USAG Daegu CSM addresses challenges, change, philosophy and values
DAEGU GARRISON -- In a recent interview with U.S. Army Garrison Daegu Public Affairs, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael E. Diggs responded to a number of questions regarding today's Army, Soldier fitness, education, sexual assault, and making a difference.
Q: What are some of the recent changes in the Army that you believe will impact heavily on its future?
A: The U.S. Army's always going to change, and a lot of people need to learn that. A lot of people don't like change, but changes are good. Change shows that you're evolving. One of the biggest things you have to do is educate people to make them understand the need for change. A lot of times we will change something, and we don't always take the time to explain the need for it. For that reason, people will often rebel against it since they don't know why it's happening or what's behind it. For example, let's look at the impact change might have on something like tuition assistance (TA). A lot of people like me come into the Army and say, "I'll come in to get a college education". In your first year at your duty station after AIT, you're not allowed to take college courses --based on an Army change. Another part of the change is that you are allowed to get only one upper level degree. So that means if I get my master's, I can't go for my second master's and have TA pay for it. These are some of the changes happening in the Army. With regards to change, there're also different things we must consider, and they deal with things like how we do PT, uniform changes, and tattoo policy changes. These topics are about changes in the Army, but they don't affect how Soldiers do things, not quite like tuition assistance might.
Q: What is the best advice you can offer Soldiers when they are confronted with change?
A: If you fall in that category where you're not allowed to go to school, the advice I'll give to them is to use that time wisely, learn about the military. Use the time to learn about the military and learn your job.
Q: As the CSM for USAG Daegu, what is your view of Soldier performance and the military challenges that confronted them in 2013?
A: The Army is not proud of its sexual assaults issues, and is working toward eliminating them. A lot of people see sexual assault as a cancer. Still, what they have to remember is that you are a Soldier. Whether you're a male or a female you're a Soldier. You have to do the right thing as a leader, since all those Soldiers are people who lean on or depend on you. It doesn't matter what race you are, what color you are, and what sex you are. If you are a leader you have to look out for all of your Soldiers. You should treat them the same, and you shouldn't let the thought of sexual assault and sexual harassment stop you from being that leader. For me, I always go by the philosophy, "If you're doing the right thing, doing it the right way, you don't have to worry if you're wrong. You keep your values straight, you do things morally, legally, and you don't have to stress about anything."
Q: What does 2014 look like for the U.S. Army in terms of Soldier assignments, physical fitness, and education?
A: The Army is getting tougher. The Army's looking at drawing down Soldiers. What I always preach to Soldiers is that you have to do everything you can to put yourself above average. There was a time when you could be average, or a little bit below average, and you would still have a job -- but not in today's Army. The Army is cutting strength, and it's only going to keep the best. If you're not doing the things to make yourself the best, you might be looking for some other form of employment, and that's what I try to get across to Soldiers because change is upon us. When I first came in, I wasn't the greatest Soldier. No, I wasn't the greatest Soldier. I stayed in trouble, and I got an Article 15. Things changed for me and I had people who guided me in the right direction. I think nowadays it's going to be a little harder for those who go down that wrong path. If they don?'t have that guidance or mentorship, they?'re going to be home, because the Army is cutting back. Are we still the most powerful Army in the world? Yes. Are we still a professional establishment? Yes. Do we have the best non-commissioned officer corps, by far than any other service, outside and inside the United States? Yes.
Q: Here in Daegu, in what way would you say the USAG Daegu Soldier measures up to the Army standards and demands?
A: I think our Soldiers measure up with anybody. They can do the same that any other Soldiers can do. You shouldn't look at Soldiers by what unit they're assigned to. I look at it as they are Soldiers. They do Soldier things, they do the Soldiers' jobs. Yes, I'd put our Soldiers against anybody else in doing those jobs.
Q : What has been your greatest challenge as a CSM, so far? Was there ever a time when you doubted your ability to lead or become a leader?
A : Garrison Sergeant Major is a whole new facet. I came from being a battalion sergeant major at a Special Troops Battalion (STB), and from there, here to be Garrison CSM. Garrison, to me, is like being the mayor. It's like running the city or the whole community. You're meeting people. You're covering those agencies that support the Soldiers. Usually, you're on the other side pointing your Soldier to ACS, but as the Garrison CSM, you're more involved. There are things that fall under us such as barracks, housing issues that may come through here, as well as other installation-related things. So, until this day, I'm still constantly learning. I'm still learning about budgets. I've been in this job for 14 months, and I'll be the first to tell you that I don't know everything about being the Garrison CSM. I'll probably come out of this job in two years and tell you the same thing. It's a constant learning experience. It's something new every day.
Q : What words of encouragement would you offer a young Soldier aspiring to reach the CSM rank?
A : The thing I tell people is, don't go by the philosophy I initially went by when I was a young Soldier. I went by the philosophy that, 'Well, I'm a young Specialist, I'm an E-5, and this doesn't matter later on'. However, it does matter. So, a Soldier has to make sure he's doing the right thing. Doing those things is what's going to get you ahead. I always tell people to not look at the things you need to do in the grade you're in. Instead, look at things to do in the grade you're trying to get to. Always look ahead. You made it to PFC. So you don't need to look at what you need in order to be a PFC because you've already done it. Look at what you need to do to become a SPC. When you become a SPC, then you start working on things you need to do to become a SGT, and so on. You can't sit back and wait. Always look ahead.
