By Phil Kiver, JIEDDO NEws ServiceOctober 25, 2011
WASHINGTON, D.C -- Rising from private to a command sergeant major can take an entire career.
Taking on the role of senior enlisted advisor in a joint command with contractor, civilian employees and service members from three branches of the military takes all of the leadership one can muster.
When Command Sgt. Maj. William High was a young man thinking about joining the Army three decades ago, little did he know how his career would progress.
"I came from a family and a generation who believed doing a 'hitch in the Army' was a good thing," High said. "My father had been in the Army and my grandfather had been in the Merchant Marines in World War II. But really all I was looking for was a skill set that I could apply later in life."
As it turned out, he tested so well on his Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery tests that he was able to enlist on a nuclear job assignment. At that time there were only two types of Army jobs available for enlisted soldier in the nuclear field.
"I was trained in artillery, specifically Lance missiles, which was a surface-to-surface projectile with nuclear capabilities. I wasn't planning on making the Army a career at age 20. I definitely wanted to keep my options open. I was always up for a challenge and seeing the world," he said.
High's leadership skills evolved as a leader from his time as a squad leader to being the senior enlisted advisor at the Joint IED Defeat Organization. He understands the growing pains of being a young soldier and the importance of discipline. As a senior non-commissioned officer, High acknowledged one of the biggest challenges a leader can face is disciplining the soldiers. Having an otherwise good Soldier who makes a mistake is a challenge for any leader.
"Figuring out why the Soldier made that mistake and trying to insure it doesn't happen again is important to me as a leader," said High. He emphasized that many senior leaders made their own mistakes when they were younger, but learned and moved on.
"I think the biggest difference in becoming a command sergeant major. is going from a leader who participates with the soldiers on a daily basis, to one who works with staff and systems," High said. "The Sergeants' Major Academy in El Paso, Texas, does a great job of pushing you as a student to make that transition."
Even though High is far from the traditional unit leader position, he still wants to hear from troops on the ground. His personal experience in Afghanistan has taught him a lot about the fight, and he plans on traveling throughout the theaters of operation, seeing Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.
"This is a company/platoon-level fight, being waged one patrol at a time. As the senior enlisted advisor at JIEDDO, it's critical to hear from those platoon and squad leaders on the ground," High said. "It is encouraging to hear from folks in the field about what works or what doesn't in the world of IEDs."
The current wars and state of the military weigh heavily on High, a father of two sons who serve in the Army at Fort Sill, Okla. While less than one percent of all Americans have a family connection to military service, according to www.serve.gov, High marches on with his personal and professional military family.
"I have deployment friends, peers and professionals who are involved in the war. But for a few Americans, this is a family fight. My sons' influence me much more than I influence them at this stage in our lives," he said.
"It is personal; it is a motivator. We have young people who knowingly joined during a time of war. I feel blessed to be working for them in an organization full of unsung heroes," he said.