USA — Face of Defense: Command Sergeant Major Wraps Up Tour

KANADAHAR — The Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force’s senior enlist­ed leader com­plet­ed his 100th and final bat­tle­field cir­cu­la­tion Aug. 13.

Forward Operating Base Lagman, Afghanistan, by a 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment
Army Com­mand Sgt. Maj. Michael T. Hall, cen­ter, lis­tens to a pre-mis­sion brief­ing at For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Lag­man, Afghanistan, by a 2nd Stryk­er Cav­al­ry Reg­i­ment sol­dier on Aug. 6, 2010, dur­ing a bat­tle­field cir­cu­la­tion in Region­al Com­mand South.
U.S. Army pho­to by Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Chlosta
Click to enlarge

Since Aug. 4, 2009, Army Com­mand Sgt. Maj. Michael T. Hall has trav­eled more than 265 days to var­i­ous com­bat out­posts, for­ward oper­at­ing bases, camps and bases scat­tered through­out Afghanistan. He’s also made 12 over­seas trips to NATO units in Europe and the Unit­ed States to brief them on coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy before they deploy to Afghanistan.

Most impor­tant­ly, Hall goes to the front lines to lis­ten to troops, see what they see and do what they do for few days and nights. Then he takes back their com­ments and sug­ges­tions, along with his obser­va­tions, to the ISAF com­man­der.

Last year, Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal, then the ISAF com­man­der, asked Hall to come out of retire­ment to serve as the ISAF and U.S. Forces Afghanistan com­mand sergeant major. He has con­tin­ued in that role dur­ing the tran­si­tion peri­od since Army Gen. David H. Petraeus took the ISAF reins July 4.

“I was tasked by the com­man­der of ISAF to help change the mind­set of ISAF forces,” Hall said. “You can write things, and the chain of com­mand can pass [the intent down]. But the com­man­der want­ed to ensure the troops at the low­est leader lev­el, that first-line super­vi­sor, under­stood his intent. What was being asked of troops was hard, and they had to believe in it.

“By being out there with them,” he con­tin­ued, “I could explain the intent and also get feed­back so we could mod­i­fy our strat­e­gy based on what was work­ing and what was­n’t. This is a bat­tle of per­cep­tion of the Afghan peo­ple, and the forces at the low­est lev­el will be the ones to win this, not the peo­ple in [the Afghan cap­i­tal of] Kab­ul.” In addi­tion to trav­el­ing three to five days a week for his own bat­tle­field cir­cu­la­tions, Hall also would accom­pa­ny the ISAF com­man­der twice a week on trips around the coun­try to gath­er troop feed­back.

“I tried to spend time with every brigade and sep­a­rate bat­tal­ion-sized ele­ment, cov­er­ing all the ser­vices’ com­bat, com­bat sup­port and com­bat ser­vice sup­port units, all the con­tribut­ing nations, all the sep­a­rate enti­ties like spe­cial oper­a­tions forces, provin­cial recon­struc­tion teams, agri­cul­tur­al devel­op­ment teams, route-clear­ing units, engi­neers build­ing things, train­ing orga­ni­za­tions, etc., try­ing to show that every­body was impor­tant to the fight,” Hall said. “[The] goal was to spend time with them dur­ing pre­de­ploy­ment, with­in a few months of them arriv­ing, and near the end of their deploy­ment.”

Hall spent most of his 32 years in uni­form serv­ing in spe­cial oper­a­tions. This includ­ed a two-year stint in the 1990s in which he served under McChrys­tal at the 75th Ranger Reg­i­ment. He also served as the com­mand sergeant major for Joint Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand, where he helped to lead the ini­tial U.S. inva­sion into Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001.

Hall has observed sig­nif­i­cant changes and imple­ment­ed some as well dur­ing his year as the senior enlist­ed leader for ISAF.

“I have been able to estab­lish a wide-rang­ing Inter­net net­work that reg­u­lar­ly passed best prac­tices,” Hall said. “[I] was also able to use this ‘flat’ net­work to quick­ly get feed­back on hot issues that need­ed opin­ions from the field in a time­ly man­ner. I think the most sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion has been that units com­ing over have been hit­ting the ground run­ning as a result of pro­vid­ing time­ly infor­ma­tion to pre­pare them for deploy­ment. I have been able to explain why we do things and make folks under­stand the urgency and impor­tance of what we are try­ing to do, to ensure we don’t repeat mis­takes of the past.

