. Following jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia, he was assigned to Fort Bragg with the 21st Chemical Company (Airborne) of the 83rd Chemical Battalion, which falls under the 48th Chemical Brigade. Hayes dedicated years in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg before moving onto 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell.
Hayes then moved on to serving with the 82nd Chemical Battalion in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri as a Drill Sergeant. There he continued to make waves not only an exceptional leader but as a compassionate human being.
“The most rewarding part of my career has been my ability to affect so many soldiers’ and civilians’ lives in a positive way,” Hayes said.
During his time as the Branch Chief of the chemical school at the Fort Eustis, VA, Hayes mentored another Soldier, Sgt. Olatungi Messeh, where he made a tremendous impact on his family’s life. Both now retired as Sgt. First Classes, Olatungi and Roshona Messeh would never forget the gift Hayes gave them one year for Thanksgiving.
Olatungi said he had mentioned the financial hardships his family was undergoing for the holiday season to Hayes. Then on Thanksgiving, the Messeh’s heard their doorbell ring and found Hayes at their door, arms filled with groceries for a proper Thanksgiving dinner. The Messeh’s say they’ll never forgot that special act of kindness for as long they live.
This kind of compassion, dedication and integrity that Hayes exudes towards his soldiers has been something he has stuck with throughout his entire career and will no doubt continue into his civilian life.
“The Army values are truly the tenants of how he operates,” said Bochat. “I know he’ll continue to embody these outside of the unit. He’s adopted these values since he was 18 and he won’t be able to shake it.”
A common thread in each of Hayes soldiers’ and leaders’ accounts of their time with Hayes is that there was always a time where Hayes “encouraged” them to go on a run with him. This run would be filled with Hayes promising the turn-around or end point of the run was “just over that hill.” But always one to push himself to greatness, the run always went much further.
Much like his “quick” runs, Hayes eventually thought his military career would end after 20 years. But that hill came and went and turned into another 10 years of dedicated military service.
“After my first enlistment I knew I’d be doing this for 20 years, but I never imagined I’d be doing it for 30,” Hayes said. “But my body and mind have held up and was able to sustain to this point.”
Hayes went on to serve in numerous combat deployments, deploying three times in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, twice to Iraq and once to Kuwait. He’s also served in multiple overseas assignments in South Korea at Camp Hialeah and Camp Red Cloud. But these accolades are nothing to brag about in Hayes’s eyes.
“Never forget where you came from and remember it’s not about you, it’s about the soldiers,” Hayes said. “Stay humble and grounded.”
Hayes continued his educational goals and honors while serving in the Army, graduating from the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy and earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Homeland Security. He also is a member of the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club, an elite organization of non-commissioned officers who have demonstrated performance and inherent leadership qualities and abilities.
Throughout his career, Hayes said he’s enjoyed watching the people around him grow and change for the better, considering himself a servant leader who was always willing to provide a listening ear and thoughtful advice.
“He knows that he made a difference and impacted the people of this unit,” Bochat said. “He will be missed.”
For now, Hayes will take a much deserved break from 30 years of early mornings and continuous military travel and adjust to his new civilian life by doing “absolutely nothing” except spending needed time with his family, friends, daughters and grandchildren and reflecting on the legacy he’s left behind.
“The legacy I want to leave behind is that I was loyal and never quit,” Hayes said. “I empowered everyone to become the best they could be.”
By all accounts of his brigade’s Soldiers and fellow leaders, he can count that legacy as accomplished.