Q : The KATUSA program has long been a part of the U.S. Army in Korea. Do you think that will continue ?
A : I think it's a great partnership that has been around since 1950. Since the war, we've partnered up. Doing this has allowed us have a chance to learn about the Korean culture. It allows the KATUSAs, as well as the Korean Nationals, an opportunity to learn about our culture as we work side by side. This is important because when we fight on battlefields these days, it's not just the US only fight. It's not just the South Korean fight. Countries are fighting jointly now. So it is important to know about the strengths of these nations. We don't need to wait until we get on the battlefield to find out what the capabilities are for our allies. We need to do that ahead of time. So I think the U.S. and KATUSA is a great partnership. It's a team, we're all one team.
Q : In your view, how important is the program to the USAG Daegu mission?
A : I don't think we can accomplish everything we have to accomplish without the KATUSAs. They are the foremost part of the Garrison. We wouldn't be able to accomplish all the missions without their assistance.
Q : What core values have sustained you?
A : The family. My wife and kids aren't with me for the time being, and that's because they are settling down our home, as we prepare for retirement. I couldn't be successful without my family. My wife has fulfilled the role as a single parent while I went off to do Soldier things. I have no worries with my wife back in the States. I don't have to stress about what's happening with my family. Most of us who come overseas, especially Korea, don't bring family with us. However, if a person doesn't have a strong person standing behind him saying, "Sweetie, do what you got to do, and don't worry about the house, I got it." That kind of support makes a huge difference.
As for Army values, you have to be dedicated to what you do. If you're just here for a paycheck, then I think you should do something else. Because being in the Army has to be more than paycheck. It's got to be more than just the paycheck, if you want to serve. It should be about that duty, the honor you hold, and the beliefs you hold for your country and what you're defending. Like they always say, 'Freedom isn't free.' Many people died on battlefields, and they've done that in an effort to protect the rights of others. You have to have that kind of duty, selfless service, and personal courage. It's not about money. You can do some other things for money.
Q : Can you name one individual that has inspired your military service?
A : The biggest individual was Ret. Command Sgt. Maj. John F. Gathers. I met him in Germany when I was a SFC. We had some friends that we were stationed at Ft. Hood with. He has played a significant role in my life. That man taught me a lot in a short time. When he left to go do other things, I could pick up the phone anytime, anywhere and call him. He has the taught me-- and not only gave me that professional advice but also told me, "These are the things that you need to do as a man, as a father in life." His wife was a mentor to my wife, too. My daughter also grew up knowing him. So the best mentor I've ever had was Ret. Command Sgt. Maj. John F. Gathers. Hands down, the most outstanding non-commissioned officer I've ever known.
Q : What would you like to do after your military service is completed?
A : I grew up in foster care. So I always wanted to give back to kids. My biological mother gave me up for adoption, but I was never legally adopted, but I winded up in a foster home. It is because of my own experiences that I always want to give back. Also, because my mother who raised me, who didn't have kids of her own, if she hadn't taken the time to raise me as one of her own--even though she didn't do the legal papers to adopt me, there's no telling where I would be. You should always remember where you came from, reach back and pull someone else up. I think everybody should want to give back. At some point, they should look back at where they came from, and want to give something back.
Q : We've talked about how the Army has and is changing. Black History Month is upon us, how in your view has the Army changed for African Americans?
A : It has changed by enforcing equality across the force. We have made great strides in selecting people for positions of responsibility based on their potential and talent to accomplish the mission, and not based on their race. During my time I have witnessed African-Americans achieving positions that we had never achieved before. One example is Ret. Gen. Colin Powell who in 1989 was selected as the first African American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Q : Is there an African-American that you admire? Who? Why?
A : There are many African-Americans that I admire for the things they have accomplished, but I have never met them. I've only read or heard about the things they have done. The person I most admire won't be found by a Google search or a Wikipedia entry on the internet. That person would be Carrie Beatrice (Byrdsong) Brown. Carrie Brown is my mother. She wasn't my birth mother, but giving birth to someone doesn't necessary make you a parent. I grew up in foster care as a ward of the state. She took me in as a baby and raised me as her own. We didn't have much, but we had more than materialistic things. I grew up in a home where I was loved and accepted as a member of the family. She taught me about working hard to achieve your goals. She had a 5th grade education, but worked two to three jobs at a time to have things that she didn't have to buy on credit. She never had a credit card and didn't believe in buying anything that you couldn't pay cash for. She owned her home and the car she drove was paid for through hard work and dedication. She was always working to make life better for us. I could continue to write about the person who I admire more than anyone, no matter what color they happen to be. My mother passed away 18 June 2003 and that was the saddest day in my life. My mother was no longer on earth, but her spirit continues to be with me every day. The lessons she taught me as a kid about hard work and never giving up have helped me to be successful in the military. The person I admire is my mother!