When Command Sgt. Maj. Alberto Delgado reflects on his first deployment 30 years ago for Operation Desert Storm, the impressions his leaders and fellow Soldiers made then still represent what he considers one of the Army’s foundational benefits today — the importance of fostering relationships and taking care of people.
“Your legacy shouldn’t be about what you’ve accomplished or what you’ve done,” Delgado said. “Your legacy should be about who you’ve brought up with you and who you’ve developed and invested in.”
Delgado, then Spc. Delgado, was only 19 years old in 1989 when he was sent overseas and away from his family in New York City for the first time in his life. He trained for combat in Grafenwoehr, Germany, where he was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment assigned to the 210th Artillery Brigade. That’s where he first got to know his unit leaders, but didn’t yet know how deployment and experiencing real artillery would ultimately build the relationships within his unit.
In 1991, his unit was deployed out of Ansbach, Germany, to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield, then to Kuwait and Iraq for Desert Storm.
“One of the first things I remember is when we landed in Saudi Arabia and we went to ‘tent city,’ just a bunch of tents on a concrete slab, dust blowing all over the place, that’s when reality hit,” he said. “’Wow, we’re in a different country and we’re going to war.’ It was a scary moment.”
His superiors left an impression on Delgado and his young Soldier comrades. Even though many of them had never been in combat, Delgado said leaders took the time to talk to younger Soldiers and get to know them.
“I think what stuck with me the most was the relationships we built,” he said. “The friendships, trust, candor of the leaders. It really showed how much they cared about us.”
But building relationships and making friends didn’t come without the hardships of war.
“Late night guard duties were hard,” Delgado recalls. “A lot of experiences out there with stray animals while you‘re on guard duty. Not just worrying about the enemy, but dogs barking all night, and I was a little scared of dogs growing up.”
And having the chance at just a few minutes on the phone with friends or family members was sometimes the highlight of an entire month.
“We didn’t have Facebook or cell phones, so a lot of good memories were waiting in line with a calling card to call your girlfriend and family members to tell them you’re okay,” Delgado said.
Despite being a young Soldier in the throes of war, Delgado still remembers his deployment as a time full of great memories and crucial learning experiences.
“It set the conditions for me to appreciate what being a Soldier is,” he said. “There’s no more diverse organization than the military. The Army offers you every opportunity — you accomplish what you want to accomplish.”
Delgado still preaches the values his superiors showed him through their leadership during Desert Storm.
“Today’s Soldier is an innovator,” he said. “When Soldiers trust you, they will do whatever they need to accomplish the mission. The only way you’re going to build trust is to spend the time to get to know your people. Not just the Soldiers, but their families and their spouses.”
In the past year, Delgado has developed a new Senior Sustainment Leader Talent Management program to empower rising Soldiers by providing honest assessment and mentorship. In his current leadership role, he still maintains the values he learned during his first deployment 30 years ago— the relationships you build and retain through the Army are what will carry you through your military career and beyond.
“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,” he said.