By Julian Temblador and Sidney Sullivan
GARMISCH, Germany — Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston hosted a virtual session with command sergeants major and staff sergeants major of U.S. Army Europe, during the U.S. Army Europe Senior Enlisted Symposium on July 21, 2020.
The Senior Enlisted Symposium was a four-day event, at U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The symposium’s purpose was to provide professional development for senior enlisted leaders of U.S. Army Europe, including guidance on navigating, discussing and examining issues related to the community and the future. It was led by U.S. Army Europe’s Command Sgt. Maj. Rob Abernethy; concurrently, his wife, Angela Abernethy, led a session for the spouses.
The event leveraged meeting tools, such as Microsoft Teams, to allow the group to talk directly with Grinston. He planned to attend the symposium, but was unable to travel to Germany due to COVID-19 restrictions.
During the symposium, Grinston discussed his initiatives, such as “This is my Squad” and touched on holding small group discussions about difficult topics. Grinston emphasized and encouraged leaders to take personal ownership of their soldiers.
“When I talk about ‘This is My Squad,’ the personal pronoun is ‘my,’ which means you own it,” Grinston said. “It is not someone else’s responsibility to train your people. We gotta do it — it’s our job.”
He then transitioned to a discussion encouraging leaders to initiate small group conversations among their squads.
“Did you have any small group discussions about race… and if you did, whom did you talk to and what was the outcome?” Grinston asked Command Sgt. Maj. Sam Zoker of the 41st Field Artillery Brigade.
“Over the last couple of months, we’ve been having small group discussions,” Zoker replied. “We worked from the battery level to the platoons, sections and team level. We created a space and an environment where folks could talk freely. The most important thing here is that we learn from each other.”
Grinston thanked Zoker for his comments and addressed how he has been opening up dialogue within his own squad. Grinston stated that he would start the conversation by sharing his personal stories, followed by a question.
“I was shocked by what I found out,” Grinston said in regards to learning more about his squad’s diverse backgrounds. “It wasn’t just about race. There were all kinds of things that were brought up to me that surprised me.”
He stated that accounts of sexual harassment were shared with him. And he learned that a younger Soldier grew up without running water and electricity.
“I would not have found out, if I had not had just a simple discussion within my own office,” Grinston said.
Through the small group discussions, Grinston said he acquired compassionate methods to initiate the conversation.
“Start with, ‘How did you grow up?’ That is the first question,” Grinston advised fellow senior leaders.
A key takeaway from the symposium is that small group discussions, dedicated to talking about difficult topics — like race, sexuality and inequality — stem from Army leadership acknowledging the current issues in the United States. This reality further echoes army values, as it is elaborated in U.S. Army Project Inclusion and stands in conjunction with a recent statement made by the Under Secretary of the Army James E. McPherson.
“We need leaders across all levels of the Army to check in with their squads,” said McPherson, in an Association of the United States Army interview last month. “The Army must have conversations on race, and we need you to lead those important conversations.”
Grinston ended his virtual session with a sense of appreciation.
“For all the Soldiers in the room, I really appreciate all the hard work that you’ve done,” Grinston said. “I personally thank the spouses in the room for everything that you do, and your family and the kids to support the team.”