Our Army is the best fighting force the world has ever known because we have the best people in the world. This is why taking care of our people is the Army’s top priority.
A large part of taking care of our people is making sure the right opportunities are available. As the Army continues to modernize, it is investing in who we are – updating leader development and education programs and improving Soldier performance. Senior noncommissioned officers play a critical role in this development. As senior NCOs, it is our job to ensure that the next generation of Soldiers are ready to take the mantle when their time comes.
As the Army’s senior enlisted sustainer, it is my duty to ensure the Army’s enlisted sustainers have access to a deliberate, focused, and balanced talent management program, tailored to groom and mentor the Army’s future leaders. I envision the Army’s new Senior Sustainment Leader Talent Management program will empower both senior NCOs and those rising through the ranks by providing honest assessment and mentorship.
How we will achieve this vision starts at the top. It is up to the Army’s senior noncommissioned officers to provide candid and unbiased assessments of the Soldiers in their ranks. The Senior Sustainment Leader Talent Management program will help identify and build skilled NCO leaders who are capable of thinking strategically, while performing at the operational level of the enterprise for the Army and Department of Defense.
As a part of this process, I have provided each of Army Materiel Command’s major subordinate commands (MSC) with what I call baseball cards. Each of my MSC NCOs will fill out a baseball card for every command sergeant major and sergeant major in their organization. The card includes a Soldier’s and commander’s assessment of strengths and weaknesses, along with the positions they believe they can best serve the Army in. This is not a check-the-box activity, it is all about getting to know your people and providing them with honest feedback. If someone is not carrying their weight, it is our job as Army leaders to let them know and then provide them with the mentorship needed to grow personally and professionally.
We have an obligation to provide feedback and have those hard conversations that will help our Soldiers become better leaders. These baseball cards will provide senior enlisted leaders a snapshot of Soldiers, so leaders can put a face to a name when opportunities present themselves – like the Army Sustainment Conference. Leaders can then have more meaningful conversations and offer the right advice. Making these essential connections will help our Soldiers looking for opportunities to advance and help improve the Army as a whole by preparing the right leader for the right position. Looking three to five years down the road, these Soldiers have the potential to fill key roles across the military. It is our responsibility to prepare them to make sure they are ready when that day comes.
Another critical part of this process is mentorship. I always ask people “who do you mentor” or “who is your mentor?” I am seeing less and less people who can answer those questions. Mentorship is becoming a lost art, but I believe that you can’t be successful if you only talk to people at your same level. I am encouraging my MSC command sergeants major to look two levels down and get to know those people and their families.
At echelon, our enlisted sustainers are the most experienced NCOs within their formations. Their operational exposure has afforded them the opportunity to develop and grow through each mission. Many Soldiers do not have the luxury to sit in some of the meetings I get to, so it is our responsibility as senior NCOs to share our knowledge. Some people look at mentorship as a sign of weakness, but the Army is a team sport, and we need to rely on each other to make sure we are recognizing and mentoring talent.
Together, our collective experience will drive this program to meet its intent. Our end state is to have the right sergeants major in the right positions, at the right time in support of Army and DOD requirements. At the same time, we will build the bench of experienced leaders who are prepared to assume duties and responsibilities at the next level on day one. For this program to be successful, I am counting on my sustainment leaders to keep me updated and help identify those rising stars.
Serving in the Army for 33 years, I have realized there is nothing else I would rather be doing than taking care of Soldiers. I see them as an investment. Watching them succeed and become a command sergeant major is what success looks like to me. When I talk about leaving a legacy, that is what I am talking about – it is not what positions I have held but the people I have brought up with me.
For me like many others, working in the Army started as a job and somewhere around 10 years it became a career, but when it really clicked was when it became a passion. While having that passion is important, it is the mentors I have learned from throughout my career who have helped me get to where I am today.
When I was a first sergeant at the Defense Logistics Agency, I served in a new position under Command Sgt. Maj. David Roman. He was like a big brother to me, showing me what good leadership looks like. He ran with the backbone flag that said, “Lead, follow or get the hell out.” He passed it along to me, and to this day, it still hangs in my office. I also had the opportunity to learn from then-Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Saunders, the Army War College and Carlisle Barracks command sergeant major. He was such a people-person and a charismatic leader. It seemed as if everyone’s lives he touched became successful.
