Last month, the Aviation and Missile Command Sergeant Major spoke to ROTC cadets at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, Alabama.
Prior to the event, Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Schoemann, the operations noncommissioned officer of the Bulldog Battalion, was unsure how many cadets would attend. However, nearly 100 cadets came to hear Command Sgt. Maj. Bradford Smith reflect on what he has learned during his three decades of active-duty service.
The Pine Bluff, Arkansas native told the college students that he grew up on a farm, and while he enjoyed working on cars and tractors, he was not sure what he wanted to do with his life post-high school.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to do it,” he said.
One of his friends went to talk to a recruiter, and Smith went with him. He joined the Army in the fall of 1993 as a helicopter mechanic. As the grandson of a World War II pilot, 18-year-old Smith said, “Sign me up.”
He talked about the different positions he held over the past 30 years, as well as the different aircraft he worked on and places he traveled, and it all came back to his favorite part of the Army; being part of a team.
“Growing up, I always had my buddies,” he said. “We always rolled together — whether we were hunting or working on cars, whatever. My buddies were always around, and the Army gave me that. It gave me that connection, that camaraderie, that team. So, being part of a crew, doing combat missions, I was hooked.”
Smith said his first reenlistment was coming up after six years, and he was thinking about getting out, but the Army offered him Honduras, and he once again said, “Sign me up.”
He returned to the U.S. in 2001, and later that year, he found himself in Afghanistan for the first time. He would later go back two more times.
After talking about his personal career path, Smith shifted his talk to that of a mentoring session for the young cadets. He explained the importance of the officer/NCO relationship. He said some of them will decide to become an officer, but the NCOs they meet during their careers will have more time in service, more experience and more institutional knowledge.
“You lean on them, you challenge them and just know, it’s expected that they train you,” Smith said. “I’ve trained lieutenants, warrant officers, captains, majors, colonels, and they have taught me and made me better, and I appreciate that.”
He spoke about the importance of open dialogue and being able to accept feedback. He said with each of his officer counterparts, he has an open dialogue — “What do you expect from me? What are your priorities and initiatives? What can I do to help move the organization along with them?”
Smith took questions from the cadets and finished with a challenge.
“My challenge for you is to serve,” he said. “Serve the nation. Serve your community. Serve your state. Serve and give back; make it better. You see what it is right now — whether it’s the Army, whether it’s the community, whether it’s this college, whether it’s this town — you see what the challenges are; you know what they are. How do you make it better?”