By Aleah M. Castrejon
FORT CARSON, Colo. — Already nervous new recruits waited restlessly in their seats as the bus pulled into what would be their new home for the next nine months. Many of the newly enlisted troops had no doubt begun to second guess their decision as they frantically tried to mentally prepare for what the Army was about to put them through. Having already signed on the dotted line and committed to this Army life, the Soldiers felt the bus come to a halt.
Then the doors opened and the silence ceased as the drill sergeants boarded the bus.
The instructors walked along the aisle, screaming at the new recruits that they had 18 minutes to unload, and that 16 of those minutes had already passed.
With no time to think, the Soldiers scrambled to understand what was being said through the yelling.
Every young troop who exited the bus met the “infamous brown round” and a voice shouting to move faster.
It is something many people will only experience in the movies, but was his introduction into the Army and it was his first time away from home. He missed his family, friends and the only life he’d ever known.
That was just the start of his first day of Basic Combat Training.
“The Army of 1986 was a very different Army than the Army we have today,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Russell A. Hamilton, a former 4th Infantry Division Soldier and Colorado Army National Guard state command sergeant major.
Hamilton spent little time wondering where his discipline and values came from.
“It was an environment that bred discipline into you; it emphasized discipline every single moment of every single day,” he said.
After more than 33 years of service, Hamilton retired April 6 during a ceremony at the Peterson Air and Space Museum, Peterson Air Force Base.
His career was a full one, with 16 years of active-duty service and another 17 with the Colorado Army National Guard.
He entered active duty July 25, 1986, and served in various positions including an armored crewman, tank commander, platoon sergeant and many more on active duty before he transferred to the Colorado Army National Guard Active Guard and Reserve program.
While on active duty, he served with the 1st Battalion, 77th Armor; and in the 2nd Battalion, 77th Armor, 4th Infantry Division, at the time.
His National Guard service included time with the 100th Missile Defense Brigade (Ground-based Midcourse Defense) as an element crewmember, brigade master evaluator and other positions before he assumed responsibility as the state command sergeant major of the Colorado Army National Guard.
While he said some things have changed since his first days in the Army, he appreciates that the camaraderie has remained the same through his varying positions, whether it was as a leader or a subordinate. And while there are many memorable moments over his career, Hamilton reminisces about being a tank commander the most.
“It was the first time I was responsible for three other human beings and their well-being, and their training and what they did and their daily duties,” he said of his time as a young staff sergeant, tank commander in charge of a crew.
He saw his Soldiers take the information and guidance that he learned from his mentors and pass them along to the next generation.
“To watch them grow and be successful was just so incredibly rewarding,” he said
Two Soldiers Hamilton has enjoyed watching grow into the leaders they are today are 1st Sgt. David Ceja with the 193rd Military Police Battalion, Colorado Army National Guard; and 1st Sgt. Rene Saiz, first sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, Joint Force Headquarters, Colorado Army National Guard.
He often refers to his Soldiers as his “family” remembering when he was the platoon sergeant and NCO in charge, of the now first sergeants.
Hamilton said he is proud of the Soldiers he mentored and it shows through those who were able to serve under his leadership.
“I’ve always learned the good things about being an NCO from him,” Saiz said. “He not only said what a good NCO should be, but he showed us as well. So, all of the good traits I have as a first sergeant … I learned those from him. Learning how to take care of Soldiers, deal with special circumstances and do what’s best for the Soldier and their Family, while still accomplishing the mission; those are the things he instilled in me.”
Saiz said one thing that he will continue to pass along to his troops is holding them to the standard, saying standards set the foundation.
“You have to be fair and impartial, but you have to stick to the standards,” Saiz said. “The reason Colorado has done so well with its NCO corps, is because of him. He grew his Soldiers; he didn’t just tell them what they needed to be.”
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph Borja, Space and Missile Defense Command and Army Forces Strategic Command, is one of many Soldiers Hamilton holds in high regard.
Having worked with Hamilton for a number of years, Borja confidently described him as “very passionate, humble and trustworthy. And his heart is with the warriors as well as their Family members, to include the civilian workforce.”
Borja was able to serve as a mentor to Hamilton, and said he would observe his troops, but that he always “made things happen.”
“The Soldiers really gravitated (toward) him, just because of his leadership,” said Borja. “How he would teach them (and) coach them; he mentored as well as motivated (them). He’s one individual everyone looked to as a role model within his command.”
Many of Hamilton’s “lessons learned” came from his time as an active-duty Soldier.
As a young “buck” sergeant he remembered a teachable moment that instilled him with greatness, he said. Serving in a supervisor position, he oversaw a job his team worked on.
“I really didn’t have the authority … to tell them that they could go,” he said. “When the platoon sergeant came and look at it, it wasn’t (completed) to standard.”
That was the first time Hamilton remembered failing as a leader.
“It was viewed as my Soldiers’ (failure), but really I failed as a leader because I didn’t make sure my team met and exceeded the standard,” Hamilton said, which is what he used as a foundation for his leadership thereafter.
Regardless of his reasons for joining, whether it be for college, adventure, travel or pride, he didn’t lose sight of the big picture.
“We’re all here to serve something greater than ourselves,” he said.
Hamilton put great emphasis on his mentors who taught him many valuable lessons. They cared and were selfless, and they took the time to develop the Soldiers coming up behind them, he said.
“What they got when they first received me was far from a finished product and far from perfect,” he said. “But they did their best to chip away at the edges and make me into the Soldier I am, and that I tried to be, throughout my career.”
While his Army Family was with him throughout the 33 years, his wife, Deatra, moved with him to every new post and supported his career every step of the way. Hamilton looks forward to retirement with his wife, son, daughter and grandson.
“They truly have been amazing,” he said. “I was the one who got to wear the uniform, but they served right along with me. I just can’t thank them enough.”
And while he is looking forward to retirement, he isn’t going far, as he is returning to missile defense as a civilian contractor to work as an instructor.
“I’ve been very honored and humbled just by the show of support (at the retirement ceremony), by those who have supported me throughout my career, whether I was in a leadership position or a subordinate position,” Hamilton said. “It’s been such an honor to serve with such amazing people. And I know our future is in great hands, because I’ve seen the (Soldiers) who are coming up behind me, and I know they’re going to do great things.”