Army must re-emphasize values, retiring top FLW NCO says

Darrell Todd Maurina

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (May 1, 2009) — The senior enlisted man at Fort Leonard Wood called for a major cultural change in the Army at his retirement ceremony, warning his audience Friday that his speech might not be what they expected.

Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hayes, who with his wife Olga has made strengthening military marriages a major focus of his last three years at Fort Leonard Wood, told the assembled soldiers at Nutter Fieldhouse that his short-term plans after retirement include becoming a high school football coach but longer-term plans could include political activity.

Hayes said that whatever he does will place a strong emphasis on his Christian commitments and applying them to the needs of families both in and out of the Army.

“I’m not the same person I was 30 years ago, and I praise God for that,” Hayes said, noting that the Army provided him with the discipline he needed to fix his own background as a self-described “ungrateful, rebellious, child.”

That doesn’t always happen in the Army, however. Hayes said the Army needs to make changes so it not only talks about moral values but also consistently and clearly demonstrates what “right looks like.”

“Our country is having some hard times,” Hayes said. “And when you look at the root causes, a lot of it is moral decay.”

“When I married Olga, I knew exactly what I was going to get, but she had no idea,” Hayes said, noting that he’s spent many years of long deployments away from his family.

While life has improved for military families since his own time being raised as a “military brat,” Hayes said there’s still room for improvement.

“Taken as a whole I would not classify the last 30 years as ‘fun,’” Hayes said, noting that he’s had far too many experiences of living in substandard barracks in which taking a shower risked scalding if someone in another room flushed the toilet. Tough training conditions, while realistic and necessary, aren’t “fun,” he said, and neither is holding the hand of a soldier attempting to keep him from lapsing into shock while medics work to save his life after a combat attack from an improvised explosive device.

“It’s not too much fun watching our requirements increase while our resources decrease,” Hayes said.