As a second lieutenant, Maj. Gen. Roger L. Cloutier, Jr., commanding general of the United States Army Training Center and Fort Jackson, was deployed early in his career to Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989. A soldier in his platoon was killed in action.
The general describes him as a good kid and a great soldier. “When he died, it scarred me. It marked me deep inside,” the general says, his voice catching with emotion. “It made me realize what this is all about at a very, very early point in my career. It has shaped my approach to everything I have done. From that point forward my mantra has been, ‘Let no soldier cry from the grave: If only I had been trained; if only someone had trained me.’ So every day when I wake up and I’m shaving in the mirror, I look myself in the eye and say: ‘Have I done everything I can do to get these young men and women ready? Is there anything I am missing?’ I ask my staff all the time, ‘Is this it? What are we missing? What are we not getting after?’”
In May of this past year, Maj. Gen. Cloutier became the 48th commanding general at Fort Jackson, where the Army turns about 45,000 civilians a year into soldiers through a 10-week Basic Combat Training course. Fort Jackson trains more than 52 percent of all the Army’s soldiers and more than 62 percent of all female soldiers. Every week 1,200 citizen volunteers enter and between 1,000 and 1,100 graduate the same week.
Additionally, another 10,000 to 12,000 soldiers receive Advanced Individual Training, or AIT, every year at the U. S. Army Soldier Support Institute on Fort Jackson. The post is also home to the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Center and School, the National Center for Credibility Assessment (formerly the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute) and the Army’s Drill Sergeant Academy.
Fort Jackson, which turns 100 next year, includes more than 58,000 acres, more than 100 ranges and field training sites and more than 1,000 buildings. More than 3,500 active duty soldiers and their 12,000 family members are assigned to work and live in the Columbia area. Fort Jackson also employs almost 3,500 civilians and provides support for more than 46,000 retirees and their family members. The Fort has an economic impact on the region of $2.2 billion annually, combined direct and indirect effect, according to a study by the Division of Research at the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.
Maj. Gen. Cloutier sets the command climate, direction and objectives for Fort Jackson. A 29-year career infantryman, the general sees his current assignment as coming full circle after having been the recipient of the product from basic training as a company, battalion and brigade commander. “We want to make sure that the soldiers who leave here are physically fit, well disciplined, can shoot, move and communicate,” he says.
Training methods have shifted somewhat, largely because of technology. “What we do here is train these young men and women on basic soldier skills: how to move, how to shoot, how to communicate, how to be physically fit, how to be disciplined and motivated,” he says. “Our job here, and they call it basic combat training for a reason, is the basics of being soldier.” The Army has taken a step back to reanalyze and is focusing more on those core competencies –– the basic training skills that are germane to any environment that soldiers may have to go into.
The general is assisted by the senior enlisted adviser, Post Command Sgt. Maj. Lamont Christian. Post Command Sgt. Maj. Christian, also a 29-year veteran, says much of what he does comes down to what he terms “Battlefield Circulation,” simply going around to the various training sites on post and seeing what is going on. Like the general, “I’m always asking what we can do better, both internally and externally. I’m always looking at how we can empower everybody who is involved in this process, either directly or indirectly. And I’m always looking at ways that we can improve what we are already doing well,” he says.
Both Maj. Gen. Cloutier and Post Command Sgt. Maj. Christian point out that today’s recruits entering basic training are not only very technologically savvy but are also more questioning of why some task is important, and not necessarily in a negative manner. That has led to a shift in some training techniques.
A former drill sergeant, Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis W. Wesson points out that the way drill sergeants train young soldiers has changed. “There are some things that I did as a drill sergeant that I’m sure if a drill sergeant did today, they would not survive.” Instructors today have to find different ways to motivate the young soldiers they train. “Those forms of motivation are not always translated to what we in the older generation see as a way to get them to do what we need them to do,” he says.
The Soldiers Support Institute, the other principle training center, is overseen by Col. Richard J. Nieberding, Jr. and Command Sgt. Maj. Wesson, again both veterans of close to 29 years. The Institute, which is a tenant on the post, is part of the Army’s Combined Arms and Support Command headquartered at Fort Lee, Virginia. While an old saw says an army runs on its stomach, it might be more accurate to say that the modern U.S. Army, like many large enterprises, really runs on its people and its money. “The Soldiers Support Institute, called SSI, is responsible for training 10,000 to 12,000 soldiers a year to be the best professional finance and personnel managers in the Army,” Col Nieberding explains.
SSI has three schools at Fort Jackson: the Finance School; the Adjutant General School, which is the personnel management school; and the Non-Commissioned Officer Academy. SSI is also responsible for the Army’s School of Music which trains all of the Army’s bandsmen, in Little Creek, Virginia. Command Sgt. Maj. Wesson notes that SSI also has under it the Service Postal Activity, which trains all of the service’s postal clerks within the Department of Defense. Interestingly, SSI also takes care of all foreign soldiers that may be training at Fort Jackson at things like the chaplains school. “We make sure they are fed and housed,” he says.
