Entering a senior enlisted advisor’s office is like stepping back in time. To a junior service member, it might resemble a museum with memorabilia and placards, undoubtedly supported by countless shared memories of places he once called home. Photos of old friends at military school graduations, shadowboxes full of medals and parting gifts, and challenge coins neatly positioned everywhere; every corner has a story.
But the final chapter of this story is the one Command Sgt. Maj. Walter A. Tagalicud treasures most.
“The memories and experiences that I’ve gained in these last three years will last me a lifetime,” he affirmed as he looked at the Korean scenery out his window. “This has to be the most rewarding assignment I’ve ever served in.”
Tagalicud is scheduled to relinquish his charge as United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, and U.S. Forces Korea Senior Enlisted Advisor to Command Sgt. Maj. Jack Love during a change of responsibility ceremony, March 25.
This date will also commemorate his retirement from military service after 36 years in the U.S. Army.
Born in Pudtol, a municipality in Aguayo in the northern Philippines, the self-described “Air Force brat” spent most of his early years in Clark Air Base, Philippines. Tagalicud was devoted to high school athletics, competing in track and field, football as a running back, varsity wrestling, and an international pole-vaulting champion.
His father and many uncles and cousins had served and retired from the military in all branches. During his father’s assignment at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, in 1986, an 18-year-old was eager to follow the family tradition of military service after finishing high school.
“What we knew growing up was the military,” said Tagalicud. “My family on both sides has served in all components. Many of my childhood friends joined a branch. We had that mindset of ‘the military life,’ and we wanted to continue that legacy of serving.”
He felt the need to serve the country that gave him an opportunity at a better life, despite not being his birthplace, he said. When it came time to pick, a love for the outdoors and his athletic background led the future Ranger to become the only one in his family to choose the U.S. Army.
“I wanted to work outside,” said Tagalicud. “I didn’t want to be in the water, and I didn’t want to be in the office. The Army lifestyle was what suited me the best. Growing up, I liked all the equipment that the Army had.”
In July 1989, Sgt. Tagalicud pinned his stripes and served as a team leader with the 5th Battalion, 87th Infantry, 193rd Infantry Brigade to protect U.S. interest in Panama and the Panama Canal. The same year he became a noncommissioned officer, the U.S. invaded Panama after Gen. Manuel Noriega, the Panama Defense Forces commander, declared himself ‘maximum leader,’ triggering a conflict with the U.S. This assignment solidified his commitment to the service when he saw combat for the first time.
“At first, I was uncertain if I wanted to continue serving,” he said. “When you’re 19, you don’t know what you want yet. But what sealed the deal was a camaraderie that I had never felt before, through combat experience. Sharing the hardships and high risks with a team is what kept me going.”
One duty assignment was all it took to turn a young athlete from the Philippines looking for an adventure into a committed warfighter and a leader of Soldiers.
However, not all Soldiers develop through warfighting. Some learn the most challenging lessons outside of the battlefield, and Tagalicud’s toughest one was recruiting. As a minority in a predominately White and affluent area in Orlando, Florida, he found challenges recruiting young people to join when they already had everything the Army offered.
“It took a year to learn, and that first year was tough,” said Tagalicud. “I would rather do a 26-mile road march every day than call people at eight o’clock on a Saturday. Eventually, I developed a relationship with the community, and my last two and a half years were very fruitful. Recruiting taught me to think on my feet, stay on my toes, and create relationships across the Army.”
He says he could always rely on his Army Ranger training to keep focused on the mission for every challenge he faced during recruiting. The hardships he experienced during the course taught him to perform to the best of his ability no matter how tired, hungry, or unmotivated he felt. Being a Ranger is the foundation of who he is, he says.
Tagalicud developed his leadership style by emulating the best traits from the multiple leaders around him and learning from the mistakes of others. This attitude allowed him to reach the position of serving as the senior enlisted leader in a four-star command. But all heroes have heroes of their own, and Tagalicud has a deep admiration for retired Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Capel, who served 37 years and retired out of Afghanistan in 2014.
“When I was a sergeant first class in the 82nd Airborne Division, Sgt. Maj. Capel hired me as a first sergeant,” said Tagalicud. “He took me under his wing, and then I understood the role and responsibilities of a sergeant major. He was patient and always had an answer to any question. He chewed me out a few times, and I respected that because it set me straight. He was such a great example that I wanted to be like him.”
After 20 years of service, The Army sent Tagalicud to the Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, where he was promoted before arriving at his next duty station. He was familiar with the position’s responsibilities and duties; he had already worked as a squadron and operations sergeant major positions as a master sergeant.
“My goal was not to be a sergeant major at the beginning,” said Tagalicud. “I didn’t even know what a sergeant major really did. But as I moved up to different leadership positions, my goals changed. I took one day at a time and invested myself on how to be the best sergeant major and take care of Soldiers.”
Tagalicud had the opportunity to serve as the senior enlisted advisor at every level in units such as 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment; the ‘Rakkasans’ from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault); 3rd Infantry Division; I Corps; and finally, USFK.
Knowing that any of these assignments could have been the one he retired from, he gave them all his best possible service.
“Success doesn’t happen overnight,” said Tagalicud. “It takes time to develop yourself, to get the education and experience that will allow you to serve in different positions. Be patient in your career. Have a goal that you can meet right now, not 20 years from now.”
Indeed, success does not happen overnight, and in his personal experience, it does not happen alone either. His wife, Carolina Tagalicud, has been by his side since they met at Pueblo, Colorado, in November 1987. A manager of multiple floral shops with hundreds of volunteer hours working with Army Community Service, United Service Organizations, and Family Readiness Groups, Mrs. Tagalicud shared the triumphs and hardship of military family life.
“Family support is critical to a service member’s resilience,” she said. “A service member and their family must work together as a team. There were many challenges, such as combat deployments, where you become a single parent and don’t know if your spouse will survive. But you can overcome them by using Army resources such as ACS, FRG, Military One Source, sponsors, and get involved with the unit and assist other families.”
Traveling, meeting new friends, watching her husband making a positive impact on young service members, and being married to her hero since his first enlistment are the experiences she describes as her favorite and proudest moments.
Now, during his final few weeks of service, Tagalicud is grateful for the opportunity to finish his career in Korea as it allowed him to mentor noncommissioned officers from all U.S. and Republic of Korea armed forces branches. He considers this a true assignment of choice.
Following his own advice, Tagalicud focuses on goals he can meet now instead of 20 years from now. The future Mr. Tagalicud looks forward to going back to Orlando reconnecting with family members. He plans on spending more time with his grandson before he becomes a teenager, kayak fishing, and resting a few months before he considers looking at what the future might hold for the coming decades. While he closes the final chapter of his military service book, he is eager to begin the first chapter of his next story.