I continued building relationships with mentors as my career progressed, including my relationships with retired Command Sgt. Maj. James Sims and retired Command Sgt. Maj. Rodger Mansker, the last two people to hold the position of AMC’s senior enlisted adviser before me.
Four years ago, when I served as AMC’s Operations and Logistics (G3/4) sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Sims prepared me for the position I am in today. He developed me, made sure I understood the mission, the major subordinate commands and fully realized the importance of what we do at AMC. Command Sgt. Maj. Mansker, who served as the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command’s senior enlisted leader and shared the same building as AMC, took time to explain to me his organization’s role and how it fit within the materiel enterprise, adding to the foundation of knowledge I would come to use as AMC’s senior enlisted leader.
Serving as the AMC G3/4 sergeant major is one of the best things that ever happened to me. As senior enlisted leaders, we have the opportunity to pay it forward and invest in the next generation of leaders. Whether you are the mentor or the mentee, it is important to keep in mind what I call the three Rs: respect, reputation, and relationships.
When I say respect, it is not about a position, it goes both ways. You need to respect everyone around you from the highest to the lowest ranking person. If you don’t treat people with dignity and respect, those people will take it home. We need that family buy-in, because without it, the Army loses good Soldiers and civilians. For me, my family has supported me 100%, from my days as a young NCO through my 13 years serving as a command sergeant major. This support has made all the difference.
Reputation and relationships are all about trust and doing what you say you are doing to do. Your reputation is a combination of what people know, think, and believe about your qualities and abilities. When it comes to reputation, the onus is on you to prioritize self-development and seek honest and open feedback to help mold how others see you. As leaders, we have to encourage these habits in our young Soldiers.
Relationships are all about establishing, maintaining, and fostering connections inside and outside of work. Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston talks about the importance of our squad, how it is not just his initiative, but something the Army as a whole should own and implement. We need to embrace the Army’s concept of “This is My Squad” and take care of the people around us. My squad is the sixth floor of AMC. It is made up of Soldiers and civilians. Every squad is different, but it is all about ownership and being proud of the team you work for.
Relationship building extends to the Army family as well. It is more than knowing your Soldiers. I often ask people “when was the last time you met a Soldier’s parents?” When a Soldier knows you call their parents or send them notes about big accomplishments, it makes a huge difference. That is true leadership, talking to families, and, at times, reassuring them. It shows our Soldiers we care about more than just the mission.
Keep getting to know your people and don’t be afraid to look outside of your squad. Take the time to get out from behind your desk and get into the motor pool. If it wasn’t for the Soldiers in the motor pools, I would not be in this position. Look outside the box and learn more about those around you.
The Army is working to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion across the force and build cohesive teams. It is a proven fact that organizations with more diversity perform better. I come from a long line of proud Puerto Ricans, my parents were both the first in their families to move away from the island, but we maintained the importance of our culture and our roots as I grew up. I know for me, growing up in a diverse and multicultural area shaped who I am today. Learn more about those around you. Their background has shaped who they are and offers something different that makes the Army stronger.
We are all busy, but we can’t use that as an excuse. Make the time to reach out to Soldiers you have worked with in the past. Invest in people. When I see Soldiers I have helped along the way now wearing the same rank as I am, I feel proud. When I get emails from Soldiers I mentored, that means more to me than any award of rank on my chest. There will be a day where we hang up our boots, and the Army will keep rolling along. When that time comes, let your legacy be that you set those following you up for success.
Command Sgt. Maj. Alberto Delgado serves as the command sergeant major of U.S. Army Materiel Command. His military schools and education include Airborne School, Air Assault School, U.S. Army Special Operations Command Jumpmaster Course, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency Course, and all phases of the Noncommissioned Officer Education System. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Management from National-Louis University and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in Business Administration from Columbia Southern University.
This article was published in the January-March 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.