“The ben­e­fit, I hope, was to be able to show [the ISAF coali­tion forces] the progress they have made,” Hall con­tin­ued. “Sol­diers are at it day after tough day; they lost friends and fam­i­ly. They often ques­tion, are we real­ly mak­ing progress? Is this worth it? I can nev­er answer that hard ques­tion on whether it is worth it. Each indi­vid­ual must answer that, but I am able to point out the changes I observed since the last time I was there and let them know that every deci­sion we make, we make with the sol­dier in mind.”

Hall said he has many mem­o­ries of his deploy­ment to Afghanistan and was proud to con­tribute to the coun­terin­sur­gency cam­paign in Afghanistan, a place he’s been involved with since ini­tial U.S. forces, includ­ing Rangers he led, entered the coun­try in late 2001.

On his final bat­tle­field cir­cu­la­tion, Hall vis­it­ed four units in Region­al Com­mand South, includ­ing Marine Fight­er Attack Squadron 232, a unit that flies F‑18 jets out of Kan­da­har Air­field.

“I think it was great to see the high com­mand come in the area,” said Marine Corps Gun­nery Sgt. George Fos­ter, the squadron’s main­te­nance admin­is­tra­tion chief. “It gets eyes on what the men are going through.”

Marine Corps Cpl. Juan Alas, pow­er­line mechan­ic with the squadron, said he and Hall had a good dis­cus­sion about his duties. “We talked about engines and ord­nance,” he said. “His vis­it was pret­ty moti­vat­ing.”

Hall also vis­it­ed Task Force Des­tiny here, led by the 101st Com­bat Avi­a­tion Brigade from Fort Camp­bell, Ky.

“It’s a tremen­dous morale boost for the sol­diers,” said Army Com­mand Sgt. Maj. Trevor Beharie, the unit’s senior enlist­ed sol­dier. “He’s def­i­nite­ly a soldier’s leader.

“We’re lucky to have some­one of his cal­iber at the ISAF head­quar­ters,” Beharie con­tin­ued. “He cares about the sol­diers. He cares about the mis­sion. It’s evi­dent from the moment you meet him. He under­stands the commander’s guid­ance and he takes that to the field.”

Army Spc. Ryan Egn­or not­ed Hall’s gen­uine con­cern. “He’s not sug­ar­coat­ing it,” he said. “He’s try­ing to find out if there are rea­son­able things he can fix.” Pri­or to the Kan­da­har trip, Hall also made it up to Region­al Com­mand North to vis­it 10th Moun­tain Divi­sion sol­diers and to accom­pa­ny a foot patrol to the vil­lage of Ali­abad with one of his for­mer sol­diers.

“He’s had a huge impact,” Army Com­mand Sgt. Maj. Den­nis Defreese of the division’s 1st Brigade Com­bat Team. Defreese served as a pla­toon sergeant under Hall in the 101st Air­borne Divi­sion.

“I don’t have enough adjec­tives to describe what he’s done,” Defreese said. “He’s a nation­al asset.” Hall said spend­ing time with troops has made it all worth­while.

“What I’ll miss the most is the hon­esty and can­dor that you get from troops — the sense from these folks that they real­ly under­stand what things in life are real­ly impor­tant,” Hall said.

“Phys­i­cal­ly it beats you up,” Hall said of his trav­els. “My sched­ule is so errat­ic that my body nev­er gets to recov­er or get into a rou­tine. At my age that can be a prob­lem, but the strength and moti­va­tion I get from being around peo­ple keeps me going. Men­tal­ly, it’s tough also. You spend time with peo­ple that just lost some­one, or you get back and read the reports of folks you were just with. It makes you stop.”

Army Com­mand Sgt. Maj. Mar­vin Hill, who most recent­ly served as U.S. Army Cen­tral Command’s com­mand sergeant major, will assume the ISAF senior enlist­ed leader posi­tion Sept. 1. Hall will retire again and will return to his wife and son in Ten­nessee. Then he’ll go back to work for the defense con­trac­tor Lock­heed Mar­tin.

As he head­ed into the final weeks of his tour, Hall reflect­ed on the many pos­i­tive changes he’s seen over the past 13 months in Afghanistan.

“Every orga­ni­za­tion, no mat­ter what type or coun­try, that has come over since about last Novem­ber tru­ly under­stands and believes in the coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy and what we are try­ing to accom­plish,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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