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Mitchell: Service, advice of CSM Roland Gaddy made lasting impact

In the fall of 2018 we lost another true hero. One who left a lasting impression on me.

This hero was Army Vietnam veteran, Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Roland Gaddy, retired. Gaddy rose through the ranks from private to CSM which is the highest rank an enlisted soldier can achieve.

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In 1983, after graduating from high school, I enlisted into the Army National Guard. In the summer of 1984 I went to Fort McClellan, Alabama where I attended basic combat training (boot camp). I certainly can’t say it was a fun summer but in hindsight the dedication and professionalism of the drill sergeants could never be overlooked. The days began at 4 a.m. and concluded usually at 10 p.m. assuming you were not rudely awakened during the night. The drill sergeants were there for every minute of those long and brutal days.

I was a student at Western Maryland College and enrolled in the Army’s ROTC program. In 1987, after graduating from college, I began my initial active duty obligation and was once again sent to Fort McClellan, where I attended the military police officer basic course. This is where I had the privilege to meet Gaddy.

He was the regimental CSM of all military police training schools and courses, which at any one time oversaw thousands of soldiers. He was introduced to my class of approximately 45 second lieutenants by our cadre. He was the second regimental command sergeant major of the Army’s Military Police School. I recall how they spoke of his service and the difficult circumstances he personally endured in Vietnam. It was obvious from the respect shown to him from the other officers that this was a very special man.

I recently spoke with CSM Harold Burleson, now retired, who shared with me that the then-commandant of the MP School, Brig. Gen. David H. Stem and Gaddy were leading the efforts to completely revamp and raise the professionalism and capabilities of the entire MP School.

Gaddy selected Burleson as first sergeant to lead the Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) Academy. Burleson said Gaddy’s directives to him were clear — he was to hand select the best military police NCO’s he could find to build out the staff of the school. Gaddy told him wherever they were in the world he was to bring them to the school, they would not be able to refuse this assignment and he had the entire command staff behind him. Gaddy added as you select your staff, don’t just think about today but the future of this school. Burleson said that is exactly what he did.

Stem and Gaddy became very close and were accomplishing great things at the school. Stem told his staff and the soldiers studying at the school, “when you take a soldier to combat we expect you to bring them all home.” This became the culture of all of the cadre at the school. Stem was tragically killed in a military plane crash in January 1987, an event that Burleson said Gaddy took very hard.

My opportunity to get to know Gaddy was quite unique. On a Saturday off, I was with three of my classmates playing basketball on the post adjacent to the basic training area. A drill sergeant was marching basic training soldiers nearby. I paused and watched as that brought back memories of my previous time there. I heard the drill sergeant leading marching cadences as the unit marched. The cadence was one, however, that I had not heard while I was there just three years prior as the cadences were making light of narcotics use. I couldn’t believe I was hearing this and particularly at the basic training unit of the Army’s Military Police School.

The drill sergeant halted her soldiers and the soldiers went into one of the school buildings. I approached the drill sergeant and introduced myself. I asked her if cadences like this were the norm now, and told her just three years prior it was never part of my experience there. She somewhat casually dismissed what I said so I just went about my day.

On Monday morning when I went into the schoolhouse, Gaddy’s office was just inside the lobby off to the right. I walked into his office where I was greeted by his assistant who sat just outside his office. I asked her if he would see me, which he agreed to do. I walked in and he invited me to sit down.

I shared with him this experience I had observed over the weekend. While I was telling him about this I could see his face getting red. He looked down at his desk visibly disturbed.

He looked up at me and said, “Lieutenant, it is my job to make sure that we instill the values of the army and the military police corps into our soldiers and I assure you this is not consistent with those values.” I gave him the name of the drill sergeant and he thanked me for bringing this to his attention.

Shortly after lunch that day, I was summoned from class and told to report to Gaddy’s office. I reported there and his assistant told me to go into his office. I walked in and the drill sergeant was sitting in front of him. He told me the drill sergeant had no recollection of the events I described to him that morning.

I looked at the drill sergeant, who then looked at Gaddy and told him she remembered the incident now. Gaddy instructed her to leave her drill sergeant hat on his desk and told her someone would be in touch. I asked if I could be excused which he granted.

About a week later, Gaddy approached me and asked if I would have lunch with him that day, to which, I obviously accepted. We went to a mess hall of a training unit for lunch. He thanked me for doing my part to uphold the values they were trying to instill in our soldiers. I asked him a few questions about himself, which were immediately deflected and not answered. It was obvious he didn’t ask me there to tell me about himself.

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He told me he had been wearing the uniform for more than 25 years and how much he loved the Army. He told me his opinion as to what makes some military officers more effective than others. I realized he asked me to lunch to share with me his thoughts, wisdom and advice on how I could have a successful military career. This lunch was a gift to any second lieutenant as this was the number one NCO of the military police corps.

There was one thing he told me that I would never be forget. He told me to remember that any unit you are assigned to or command, more than likely has been there for many years prior to you arriving and it will be there many years after you leave. He said it is absolutely your duty to leave every unit you command better than when you arrived, but to be measured in how you effect change.

Lunch with CSM Gaddy was a great opportunity for a young lieutenant. I went back to Fort McClellan in 1998 for officer advanced course. I asked about Gaddy and was told he had retired 10 years ago.

A few years ago, I saw the name Army LTC Roland Gaddy as a mutual connection on LinkedIn. I sent him an email asking if he could contact me. He called me and I asked if his father was CSM Roland Gaddy and he said he was. He shared with me, his father was doing well and enjoying retirement. I told him to please pass my good wishes onto his father. I told him he may not remember me by name, but told him briefly of my experience with him which he later told me his father remembered.

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Just a few months ago, I saw that Gaddy had passed away. I messaged his son my condolences as I was very respectful of his father. CSM James Breckinridge was the MP regiment sergeant major when Gaddy passed away. Breckinridge was looking forward to finally meeting Gaddy as Gaddy was going to attend the MP Ball at Fort Leonard Wood. Missouri. Breckenridge missed that opportunity as he sadly heard about Gaddy’s death. Breckenridge drove from Missouri to Anniston, Alabama to represent the Army’s NCO MP Corps.

He told me the funeral home was extremely crowded as people paid their respect to this great man. He said was honored to be the person to present the American flag to Gaddy’s wife, Jeanette.

Today, the Army Military Police School is located in Fort Leonard Wood. CSM Michael Bennett is the newly appointed regimental sergeant major of the school that is a federally accredited law enforcement training academy training over 20,000 soldiers, civilians and leaders annually. Bennett says “while the training and threats have changed over the years, it is still the job of the regimental command sergeant major to be the standard bearer for the military police corps.”

Organizations like the military are built to absorb change, they have to be. I remember in 2004 in the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore, I had just submitted my retirement paperwork to the Army National Guard. I took a moment to stand on the fourth floor overlooking the drill floor where there may have been 100 soldiers training on various tasks. The realization set in that 5 or 10 years from that moment no one would remember your contributions, much like the old story that it only takes one tide change to erase your footprints in the sand.

In 1993, CSM Gaddy was inducted into the Military Police Regimental Association’s Hall of Fame. This deservedly helps preserve his footsteps and contributions to the Army, his country and his family, hopefully forever.

Rest in peace, CSM, and thank you for your service and advice.

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