DETROIT ARSENAL, Mich. —Michael Jackson performed at the Superbowl, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” was #1 for 14 weeks, and Prince became the “artist formerly known as Prince.” It was 1993, the year that young Jerry Charles enlisted in the Army. In 29-plus years since, he has seen a lot of changes ripple through the Army and feels that there have been definite improvements in military life—some of which he helped make happen.
When he took the Oath of Enlistment, he had no intention of making the Army a career. Like many young people, he was looking for a way to go everywhere and see everything. In those early years, Charles saw his future as “one and done.” He’d serve a single enlistment as a supply specialist and get on with his life. “I thought that I would do my four years, get some money for education, and get out,” he said.
Even after his first period of enlistment, he was more interested in traveling, mastering new responsibilities, and meeting other Soldiers who would become life-long friends. Still there were some opportunities that were simply too good to turn down. As he neared the end of his second enlistment, “I was given an option of going to Japan if I reenlisted,” he said. “So that was a no-brainer. However, I started enjoying what I did, and one reenlistment led to two, then three, and then it was indefinite.”
It wasn’t as if his desire to travel wasn’t fulfilled. Along with increased responsibility at stateside units, Charles has had assignments in the Middle East, Japan, the Philippines, and multiple tours with Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Along the way, he found that the military could indeed be more than a job; to his surprise, he found a calling.
As a training NCO, he learned that quality-of-life issues for Soldiers and Families were becoming a vital focus for command at all levels. He was serving in Desert Storm when he determined that the Army was changing and changing for the better. “Everything we did was about the battle buddy system and working as a team,” he said recently. “It was profound. There was a lot of emphasis on Army values and that stuck with me.”
These changes in military life are what became the purpose behind his service. Since he arrived at TACOM in 2019, Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry Charles has been the senior enlisted advisor focusing on quality-of-life issues for Soldiers, civilians, and Families as well as the training of junior non-commissioned officers and Soldiers.
Maj. Gen. Darren Werner, TACOM commanding general, says that Charles goes beyond the simple duties and to the heart of command responsibilities, “Throughout his career, he’s demonstrated the ability to really make a positive impact on what’s going on around here. He talks to people and, more importantly, he listens to people. That’s been the secret to his success.”
Typical of this understated man, Charles points to excellent officers and NCOs as the reasons for his success. He says they played a crucial role in his growing interest in the value of mentoring and leading. “The teams my leaders created instilled those values in me,” he said. “At that point, it wasn’t about whether I would reenlist, it was more about when.”
According to Charles, he had great role models in the NCOs he served under in particular. Through their leadership and demeanor as well as how they engaged him as a squad leader and platoon leader made him feel a more important part of the team. Charles went on to say that “they provided the example and at that point it was up to me to live up to the expectation when given a chance to lead.”
Even after his first couple of enlistments, Charles didn’t feel a drive to be promoted into leadership positions like 1st Sgt, Sgt. Maj or Command Sgt. Maj. However, over time that changed. “My career kind of evolved and I got the opportunity to be a drill sergeant,” Charles said. “My supervisors saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.” He went on to say that sometimes when leaders see something in you, they try to move you towards opportunities where there’s potential.
His career speaks for itself. Charles has succeeded at increasingly tough leadership and staff positions in over a dozen units and earned a master’s degree in management and leadership from Webster University. It won’t surprise anyone who has served under him but, as a Command Sgt. Maj, Charles has used his own leadership and mentorship skills to nudge his NCOs into positions where they are able to rise to their full potential. One of his favorite maxims is from President Theodore Roosevelt, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
One of those individuals is former Master Sgt. Francheska Wiggins, who served as a logistics NCO at TACOM until she PCS’d about seven months ago. Wiggins is now the 1st Sgt. for Alpha Company, 524th Division Sustainment Support Battalion at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. “Sgt. Maj. Charles has pushed me to become a better leader,” Wiggins said. “He knew I had the capability to mentor and lead my fellow NCOs. His trust in me has encouraged me to do my best.”
1st Sgt. Christopher Jackson, currently with Headquarters and Headquarters Company for TACOM has also benefited from Charles’ consistent mentoring. “Sgt. Maj. Charles has widened my perspective of what the Army is and mentored and coached me to see my strategic level as a leader and how we impact Soldiers throughout the ranks,” Jackson said. He added that Charles has been “the most relatable and reliable” Command Sgt. Maj. he’s worked for. “He has a competence, wisdom and knowledge that is unparalleled. He has that certain kind of leadership which is the right mix for this generation of Soldier. He’s really helped me see the bigger picture.”
Maj. Gen. Darren Werner echoed Jackson’s sentiments about Charles taking care of his people. “Command Sgt. Maj. Charles was never content to just let things happen, he wanted to ensure we lived up to the ethos of people first,” Werner said. “It didn’t matter whether the person involved wore a uniform or civilian clothes.”
During his time at TACOM, Charles has been a part of two large personnel initiatives: the TACOM Mentorship Program and the Newcomers Orientation Program; programs which Werner feels will change the future of the organization. “Jerry Charles has demonstrated the ability to really make a positive impact on what’s going on around him,” Werner said.
Charles’ skills at being able to engage with his troops is one of the key attributes that have made him successful in his career. He proudly acknowledges that he has given plenty of advice to his troops, but maintains he isn’t responsible for their success. As he puts it, “they have earned it” and he was just there for the assist.
The Command Sgt. Maj. also admits that the one thing he is most proud of during his career is that he can look back and see the impact he has had. “I think seeing individuals that have been subordinate to me succeed in areas where I have channeled them so they can get promoted is the most rewarding and memorable thing I will take away from my Army experience,” said Charles.
Although Command Sgt. Maj. Charles is about to hang up his uniform for the last time and spend some well-deserved time at home with his wife, Vanessa, and his children, Daisa and Jerry Jr., in the Houston, Texas area, he had one last piece of advice.
“No matter how long you serve, one tour, two tours, or end up retiring, military service brings a unique dynamic to your life that’s well worth it.”