"Not a lot of opportunity in southern Alabama and with no money to go to college," the 17-year-old exclaimed. "I went down to join the Navy."

Thirty-two years later and standing before nearly a hundred spectators, Command Sgt. Maj. John L. Murray assumed his new role as the command sergeant major for the U.S. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., Sept. 20.

It wasn't on a ship and certainly not with the Navy.

His original intent, Murray said, was to join the Navy, but when he went to see the recruiter the door was locked. Chance brought him to meet with an Army recruiter next door and the rest was history.

"The Army provided free meal and board," he exclaimed. "I had no idea what a radio operator was but it gave me a $2,000 bonus and soon I found myself as a single channel radio operator for an infantry platoon leader."

Murray explained that at times his rucksack weighed more than he did because radio operators often carried extra radio batteries. Yet despite the extra burden his attitude towards military service remained positive.

"I just had to make sure my boots were shined, uniform starched, weapon and radio highly maintained and be where I was told to be," he said. "It was a lot easier than working on the farm."

As a radio operator Murray was assigned to various types of units to include a stint with a combat engineer unit.

"I remember my first sergeant tell me that I could do the signal commo stuff at night," he said. "You're a combat engineer now so move out."

It was a lesson the young Soldier took to heart and from then on, Murray took every opportunity to learn about those units he was assigned.

"Make yourself important," he said. "Improve your foxhole every day. Become an asset to the unit. Don't sit back and wait to be told what to do and you'll get good performance ratings."

Murray explained how there were always tasks that needed to be accomplished. Soldiers often were tasked to sweep and clean the motor pool or submit reports.

"No one wanted to submit reports, so I volunteered," he said. "Eventually, I was assigned other responsibilities -- making me more of an asset to the organization."

His efforts recognized, Murray was promoted and he volunteered for drill sergeant duty at Fort Dix, N.J. There, he earned the drill sergeant of the year award. In his words, he was "hooked on the Army life."

"One great assignment after another followed," he said. "I served under the infantry, engineer and field artillery branches of the Army to include a joint unit supporting the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I served with the 10th Mountain and 101st Airborne Divisions and have spent eight years either deployed or on TDY (temporary duty) in Southwest Asia. I came to understand and appreciate the expeditionary environment."

Murray said that with each subsequent deployment, he better "understood and appreciated what really mattered for mission success and the priority you should give an action as it will save lives."

It is this appreciation that he hopes to bring to the ACC.

"At the ECC (Expeditionary Contracting Command), our contracting NCOs need to understand and 'speak the language,'" he said. "What does that unit on the ground need -- transportation, cell phones, food, etc. -- to be operational. You need to relate how the Army fights to support it."

The ACC has a much bigger mission to provide global contracting support to Soldiers through a full spectrum of military operations, Murray said. "We need to integrate those contracting NCOs into those contracting centers to maintain their proficiency. Let them gain some of that contracting experience and continue to grow professionally."

"I am excited to be the next ACC command sergeant major," he said. "I believe that 'passion plus professional equals performance' and that is what I promise to deliver."