By Sgt 1st Class Roger M. DeyAugust 31, 2010
Much like a coach with his team, Command Sgt. Maj. Lawrence K. Wilson, United States Forces - Iraq command sergeant major, pulled the members of his personal security detachment into a huddle. Clad in body armor and sweating under the noon sun, they put their arms around each other and bowed their heads as detachment member Cpl. Roy Gallup recited Psalm 91, the Soldiers prayer. It's a ritual that they've performed before every mission, but on this day there was an air of finality to it.
On Aug. 23, Wilson headed out from Camp Victory on his last tactical ground movement by MRAP, bound for Contingency Operating Site Kalsu to visit Soldiers of the 3rd Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.
With the sun setting on Operation Iraqi Freedom and his tour coming to an end, this trip was one of the last chances for Wilson to get outside the wire and spend time with the troops.
His normal missions on battlefield circulations is to gauge "the pulse and heartbeat of the units on the ground" for Gen. Ray Odierno, commanding general of USF-I, according to Wilson. But, as he and Odierno both prepare to leave following the upcoming change of command on Sept. 1, Wilson said it's been important to visit the U.S. Division and Advise and Assist brigades to thank them for a job well done.
"We are where we are strategically because of what they've done tactically," Wilson said. "My battle buddy (Odierno) couldn't come out lately, so I come out to say goodbye for both of us."
Members of Wilson's PSD say his trips around the country to visit the Soldiers he refers to as his "Hooahs," have always been the rule, rather than the exception.
"He genuinely cares about his Soldiers," said Gallup, who serves as the driver of the sergeant major's MRAP and has served on his PSD team for six months. "He loves being around them."
The Soldiers at COS Kalsu, like Wilson, are nearing the end of their mission and preparing to redeploy. As he meets with the Soldiers of the Sledgehammer brigade, it becomes apparent that his driver's assessment is on the mark.
As Wilson talks with his warriors, he does it as an equal. Whether he's bantering with Soldiers about their personal lives or trading barbs with them over their allegiances to certain college sports teams, he displays the respect he has for enlisted Soldiers that he credits with helping him get to where he is as the senior non-commissioned officer in Iraq.
Wilson, a native of Austin, Texas, has led combat troops throughout some of the most historic moments of Operation Iraqi Freedom. As the command sergeant major for 1st "Raider" Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, he saw his troops capture Saddam Hussein in December 2003.
And as the top NCO for USF-I, he has seen his warriors partner with and train the Iraqi Security Forces to be self-sufficient, withdraw from the cities and successfully complete the responsible drawdown of forces and redeployment of equipment ahead of schedule.
Wilson also shares with them lessons learned from 33 years in the Army, 29 years of marriage and four kids. He lets them know the challenges that lie ahead as they return home and reintegrate with their families and makes a point to remind them that they should be proud of what they accomplished here.
"Tell your stories about what you did here," he said, reminding them that 12 million people in Iraq were able to vote for who they wanted because of the efforts of our forces in the country.
Wilson also reminded them how important it is for them to watch out for one another and avoid becoming complacent as they get closer to going home. His message is a simple one: "The enemy is still out there," he said. "If you don't keep leadership standards and you don't stay focused on what's going on, you'll miss something you should have been paying attention to. Stay the course, stay together. You'll be fine."
He makes no secret of the fact that his "Hooahs" are the thing he will miss most when he returns to Fort Hood.
Rather than talk about the legacy he'll leave behind after 21-months as the senior noncommissioned officer in Iraq, Wilson instead steers the conversation to how much it has meant to him to serve as a leader for his "Hooahs", those enlisted Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines he credits with carrying the tactical load that has helped United States Forces-Iraq make significant strategic accomplishments as it transitions from combat to stability operations.
"It's an honor to be a leader, it's a privilege," Wilson said. "It's not guaranteed, it's not mandatory. It's a privilege and an honor to be able to stand in front of 70,000 or 175 or five and say, I'm your command sergeant major. Come on with me, I'll take care of you." Before he leaves Iraq on Sept. 1, Wilson will see his "Hooahs" to the official end of combat operations as Operation New Dawn begins.
"I don't know about legacy," he said "Regardless of who you are, I think if you do what you're supposed to as a leader, you leave a legacy as a caring and respected leader. I wouldn't want more than that."
After leaving Iraq, Wilson plans to take leave and spend time visiting his family before moving on to his next assignment.