When I enlisted in the Army 12 years ago, I had no idea how long I would stay or if I would even like it. I initially joined because I was tired of living in a small town with nothing to do. I attended a junior college for two years on athletic scholarships for cheerleading and softball but after receiving my Associates degree, I was bored with school and searching for a new adventure. I quickly found that by enlisting in the Army in 2000.
Fast forward eleven years to a place I wasn’t expecting to be so quickly in my career. I was fortunate to have Non-Commissioned Officers that knew how to mentor young Soldiers and prepare them for future assignments and promotions. They took pride in developing their subordinates and used the NCO creed as a guideline on how to be an NCO. When I read my name on the Active Guard Reserve Master Sergeant Selection list last December, I thought about my former NCOs and vowed to take care of my Soldiers the same way they took care of me.
I immediately thought about whom I wanted to promote me and although several names came to mind, one stood out from the others. Sergeant Major Jeff Hegarty was my first supervisor after I reclassed to 79V in 2005. I had only been a Career Counselor a few short months when I volunteered for a deployment and learned I would be working for him. I had emailed him several times asking what to bring to theater and always got the same response: a knife and a flashlight. I had never been deployed but was fairly certain I would need more than just those two items. He was relentless in stating that’s all I would need. I soon had visions of us gutting camels by flashlight in the middle of the desert. Luckily, that wasn’t the case.
Since I had minimal prior experience as a Career Counselor, I asked Sgt. Major Hegarty about 100 questions a day on how to complete a DD Form 4 or what regulations governed reenlistments. Right away, he refused to answer my questions until I looked for the answer myself. At first, I was annoyed by this but soon realized he was teaching me to be independent and learn where to find the answers for myself instead of relying on someone else. Sgt. Major Hegarty was preparing me to be a leader so that when my Soldiers asked me questions, I knew the answers and I knew where to find them. He didn’t just say how to take care of Soldiers; he showed me how to do it.
Being promoted to Master Sergeant is a huge accomplishment but it’s not something I can accept alone. I’m thankful for all the leaders I’ve had, both good and bad. Several years ago, I read a quote by General Norman Schwarzkopf that has stuck with me. He said, “You learn far more from negative leadership than from positive leadership. Because you learn how not to do it. And, therefore, you learn how to do it.”
I’ve made mistakes in my career and am certain as a senior leader I will make more. It’s not the mistakes that define you as a leader but rather how you learn from those mistakes.