Sgt. Maj. Sean J. Rice is the new Army Security Assistance Command’s Command Sgt. Maj. who took office in July, right in the middle of the pandemic. He is only the fourth command sergeant major in the 55-year history of USASAC. Prior to this assignment he served as the command sergeant major for 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, at Fort Bragg, in N.C.As safety protocols have reduced Rice’s opportunities to interact with the 1,000 plus members of his geographically dispersed command in person, and the multitude of organizations that make up the Army Security Enterprise, I sat down to interview him about his new position, the journey he took to get here, and his goals for this assignment. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.Command Sgt. Maj. Rice, welcome to Redstone Arsenal and to USASAC.Thanks, I appreciate that. We’ve heard lots of good things about Redstone being the center of excellence for federal agencies, taking advantage of the land, the space, the people, the environment, the workforce, and AMC headquarters being here, but I had never heard of USASAC.Q: Really, so USASAC was unknown to you?From previous assignments I’ve heard about foreign military sales and building partner capacity, but not as a formal organization. I had never heard of the command, so I had to google USASAC when I was told that I was going to be selected to interview for this assignment. I went and searched the Facebook page. I watched a bunch of videos that told me "who you are, what you do, what you provide,” so it helped because I knew nothing about the mission in the beginning.Q: Having done all that prep work, what have you learned and how do you think you will support that mission?What I've learned within a short amount of time is the amazing work of the security assistance enterprise and of how we contribute to security assistance and cooperation efforts. I'm a USASAC fan for life.And I’ve quickly learned that it's not about being the USASAC CSM as a title, it's about the responsibility of the position, and how I can be a value-added resource for the organization. I understand that I’ve got to maintain credibility with the workforce, and use this opportunity, to the best of my ability, to strengthen partnerships, whether with partners and allies, industry partners, or within the community here in Huntsville. That’s what I want to do.Q: Before we get too deep into your future plans here at USASAC, let’s go back to the beginning. How long have you been in the Army and what led you to join the military?That is an interesting story. As a child I bounced back and forth, from Leavenworth, Kansas, to Brooklyn, New York, to Aurora, Colorado to name a few. During high school I was great at things I didn’t need to be great at, and I knew I needed to change, so I went to a Marine recruiter. This was late eighties, so as a nation we weren't talking about diversity and inclusion. I felt that tension as soon as I got there. I left and walked over to the Army office, and it was immediately the same situation - basically asking me questions as if I had no right to serve. Finally, as I was walking out, an African-American Army recruiter stopped me, talked to me a bit, and said let’s go to lunch. He was like me, with similar background experiences. Although he asked me the same questions, he spoke my language.I tell that story so the younger generation of Soldiers, who may not really understand that we’ve come so far through the years since 1988, know there's still work to be done. That drives me to continue to serve, to be a part of that positive change.Q: When did you decide you wanted to become a Sergeant Major?I don't think I ever did, honestly, I only wanted to be a sergeant first class. That’s because Sgt. 1st Class Larry Hughes was my role model. I did all the things that I knew I needed to do to become a sergeant first class. For the first four years of my career, I was the typical E-4, got in trouble, never got paperwork, but I got disciplined, and I think that’s because they always saw something in me. I never (made the same mistake) twice. So I was a good Soldier, if that makes sense. And then next thing you know sergeant first class came and then I was scared. I did all the things to prepare me to be a sergeant first class because I had a role model. So in my head, sergeant first class was kind of my upper limit, it meant you’ve had a successful career. To be a sergeant first class means you are a student of your craft, a solid student of your craft, you are revered, you part the Red Sea, that's what I grew up under.Q: Was there at least one senior enlisted leader that inspired you to reach for the top?I can vividly recall when I saw my first sergeant major that inspired me. I was young, in the field in Korea, and ironically years later I got a chance to meet him again while stationed at Fort Lee. It was Sgt. Maj. Milton Hazzard, at that time the 3rd Quartermaster Corps Command Sergeant Major. He sat down with us in Korea, freezing cold out there, we were all wearing our kit (combat equipment) and here is this sergeant