Military service is lauded in the U.S. for the sacrifice Service Members make through their raised hands in commitment to their nation. However, what can go overlooked through the often heard “thank you for your service” are the numerous benefits to such service. For one senior noncommissioned officer of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command in Fort Shafter, Hawaii, the Army has given him everything.
“The Army owes me nothing,” said Sgt. Maj. MacArthur D. Ocampo, the 8th TSC’s materiel management sergeant major. After more than two decades of service, Ocampo credits the Army for providing him an overwhelming sense of purpose – professionally and personally. Carrying on his grandfather’s tradition of service to the country, Ocampo quickly found himself humbled and in positions of leadership but with unlimited possibilities for his future. How he rose to the rank of sergeant major is a pleasant surprise to him but not to those who have served alongside him.
From entitlement to enlistment
Leadership was not new to Ocampo when he joined the Army, as he was a student leader in college – which he finished at the age of 19 in 2002. However, the type of leadership and his evolution as a leader could only have happened in the Army, he said. He admits that prior to joining the Army, he lived a sort of charmed life.
“I'd never done a dish or piece of laundry in my life until I joined the Army."
“I was a totally different person before I joined the Army,” he said. “I was privileged and entitled, because that's how I grew up. That's how my family was. And the Army humbled me really quick!”
His grandfather, a Navy veteran who served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, made plenty of sacrifices, resulting in an easier life for his offspring and their descendants.
“I'd never done a dish or piece of laundry in my life until I joined the Army. I'd never held a broom or mop,” said Ocampo. “That’s why [the Army] was really a challenge that I wanted.”
After graduating college in the Philippines, his family wanted him to pursue law school, but he had no passion to become a lawyer, despite trying to convince himself otherwise. Instead, the young, directionless Ocampo moved back to the U.S. where he worked as a clerk at a Filipino grocery store. It was during this time that his fellow store employee invited him to a party, which would change the trajectory of his life.
“I went to their house, and I was looking around and all the kids were really different – such nice kids,” Ocampo observed. “It's a beautiful house, like some comfortable, good living, you know? She's just a cashier in my mind. And then I saw pictures of her family and her husband.”
The husband turned out to be a Soldier who was currently serving a tour in Korea. The walls were adorned with plaques, accolades, and pictures from his service. It was at that moment he felt compelled to join the military. Notwithstanding his grandmother’s previous insistence that he consider military service like his Navy veteran grandfather.
“It was never my plan, even though my grandma always wanted me to join the military because my grandpa was in the Navy,” said Ocampo. “She's like, ‘it's best for your life. Join the military, join the military.’ I guess she preached that to all of us [cousins].”
“Sergeant major Ocampo is not only a master of his craft but the most caring leader I have ever served alongside over the past 11 years."
So, at the age of 20 and less than a year out of college, Ocampo joined the Army as a human resources specialist, or military occupational specialty 42A in 2003. Despite his comfortable, and self-admitted entitled lifestyle, Ocampo was not a spoiled brat – he had manners and a solid work ethic, which translated well in the Army.
Within the first seven years in the Army, he was a promotable staff sergeant. Ocampo shot up so quickly but was in the same unit for those seven years, and he was tired of the monotony. At nine years in, he was going to leave the Army. However, with exemplary service comes attention from senior leaders who enable Soldiers to pursue their true purpose. Ocampo’s brigade leadership, then Col. James Mingus, now a lieutenant general and the director of the Joint Staff, and Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin, who would later die in Afghanistan in 2012, convinced him to stay in under his one condition – that he reclassify to a culinary specialist, or MOS 92G. It was a done deal.
Such a late transition into a new job at such a high rank made his move unique, but he was ready to continue his service and overcome the struggles that came along, he said. However, the Soldiers who served alongside him appreciated the qualities he brought as a leader and technician.
One of those Soldiers is 1st Lt. Cody D. Herr, Ocampo’s former platoon leader and executive officer during their time at the 596th Quartermaster Company, 25th Division Sustainment Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Herr was struck by Ocampo’s level of empathy, compassion, and can-do attitude.
“Sergeant major Ocampo is not only a master of his craft but the most caring leader I have ever served alongside over the past 11 years,” said Herr. “On the 92G side, he is simply unmatched. There is no one in food service that I have learned more from. He has retained so much knowledge from past experiences and his ability to consistently provide the guidance the team goes with without being the loudest voice in the room makes it all the more impressive.”
