Remarks by Command Sergeant Major Troxell in a News Briefing
Command Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell; Colonel Rob Manning, Director, Defense Press Office
COLONEL ROB MANNING: Ladies and gentlemen, Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell.
COMMAND SERGEANT MAJOR JOHN WAYNE TROXELL: Well, good afternoon everybody. Thanks for being here today. Colonel Manning kind of talked to you about what we're here to talk about in it showcasing our lethality series. SecDef initiative to get after showcasing what we call our greatest competitive advantage, the 80 percent of the joint force and the Armed Forces that are enlisted.
And as we start this, I have to reflect on an office call I had this morning real quick. It was with Master Chief Petty Officer retired Britt Slabinski. And as you all know, he was awarded the Medal of Honor yesterday for actions in Afghanistan in 2002.
And as I talked to him today, I thought about what it took for him to become this Navy Special Operator and this person that exercised these gallant and valorous actions to do what he did in combat.
The last four days I spent at the center of the universe, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as a part of the 82nd Airborne Division All-American Week. I visited 18th Airborne Corps units, I visited the Air Force Special Operations Forces and I visited Joint Special Operations Command and some of their subordinate organizations. And on Monday I participated in the All-American Week Division Run, where 18,000 paratroopers were on Longstreet on Fort Bragg running.
And as I looked at these young men and women that were out there running, and then I saw some of the events like the capabilities exercises they did and saw these young, non-commissioned officers in charge of operations, it solidified for me that our enlisted force is absolutely our greatest competitive advantage.
Think you all know the secretary of defense's National Defense Strategy lays out we have to be a more capable and lethal force. And we have war fighting advantages in all domains right now, even through unstable budgets and continuing resolutions.
But that greatest advantage that I spoke about is our enlisted force, that's trained, educated, trusted and empowered to execute disciplined initiative within their commander’s intent, apply agile, adaptive thinking and accomplish the mission, whether that be in combat, during training, in garrison or wherever that's at.
So with that in mind, I'm really excited about this new series that we're going to do. Because it's going to give you all an opportunity to see the men and women across the world.
Hopefully we'll get them in here so you can see them face-to-face, but if I have to, you know we'll pipe them in from a ship in the South China Sea or from on the ground in Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever it may be, so that you can hear their story and what they're doing to defend our freedom and our homeland abroad.
So with that, I'll stop and I'll take any questions you may have. Christina?
Q: Thank you so much for doing this.
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Absolutely.
Q: If -- can you -- can you talk about how -- how we're going to keep the enlisted our greatest advantage and if -- if in terms of training and -- and as far as the National Defense Strategy, how has that perhaps changed the training for the enlisted to make sure that they're our greatest military advantage?
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: So every year, we continue to bring in much smarter, much more tech savvy men and women than certainly in 1982 when I joined, where you know if I had to study eight manuals, I had to carry those eight manuals with me.
Nowadays a kid takes a picture of the slides and -- and you know kind of Googles the manual and has it all on a PDA. But that's how men and women learn, so we have to stay on that cutting edge. We've had to assume risks in some of our war fighting domains, in our modernization programs and our maintenance programs.
And one thing we've never had to assume risks in -- on and what we won't assume risks on, is the development of our people. So the training will continue to get more complex and more relevant to what the operational environment is.
The educational opportunities for enlisted will continue to grow, where now services are doing things like fellowships outside the DOD to allow senior enlisted to grow.
For instance, we have an Army sergeant major that works at the Department of Labor right now, a broadening assignment so that that sergeant major can get out and do something outside his or her normally -- normal bailiwick, and then come back and be a much more value added to the institution and the organization.
And we'll continue to invest as we move forward, because we understand that the nature of conflict will not change, it will still be a conflict between two wills or two opposing forces. But the character of conflict is going to continue to evolve and change.
And so the way conflict looked 20 years ago is not what it's going to look like 20 years from now, so we have to make sure in order to expand commander’s reach in an operational environment that we continue to give the tools to enlisted leaders so that they can be empowered and execute their mission without having an officer standing over them, and that's one investment we'll constantly keep getting after.
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: I'm doing well ma'am, how are you?
Q: Fine, thank you.
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: OK. I just came from the center of the universe, I feel like a million dollars, you know.
Q: We saw you run on video. I wanted to talk about basics. You know, with the collisions last year came to light that there -- that basics in navigation aren't getting through the ranks.
