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SMA talks leadership, new normal during online chat

By Thomas Brading | Army News Service

WASHINGTON — As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, the Army’s top enlisted Soldier believes silver linings have been found during this new normal, as the service delves deeper into the digital space to complete missions.

“It’s a busy, historic time for the military, but the Army is still doing great things,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston during a Facebook Live event July 9, 2020.

The 16th SMA was a guest on “Chief Chat,” a web series hosted by Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Luis Reyes, the senior enlisted adviser for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.

In spite of COVID-19, the Army’s mission is ongoing even when it’s from home, Grinston said. Take the Army’s Basic Leader Course (BLC), for instance. During a recent graduation ceremony, the SMA virtually addressed more than 1,000 graduates worldwide.

“I thought the server was going to crash,” he said jokingly, due to the high number of viewers. The web-based event replaced traditional, in-person gatherings that typically range from 150-300 people.

The smaller graduations are more his speed. Not because of their size, but because Grinston prefers being able to “look in the eyes of the crowd,” he said.

However, as all non-essential travel grinded to a halt earlier this year, so did Grinston’s face-to-face style of communicating.

Due to this, the Army has primarily gone virtual to make up for COVID-19 setbacks, whether it is Army leaders hosting town halls on social media, or recruiters opting to video chat with potential recruits.

On the flipside of this, “our (online) reach has been phenomenal,” Grinston said, as far as the positives of web-based communication.


Targeting larger audiences online has not changed Grinston as a leader, he said.

“We’ve just changed the way we look at each other,” he added. “So even though we’re looking at each other (on a screen) as opposed to being in person, I think my leadership style is the same. This is just what life has given us.”

Last week, after pausing operations to ensure safety measures were in place at basic training locations, the Army hit the ground running with a three-day online hiring spree called the Army National Hiring Days, in hopes to sign up 10,000 new Soldiers to fill its ranks.

Whether it’s leadership, recruiting or retaining talent, one commonality seems to remain: the Army’s No. 1 asset is its people, he said. The force’s success relies on its people, at all levels.

That’s where “This is my squad” — or TIMS for short — comes in, he said. The initiative, first announced by Grinston, was his focus for the AAFES webcast.

It is intended to look closer at the positive parts of being a Soldier, he said, in an effort to build stronger, more cohesive units across the Army. In doing so, TIMS can also help take on issues within the Army, such as sexual harassment and assault, suicide prevention, domestic issues and unconscious bias.

TIMS is part of a larger cultural change for the Army that encourages Soldiers to get to know their people better.

“We (should) focus on being a good person with a positive attitude, and get to know the people we work for and who work for us,” Grinston said.

By doing this, TIMS can also promote Army readiness through an active lifestyle for Soldiers, centered on health and holistic fitness.

For some, the word “squad” may conjure images of infantrymen in battle. But for Grinston, being a squad member goes beyond the frontlines and spans across every part of the Army — even at home, where the sergeant major considers his Family “part of his squad.”

“That’s how we change our culture, and that’s how we become a better Army,” he added.

SMA talks leadership, new normal during online chat
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