He continues to serve to this day after two deployments to Iraq and three deployments to Afghanistan. Over his career, his numerous deployments and positions, he has steadily evolved and progressed as a leader, ultimately developing a simple, yet effective leadership philosophy.
“Always be good people,” said Ocampo. His philosophy distilled down to four words – not a wasted syllable – a most basic concept that encompasses what empathetic leaders should do daily. If leaders are good people who are committed to being good to their Soldiers, seniors, and peers, they seed and grow commitment, said Ocampo. Besides, it all boils down to a simple math equation.
“There may be 1 to 2 percent who get this far [sergeant major], which means there is the 98 to 99 percent of people who got you there,” he said. Herr has seen this philosophy – or simple math – in action.
“His ability to maintain the highest level of professionalism while connecting with leaders and junior Soldiers is amazing,” said Herr. “Every Soldier in our company had a true love for their first sergeant, Sgt. Maj. Ocampo.”
Herr learned from Ocampo the importance of taking care of Soldiers and treating everyone with respect regardless of rank. This approach results in strong relationships and a formation willing to take care of each other, including their leaders. These are not the only leadership traits Herr gleaned from Ocampo’s be good people approach.
“I learned to never miss an opportunity to be a great teammate, and to fully understand that the partnerships made are the best part of serving and what makes our Army great - position is not what makes the mission happen, but rather the relationships leaders have and the influence they can have in and outside of the organization,” said Herr.
With this view on leadership, it is not surprising that Ocampo mirrors it in his personal life as well. The partnership and relationships made in the Army can often evolve into lasting friendships.
Friends and funds
“Most of my friends I know because of the Army,” said Ocampo, who was born in Torrence, California, and after elementary school moved to the Philippines where he attended high school and college. Not long after college, he joined the Army, to which he attributes most of his closest friends he calls family.
The balance of his life has been in service to the United States, and over the two decades of service, he’s developed strong relationships with his friends – all thanks to the Army, he said. In fact, Ocampo has a difficult time trying to think of any close friends who he knows that are not due to the Army. Herr sees how Ocampo builds such strong relationships. His attentive and empathetic leadership style does not stop at the office door.
"I would follow him anywhere.”
“He does not look at the Army as an occupation; he looks at the Army as his family, and those he meets view him in kind,” said Herr. “The value of the relationships made through service cannot be under-valued. When he gives you his 100 percent, you feel it. I would follow him anywhere.”
It is apparent such relationships are close and enduring, as Ocampo will often forget his friends are not actually blood relatives, rather they are so close that they believe they are. Ocampo said he would do anything, including give his life for his friends. He is even the godparent to many of his friends’ children.
The closer friends Ocampo met because of the Army are not necessarily in the Army, but that does not stop him from trying. At a recent dinner, he transformed into an Army recruiter.
“I was preaching for one of my best friends to join the military because I really do believe it's good for people,” said Ocampo. “Yeah, it's good for people while they're in as they're developing and the Army pay, I think, is just fine. So, I'm probably the Army's number one recruiter. I just haven't been able to recruit anyone.”
In addition to friendships and family, Ocampo has reaped other benefits from his time in the Army, including earning another bachelor’s degree, financial freedom, vacation time, and medical care that has cost him zero out-of-pocket, he said.
After five deployments and the overall daily physical requirements of a Soldier over 20 years, Ocampo has seen four separate surgeries to keep him healthy and ready for the demands and rigors of military service. Such care would put many people in the rears or bankrupt them completely, said Ocampo, but because he receives medical car free, he can breathe a sigh of relief. He also notes that his civilian friends are surprised to find he gets 30 vacation days a year.
“I’ll tell them I can do this or take that time to visit or whatever, and they are shocked I still have more vacation days,” said Ocampo. "My family lives a comfortable life because of the Army.”
Ocampo said he could talk to anyone for hours about how service in the Army benefits the person in many different ways at many different levels. He is proud of his service and tells anyone who will listen that it is worth every minute that ticks past the Oath of Enlistment. He learned how to lead and care for Soldiers and passed those skills on to them and other leaders. He will always credit the Army for providing him that education in leadership and a comfortable life – one filled with lasting friends who are family. Despite giving over 20 years of service and counting, he is adamant that the Army owes him nothing because it gave him everything.