Technology has also had a huge emphasis on training at SSI. The Army is currently moving to five Enterprise Business Systems to handle things like personnel, finance and logistics. In the case of finance, a single system is subsuming some 300 systems. But the soldiers coming in are much more adept to understanding and using the technology. “We have got some super-duper young troopers who know how to do something called captivate,” says Col. Nieberding. They have created what they call AGTube, like YouTube, to assist other personnel. They can access a computer remotely, assess a problem and then offer a solution. “Over the holidays they did five or six where somebody called and said, ‘How do you do this,’ and those guys down in their office were able to click, record and help somebody,” says the Colonel.
But the major emphasis at Fort Jackson is on basic combat training and turning citizen volunteers into soldiers.
For Maj. Gen. Cloutier, who is responsible for that training, service to country runs through his family. His father was stationed overseas where he met his future wife and the general’s mother, who was from Belgium. General Cloutier’s wife, Diane, who was also a soldier and was deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm. A couple of months ago, the general performed the Oath of Enlistment for his eldest son who enlisted as an airborne infantryman. Despite all of his military honors, Maj. Gen. Cloutier says, “The title I’m most proud of is husband of Diane, my bride of 29 years in August, and father of three children: Haille, Roger, III, and Cameron.”
Post Command Sgt. Major Christian also comes from a military family. His father served in Vietnam and later decided to return to the Army as a career. Post Command Sgt. Maj. Christian is a native of Brooklyn, New York, who moved to Fort Bragg, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, as a teenager. Despite being accustomed to the military lifestyle, he had no desire to join the military, “even though his house wasn’t run like a boot camp,” he says. That changed when he received a partial scholarship to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and needed to find a way to fund the rest of his education. He was told he could join the ROTC program and be in the Army Reserve at the same time, and that would provide him money for school. He had been in JROTC in high school.
At basic training at Fort Jackson, he encountered Drill Sgt. Anderson. Looking back, he says, “Drill Sgt. Anderson is the reason that I decided I wanted to become enlisted. He is the reason that I had to become a drill sergeant,” he says. “He demonstrated to me what I thought every soldier should be as they went through their career, especially as a sergeant. Everything he did and everything he said was done in a way that was so professional. He was consistent, and he was always relevant. Even if he gave us push-ups on the hot South Carolina asphalt, I knew that we were down there for a reason. He made sure we understood that. It was before I completed basic training here at Fort Jackson that I knew I wanted to be a drill sergeant, and I wanted to be a soldier.”
But it took the young soldier a while to make the commitment to a career. He was only planning to do two years when he first made the transition from the reserves to active duty. “I extended three times before I finally committed and raised my hand. I haven’t looked back since.”
When Christian graduated from basic training, Sgt. Anderson and his fellow drill sergeants presented him a drill sergeant’s badge, a dress badge and voted him most likely to become a drill sergeant. “I carried that drill sergeant’s badge and wore it on the day I graduated from the drill sergeant course at Fort Benning. That was the badge I wore on my dress uniform,” he says. Before he was named to his current post, he served as the commandant of the Army Drill Sergeant Academy at Fort Jackson.
Post Command Sgt. Maj. Christian’s story of how he came to the Army isn’t unlike many others. Maj. Gen. Cloutier says, “I just met a young kid a couple of days ago who was going to college and after the first semester was $12,000 in debt. And he realized he was going to be $12,000 more in debt the next semester, so he thought ‘Maybe I can join the Army, get a GI Bill and serve my country.’”
At the Soldier Support Institute, Col. Nieberding also came to the Army through school, but with a bit of a twist. “I wanted to play college baseball,” says the Kentucky native, who ended up at West Point. “I thought I was just going to do my time in the Army and get out. But you start to really like what you are doing, so I stuck around.”
He started out as an armor officer but after about 15 years became an adjutant general, or personnel officer. “Maybe I was looking for a different success path. I say I like taking care of people, and that’s kind of how I picked it. I was going to do 20 years, but different opportunities came along and that’s how I got here.”
Col. Nieberding has only been at Fort Jackson about six months, and unlike many others in the Army, he did not have a lot of familiarity with the post or its operations. For that he relies on fellow Kentuckian Command Sgt. Major Wesson.
Wesson has spent a little over eight years at Fort Jackson. “I pride myself in knowing this organization from every ex-senior leader to every mop closet,” he says. “I’ve been around a bit, seen a lot of changes in the organization at Fort Jackson. I really, really enjoy this organization and what we do, for what we bring to the plate for the Army.”
He joined the Army a little later than most, at the age of 27 as an infantryman. “I loved the military so much. It reminded me of high school sports with the teamwork and the camaraderie.” At the four-year mark he opted to stay in.
“But I realized with infantry I was going to hit terminal velocity with boredom, if you will. I wanted to make the Army a career so I reclassified/changed jobs to an accounting specialist in the finance arena. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 24 plus years,” he says.
Command Sgt. Maj. Wesson has been temporary in his position since July and became permanent at the end of September. Previously, he was sergeant major of the finance school. His career kind of mirrors the colonel’s career path having served in many countries and in lot of different capacities.
Maj. Gen. Cloutier says he’s often asked about the soldiers coming to the Army today. “A lot of people think that young men and women today are somehow less patriotic, less capable than when I came in,” the general says. The reasons that soldiers come into the Army run the whole gamut from a need for college money to “I love America and want to defend it.”