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Chairman’s Senior Enlisted Advisor Leads by Example


The U.S. military’s top noncommissioned officer, Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, said he strives to lead by example and cites good leaders for his success.

Troxell is the senior enlisted advisor to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford on all matters involving joint and combined total force integration, utilization, health of the force and joint development for enlisted personnel.

“I'm truly blessed and humbled that I've been afforded the opportunity to be in this position,” Troxell said in a Sept. 14 interview at the Pentagon. “I'm extremely grateful to General Dunford, who just about 22 months ago had the faith and confidence in selecting me over some other very capable, very dynamic senior enlisted leaders.”

As the senior enlisted advisor, Troxell accompanies Dunford on troop visits or travels on his own to meet troops and partner forces in the U.S. and around the world.

“I'm truly blessed to be in this position, but it comes with great responsibility, and that's not lost on me that every day I have to come with my A-game to work,” he said.

U.S. forces are working hard to build partner capacity as part of the campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Troxell said. It is a tough fight against a brutal enemy, he pointed out.

“This is going to be a generational fight, and we're going to have to continue to get after this to make sure that we're protecting our homeland,” he explained. “I am extremely proud of all our troops around the globe, whether they are fighting ISIS or other violent extremists, assuring allies, deterring aggression or participating in an exercise.”

The men and women of the U.S. military are motivated, Troxell said, adding they understand why they fight.

“They are doing well at mitigating risk and accomplishing the mission -- and a lot of that is led by noncommissioned officers who are out there getting after business and getting after their commanders’ intent to accomplish their mission,” he said.

Leading By Example

Troxell was sworn in as the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Dec. 11, 2015. He is the third person to hold the job.

In 35 years in the Army, he has had five combat tours and has served in a number of joint environments, to include as the command sergeant major of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command in Afghanistan, and the command senior enlisted leader of the United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and United States Forces Korea.

“But I can tell you the main reason I got into this position is I'm a product of good leadership,” he said. “Since I was a young trooper I've had role models and mentors along the way who helped me to strive for excellence.”

Troxell lists among his greatest mentors Army Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Gainey, the first senior enlisted advisor to the chairman, who was Troxell’s platoon sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division.

“All the way up the line I've had these people who have put me in good positions and shown me what right looks like,” he said, adding he has been afforded opportunities for training and education, to include earning his master’s degree.

For Troxell, a leader is someone who is charismatic and leads through their actions, and manages a good balance between trying to bring discipline to the organization while being a compassionate leader as well.

“I do a lot of listening when I go out and visit the troops because I want to know what's going on out there,” he said. “An important component of being a leader is being as good of an example you can be. The best that you can provide is through your actions and by listening.”

Training Hard to Be Resilient, Strong

Troxell continually underscores the need to train hard to prepare for battle through grueling physical training sessions here and with troops around the world, a philosophy that he describes as physically, mentally and emotionally hard or “PME Hard.”

“This is all about the preparation for what we do,” he said.

The concept is built on preparing service members to have the resilience to deal with the worst day of their life, the sergeant major explained. “For most of us, the worst day of our life is locked in combat,” Troxell added.

The training is necessary, as troops are up against a brutal and ever-evolving enemy, he said. Troops need repetitive training to prepare and set conditions to deal with adversity while in garrison or peacetime in order to be prepared for a time when they face the enemy, Troxell said.

“In the end though, combat, as we all know, is brutal and unforgiving and it's a test of wills between humans, and we just have to understand that,” he said. “The more preparation we do to deal with that adversity and to deal with the conditions of the worst day of our life, the better we'll be able to deal with it.”

He warns against complacency.

“The enemy is out there and they're always watching us and they're looking for a soft target, so every day you have to be prepared physically, mentally, emotionally, technically and tactically to execute combat operations,” he said.

“Even though you may be out there for weeks at a time and not have enemy contact, [adversity] can sneak up on you if you let it, so you have to be focused at all times,” the sergeant major said.

Staying Strong, Focused During Adversity

Troxell said he has relied on his training to stay focused, resilient, ready and strong for himself and his troops, even when facing the most adverse, brutal and unforgiving situations.

Those difficult situations include a deployment as the command sergeant major of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. The brigade lost 54 members during its 15-month deployment to Iraq.

“Although it was one of the most tragic times in my career, in 2007-2008, it was also one of the most gratifying times, because I was surrounded by some of the best leaders, some of the best men and women that the United States of America can offer to our United States military,” Troxell said.

He said he had to be an example of resilience.

“Combat is a will between two forces of humans and if we're here to defeat these insidious enemies -- at the time al-Qaida -- then we have to be stronger physically, mentally and emotionally,” he said.

“I just made it a point to be the example of what we expected out of everybody,” he explained. “In the end, it was so gratifying that I was given the opportunity to serve as the brigade command sergeant major of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division during the surge in Iraq.”

Strive to be the Best

Troxell said being a soldier was a natural fit for him. He enlisted in September 1982 as an armored reconnaissance specialist and graduated One Station Unit Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He soon met and married Sandra Jimenez; they have been together for 34 years.

“Shortly after we got married we were expecting our first child, so I had this strive and drive to be the best,” he explained. “But I also knew I had this responsibility as a husband and a father that I needed to be the best I could be to best take care of my family.”

He said he continually sought out challenges, set goals and went after them. In 1996 -- after being in the military for 14 years -- he had the opportunity to go to and graduate from Ranger School. He lists that among his proudest accomplishments.

“That's driven me my whole life and then whenever somebody said I couldn't do something that even fueled me more to say, ‘I'm going to go out and do it,’” he said.

His advice to young troops is a page out of his personal playbook: be the best you can be, train hard, prepare for battle, seek to continually move forward and always strive for excellence and professionalism in all your endeavors.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)

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