ARLINGTON, Va. -- As a young military police officer at West Point, New York, Andrew Lombardo looked up to his squad leader.To him, Sgt. Allen wasn’t just his supervisor -- he was his mentor. Like with the other Soldiers in his unit, Allen trained him, asked him about his goals, his finances, and what he wanted to accomplish in his military career.On the weekends, Allen would also invite his squad members to his home for barbeques to get to know them better.Lombardo, now a command sergeant major who serves as the Army Reserve’s senior enlisted leader, bonded so closely with Allen that his squad leader later asked him to be the godfather of his daughter.“What this really represents is the squad leader as the most influential leader in a Soldier’s life,” he said Wednesday during an Association of the U.S. Army Noon Report. “And if we want to make systematic change in the Army, we have to trust them and empower that squad leader.”Lombardo said he has embraced the sergeant major of the Army’s “This is My Squad” initiative, which aims for junior leaders to build cohesive teams by better understanding their Soldiers.As a Soldier who had a hard-knock childhood, Lombardo shared his story so others can know more about him. In 1967, Lombardo and his parents emigrated from Italy to the United States and settled in Brooklyn, a more impoverished place than it is today.“There were some tough times,” he said. “My parents didn’t speak English. They had a hard time finding work.”At 3 years old, his parents made the difficult decision to place him into foster care in order to give him an opportunity. A working-class family from Long Island took him in and eventually adopted him after his biological parents agreed to it.Lombardo later joined the Army as a military police officer at the age of 17, becoming the only member of his family to serve in the military.“As I grew closer to graduating high school, I always wanted to give back to the country that gave me so much,” he said.At first, Lombardo said he experienced the “shock and awe” of the drill sergeants as he embarked on his Army career. Later, he realized he had to apply lots of high school math to help him navigate and reconstruct accident scenes as part of his job. He also discovered the teamwork and diversity found within the Army’s ranks.“What I really learned is that America’s armed services consist of the finest sons and daughters that America has to offer,” he said. “I was hooked and very, very proud.”Lombardo described the Army as a “great equalizer” that allows someone who may have come from a tough background, like himself, but can still find success.To help others thrive, he encouraged Reserve noncommissioned officers to dive into the digital world, where they can access the Army Training Network for individual training resources, and the Digital Job Book and Small Unit Leader Tool to manage records.NCOs should also continually talk with their team members, he said, to figure out what motivates them while also allowing them to share their story.For Lombardo, it was his former squad leader and other NCOs throughout his career who helped forge his leadership philosophy, which is rooted in treating everyone fairly.“It’s carried me through 34 years,” he said. “And it’s pretty much all because of Sgt. Allen. I’m real proud of the noncommissioned officers who made me who I am today.”Related links:Army News ServiceARNEWS archives