Senior noncommissioned officers at higher levels have demanding jobs. From overseeing training for thousands of Soldiers to advising senior commanders, it is easy to see how they might seem unapproachable or unrelatable to junior Soldiers.
However, Command Sgt. Maj. Jonathan Reffeor, the 3rd Infantry Division senior enlisted advisor, is the type of leader who will have a normal conversation with junior Soldiers about fishing or hunting. When asked for advice, he’ll share an experience from his extensive military career; however, one aspect he normally doesn’t talk about is that he is a Purple Heart recipient.
The Purple Heart is awarded to service members who have been wounded or killed as a result of enemy action. Reffeor received the Purple Heart for his actions in Iraq on May 25, 2006, when an improvised explosive device hit his squad's humvee, and he received shrapnel wounds to his shoulder and the back of his head.
“When it happened, I was very comfortable,” said Reffeor. “I wasn’t afraid I was going to die because I knew that the people around me knew their job. They were good at their job, and they knew what to do.”
Reffeor doesn’t view his Purple Heart as something of major significance to his life and career, tending to gloss over it.
“I’m pretty fortunate; I know Soldiers who have lost their legs, you know… lost arms,” he said when reflecting on his injury. “My Purple Heart don’t weigh as much as theirs.”
When it happened, Reffeor said he didn’t initially realize he was injured and was focused on helping his other squad member who was visibly injured. It only took 45 days from when he sustained the injury before he was back to work, unfazed by the incident.
Reffeor’s squad sustained minimal injuries, and he credited their training for how well they were able to react to the situation.
“Taking care of people is training them through hard training, challenging them, making them be physically fit, so when you actually have to go and do the mission, I get to bring everybody home,” Reffeor said. “That's, in my eyes, what 'people first' means.”
Reffeor didn’t originally envision himself becoming a command sergeant major. He just focused on being the best at whatever job he had, and he advises Soldiers to do the same to get better everyday.
“Just like I always say, just get 1% better each day, and in 365 days, you’ll be 365% better than you were on day one,” said Reffeor.
Reffeor highlighted that simple, but important, things such as abiding by standards or weapons training can change from repetitive tasks to what’s normal for a Soldier, and lead them to being best at their assigned job. He also advises Soldiers to enjoy life and their time in the Army.
“Best advice I can give anybody is to not let one moment change the outcome of everything,” Reffeor said. “Don't dwell on it and make the best of life.”