People first. People are everything.
This is a part of the philosophy Command Sgt. Maj. Michael J. Coffey, U.S. Military Academy senior enlisted leader, has lived by as a leader in the U.S. Army.
“I believe in doing the right things the right way,” Coffey said. “If you communicate, if you’re present and you’re a team player, you can get through almost anything and you will be a valued member of the team.”
As the senior enlisted leader of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Coffey is in charge to extend the influence of Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, USMA Superintendent, and help inform and enforce his priorities and lines of effort all the while taking care of the entirety of the USMA team.
“We have to make sure that everyone is a part of a squad, that they are not alone and that someone is there for them,” Coffey said. “This is a crucial element on how we combat racism, extremism, sexual harassment, assault and suicide.”
Coffey’s “People first” philosophy falls directly in line with the Army People Strategy, an initiative first introduced in 2019 by Gen. James C. McConville, Chief of Staff of the Army. The philosophy goes beyond taking care of those in uniform, but also managing the talents of Soldiers and civilians.
“Everyone who steps foot on West Point who has anything to do with anything here, I consider that part of my responsibility,” Coffey said. “I also have an inherent responsibility for the professional development of noncommissioned officers to help with the management of enlisted Soldiers. I am also always responsible for the members of my squad which includes the Supe, the Chief, the XO, aides, civilian secretaries, etc.”
Coffey assumed responsibility of USMA Aug. 17 and was immediately immersed into one of the most unique events here at West Point, March Back for the Class of 2024.
“I called the Superintendent that night we arrived and he invited me up to the March Back. Within 12 hours, I was in uniform on the Superintendent’s front porch watching the March Back,” he said.
Although he was excited to come here to West Point, the transition was not an easy one having to move him and his family during the COVID-19 pandemic. Coffey considers this to be one of the most challenging moves he’s ever had.
“What I’m really armed with now is greater empathy of what our Soldiers are going through during COVID,” Coffey said. “A Soldier will not have to convince me about their issues because I have been through it. The truest power of the noncommissioned officer is that we have the experience. We’ve been through it all.”
Coffey continues to use his experiences to relate and connect with Soldiers. He hopes to offer his perspective as a senior enlisted leader to the cadets who will lead Army Soldiers in the future.
“I’ve been a private, I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of orders given by lieutenants,” Coffey said. “I can connect those things because I’ve been through those experiences. Those times are not too far removed from my thoughts.”
Not only does Coffey want to be able to share his experiences, he wants cadets to leave West Point with positive experiences of NCOs and to be excited to link up with them again in the tactical Army.
“Although the most important NCO they will meet will be their first NCOs in their platoon, I want them to have a fond memory of NCOs here,” Coffey said. “That platoon sergeant and their squad leaders will likely shape them for the tactical Army.”
Coffey, originally from Louisville, Kentucky, enlisted in the Army as an infantryman in 1994. Although he did not attend West Point or commission as an Army officer, he has had a connection to several West Point leaders during his career.
“As a sergeant, staff sergeant and platoon sergeant, I have fought alongside and was directed by West Point lieutenants in the streets of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan to do dangerous stuff,” Coffey said. “I have served with numerous commanders at the company, battalion, brigade, division and now here who graduated from West Point as their senior enlisted leader.”
Coffey said he believes West Point will be one of the most unique yet rewarding assignments he has had in his 27-year career. He previously served as the 3rd Infantry Division command sergeant major at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
While West Point may be slightly different from the tactical environment Coffey is used to, he is looking forward to the challenges and opportunities to teach, coach and mentor tomorrow’s leaders.