What are some of the -- even as you go through this like new, high tech type of war, what are you focusing on so that those men and women have what they need in navigation and basic war fighting?
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yeah, so one of the desired leader attributes that the Chairman and I came up with about two and a half years ago for enlisted leaders, which we think any enlisted leader regardless of what their MOS, AFSC or rate is, ought to be able to execute.
And one is the ability to manage risk. And more so than manage risk, it's the ability to anticipate, analyze, communicate and mitigate risk. And we have a high operational tempo, I think we all understand that, you know, for the last 17 years we've been moving pretty fast.
And when you look where we're at, where out of the 196 countries in the world, we've got troops in well over 75 percent of those countries, we're in the skies or in the waters around that, we have to continue to enforce the basics, the foundation of this great house that we call the Department of Defense.
And those basics being the blocking and tackling of what we do in the example you gave is discipline watch standards, you know, that we do the basics like firefighting or disaster control to standard. From an Army perspective, that means you know the rifleman truly knows how to move, shoot and communicate and do it in a disciplined manner within their mission set rules of engagement.
So we just have to -- and my talking point around the force as well as the service senior enlisted is the enforcement of the basics that are the foundations that have made us the greatest military in the world, OK. Yes ma'am?
Q: Sir, what are the biggest concerns that you hear from the young enlisted and what are you noticing about the young enlisted when they come in that's different from 10, 15 years ago? What are -- what are the changes and how are you addressing those issues, whether it's fitness or ...
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yeah.
Q: ... reliance on technology, but also what are their concerns? What are their biggest problems now?
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: So the reason I can faithfully say that our greatest competitive advantage is our enlisted force is in two and a half years in this job, in any town hall anywhere in the world, when I ask for questions and a young E4 stands up, none of them will ever tell me, "Hey, my chow hall is screwed up. Can you help us get better chow?"
Generally, it's somebody saying, "We're in Afghanistan. What is our foreign policy on Afghanistan right now?" Or it might be an intelligence specialist in Somalia saying, "Here's what we're seeing on the ground here. What are we doing at the strategic level to allow us to have the authorities or the assets we need to take the fight to this enemy?" These are -- and these are young, 22-year-old men and women that are asking me these kinds of questions.
So don't get me wrong. Those health and safety stuff, they're concerned about that too. What I'm concerned about is this ever-growing childhood obesity problem in society. And if you look at our target age for recruitment, 17 to 24 years old, only about 29 percent of those qualify for military service right now, and a lot of the reasons are they don't meet the physical requirements.
So when you look at what high-end conflict may look against a near-peer kind of threat, and what -- how brutal and unforgiving that would be, we have to have all hands on deck, or all troops on the line. And so the challenges we may have in terms of recruiting, based on those kind of challenges outside society, suggests -- and we're getting after that, where our recruiting commands and our recruiters, that first person that interacts with that young man or woman -- we've got to get better at getting to the left of that man or woman, and getting after the key influencers to them: their educators, their coaches, chambers of commerce, small, you know, town and village leaders, and things like that. We have to continue to build those relationships, so we can continue to draw on the best talent.
Now, in terms of the force that we have right now, and I think you all are aware, you know, Secretary Mattis just, you know, signed a policy about non-deployables, and this gets after what I talked about. When we need -- the number of forces we would need in high-end conflict suggests that we have to have every man and woman prepared to fight and win, and that's physically, mentally, emotionally, technically and tactically. Because high-end conflict is brutal and unforgiving, as I mentioned.
So my concern is that -- and this gets back to the question Tara asked -- that we may, because of high operational tempo, slightly taken our eye off the foundations of what makes us great. But I think, with the direction with this policy, which, this policy isn't there to remove people out of the military. It's a motivator for people that want to serve, and want to be deployable and serve their nation. I think we have to continue to get after those foundational things, so that we are prepared and ready to fight and win, wherever it may be.
All right, hold on, sir. Barbara, I'm going to go to you, ma'am.
Q: OK, I have two questions, please, and thank you for doing this, and thank you for coming to the podium.
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yeah.
Q: Not too many people do these days. On lethality, you're talking about lethality, and perhaps nowhere is that a more near-term -- near-term concern, I suppose, than the Korean Peninsula.
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yeah.
Q: So what are your -- if you offer us some of your specific thoughts, very specific, on what additional lethality the troops, the working troops need in that arena. What else do they need to be given? Because just the other day, General McKenzie said you need the extra budget money for increased lethality in places like Korea. I think that's a fair representation of what he said.
