Story by Sgt. Brad Mincey
Photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Di Giovine
COLUMBIA, S.C. — With the passing of the non-commissioned officer (NCO) sword, Command Sgt. Maj. Russell A. Vickery became the 12th State Command Sergeant Major (CSM) for the South Carolina National Guard during a Change of Responsibility ceremony June 17, at the Bluff Road Armory. Having fulfilled his duties as State CSM, Command Sgt. Maj. Robert H. Brickley relinquished responsibility of his position to Vickery as he handed the NCO sword to Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr., South Carolina Adjutant General. Livingston then passed the sword to Vickery who assumed responsibility as State CSM. “You are the guy who is going to continue the work,” Livingston said of Vickery. “You represent what the National Guard is, a citizen-Soldier.” Although Vickery has had a very successful career, attaining State CSM was not necessarily a personal goal for him.
“All Soldiers, if they aspire to be anything, want to move up the ranks,” said Vickery. “My plans, before I got the call from Sgt. Maj. Brickley, was to be the next Army Air Missile Defense Company CSM. When the opportunity presented itself, I never expected to get the opportunity to interview for this. There was never any planning to become State Sergeant Major. This just goes to show that if you work hard you can go anywhere and do anything.”
Not one to toot his own horn, Vickery attributes not his skills, but the skills of the leaders around him and the ability of the South Carolina Guard members to much of his success.
“I’ve had great Soldiers and great leaders around me,” said Vickery. “I’d have to say that I haven’t always been the most popular guy as a CSM, but I’m not there to be popular, I’m here to ask the questions and take care of the Soldiers. In the end, it’s my job to take make sure the Soldier’s best interests are at heart and the commander’s mission is being taken care of. I would sometimes ask, ‘Why are we doing it this way? Why don’t we try something new?'”
One of the mentors for his leadership style is Col. Jon Boyd, U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and military strategist at the Pentagon. Boyd’s theories influenced military, sports and business leaders. After learning a little about him during U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy in 2004, Vickery came across Boyd’s book while preparing for a mobilization at Ft. Jackson.
“It was a game changer for me,” said Vickery. “It kind of just codified my beliefs in things that were out there. They called him an iconoclast. He didn’t mind tearing down established beliefs and striking out a new way to go. He helped develop the F-15 and the F-16. He changed the way the Marines fight and they still use his tactics today. He always questioned why and what and why don’t we try it this way. It made me understand that many of the things that I had done in my life, striking out on my own, going outside the box to figure things out was alright.”
Becoming a State CSM requires a variety of skills that not everyone has. After many years in the military and as a businessman in South Carolina, Vickery brings skills and knowledge to the table to continue to improve the Guard and assist with implementation of the Adjutant General’s Four R’s – Ready, Relevant, Resilient, and Responsible.
“I’m always going to be fair,” said Vickery. “There’s always going to be a reason to why I am doing what I’m doing. It will be transparent. I don’t like to hear ‘No’. I believe we have to do more now than we have ever had to do before.”
Doing more with less means conducting the same mission with less manpower, because that is where the numbers are being cut.
“We used to have a Soldier doing this one thing,” said Vickery. “Now we are trying to get that done faster and then asking how to also get another thing done at the same time. We have plenty of smart people out there that can do that.”
One of the qualities Vickery found admirable about Brickley, was his “battlefield circulation and being with the troops”. The respect he garnered from other Soldiers was because they always saw him in the field with them. This is something Vickery plans to continue.
“Sgt. Maj. Brickley was everywhere, all the time,” said Vickery. “I already have a number of events I’m attending, including a graduation. My biggest challenge is learning where everyone is and how to get in contact with them. And after the holiday, my job is to get out there and go see them.”
Although Brickley brought a lot of changes and improvements to the South Carolina National Guard during his time as State CSM, Vickery has some plans he wants to implement, as well. In the digital age where everyone has instant access to news, internet and social media, Vickery wants to improve information flow down the chain of command.
“I tend to be a lot more digital,” said Vickery. “I have three grand kids and three children, and they have smart phones so I’ve tried to stay on top of the digital world. That is something I want to push out to the Soldiers, because that is how they communicate. I want to figure out what it takes to get them into the mail.mil network so they are tracking what is going on. Information flow is key. I’m going to reach out and make sure Soldiers have what they need.”
During the ceremony, Brickley ensured the Guard members they were getting “a great leader.” He added, “He will expect the best of each and every one of you.”
Some of Vickery’s expectations for Soldiers include improving education levels and maintaining physical fitness.
“Probably one of the biggest things you are going to see me push is education,” said Vickery. “As an NCO, I want you to strive to be the very best NCO you can be. I want you to give it everything you’ve got and military and civilian education go hand-in-hand with that. I’m also going to be pushing our Soldiers to get familiar with ACT (Army Career Tracker). Everybody should have a mentor. That somebody is looking out after your career rather than a Soldier sitting out there by himself saying, ‘Where do I go next?’ACT was built exactly for that, so your mentor above you can tell you what courses you need to take next.”
“I’m proud to be accepting this position,” added Vickery. “I know that together, we will strive to make things better, and make the South Carolina National Guard the best in the Nation.”
Livingston wrapped up his comments by congratulating Vickery on his selection as the next State CSM.
“You have set aside family, your private life and your professional life to accomplish the state’s mission,” said Livingston. “We could not have picked a better replacement for Command Sgt. Maj. Brickley.”