major with full kit on as well; everybody else who visited were in uniforms and soft caps. Hazzard comes out there and talks with us, then he takes his k-pot off (the old steel-pot helmets), sits on it, and eats chow with us beside a potbelly stove. I was like, that is cool. I learned that he was actually a former supply sergeant as well, so I felt good about being a little young supply clerk out in the field. I wouldn’t have believed or known years later that I would be blessed to follow in those footsteps and become the 13th Quartermaster Sergeant Major, and become friends with him, that I’m humbled to say still lasts to this day.Q: Sounds like you've had good influences, what can the Soldiers and Civilians of USASAC expect from you?They can expect a leader that they can trust, and a leader they can count on in the time of need; they can expect commitment, trustworthiness, and transparency. I hang my hat on being a resource as it's not about me, it's about the command, the security assistance enterprise, its people and its mission.Q: What do you expect from the USASAC workforce in return?Great question, and not one that I’ve truly thought about. I think the biggest thing I would say is that I expect honesty, commitment, responsiveness to our partners and allies, and even more so trust. I want to have the doors open for communication back and forth. Being new to the organization and with limited visibility due to the pandemic, it's tough to get to the root causes of issues, however if we communicate and trust in one another to make each day better, it’s a good start.Q: Were you nervous coming into a predominately civilian organization and workforce? I mean after all this is a totally different dynamic than a battalion of Soldiers.Absolutely! I would say this is one of my most challenging leadership assignments, and I tell that to my wife all the time. There’s no road map to being the USASAC CSM. This learning curve is an uphill climb of exciting learning. You really having to build trust, you can't fake the funk in an organization like this. Many are retired professionals from the various services or seasoned DA Civilians who have been there and done that. So I turn that around and say to myself, okay, the (leadership) challenge doesn't necessarily have to be so much of a challenge, just ask more questions, and be where you need to be for the organization. There are so many perspectives here and years of past experiences; they know how things have ebbed and flowed, and what has worked, and what didn't. In the end they truly want you to succeed. You have to just be bigger than your title; you have to study, you have to take the time to learn, and leave a solid impression with the partners and allies because your actions will speak volumes above your words.I'm also excited that there are a lot of highly experienced teammates willing to help, so I’m willing to learn from them. That makes coming to work every day so much easier.Q: USASAC has several hundred Soldiers in all the subordinate units and programs we have, what advice would you give those Soldiers that represent USASAC around the world?Great question. I would remind our Soldiers who are deployed in support of programs and training teams around the globe that we are, as our motto says, the face of the Army to the world. It’s definitely bigger than you.As a critical enabler of security cooperation efforts all Soldiers should understand their mission and how they fit into the bigger picture. This immense responsibility requires discipline without compromise; never losing sight that the footprint you leave is going to last longer than you could even imagine. The foundation that you set will last a lifetime. And you never know when your paths may meet again. So make every moment count in a positive manner.Lastly, when you can, tell your story, because it all feeds back into our Army’s accessions. It’s important because there’s always someone aspiring to serve, wanting to advocate for our service, or even peeking through the window to see what Army service is all about. What you share when afforded the opportunity might just make someone say “I want to do that” or “let’s champion that effort”. Such actions will open more positive dialogues and fill in the gaps created by misinformation. Everything ties back into accessions.Q: You’ve been in the Army now 32+ years, what is your favorite Army memory?The one where I talked about Sgt. 1st Class Larry Hughes, and the other one was being promoted to Sergeant/E-5.Q: I understand about Sgt. Hughes, but why being promoted to E-5?Because I was scared of the responsibility. I knew what was required of a sergeant because I had good role models. I had great sergeants that I thought the world of, they knew everything about you, knew our kids, and knew our favorite foods. They had solid discipline; firm yet fair, boots were shined, uniforms were pressed, but my role models weren't scared to lay down in the dirt with you, you know? And I'm like, okay, you're going to have to go back and press another uniform, shine another pair of boots…you're insane. But