My other question has to do with, after you read the Niger initial report, and you found that it was nearly six hours before Medevac could be gotten to those troops on the field, what -- You -- you've talked about all of this, and it seems like even the concept of the golden hour that you had for years in high-intensity combat is no longer possible in so many places. What are your thoughts about, you know, having young troops in the field where you can't get Medevac to them for nearly six hours? Do you have any thoughts on (inaudible)...
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yes, ma'am, absolutely. Yeah, so first of all, the Korea scenario. So I spent 27 months as General Scaparrotti's command senior enlisted leader on the Korean Peninsula. I spent the majority of my time with our South Korean forces, as well as observing the North Korean forces as best I could. But I focused mainly on the North Koreans from the human domain perspective. I wanted to understand how a North Korean soldier thought, sailor thought, and how citizen thought.
So I even befriended North Korean defector organizations so I could fully understand and get real-time information from people that had just escaped through China, and they were in South Korea, and it was three weeks later, and now, I could sit down and talk to them.
I agree with General McKenzie: this more robust budget of $700 billion, and then $716 billion next year will allow us to get after the lethality. Because when you look at the size of the North Korean threat, 1.1 million-man and woman military that are set up to defend their country, they have a layered defense. That means that we have to have the assets required to be able to get through those defenses and fight, and win.
But the other thing we need to do is continue to educate our men and women of what fighting on high-end conflict is. Because we've been so focused, for the last 17 years, on counterinsurgency and stability and support operations, we have to continue to remind people that when it comes to high-end conflict, especially in this scenario, the enemy gets a big vote, especially when they're in a defense, and we're on the offense, trying to move in. And that means, given the reality to the troops...
Hey, you know, for 27 months, I taught this in Korea, and sometimes I could look in the eyes of some of the troops and see, well, this will never happen on the Korean peninsula. Why? Because Korean citizens are still driving. They're shopping, and drinking soju, and all the things they've been doing for years. But I looked at it from that operational perspective, and what the threat was, and that the information I was getting back was the North Koreans are going to fight, and they're going to fight to the end for the great leader. And we have to have that same kind of resolve, as we move forward.
Q: Did you think, before you go to the...
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yes, ma'am?
Q: What is your assessment, given your knowledge about this, about the ability of U.S. troops' capability to fight through those layers of defense?
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: One thing, the advantage we have, again, goes back to our enlisted force. Because of the terrain, because of the nature of the fighting, there will be small-unit kind of pockets of engagements going on. And one advantage we will have is that we have trained, educated, trusted and empowered small-unit leaders, our NCOs, to figure out the problem sets, to be able to execute their mission, based off of what the commander's intent was in the mission statement, and continue to execute and move forward.
Our adversary doesn't train that way. They are very linear in their approach, and stove-piped, and their small-unit leadership is something that we can take advantage of, as we move forward.
OK, so when it comes to events like Niger, one of the things that I continue to talk -- about a year ago, I was in Somalia, and in Ethiopia, and in Kenya, visiting our troops. And what I learned out there in some of these combat outposts is we were assuming a lot of risk because we didn't have assets on the ground.
So my message back to General Dunford was, "Sir, it's almost impossible for us to accomplish a mission in a remote area where you don't have persistent ISR, you don't have joint fires, you don't have medevac that meets that golden hour and, most importantly, you don't have personnel recovery within the same vicinity.
So in terms of managing risk, now, if those assets aren't in place -- and we're getting better at this now -- then the commanders have to make a decision -- or that small unit leader, that senior non-commissioned officer, has to say, "I am not executing this mission because the risk is too great to my force and the reward for what I'm being asked to do is not -- doesn't outweigh that risk."
We have to continue to empower leaders to manage that risk and get after it. So as we move forward, we're looking closely at some of these remote areas out there, on what we are asking men and women to do and the desired effect we're asking them to have in that country or theater, and do they have the assets to get after it.
Q: What did you -- my very last question, I...
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yes...
Q: ... (inaudible).
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: ... ma'am.
Q: What did you think when you read what this small group of American troops and their (inaudible) partners, but that they were out there, that they were ambushed, that they had no way to get -- get out, they had nobody to come help them on a timely basis. They had no medevac for six hours.
I'm just curious what you thought when you saw all this.
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: So one of the things we have to remember, everything we do is by, with and through our partners. And I'd say it all the time.
