APRIL 23, 2015, CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – With budgets back home tightening and a renewed interest in leadership development, young National Guard Soldiers eligible to attend a leadership school or complete online requirements to be promoted should take every advantage while they are activated and serving in Kuwait, the top enlisted Army National Guard Soldier said.
“Anything worth achieving is worth making sacrifices to accomplish your goals,” Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk Conley, the top enlisted Soldier in the Army National Guard, told a group of enlisted Guardsmen at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, April 6.
In Kuwait to attend the Warrior Leader Course graduation ceremony of Soldiers who will soon pin on the rank of sergeant, the former Army Ranger also made his rounds visiting Soldiers during a 52-hour blitz of gatherings over Easter weekend with his target audience – the 67 percent who make up the National Guard. Those ranks are sergeants and below.
Of the 350,000 National Guard members on the rolls, about two-thirds of them come from the ranks of junior enlisted, a fact he said that makes him passionate about watching out for the interests of those with “the least experience.”
“You are the muscle of this organization because you do all the work. I want you to be smarter than I was, smarter than what I did early in my career. If I’m not representing your interests, I’m worthless. The most important Soldiers to me are the 67 percent,” said Conley, a high school physics and chemistry teacher from Oregon who was tapped in 2012 to represent and advise the Army National Guard on policies and actions that affect enlisted Soldiers of the Guard.
Conley was accompanied by two other top National Guard officials, including Chief Warrant Officer 5 Peter Panos, the command chief warrant officer for the Army National Guard who assumed his post in February, and Sgt. Maj. Brian Soper, who serves in the Guard’s operations branch. The National Guard Affairs directorate located in U.S. Army Central at Camp Arifjan handled the arrangements of the visit.
Spc. Tylor Reed, 26, a military policeman, was one of about 100 Soldiers in the audience listening to Conley during one of the gatherings. Reed, a cable technician from Cleveland, Tennessee, was the sole junior Soldier to accept Conley’s challenge to ask a question. He was rewarded with a commemorative coin – the only one given out during Conley’s visit.
Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Smith, 46, had the opportunity to see Conley in action several times as part of a team of escorts from the National Guard Affairs directorate. Smith marveled at the way the command sergeant major connected each time with a group nearly half his age.
“He knew how to talk to this generation. He had their attention,” said Smith, who has nearly 27 years in service. “It was a good conversation. He’s the right man for the job.”
With plenty of anecdotes and a penchant for teaching, Conley impressed upon the importance of continuing civilian education and military requirements that can be completed online, even if it meant doing it off-duty. During his deployment to Afghanistan, the command sergeant major said he managed to complete his master’s degree.
But Conley saved his most fervent discussions for the role that reserve component Soldiers play in the defense of the nation, even, removing a pocket-sized version of the Constitution he keeps on him to illustrate his point.
“You’re a Citizen-Soldier. You should wear this as a badge of honor. It’s noble. It’s romantic. It’s honorable,” he said. “We are in the Constitution.”
Conley said as Guardsmen revert back to their traditional training, that will mean returning to the community, and be ready at a moment’s notice, like their predecessors, the Minutemen.
He relayed his own story of where he was the day of the terrorists’ attacks of September 2001. He said he was at school preparing to teach his class when he saw the news playing out on television. After informing the principal and on his own initiative, he got in his car and hurried to the armory, where he was a first sergeant, some 45 minutes away. He said he believes that is what the Minutemen did more than 378 years ago.
“Nobody called me. There were no orders. The governor didn’t order anyone there. Nobody said, ‘come to the armory,’” he said.
And, it was at that very moment when he pulled into the parking lot that he realized what it meant to be a National Guardsman. Eight of his Soldiers were already there; none of them had been given an order to report either.