that's how they did, to show that they could, you could break starch if it meant getting dirty to train to standard and lead from the front. A motto I used for years “it was okay to break starch!”Q: Now I seem to remember that you did some time as a drill sergeant, what was that like?One of the most rewarding opportunities ever. In short I was a pretty decent supply sergeant, but I really wanted to be a drill sergeant. I was fortunate to have my warrant officer package approved and nearly at the same time passed the board to attend OCS (Officer Candidate School) to be a commissioned officer, but I paused that to be a drill sergeant, to do some time on the trail, as they say. I was almost done with that assignment when 9/11 happened, that was during my last cycle.It got real, real fast!Q: How did 9/11 affect your cycle?In any other cycle when you're training them up, you tell them hypothetically that “this could happen to you in the Army when you go to your permanent party assignment” or “You're training for war private” and “I'm turning you into a Soldier.” After 9/11, that cycle knew they were leaving and a high chances they were deploying ... period … point blank.But it’s a great feeling just to get them, as I always say, to hearing bagpipes and seeing bald eagles soaring – that extreme feeling of pride in service to our Army and country. It’s rewarding to get someone to that point. Many of the young men and women I saw were off the streets or they were a mom or dad trying to make a better way for their family, and others were told by their parents to get out of the house. Every private had a diverse background and different circumstance. Seeing them at graduation, seeing moms, dads, children, and grandparents in tears, thanking you for what you've done and what you’ve set them up for, that’s a great feeling.Q: Both the Sergeant Major of the Army and the Air Force Chief of Staff recently spoke on discrimination, and their experiences. Do you have any personal stories, or words that you would like to share with a very diverse and global USASAC workforce?I’m glad you asked. I could name several references from my experiences, starting with my recruiters, and going through many assignments like Fort Riley, Kansas, where there was a clearly a divide, like it was two sides of the tracks on post and in town. Then to my first tour in Germany, where it (racism) was nonexistent, only to return stateside, and it was as if time stood still. The good thing is it’s gotten better because those old ways have long since retired.When I was a drill sergeant I really saw the divides that came into the military. I literally had privates in tears at graduation saying before they joined the Army, they had never even been permitted to see any minorities, whether on TV, in their neighborhood, or in print. Then they come to Fort Benning for basic training and see me, a Black drill sergeant, and to have Black or Hispanic teammates. For me, and them, those were eye-opening experiences.I also clearly remember being at Fort Stewart, Georgia, where I had to do a funeral detail. I was the NCOIC of the funeral honors team, and we were briefed on the area. When it came time for the ceremony, the honor guard’s folding up the flag, I came from behind everyone in the audience to receive the colors and give them to the recipient, the spouse.She was so moved - and I could heard the gasps - that she got up and departed. So, I followed and presented the colors anyway. I broke script and said, “This isn't about you and I, and our beliefs, this is on behalf of a grateful nation, for the honor and faithful service rendered by your loved one.” And that’s when she went into tears.When I share this story with Soldiers, I say that to say, “We've come a long way.” And we’ll continue to get better. We all have work to do if we’re to make positive change consistent within our Army. And to be honest, being that positive change, that shining example if you would, is why I’ve served so long.Q: I didn’t know all that, so I’m actually glad you were able to support our diversity and inclusion video.I loved the video because it's true. And I encourage everyone to take a look at it. Being new here, you know I’m trying to figure out who does what. One good thing about this organization is its organizational chart. When you flip through the pages, you see the organization chart, with photos (since we’re teleworking), so you see who's who in the organization. I can tell you, we have no issues with diversity inclusion, and I am proud to see this and serve within such a command.( Watch video here )Q: Sgt. Maj., any closing comments, advice or wisdom to pass onto the USASAC team?Simply put, my family and I are extremely humbled and eternally grateful for this opportunity to serve with such a diverse and extremely talented family of professionals. We cannot thank the USASAC and Redstone team enough for the warm welcome we have received, even in these challenging times. We look forward to building lasting friendships for there’s true strength in cooperation.People First! USASAC and Army Strong!