End to stellar 33-year career - Sergeant Major William J. Gainey bids troops farewell

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In what may have been the shortest retirement speech ever, Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey looked out at the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard honor guards in formation and, in less than a minute, said goodbye to 33 years in uniform.

“In the last two months, the Gaineys have been through a lot, and we realized something: Time is very short. And what we have decided today is to give your time back to you. So thank you very much.”

With that, the first senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff hung up his Stetson and spurs and retired after a 33-year career. Gainey advised Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and retired Marine Gen. Peter Pace on matters of concern to enlisted personnel. Gainey took over the newly created position Oct. 1, 2005.

Mullen, who hosted the ceremony at Conmy Hall here, said everyone in the Defense Department will miss Gainey and his style of leadership. The soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen are the sergeant major’s total concern. “They are part of his family, and he cares for every single one,” Mullen said.

And the sergeant major has championed their concerns. “Neither arrogance nor laziness ever drove Sergeant Major Gainey into a corner to sit and growl,” the chairman said. “No, to his very last day, Joe Gainey has barked — sometimes loudly and always effectively. For 33 years now, he’s led the pack.”

The chairman said the sergeant major can be proud of his service, but that pride in the military is only part of his motivation; his real motivator is truth, the chairman said.

“It’s what defines him, and as an institution, all of the services are better for it,” Mullen said. “He’s been vocal about policies that needed changing, and there have been changes, like the recently adopted longevity pay.

“He’s been vocal about the quality of our training, and we’ve made improvements, like soldiers using real weapons in basic training and our enlisted troops participating in joint professional military education.”

Gainey also has been vocal about teamwork. The sergeant major believes that personnel will always be soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines or Coast Guardsmen first, but always must think about jointness. “We’re that much tighter and together as a team because of it,” the chairman said.

All his career, Gainey has “thrust himself — body, heart and soul — into being a soldier, a professional, a leader, an honest broker and teller of the truth,” Mullen said. “Our servicemen and women have all been well served, as have our NATO partners, with whom he’s engaged and helped strengthen their own NCO corps.”

Gainey has built relationships and has brought leaders together as a team to enhance U.S. joint and combined fighting capabilities in a time of war. “And he always stood up for his troops,” the chairman said. “That’s why they trust him; that’s why I trust him, and that’s why we’ll miss him.”

Gainey’s concern is for all in the military. “Sergeant Major Gainey would oftentimes come into my office,” Mullen said. “You’d think he was coming in to give me an update on changes in policies or things we ought to do, and certainly he focused on that.

“But I think, more than anything else, his intent in coming in to see me was to see how I was doing, to make sure that my spirits were up. Every time he came into my office, he uplifted me in ways that are very difficult to describe. And for that, Sergeant Major, I will always be grateful.”

Gainey has worked tirelessly to make things better for the troops — the men and women who are doing the fighting and sometimes dying for the United States.

“The truth is that we give a lot of credit to the surge for our successes in Iraq,” Mullen said. Army Gens. David H. Petraeus and Raymond T. Odierno and other leaders get credit for the drops in violence there, the chairman said, along with Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for holding his militia to a cease-fire.

“But make no mistake, the real credit goes to the men and women of the armed forces and the families that support them,” Mullen said. “We don’t give enough credit for the successes in Iraq to the troops. And that’s something Sergeant Major Gainey has made sure we all know and we all understand.”

The chairman noted that Gainey’s efforts have helped make the military better. “He has ensured our enlisted force is better poised to fight and win in Iraq or anywhere else they are needed,” he said. “Thank you, Sergeant Major, for a job well done.”

Mullen presented Gainey with the Distinguished Service Medal and Cindy Gainey, the sergeant major’s wife, with the Outstanding Public Service Award.

The couple will live in Texas. No decision has been made yet on the sergeant major’s replacement.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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