FORT CARSON, Colo. - When Master Sgt. Christopher Holley, operations chief for 1st Space Battalion, 1st Space Brigade, was in high school in Garland, Texas, he managed a newspaper truck delivery route and played baseball. He worked early mornings, seven days a week, and after a couple years grinding it out, he decided to pursue something bigger. He joined the Army at 17 and turned 18 in basic training. After 21 years of service, he will retire in December. This is his story.
Q: My timeline has 9/11 happening when you are in basic training? What was that day like?
A: We were out doing Army Warrior Tasks when suddenly we realized the drill sergeants began to disappear one by one. It was strange. We got word something had happened, and they (the drill sergeants) had pulled these drills on us before where they mocked up a disaster, or an enemy strike that would result in us immediately going somewhere to simulate readiness, so we all thought this was another one of those, but then they brought us into a room where we watched the news and saw replays of the towers falling. It was surreal, and being young and just into the Army, I was gung-ho and ready to go … into communications.
Q: What kind of communications?
A: Satellite communications. I went 25 Sierra, then went to AIT (Advanced Individual Training) for a year then got sent to Landstuhl, Germany, for my first duty station. I had been out of Texas once in all my years growing up there, so going abroad was an eye-opener. I grew up overseas in a sense. It was freedom. I immersed myself in the culture, mingled with the locals, picked up some of the language and customs and played baseball in a German league.
Q: Baseball? Like you worked your day job in the military and played on the side?
A: Yes, for a semi-pro team called the Kaiserslautern Bears. One of the best experiences of my life was my 10 years with that club playing third base for them. Those guys are family to me. We played all around the country and a few surrounding countries. It was great to see baseball over there, and thriving at that, and to have been a part of it are some of my best memories of my time there.
Q: You’ve spent more than half your career in Germany. What do you take from a decade-plus over there?
A: The Germans love their rules and they exist for a reason, and they will enforce them, and I get it. I love the way they drive - fast, but safe. If you’re in the left lane, it’s only because you are passing somebody. They are very regimented people who can come off as rude, but that’s just a cultural trait. They are a very efficient, very clean society that will celebrate given any reason. They focus heavily on family over there as well. I really have a deep affinity for that country.
Q: Where else have you been in your career?
A: Aside from doing German tours at Wiesbaden, and another as a first sergeant back again at my first unit in Landstuhl some years later, I was at USSTRATCOM (U.S. Strategic Command) in Omaha, Nebraska, where I was the Army senior enlisted leader to (Lt.) Gen. (Daniel) Karbler for 18 months. That assignment exposed me to so many facets of the DOD (Department of Defense) I never knew existed and I was a newly-promoted sergeant first class, so it was like drinking from a fire hose at first. I saw the planning side of things; where ideas start. It was interesting to see how national policy affects what we do down to the tactical level.
Q: Have you deployed anywhere?
A: Yes, to Iraq with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in 2011 where I was in charge of running operations for the regiment’s communication network. I was in charge of guys who, some of which, were on their fifth deployment. Two days in country and I lost one of my most important Soldiers to deep-vein thrombosis. He had developed a blood clot in Kuwait and died shortly thereafter. It was a rough year.
Q: So, what has it been like working in SMDC?
A: I just came here last summer, but I’ve enjoyed the command thus far. 1st Space Battalion’s mission is extremely versatile and always on - the highest ops tempo I’ve ever seen in a battalion. It’s a diverse mission where nobody does the same thing. The battalion and brigade commanders are two of the best I’ve ever had in my career. They give us the freedom to accomplish whatever needs to get done. There is no dictating how we do it. The team here in the battalion S3 (plans and operations) are hands down some of the best professionals I have ever worked with. This has been a good final assignment for me.
Q: So what’s next?
A: I’m exploring different internship opportunities whether it be here in the Springs or the Dallas, Texas area. I’m not committed to staying around the Army, but I’m not adverse to it either. I have degrees in occupational safety and health, and I am going through some interviews right now, so hopefully by the end of May I’ll know what direction I am going in.
Q: What are some of the biggest takeaways from a 21-year career in the Army?
A: Learning how to build a team and maintain it and get it to work consistently. Also, leadership is an art form and you have to learn to adapt it. Being able to adapt leadership styles is crucial to affecting morale, discipline and readiness. I hope to take what I have learned and adapt it to civilian life. At 21 years old I was in charge of 11 troops and it never stopped from there. I have always been in management positions as opposed to technical. I’ve learned a lot about leading a team. I feel like I have done it effectively. I thought originally I would just do one enlistment in the military and get out, but over the years, I realized just how much I enjoy caring for, developing and leading Soldiers.