One thing we have to do, in terms of managing risk, we have to know four things. First of all, we have to know ourselves and our own capabilities. What do I have readily available at my disposal to execute the mission that I'm asked to do?
And that also means knowing ourselves. Knowing what our authorities are to get after our mission, OK? And we can't do any kind of mission creep and say, "Well, I'm going to do this kind of reconnaissance operation" when, in reality, it may look more like a lethal targeting kind of operation.
We have to know our partners and what their capabilities are, and what their limitations are. And that's not just the partner force that we're executing missions by, with and through. That may also be other multinational forces that could quickly bring enablers in to us.
Certainly, we have to know the enemy and we have to have as much of a clear picture of the enemy as we can. And if that picture is clouded in terms of what I'm being asked to do on the mission, and I don't fully understand what the enemy's capabilities are, then that ought to be a factor in determining whether I can successfully accomplish the mission.
And the final thing is, we have to know the population. And we have to know not only the elected officials within the population of my area of responsibility, we also have to know those non-elected officials that may be significant leaders within their communities, and we have to have relationships with them.
I think through knowing those four things, leaders on the ground can faithfully and successfully look and execute their mission. Or go to higher headquarters and say, "The risk is too high and I can't do it."
What we can allow is that this is the mission my commander expects me to do, or the next higher headquarters expects me to do. And say, "I'm going to assume all of this risk and execute the mission."
We have to have leaders that continue to look at this, analyze it and anticipate it before we think about going out after the mission.
Q: Sir, I'd like to follow up on...
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yes, sir.
Q: Barbara asked you what you thought about the report and you didn't answer that, respectfully. You gave a...
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: First and foremost, I think under fire, those men out there fought valiantly and fought heroically and there was a lot of valorous actions.
Q: (inaudible) also said, sir, that, you know, you -- you gave us -- now, I appreciate those clear parameters, you know, about not overstepping our welcome in country. As a reporter who was privileged to work out of those countries, I always had to have in mind that I was a guest in their country. So I -- I get that a lot.
That being said, these guys were out on a capture-or-kill mission. That was, in my layman's term, an offensive action. They were not...
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yes.
Q: ... just on reconnaissance. So the Nigeriens had signed off on that, apparently, or at least that's what we reporters have been led to believe.
So this question of support of a mission that has been approved by the host country on a capture-and-kill operation, is -- what puzzles me is why it was gone.
This operation in Africa occurred on the exact same October day as Black Hawk Down did. And one of the criticisms that came out in the aftermath of Black Hawk Down, was similar to what Barbara was saying: the ability to respond quickly and efficiently.
I'm just wondering, sir, you know, did we learn anything?
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Absolutely, we learned. I will tell you. I was a Stryker brigade sergeant major, Surge Brigade Number Four in Iraq in 2007. And just to give you my own personal context of how things can go over a long deployment or over multiple deployments.
So I think you all know back then, 2005 and '06 were some very tough times, where whether we were going to get the desired effects we wanted in Iraq were kind of, you know, we were at a standpoint where we didn't know if we were going to get the desired effects. President Bush brought in five extra brigades.
And so I was Surge Brigade Number Four. And we had a great train-up, we had a great certification exercise as a brigade combat team, and we went into combat with the best intelligence we had, with the best weapons at the time, with the best ISR.
And we went out and we got our nose bloodied pretty good because we had not been in that terrain, we had not been in that environment and we hadn't really built the relationships in the northern Baghdad belt that we needed to.
But over time, in sets and reps, things got better and we started adapting on the battlefield. We got out of Stryker combat vehicles and got into helicopters, and ended up going behind the enemy and everything.
But then, as we had the desired effect on the enemy and we were reducing the threat, pretty soon, every day, we were doing the same things with no significant activity. No significant activity.
And I think you know where I'm going with this.
Q: (off mic)
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Over time, that can start causing complacency in men and women that have been engaged in combat for months at a time, or may have gone home after a six-month deployment and, six months later, are back over there.
Engaged leadership is critical in all of this. And so leaders at all levels -- and my job, specifically, as the brigade sergeant major back then, was to make sure that I was getting after this complacency stuff for my commander.
So as I went out -- and I think you know that young men and women that have been engaged in combat, when things aren't going the way, you know, they expected -- meaning they're doing a lot of days of walking all over the place but they're not doing a lot of fighting -- can cause them to start saying, "Well, if I was in charge of this mission, this is what I would be doing and this is what I'd be doing."
