After 28 years serving our great nation, I find myself reflecting on what advice I can provide those who continue to carry the torch in service to our country. My service began as an indirect fire infantryman and culminated as the First Army G7 Sergeant Major. In between those two duty positions, I served in all leadership positions in a mortar platoon, as a Reserve Officer Training Corps instructor, an observer coach/trainer, and a recruiter.

I offer to you some humble advice on what enabled my success within the Army ranks. These 10 items allow you to chart your own path and assist in leading you down a successful one.

1. Apply the Army Values, Warrior Ethos, and Creeds (such as NCO, officer, and Ranger) to all your decisions and actions as a Soldier and a leader. The words in these documents give the road map to success and will never steer you wrong. I continue to hang the copy of the NCO Creed I received when promoted to sergeant in my office. I apply those words and phrases to all that I do. I will not stray from the message it conveys to all NCOs.

2. Find a mentor. For this one, you need to be selective in who you choose to call on when you need advice, support, or an example to follow. Throughout my career, I have served with many good Soldiers and only one (whether he knows it or not) was my mentor. He taught me more than what it takes to be a platoon sergeant or first sergeant. We discussed things about every aspect of life and he kept me from straying off the path more than once. You will not always agree with your mentor’s advice. The point is to analyze and apply the information your mentor offers to your current situation, as you deem necessary. Without a mentor, you risk making the journey throughout your career more difficult than necessary. It is always beneficial to have someone be your sounding board for ideas and readily available to provide wisdom to your decision-making process.

3. Patient, but proactive. The old adage of good things come to those who wait is no falsehood. I am thankful I spent approximately five years at each NCO rank. The advantage of slow progression is the ability to increase your knowledge, skills, and abilities that prepare you for the next level. You must be patient for advancement, but proactive by continuing your education, whether through civilian or military schools, in order to increase your knowledge. You must also seek opportunities that expand your experience and skills outside of your defined duties and responsibilities. All of this will prepare you for positions of greater responsibilities and open up opportunities outside of your defined career path.

4. Available, not absent. Once you achieve a leadership role, garnering the trust of your Soldiers requires you to interact with your Soldiers. The higher in rank you move, the more distant you become from those that truly make the organization successful. The office separated from subordinate unit workspaces often leads to what I call the absent leader – Soldiers know your name and photo, but little else. When I was a first sergeant, my battalion commander taught me to go on walkabouts with the intent to visit my sections and speak candidly with the Soldiers. This created a trust between the unit’s Soldiers and myself that let them know I was available to discuss any questions, problems, or concerns. A good indicator that you are a leader and not a supervisor is the number of people who come to you to discuss any topic, knowing they can confide in you.

5. Do not settle for mediocrity. There are two types of well-known Soldiers in every organization: The heroes and the zeroes. Leadership does not pay attention to the Soldiers that fall in between because they simply do not have time due to many factors. They are pleased you meet the standard and cause no trouble, but do not have the time to assess your potential. The heroes work hard, take on additional responsibility, and strive to exceed standards. The zeroes simply take precious time away from leaders for the rest of the unit. I implore you avoid those in the zero group and strive to exceed any standard set forth in any task you are assigned.

6. Don’t avoid hard assignments or duties. No one likes the extra work of additional duties. But the positive outcome often outweighs the drudgery of completing the tasks associated with the duty or assignment. I had five additional duties when I was a platoon sergeant. They caused a lot of late nights in the office, but the knowledge and experience I gained prepared me more for being a first sergeant than any school I attended. I served as a recruiter (a position an introvert is not greatly suited for) and managed to achieve success even though it was truly difficult for me. Never give up and find a solution that works for you to succeed.

7. Set goals and reassess them often. Setting goals is something most people start hearing about in high school. The reason its emphasis has not diminished is that it works. As a young private first class in 1994, I set the goal to retire as a sergeant first class at 20 years of service. I attained sergeant first class in 2007 and did not reassess my goals. I was prepared to perform the duties as a mortar platoon sergeant and succeeded, but failed to consider what the remaining five years of my career would entail. Since my only goal after reaching sergeant first class was to retire, I personally felt woefully unprepared when selected for promotion to master sergeant and sergeant major. As you progress, reassessment is vital to keep you on track for reaching your full potential.

8. Increase your resilience. I hear a lot of Soldiers groan anytime resiliency training appears on the training calendar. Just like setting goals, resilience is emphasized because it works. People build their resilience over the span of their life through hardships and rejection, so each person’s level of resilience is different. You can work to increase your resilience if you understand that failure and rejection are a part of life, but not an absolute. What you do after the experience is the important thing. Learn from it, change what you need to, and try again. Do not let the failure define you.

9. Surround yourself with positive people. This one sounds simple, but too many good Soldiers turn down the wrong path due to an inability to separate themselves from negative personalities. If you find yourself associating with those who are always complaining, pushing the rules to the limit, or making questionable decisions - get away from them. Those people will take you down with them and not care what happens to you after the dust settles.

10. Professional diplomacy. My Advanced Individual Training unit’s motto was "Play the Game." This simple phrase resonated with my young, impressionable 18-year-old mind with an effect that set the tone for my last 28 years of service. The Army, as an institution, is replete with regulations, policies, and manuals that lay out what you need to do to be successful. There are always things you will not agree with or control in the Army, but as long as it is not immoral, unethical, or illegal, you are expected to support it. As you progress through the ranks, your influence will allow you to affect change within certain limits. You must know where that line is to remain effective and avoid toxicity in your leadership. Leaders in an organization cannot positively influence their Soldiers if they are objecting to Army directives, standards, policy changes, or orders.

There it is. My parting shot to the Soldiers, NCOs, warrant officers, and officers of the greatest army in the world. It is your choice to take what you will from these words, but I do wish you all the best in your futures as I fade away as old Soldiers do.