By Mr. Robert H Mcelroy (IMCOM)August 24, 2010
BRUSSELS, Belgium - Command Sgt. Maj. Robert G. Lehtonen II has never served in a garrison but he sees it as just another challenge in a 25-year Army career that has seen him grow from an 18-year old Field Artilleryman to a senior noncommissioned officer and combat veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Lehtonen is the new command sergeant major at U.S. Army Garrison Brussels, Belgium. He comes to the assignment after serving as the battalion command sergeant major of 4th Battalion 25th Field Artillery Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.
"I was expecting to redeploy with the same battalion I'd just come back from Afghanistan with and thinking about doing squad and platoon live fires and next thing you know they've got me on assignment going to do a garrison sergeant major position," Lehtonen said.
He is joined here by his wife of 25 years Beth and 17-year old daughter Amanda, who is about to enter her senior year at Brussels American School. Lehtonen also has a son, Robert, who is entering his senior year at the University of Oklahoma.
Beth was recognized as the 2010 Fort Drum and Fort Drum Family Readiness Group volunteer of the year and is a Dr. Mary E. Walker member.
Lehtonen grew up in Conneaut, Ohio, a city of about 12,300 people northeast of Cleveland, and enlisted in the Army after he graduated from high school. Following basic and advanced individual training at Fort Sill, Okla. he served as a Field Artillery Cannoneer with 2nd Battalion 2nd Field Artillery.
During his tour at Fort Sill in 1988 Lehtonen decided to make the Army a career because of the example set by one of his noncommissioned officers, Cpl. Andre Jones of Washington, D.C.
Lehtonen said he had rented a fold-away bed when family members visited him. After the visit he needed to return the bed but could not because he was in the field.
"We were out in the field for a while and I mentioned to him (Jones) that I needed to turn in a fold-away bed or I was going to be charged extra," Lehtonen said. "We came back and cleaned up the howitzers and everything; he took off and did whatever corporals do."
When he drove home, Lehtonen got a surprise.
"On my way home there he is going by in his little Ford Escort. He had the bed. He turned it in, he paid the late fee and everything," Lehtonen said. "That was kind of the start of it; I thought 'He does more than just yell at us.'"
Lehtonen realized then that NCOs take care of the Soldiers and the Army is more than just a job.
"I started to realize this might not be a bad place to be. That was the start of it, you start to become part of the family and they raise you. It's a family and I think that's why I stayed in, to make the difference," he said.
During his career in the Field Artillery Lehtonen has been a leader at every level. He has been a Gunnery Sergeant, Platoon Sergeant, Chief of Firing Battery, First Sergeant and a battalion command sergeant major.
He has also served as a brigade S-2 noncommissioned officer in charge, battalion Operations Sergeant Major; brigade Operations Sergeant Major, Noncommissioned Officer Education System instructor and Drill Sergeant.
Lehtonen's assignments have taken him to posts in the United States, Germany and Korea as well as the combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
His years of experience have prepared him for the new challenge of running a garrison, he said.
"I think the Army's done a good job in developing me, I'm well rounded," he said. "I've got the FORSCOM (Forces Command) combat deployments, Drill Sergeant with TRADOC (Training and Doctrine Command) now I'm getting the IMCOM (Installation Management Command) experience."
Lehtonen believes his experience gives him credibility with his Soldiers.
"Soldiers see that you've been there and done that," he said.
He said his wife Beth and daughter Amanda also help to give him perspective.
"They will keep me on track," he said.
Although running a garrison is different from running a field artillery battalion Lehtonen welcomes the challenge.
"If you're an NCO, taking care of Soldiers and Families is one of the number one things that we do," he said. "As a noncommissioned officer, how can you not look forward to the opportunity where your main job is to take care of Soldier and their Families'"
Lehtonen plans to take care of his Soldiers by teaching, coaching and mentoring.
"I can imagine I'm going to be doing a lot of coaching teaching and mentoring, putting my arm around the guy and saying, 'Hey look this is the way you do it.' I can see that as being my big contribution to the NCO corps here," he said.
Lehtonen said that over the years he has learned that the Army is all about relationships.
"I found out over 25 years the Army is an organization made up of people and equipment but I found out its about relationships--taking care of Soldiers and Families and treating people with respect. If you do that and you're sincere about it, people will see that and they'll be more willing to let the Army be part of their family."