The Army’s ability to fight and win our nation’s wars hinges on our most important asset, our people. They are the strength of our Army and what makes us the greatest fighting force the world has ever known, and it is our responsibility to ensure that we have the right people in the right positions at the right time.
As senior noncommissioned officers, it is our job to ensure that the next generation of Soldiers are ready to take the mantle when their time comes. To do this, we must recognize, motivate, and cultivate the talent we see throughout the ranks, and it starts by getting to know your people.
This centers around three questions: when was the last time you visited where your Soldiers live, “when was the last time you met a Soldier’s parents or spouse?” and “Who do you mentor?”
At the core of Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston’s “This Is My Squad” initiative is the empowerment of first-line leaders to create ownership, accountability, morale, and unit cohesion. I believe that this cannot be done without meeting your Soldiers where they are.
Last year, in Army Sustainment, I challenged our senior leaders to get out from behind their desks, leave their offices and go to the motor pool, and this year, I want to take it a step farther. Get out and go to the barracks. Ask yourself now, “When was the last time I visited where my Soldiers live?”
From the most senior NCOs all the way through the ranks, you are responsible for making regular visits to the barracks and housing areas on your installations. Walk the halls, talk to your Soldiers and understand any issues they may be having so you can be proactive in providing a solution. We are all busy, but that cannot be an excuse.
The Secretary of the Army, Chief of Staff of the Army, and Sergeant Major of the Army are all committed to improving the quality of life for our Soldiers and their families. At Army Materiel Command (AMC), Gen. Ed Daly, the commanding general, and I are responsible for overseeing four of the Quality-of-Life priority initiatives set by Army senior leaders: childcare, spouse employment, permanent change of station moves, and housing and barracks.
These quality-of-life initiatives are directly tied to Army readiness. Our Soldiers need to be taken care of in every aspect of their lives to perform at their best, and as Army senior NCOs, we need to ensure that our people have access to the highest quality of life.
While each initiative is important, I believe everything starts in the barracks and housing areas, where our Soldiers start and end their days.
AMC is committed to delivering the best programs and services to all who live, work, or train on our installations. To do this, the command is working to maximize the services that our Soldiers, civilians, and families rely on most, including an extensive initiative to improve the safety and security of barracks, including installing additional lighting, cameras, and door and window locks, all while adding more entertainment space to foster community within our Army teams.
Army senior leaders have requested $9.6 billion for barracks repairs and reconstruction through the fiscal year 2030, with the goal to not have any Q4 or Q3 barracks in the Army. Already, you see demolition, groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings, and renovations across our installations to ensure we are meeting our quality-of-life standards.
Through my official channels as the senior enlisted leader for AMC, I can impact these initiatives Army-wide, but it can be just as impactful to impact these initiatives at each echelon.
Over this last year, I have traveled around the Army, visiting installations worldwide, and I have made the concerted effort to visit our barracks and meet with our Soldiers. For me, it is not a successful trip unless I can say that I have walked the halls and talked face-to-face with the future of the Army. I challenge you to do the same.
Beyond integrating yourself in quality-of-life improvements, you are showing your true commitment to their well-being by visiting barracks and getting to know your Soldiers where they are. You are demonstrating that you understand where they are coming from and have been in their boots. You are setting the standard for leadership and taking care of people, showing that there is always time to check-in, reconnect, and encourage meaningful conversations.
Suppose your Soldiers have issues with sexual harassment or assault, suicidal thoughts, abuse, or anything else. In that case, they need to know that you care before they are comfortable bringing those issues to you. And for these Soldiers in trouble, those conversations are a lot easier to have when you visit them, versus always having to find you at your desk.
When we take care of our people and provide them with the quality of life they deserve, we will have a much stronger and more committed Army. It is about putting people first.
It is only after we know that their basic needs are met can we get to know them and their families on a personal level. To this, I ask you, “When was the last time you met a Soldier’s parents or spouse?”
When a Soldier knows you have thanked their family members, 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.
Through this, we can create meaningful bonds with our teammates, and anyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about mentorship.
My final question to you is, “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 level. I encourage you to look down two levels and get to know those people. The Army is a team sport, and we need to rely on each other to make sure we are recognizing and mentoring talent.
I know personally the impacts a mentor can have. Throughout my career, I have had the privilege to work with some of the finest Soldiers in the Army, but it was five years ago, when I served as AMC’s Operations and Logistics (G3/4) sergeant major, that Command Sgt. Maj. James Sims prepared me for the position I am in today. He developed me, made sure I understood the mission and organization, and fully realized the importance of what we do at AMC. He helped build the foundation of knowledge I would come to use as AMC’s senior enlisted leader.
Now that I am in his position, I want to do the same. I have established the Senior Sustainment Leader Talent Management program to empower senior NCOs and those rising through the ranks by providing honest assessment and mentorship. This program ensures that 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.
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 count on my sustainment leaders to keep me updated and help identify those rising stars.
To get the right people in the right positions at the right time, we must know our Soldiers, and to know our Soldiers, we must see the whole picture. That means seeing where they live, getting to know their family, and understanding their strengths and weakness through mentorship.
Make the time to invest in your people. At the end of the day, it is the people you lead— not the positions you held—that are your legacy. Lift those around you and give them the support they need to keep our Army the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen.
Command Sgt. Maj. Alberto Delgado serves as the command sergeant major of U.S. Army Materiel Command. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Management from National-Louis University and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in Business Administration from Columbia Southern University. He is a graduate of all Noncommissioned Officer Education System phases.
This article was published in the Winter 2022 issue of Army Sustainment.