And my job was to tell them, "Hey, be what you are, a squad automatic gunner, and don't try to double as the secretary of defense, OK? Just do what you're asked to do.
My point is this. Sometimes it takes somebody external to what we're doing for us to truly see ourselves when we're involved in long and sustained operations. I lost 54 great men and women during that rotation, had over 500 wounded.
But there was times we would go 30 days at a time, we wouldn't hear a shot fired in anger. So we have to make sure that when units at the small unit level, especially those that are engaged in the same activity day after day, that there's somebody externally looking at them to assist them, to make sure that they're staying at the cutting edge of what they should be doing and -- and complacency isn't setting in.
Q: ... can I actually circle back to the first question that I had ...
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yeah.
Q: ... and that is you -- you put your finger on a better word complacency. We have these long deployments both in Afghanistan and Iraq where the same troops are going back two or three times. And how is that -- that would seem to be a big challenge to achieving prime (inaudible).
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yeah, but if you look at it now with the numbers of troops we have in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, it's nowhere near what it was during the surge in '07 and '08 when there was 150,000 in Iraq.
And I also served as the -- the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, the operational headquarters in 2011 and '12 in Afghanistan, we had 130,000 troops there. I mean when you look at it now, our numbers are significantly reduced, and that's because of this focus on by, with and through our partners.
I will tell you we are the greatest military in the world, but sometimes that can work against us when we have large numbers of forces on the ground because when we're trying to build capacity into our partner force, sometimes we drag them along out on patrol with us, but you know we -- we still want to make -- Kuwait can call all the shots.
So when you reduce the numbers down below and it's to an advise, assist and sometimes an accompany mission, our forces had no choice but to export that professionalism that they learned for years -- from years of combat onto this partner force so that they can defend their own sovereign territory. Yes sir?
Q: Thanks for doing this.
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yes, sir.
Q: So preparing the enlisted force for the -- the near term here, trying to do two things from what I understand. One is you know the Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and -- and after it, the one is the high-end fight, you know, the pure fight.
So how are you balancing doing a variation of what we've been doing for 17 years and then moving and doing this new mission that we haven't really done before, at least since the end of the Cold War?
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yeah, so I think the Army is doing a pretty good job at that now. The chief of staff of the Army understands that we need trained and ready brigade combat teams, whether armor, striker or infantry brigade combat teams for potential high-end conflict.
But we also have this train, advise and assist mission that we're doing in the Central Command area of responsibility, as well as AFRICOM area of responsibility.
So this creation of Security Force Assistant Brigades that are tailor-made with an all-volunteer force and a vetted force of officers and NCOs that can come in and execute this by, with and through mission in places like Iraq -- well right now in Afghanistan, but that can be exported around the world as we move forward.
We understand that when it comes to dealing with violent extremism, the best way to get after that threat is to have a stable government -- a stable and trusted government that lacks corruption and host nation armed forces that are capable of defending their own sovereign territory.
So this creation of these Security Force Assistant Brigades -- as a matter of fact, when I was at Fort Bragg, I visited the second SFAB, as we call them, and General Dunford and I were in Afghanistan in February and we visited the first SFAB there.
I think this is going to go a long way for us to continue to get after the things we need to do in Afghanistan as part of the South Asia Strategy, but also allow us on the Army perspective, the ability to retain the required brigade combat teams that are trained and ready to a high-end conflict standard, decisive action standard and ready for that high-end conflict. I think this is the way we get after that.
Q: ... obviously two -- two very different missions.
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Absolutely.
Q: ... the force is finite and the peer threatening is -- those new technologies being developed. I mean is there some tension there in trying to do two very different things? We haven't really done this before to this level I think, right?
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: No. So having visited both SFABs and visiting with the commanders at Fort Bragg as well as the commanders in Afghanistan, everybody thinks this is the way we need to go.
Because what we were doing before, we were taking a brigade combat team averaging about 4,000 troops and we were saying we need 1,800 of you to deploy, to execute this security force assistance mission. The other 2,200 were doing nothing more than small unit leadership training.
They might be able to get at -- certainly they can get after PT and trauma management and marksmanship training, but they couldn't do anything collective because the organization was broken up. So here you had a brigade combat team that wasn't at the requisite readiness level to be able to do high-end conflict.
