By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneJanuary 6, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Every so often, Command Sgt. Maj. Larry Turner receives a phone call or a visit from a good friend.
That friend' The 12th Sergeant Major of the Army, now retired, Jack Tilley.
Such was the case on a recent Tuesday morning, when Turner slightly delayed an interview to take a phone call from Tilley.
"Every so often, he'll call me," Turner said. "He likes to monitor things and make sure everything is on track. If I've got a problem, I can call him."
During this particular phone call, Turner was able to report that everything was, indeed, on track in the assumption of new responsibilities as the command sergeant major for the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command. The only surprise, so far, for this battle-tested, world-traveled war fighter has been the depth and reach of SMDC/ARSTRAT.
"I came in with a change of responsibility ceremony in July," Turner said. "But I started working in April (with then Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph Borja, who has retired). It was a really good transition. I worked with Command Sgt. Maj. Borja and traveled some, and received briefings to help me understand this command."
As the SMDC/ARSTRAT command sergeant major, Turner is the command's senior enlisted leader.
"My marching orders are to make sure the enlisted side of the command is trained and developed," Turner said. "I work with Soldiers and Soldier families."
There are about 900 military personnel worldwide assigned to SMDC/ARSTRAT, representing nearly half of the SMDC/ARSTRAT work force. But despite the command's worldwide mission and reputation for providing capabilities to the war fighter, Turner admits he was not familiar with the organization when he was tapped for the command sergeant major position by incoming commander, then Maj. Gen. Richard Formica.
"I'm a war fighter," Turner said, referring to his multiple deployments to war zones. "I had no idea what SMDC was coming in here. But I've learned a lot since in this environment, and I can see the capabilities and what SMDC does for the war fighter. As an enlisted Soldier, I can take that back to the war fighter, and show them how SMDC makes a difference for them."
Even though he is out of the war theater, Turner is still spending a lot of time away from home. To connect with SMCD/ARSTRAT Soldiers and its mission, Turner does a lot of traveling.
"If I'm in this office for more than a week, then I'm probably not doing my job," he said. "I have to travel, to understand the mission and to communicate with Soldiers. Right now, those Soldiers are telling me about this organization. They are getting me up to speed on updates and changes in their unique combat capability.
"As I become more familiar with this organization, my role is to grow the personnel, to oversee their training and development, to make sure families are taken care of, to address their health and well-being, and to work on issues and concerns as they relate to SMDC/ARSTAT Soldiers."
During his first six months, Turner has followed the commander's intent of Lt. Gen. Kevin Campbell. That commander changed on Dec. 15, when Campbell retired and the newly promoted Lt. Gen. Formica took over the helm of SMDC/ARSTRAT and the Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense.
"This is a unique command that involves many different time zones," Turner said. "Two weeks ago, I was in Japan. This is a global command, so we have units all over the world or units we support all over the world. We have a lot of air defense Soldiers who support the Air Defense Command or the Signal Command."
This isn't Turner's first assignment as a command sergeant major. He has served in the role during three deployments to Afghanistan. In 2005-06, he was the operations command sergeant major for Task Force Cincinnatus at Bagram Airfield. In 2007-08, he was the command sergeant major for Task Force Gladius at Bagram Airfield. In 2009-10, he was the command sergeant major for the Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan and NATO Training Mission Afghanistan.
"Each time, I went, I could see the growth and development of the country," he said. "I grew to really know Afghanistan and the Soldiers serving there."
He shrugs off any suggestions that three Bronze Stars make him a certified Army hero.
"If you perform your given duty in a combat environment, then you will be awarded for your performance," Turner said. "No matter what environment you are working in, you have to be a professional. Your Soldiers still have to have confidence in your leadership. They have to know you can lead and know that they have your support.
"Your Soldiers have to know you are taking care of them and that you are making sure they are doing the right thing. In a combat environment, you may not have a chance to stop and check on them to make sure they are doing the right thing. But you can make sure they have the training they need so that in a combat situation they do know what the right thing is."
Turner has led long enough to know that at the heart of every command sergeant major's job is the commander's intent.
"Training, experience and the positions he's been placed in make a good command sergeant major," he said. "He needs good non-commissioned officers working with him and for him. What I stand on daily is the commander's intent. If a command sergeant major knows how to carry out the commander's intent, with the training and development he or she has had, they can do the job."
When working with Soldiers under his command, Turner said a command sergeant major must be accessible but also in charge.
"You must present yourself in a way to let them know you are the senior leader," he said. "You want to lead by example. You want to be someone they can look up to. You have to be proactive for your Soldiers, and take care that they have the training and development they need to do the mission. You have to work to make sure their families are taken care."
Turner has 32 years in the Army. He enlisted after high school, thinking he wanted to "be like John Wayne in the Green Beret. And the recruiter said 'We can do that.'"
Though the John Wayne image never actually materialized, the Army was the answer for Turner. He attended airborne school, and went on to serve with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.
"It gave me an opportunity in life," Turner said. "Now, I look back and it was one of the best choices that I made. For a young person, it is one of the best platforms to start life on that you are ever going to get.
"When I got out of high school, I didn't have a whole lot of direction and I wasn't ready yet for college. I told my dad I was thinking about joining the Army, he said 'You got to do something because you are destroying yourself.' That turned the light on for me."
With the 82nd, Turner was always in a state of being deployed. He served in Operation Just Cause and Desert Storm. Although he had other assignments in his career, Turner has spent 20 years of his 32 in various positions with the 82nd, where deployment is a way of life.
Besides education and leadership opportunities, the Army also gave Turner a chance to meet his wife, Barbara, who was a Soldier with a support command to the 82nd. The couple were married in a civil ceremony in 1990 prior to his deployment to Desert Storm, and then again in 1991 in a family affair after the deployment, giving the couple two anniversaries. Barbara Turner took an early retirement after 17 years of service in uniform to raise the couple's two daughters.
"Because she was in the military, she understood about the 82nd. She knew I grew up in the military and that I've always deployed. She understands, and that's made a big difference for us," he said.
One daughter, LaKisha, is serving in the Army. The other is in high school.
"I will tell any young person interested in military service to listen to their leaders and to try to get all the education they can. They should stay professional and focused on the mission, and the military will do the rest," he said.
"The military is an exciting profession. It's not every day, nine to five. I know when I come to work I will be doing something different, seeing something different and talking to different people. New experiences are what I really like."
He is getting those new experiences at SMDC/ARSTRAT, where he is traveling to connect with Soldiers, learning about a global mission and working with a new command team. And, while he enjoys the challenges of his current assignment, Turner is hoping there will be more to come after SMDC/ARSTRAT.
"As long as I feel I have something to give, I'm going to serve," he said.