4 December 2012
Looking back on my military career, I can honestly say that I have had some of the best leadership possible. All throughout my career, from E1 Private to E8 First Sergeant, I have been surrounded by leaders that genuinely care. I owe much of where I am at today to the people like SFC Warner, SSG Perry, SFC Wink, SFC Pingo, 1SG Burdine, 1SG Pandy, 1SG Burns, and 1SG Gear. And as I sit here and think about it, my mind drifts to three distinct Sergeants that groomed me back when I was a young Private: Sergeant Benton, Sergeant Dudzinski, and Sergeant Petricone.
Growing up out in the country of Forest Grove, I would play a lot of Army with Jason Henderson, Mike Belden, and my brother. Countless days were spent trudging through the woods, getting in scuffles, and acting if we were invincible. I scratched my way through school, played some sports, and moved out into the big world. I was “good” at many things, but not “great”. I worked a few jobs, here and there, and after a gentle push from my Grandfather, I decided to join the Army. And after the guidance, caring, and occasional thrashing of the three fine Noncommissioned officers (Benton, Dudzinski, and Petricone), I found something that I am great at (at least I like to think so).
Now, don’t be fooled! I wasn’t squared away the second I showed up, in fact, I needed some help. When I joined the Army back on December 28, 1995 it was in the pre-war, pressed BDU’s with spit –shined boots Army (now we wear “wash and wear” uniforms and rough leather boots that cannot be shined). It was expected, no, demanded that you showed up to morning formation with creases ironed into your uniforms that could cut you, and boots spit shined so shiny that you could shave in the reflection. Well, I was a young, 20 year old, single male, living in Germany where the drinking age is less than the legal age to vote. I was having a good time, sometimes too good.
I distinctly remember showing up to formation looking a little rough. It must have been a couple of days in a row. Sergeant Benton wasn’t happy and he told me that he was going to take care of me after work. SGT Benton was a quiet guy and I thought he was going to come unglued. I linked up with him after work and he walked me to my room. He told me how disappointed he was in me. “It’s easy” he would say. He was going to make sure I wouldn’t show up to formation looking like crap again. He told me to get my dirty uniforms and meet him in the laundry room. After grabbing my laundry bag I walked down the hall wondering what was about to happen.
SGT Benton turned on the washer and let the water fill about ½ way full. “You don’t add the soap until you have some water in there. You want to be able to mix up the soap” he said. After he mixed in the soap he grabbed my dirty laundry and put it in the washer. “Now we sit and wait. You don’t want anyone stealing you stuff. So go grab a manual and let’s study while we wait” he ordered. After the wash was done he pulled my uniforms from the washer and put them in the dryer, and turned it on. “Now we sit and wait. You don’t want anyone stealing your stuff” he repeated. We continued to study tank related information when he stopped the dryer and said he would be right back. He came back a minute later carrying a bottle of starch. “You pull your uniform out when it’s about 90% dry and then soak it with this” he said holding up the light blue bottle. He just had me sit there and watch while he did it. Back into the dryer until they came out stiff as a 13 year old in a stack of Victoria Secret catalogues.
“Now, go get your iron and ironing board and meet me back in the hallway”. And just then, I realized what was going on. SGT Benton was killing two birds with one stone. He was SHOWING me what right was all the while making me feel like doo-doo. In front of everyone that cared to walk down the hall, SGT Benton ironed MY uniform while I stood there at parade-rest watching him do it. And when he was done with the uniform, he asked for my boots. I felt like I was 2 inches tall… My first line leader had ironed my uniform and spit shined my boots, in front of God and my fellow Soldiers.
He didn’t do it because he wanted to humiliate me; he did it because he genuinely cared about me. I have always been a big dude, a little on the heavy side, and SGT Benton helped me with that too. Instead of standing outside and forcing me to conduct remedial physical training while he watched, he would stop by my room after work, tell me to get into some work-out clothes, and then take me to the gym to play hoop with him for an hour or so every day. And the thing was, we weren’t friends. We didn’t hang out after the gym and drink; we didn’t hang out during the weekend. In fact, the only time I saw him during the weekend would be for about 5 minutes when he would stop by my room to see how I was doing.
SGT Benton taught me the most important part about being a leader. You have to care, genuinely care about your Soldiers. Don’t care about yourself, care about everything that Soldier does, says, or is going through in their life. If you do that, you will excel as a leader. You will earn the respect of your Soldiers not because of your rank or position, but because you care about them. Some people can’t wrap their heads around that concept (and it took me a few years too). And due to the rank structure of the Army, they can get away with it and move up through the ranks, but eventually they are weeded out.
SGT Dudzinski and Petricone were just as influential. SGT Benton moved onto another duty station before my first deployment to Bosnia back in 97, but Ski and the Italian Stallion picked up where he laid off. I’m not where SGT Benton went off too. SGT Ski and Petricone have long left the military, but you can be sure that the leadership they gave me is being passed on and continues to guide me even today.
Back to the present: The two worst months of a deployment are the first and last. The first month is spent wrapping your head around the new sector, accounting for property, and figuring out your job. The last month is the longest month of your life. This first month has some pains, but overall, this is the smoothest transition that I have had on any deployment. All property is accounted for, we own the sector, and last night I got to watch a live feed as we smoked some Taliban emplacing an IED. Things are going great.
Today was our first mail drop. Other than getting to call home and hear the voice of your loved ones, receiving mail is the second best Soldier motivator you can have. That being said, if you want to write a letter, even a quick, one line “I appreciate what you do”, you can send it to me, but address it this way:
1SG Gibson, James (FAS)
HHT, 2-1 CAV
APO, AE 09383
The “FAS” is For Any Soldier. You address it like that, I will distribute it to all the Soldiers that haven’t gotten anything from home in a while. The Army is turning away mail that is addressed only “To Any Soldier”, so doing it with my name first will work. Again, thank you everyone for your support. I am receiving some positive feedback about this blog and I really appreciate it. It’s motivation to keep writing.