So why don't we retain these brigade combat teams and have them trained how they're going to fight, develop these security force assistance organizations to do the tailored mission they need to do in places like Afghanistan, Iraq or potentially they could do in Africa.
And that allows us to have a much more ready and a much more lethal force. Sir you had a question?
Q: ... I'll try one thing, you're talking the podium up in the courtyard. This is interesting combat lethality technology, I did a bit yesterday, I want to go out again. Can you tie a little bit when you're talking about what -- what is being out -- what's on display out there in terms of answers and monitoring body weights and stress and then better guns.
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: So in order for us to be able to fight and win at small unit kind of combat and everything, we have to be able to see the enemy before they see us, which means we need better optics, we need better intelligence collection platforms and we need those in the service members hands.
We have to understand them first, so that our situational understanding of what the enemy -- their size, composition, disposition, strength, morale, most likely course of action, most dangerous course of action.
Then we have to be able to act first, meaning we need longer-range weapon systems that will allow us to have more standoff from what the enemies capabilities and then we have to be able to finish decisively, at all times.
So this kind of gets after -- especially when it comes to a young Marine or Army infantryman, what do we equip them with so that they can get after all four of those and be successful in battle? That's what we're looking at.
The other piece of that is the human performance side of it. What can we do to make some physically, mentally and emotionally more prepared for the uncertain future of conflict, but the -- the level of conflict that we have right now?
So we're looking at that now, and we're looking at ways to bring industry in in terms of human performance, both physical, mental and emotional, to bring us in on how do we get troops better and make more warrior athletes.
Q: OK, so that kind of (inaudible) ...
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yeah.
Q: ... the technologies that are going to enable Secretary Mattis' vision, is that one way to look at it?
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Absolutely, yeah. And if you were out there today, Secretary Mattis went out and visited today and he also spoke out there today.
Q: ... can I ask you a JSOC question?
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yes, sir.
Q: This is the unit at the tip of the spear that's doing most of the CT work in Afghanistan. Did you get any feedback from their leadership on some of the enlisted that they're overextended and they need a break?
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: So regardless of what service Special Operations Forces are, they're not going to tell me, the SEAC, that they're overloaded and everything.
So I've got to trust this and this when I go out and visit them. So when I'm in Raqqa, Syria, when I'm in Mogadishu, Somalia, or Misurata, Libya -- wherever they're at -- I have to let this and this, and 36 years of experience, tell me we might be overextending this force.
(UNKNOWN): you're pointing to your nose and your eyes.
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yeah, I am. (Laughter.)
What I see in 36 years of military experience, I can smell when something is good or when something's bad or when something needs attention.
So -- I'm sorry?
Q: ... seeing...
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: I think we need to look at some of these areas. We have to give our Special Operations Forces more of a break from that operational tempo they have right now.
So SOCOM is doing this -- looking at areas that they have Special Operations Forces engaged. Can we replace them with general purpose forces that can have the same desired effect we need, and it won't raise the risk to the force any higher than it already is on that organization?
I think we have to constantly look for ways that we can do that so that we can continue to get after this high, BOG dwell that our Special Operations Forces have.
Q: BOG dwell?
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Boots on the ground, meaning they're deployed; and dwell, meaning they're back. And spend it with their family.
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yes, ma'am?
Q: ... can I follow up on that? After 17 years, you're talking about the psychological effects of -- of fighting and making the force more lethal. Are you changing your training so that the force is more capable of repeat deployments and coming home and not having the psychological effects that we've seen in those initial years of war that -- that have been...
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yeah.
Q: ... very traumatic, frankly?
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Well, that's a great question. And, yes, we are.
So one of the things I've learned over the last 17 years is, we have a very adaptive and resilient force. The initial stages of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, because we had been a peacetime force for so many years, caused us to have some challenges that you mentioned.
But I think over the years, when you look at the resiliency programs each of the services has, and our Special Operations Command's preservation of the -- the force programs and everything, these are all geared to assist those service members so we can continue to keep them in the fight and where we need it at.
And those programs are also set up to assist the families as well, because that's a huge part of what makes our warriors great, is their families.
So I think we -- we have shown that we're a pretty adaptive force. And I will tell you -- just my personal experience is, when all of a sudden the young -- the man or woman that's serving, they don't have the normal routine or structure or discipline within what they're doing, that's when problems really arise.
And so -- which is why, when someone gets hurt, especially in our -- Special Operations community, the idea is to get them back into the fight as soon as possible.
