FORT RILEY, Kansas –The lines in Sgt. Major of the Army Michael Grinston’s face are well-defined, carved out from an almost 36-year-long career leading U.S. Soldiers across multiple theatres around the world.
As he paced in front of a room full of noncommissioned officers with the 1st Infantry Division, Grinston shared stories of his time serving in the U.S. Army and the wisdom he has gathered over the years. As part of a leader professional development (LPD) program aligned with the 1st Infantry Division’s Year of the NCO campaign, Grinston stopped at Fort Riley on June 7, 2023, to discuss his drive to create a more lethal fighting force and the challenges all Soldiers must forego while preparing for and experiencing combat.
“The future is in this room right now,” said Grinston. “You all are the ones that are going to have to fight that next fight. And you’ve got to be ready for that.”
Grinston, a Jasper, Alabama native, has an extensive military resume that includes numerous combat deployments, two of which occurred while he was serving in the 1st Inf. Div. Recalling the chaos that ensues during combat, Grinston offered leaders of the 1st Inf. Div. lessons to carry with them as they continue to fill the shoes in the spaces he now prepares to leave behind.
“[Soldiers] should experience those lessons learned,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Toriano G. Jackson, command sergeant major of the 541st Division Sustainment Support Battalion, 1st Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade, 1st Inf. Div. “That makes us better leaders in the future, it gives us perspective, and makes us better.”
During combat, Grinston learned that Soldiers often perform at their lowest common denominator. This means that the stressors endured inside a combat environment often restrict people from performing at their highest level. Most people went to the basics they had trained at, acknowledged Grinston.
Because of this, the outgoing sergeant major of the Army stressed, Soldiers must make the most of their training. Leaders throughout the ranks must propel their Soldiers forward by providing them with sufficient training regiments that allow for them to be tested at the highest levels. To increase the common denominator amongst their ranks, leaders must challenge Soldiers in order to prepare them for the rigors of combat.
“Approach every mission to the highest level that you can have in combat,” Grinston said. “And every time you go to the field train to that level.”
Grinston encouraged leaders of the 1st Inf. Div. to ask themselves if they’ve pushed their Soldiers to their limits and to seek out as many opportunities to train Soldiers so that if and when they are deployed for combat they can go forward together saying, “We’re ready.”
“Don’t be afraid to try something hard,” said Grinston. “If you fail, it’s not because you’re a terrible person. It just means you need to train more then go back and try again. That’s the number one advice I have for you in regards to future fighting.”
Events like this showcases how the 1st Infantry Division guides its NCOs to aspire to become better leaders through professional development initiatives and training.