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News > Commentary - The courage to do what’s right
The courage to do what’s right

Posted 9/27/2012   Updated 9/27/2012 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Command Sgt. Maj. Bernie Knight
U.S. Army Alaska command sergeant major

9/27/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- No matter where I am or who I am with, if I see a piece of trash on the ground, I stop and pick it up. I pick up soda cans, plastic forks, cigarette packs and whatever else is in my path. Sometimes I even go back to pick up something that someone else just stepped over. Needless to say, that can be uncomfortable for the other person, but I have a personal standard that I will not compromise.

One of the reasons I clean up trash is because if I do it, then others will start doing it too. If the command sergeant major can pick up a candy wrapper, then everybody else in the command can as well. If enough of us do the right thing and refuse to walk past trash, then there will be nothing left for me to pick up. Alaska would have the cleanest installations in the Army. That would be a wonderful achievement that I expect us to collectively strive to attain.

The philosophy doesn't just apply to litter on the ground.

I look for opportunities everywhere I go to fix what is broken and correct deficiencies. I do this because I believe we, at the lowest level, can make a difference. We can change the Army from one foxhole.

PT, weight control, preparing and conducting training, and our daily duties must be done with a mindset that we will change the Army by personal example and great leadership. If our team has high standards in all the above areas, then other teams, companies, battalions, and brigades will take notice and want the same success. This will create a chain of events that is unstoppable and nothing but success will follow. We must create a favorable impression in our carriage, appearance, personal conduct and military bearing at all times.

Too often when I make corrections, the response from the Soldier being corrected is "I didn't know." They didn't know that smoking in unit areas and unit level sports are not permitted during PT hours, or that it is wrong to address their subordinates as "brother," "buddy," "guy," etc. In most cases I believe the Soldier when they say this, but I still correct them and I do it in no uncertain terms.

I believe them because when I ask their supervisors, they often didn't know either. So how was the Soldier supposed to know if their squad leader didn't know to tell them? This is something that must be addressed by our senior leaders and pushed from the top down. Leaders must know the standard and be the ones to set the example.

NCOs: how often do your troops go to parade rest when you are speaking to them? If the answer isn't every time, then why is that? It's because that is the standard you have chosen to enforce. It's because Soldiers not going to parade rest for NCOs is your standard, sergeant.

I hope that all of you will embrace my philosophy of cleaning up trash. I look forward to the day when each of us is dedicated to picking up litter, enforcing grooming and uniform standards, and absolutely refuses to accept anything but excellence in ourselves or any other Arctic Warrior.

We all know what the right answer is. We must decide as professionals to do the things we know we should. We owe our best to our Soldiers, our Army, and to everyone who has fought and died wearing this uniform.

I give you my very best every day and expect nothing less from each of you. I take great joy in leading you and am extremely proud to be your command sergeant major. I know how hard you work and am grateful for your contributions to the success of our team.

Together, we can make U.S. Army Alaska the best command in the U.S. Army, and we'll do it one squad, one platoon and one company at a time.

Arctic Warriors! Arctic Tough!

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