Because when they're on their routine, they're at peak operating efficiency. But when they're not, all of a sudden someone is injured and can't perform with their teammates. That could lead to other things down the road. And that's our general purpose and our special operations forces.
Which is why this deployability policy is so important. Because in -- the one thing I've learned in 36 years, when I'm busy, it's a lot of fun. When I'm not busy, all of a sudden I start thinking about things that maybe aren't so important.
So -- which is why I constantly am on the road to go out and get the pulse of the force.
Q: Has basic training changed, though, in the last 17 years?
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Well, I think we're really moving our recruit training to where we need to, where we are building more physically, mentally and emotionally prepared men and women.
And even to the left of that, I spoke about the challenges with recruiting. But you look at what our service recruiting commands are doing when they have a future soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or coast guardsman.
What they're doing within that program before they move for recruit training, where they're starting to educate them on service rank, for whatever service they're coming in. They're doing voluntary fitness training with them.
They're teaching them some of the basics, there, so that they have a working knowledge of what it means to be a service member when they get to recruit training.
And I think that's paying dividends because I know, in 1982 when I joined the military, you know, I came from a place where I wrestled and played football and drank beer.
And when I got to my recruit training, I got an education in a hurry. And I was like, "I ain't in Iowa any more, here." So I think we're doing much better.
And I will tell you, in terms of building physical, mental and emotional resilience, I will tell you. One of the things that my team and I observed as we went around recruit training, this was what I was looking at.
It was pugil stick fighting. So it's fighting that -- you know, resembles fighting with either a weapon or a non-standard piece of equipment. Could be an entrenching tool, OK? (Laughter.)
But the bottom line is, it's teaching men and women how to defend themselves.
So all of the services do this training. They put them in protective equipment -- football helmets, shoulder pads, pads and everything -- but we're allowing men and women to get out and get after some close-quarter kind of fighting that mimics what they may end up having to do.
But more importantly than that, some of these young men and women that come in have been sitting on a couch with an Xbox or -- or a personal electronic device or something like that,and they haven't really had to face physical adversity until they get in.
So what I saw on some of these trips is a young man would get smacked in the face with this pugil stick. And all of a sudden, a light would go on like, "Hey, this ain't Xbox any more, where, you know, I got three lives left. Now if I don't defend myself, this big old guy might, you know, put me in the ground here."
So I think we're doing a lot better now than we were, maybe, 15 years ago. And I think all of the things that we were trying to do in the past, other than building that physical, mental and emotional resiliency, are a thing of the past. And I think we've got it right, right now.
I'll tell you what we've got right -- and I saw it at each service, was we have absolutely, we have the right non-commissioned officers and petty officers that are serving as drill instructors, that are serving as instructors at Great Lakes or Lackland to get after building this toughness and resiliency in our young men and women.
Every recruit training center I went to, I was so impressed with those enlisted leaders. And they're the right people to get out because they're that service’s best non-commissioned officers.
STAFF: Time for one more, Sergeant Major.
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: OK. Ladies first. Sorry, guys. (Laughter.)
Q: I'm just -- Monday is Memorial Day. And I'm thinking, the vast majority of service members we've lost in the past year have been through these mishaps that we've seen (inaudible) and they're increasing, it seems.
The Pentagon has really said that this is not a crisis, that -- nothing to see here. What is your view from where you sit, and talking to enlisted service members? Is this a concern that "I shouldn't get in that aircraft because it may not get to its destination"?
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: First of all, I don't think we're in crisis. I think we've had some mishaps that, for all the reasons I spoke of earlier, you know -- high operational tempo, complacency and things like that -- gets leaders' minds off what the basics are.
I will tell you,that could happen to any service member that gets ready to get on a high-performance aircraft or a helicopter or gets on a boat or Coast Guard Cutters, you name it.
In 2011 and '12, I went on target with our Special Operations Forces at least two dozen times. And every time I climbed into that helicopter, I was like, "Well, this may be the day," you know? Or in 2007 and '08, when we were at the height of the fighting in Iraq, and every day, I was out checking on the troops, I thought, "This may be the day."
So I don't think our service members are afraid to go out and do what their job is. I think what they're most concerned about is, "Are my leaders mitigating risks to the level that they need to be, to make -- make sure that we're being safe?" I have yet to run into an organization or a service man or woman that wouldn’t say, "Put me in, SEAC. I'm ready to go and do what we need to do to get the job done."
So again, I go back to, we just have to sometimes peel back a little bit and say, what are we doing as an organization, or an institution to make sure that we're mitigating all the risks out here? And sometimes, some of things that have to be done is a change in leadership, and we've done that, you know, at the tactical and operational level. But in the end, I know this for a fact: that every man and woman out there is prepared to do what we need them to do to reassure our allies, deter aggression, or fight and win in high-end conflict, or against violent extremists.
Q: Monday is Memorial Day.
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: Yeah.
Q: Sergeant Major, do you think most Americans appreciate the sacrifices that your service members have made in the past year?
COMMAND SGT. MAJ. TROXELL: I think so. I will tell you that wherever I go, I usually do something with some civilian organization. I'll give you an example. Probably one of the funnest days I've had in this job, it was on St. Patrick's Day, and I went up to Baltimore to this organization called "The Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick." So it was 9:00 o'clock in the morning when I showed up, and I was going to give a discussion about the new National Defense Strategy and everything. And as I pulled up, all these guys dressed in green, all these Irishmen were standing outside with pints of Guinness, and some Jameson and everything, and I thought "All right, the National Defense Strategy speech is out. I'm going to have to do something different," because most of them were veterans, to kind of just inspire them a little bit. So I gave them the old "Surrender or die, ISIS" thing.
And after I got done, there were four people there that were visiting, that weren't affiliated with the military, and they came up to me. Two of them had canes, and they said, "You got us so fired up, we're just going to go out and tear some stuff up, all right? We don't know what it is, but we're going to tear some stuff up."
My point in all of this is, this is indicative of wherever I go. The citizens of the United States still support our military. They may not understand that we're still fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, and places like that because a lot of times, unless an American gets killed, it's not frontline news. But when I look at the level of efforts that we've had in Syria, where in 2014, we started with two Special Operators there, and over the past three-plus years we have taken 90 percent-plus of the territory ISIS held. We have ISIS on the run all the way down the Euphrates River Valley, and we're about to eliminate completely their geographical caliphate. That's the story that needs to be told.
And oh, by the way, when I was a Raqqa six months ago, who was the guy on the ground leading that mission? It wasn't an officer. It was an Army master sergeant, and his counterpart was a Syrian democratic force Kurdish brigadier general, female. I don't think any of our historic generals, from World War II or World War I, would have thought in the year 2018, you put a highly-trained, highly-educated, highly-trusted enlisted leader together with a female brigadier general from the Middle East, and they will be one of the most lethal fighting teams to eliminate the scourge we know as ISIS.
So I think that story has to continue to be told, which is why I engage so much with our executive support to our Guard and Reserve that every state and territory has. Also, our association of territorial -- state and territorial health organizations to help with, not only the recruiting piece, but to tell the service members' story. Because it needs to be told that every day, we are involved in something to defend this homeland. And that's all of our services, and all of our components.
So I still think the American public highly respects what we do. But in some cases, with businesses, especially when it comes to the Guard and Reserve, and they don't understand what we're asking our Guard and Reserve to do. Sometimes business are like, "OK, you're leaving again? You know, there's not even a war going on." Well, they need to be educated that there's a lot of things that our Guard and Reserve are doing to get after the defense of our homeland.
So thanks. I appreciate it. Thank you all so much. It's been an honor for me to be here. Happy Memorial Day, and I will tell you, I attended the 82nd Airborne Division Memorial, and they recognized and put on the wall of their memorial the four enlisted people that died out of their division over the last year, and all four of these young men died from combat actions.
And when I listened to the stories of what these men were doing on the ground, two in Afghanistan, and two in Iraq, two of them were artilleryman, and they were racing to their howitzer to conduct counter-rocket, artillery and mortar fire on some ISIS position, and they were laying down lethal scunion when unfortunately, a round came in and killed them both.
Then in Afghanistan, where the two men were part of a mission, supporting an Operational Detachment Alpha, along with Afghan security forces, and they were putting lethal fire on ISIS there. It truly shows how much level of respect and responsibility we put in our enlisted force.
This kind of gets back to why this showcasing lethality series is so important. I look forward to every week, you hearing from one of these noncommissioned officers and petty officers globally that are doing things that they truly joined up to do, which is to defend our homeland, and how well they're getting after it.
So thank you all once again. Have a happy Memorial Day, and a happy weekend, and I will talk to you all again real soon.