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Episode 65: Never Surrender: Service Above Self with John Wayne Troxell

Episode 65: Never Surrender: Service Above Self with John Wayne Troxell


In this episode, John is joined by Army Command Sergeant Major (Retired) John Wayne Troxell, former third Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (SEAC) and author of “Surrender or Die.” From his initiation as a dedicated enlisted soldier to attaining one of the highest ranks in the DoD, Troxell shares his 38-year commitment to serving soldiers at all levels.

Don’t miss this impactful episode as Troxell recounts his experiences traveling the world to understand and impart the needs of the troops to the leaders back in Washington, D.C. John shares how having a service-before-self ethos guided him throughout his military career and still acts as his compass in his post-military endeavors as a leader of presence, performance, and persistence.

Click here for John’s book Surrender or Die! Reflections of a Combat Leader.

Follow this link to join E-Tool Nation!


John Wayne Troxell: We were talking about the professionalism of soldiers through their lethality, their fitness, their readiness and capabilities. And I kept bringing up the entrenching tool. He and I both were bringing up the entrenching tool that, you know, even if they run out of bullets, they have to be able to execute and neutralize threats using non-standard methods, the entrenching tool being one of them. So as I sat out there and I said, they have surrender or die and, in the unit, Sergeant Major Rob says to me, well, what do you mean by that? I said, well, if they surrender, you know, we’re a peace loving nation. We’ll treat them with respect, we will safeguard them to their detainee holding facility cell, give him three hots, a cot, but more importantly, due process in a court of law for their terrorist actions. I said but let there be no doubt, if they do not surrender, then we’re going to kill them with extreme prejudice, whether that’s dropping bombs on them, shooting them in the face or if need be, beating them to death with our entrenching tools

John Berry: Welcome to the Veteran Led podcast, where we talk with leaders who use their military experiences to develop great organizations and continue to serve their communities. On today’s episode, we have SEAC number three, Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell, author of “Surrender or Die.” Thanks so much for being on the show, Sergeant Major.

John Wayne Troxell: Hey, thanks so much, John. It’s an honor to be here.

John Berry: Well, I want to start off with the most important question to me, which is why did a soldier’s soldier become the brass in the military? I mean, 38 years? Most of us say, I never want to be the brass. And you became the brass, and you did amazing things for our soldiers. But at what point did you decide that you were going to stay in as long as it took?

John Wayne Troxell: So, John, this is a great question. You know, when I was up through the ranks, part of the E4 Mafia and everything, you know I kind of fit in to the Army like Forrest Gump would say like one of those round pegs. You know, uh, it just came easy for me, and I enjoyed it and everything. But when I saw the things that would upset a regular soldier, you know, and I said, hey, if I’m ever in a position to make a difference, then I need to make a difference. And as this thing started, you knew, uh, coming fairly well for me and I started moving up in my career, the higher I went up, the more I said I need to make an impact for those below me. And because, you know, I joined the military, I went to my first duty station, Fort Bliss, TX, within a month I met young lady who ended up being my wife and we’ve been married over 40 years now, and shortly after we started dating, she got pregnant with our first child. So now I didn’t just have individual responsibilities, I had the family responsibilities. And I really didn’t know to do anything else growing up in Iowa, and so I said hey, this is my gig. This is what I gotta do. And I love doing it and so that started me off. Never once did I think I would reach the pinnacle of the enlisted ranks in the DoD. But the more I got responsibility and the more I was making an impact, the more I wanted more of it.

John Wayne Troxell: And so being a platoon sergeant, I just absolutely loved it. But then, you know, the Army came calling and said, hey, you’re an E8, you’re going to be a first sergeant. I thought, yes, I want to do that. And the same with every rank. So I never wanted to be part of that, as you call it, “the brass” and the bureaucracy. But I wanted to be in a position that I could push back on the bureaucracy or anything that wasn’t making sense, uh, to the troops at the tactical level and certainly in the Pentagon my last four years as the SEAC, that was the key thing I was focused on; making sure that as we develop strategy and, uh, for defense and our military and everything and, and campaign plans that we didn’t forget, that if we don’t mitigate the risk here and if we don’t make it make sense here to the people at the tactical level, then they will incur all of the risk and they will have to figure it out. Some lieutenant and some sergeant first class on the ground will have to figure it out. And then if they get it wrong, uh, potentially they’re going to be held accountable, you know, because we didn’t clearly articulate what we expected of them and the risk they were supposed to manage. So that’s why I stayed on as long as I did. I absolutely love serving. I love being around like minded men and women. And then the more I went up and rank, and the more responsibility I got, the more I wanted to make sure it was having an impact at the appropriate people.

John Berry: And it’s important for our listeners to know what the SEAC is because I wasn’t familiar with that acronym. I thought the highest ranking enlisted soldier in the United States Army was the sergeant major of the Army. But that’s not true. It’s the SEAC. So tell us what the SEAC is.

John Wayne Troxell: So, you know, your listeners, especially if they have military experience, they are absolutely familiar with each service has a senior enlisted leader. And, you know, the Army, as you described, Sergeant Major of the Army, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps and the other stuff like that. Um, and they have a chief of their service, Chief of Staff of the Army, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Chief of Naval Operations, all of those. But the senior officer in the Department of Defense, uniformed officer, that because is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is the military officer that kind of facilitates, um, building cohesion amongst the service chiefs. And he reports directly to the president providing best military advice. Well, he has a senior enlisted leader, and that is known as the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman. And he, that that guy serves as the senior enlisted position and for me, when I was the SEAC, I had responsibility to develop synergy and cohesion amongst all the services. So there’s been five of us that had the job two Army guys, Joe Gainey, number one, I was number three, two Marines. Brian Battaglia was number two. The current SEAC, SEAC number five is a marine, Troy Black and then SEAC four. Uh, the guy that replaced me was an Air Force guy, CZ Colon-Lopez. So in that role, uh, John, you have no authority. What I mean by that is, you know, the sergeant major of the Army can do uniform policy, you know, uh, health and welfare policy. If it is not something that affects all of the services, then you really aren’t going to have an impact in that job.

John Wayne Troxell: So it boils down to you do two things: you gain the pulse of the force for the chairman, the Sec Def and the president, and you deliver the why to the troops. Why are they doing or why are they serving where they’re at? So for me, that was four years of 270 days a year on the road, either by myself, with the Chairman or, with the Secretary of Defense because as the SEAC, you are the senior enlisted advisor to the Secretary of Defense too. So delivering the pulse to them, so I was traveling all over the world to all the garden spots, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, you name it, to deliver that pulse back to the people in Washington, D.C., but I also knew I had a responsibility to the force that they knew why they were doing what they were doing. They’re mission they were doing, why they were serving where they were serving, how long they were going to have to do it and what did the end state, what did we expect the end state to look like. So you are, as the SEAC, you are deeply in the art of leadership and influence. Moreso than you are in any kind of science of developing policy and uniform standards and things like that, so haircuts and cigarette butts are important, but the SEAC, that’s not part of your bailiwick.

John Wayne Troxell: If it’s not something that the Chairman, Sec Def, or the President could use, especially for the Chairman and the Sec Def that could use for testimony in front of Congress or for talking points for the military, then that’s not what you focus on, so it’s a very unique position that a lot of people don’t understand, but I will tell ya, I had carte blanche because I worked for a great Chairman for 43 months, Marine General Joe Dunford. I had general Mark Milley my last five, but Dunford expected me to go wherever I needed to go, do whatever I needed to do to get him the pulse of the force, so I didn’t have to ask to go to Misrata, Libya, in the middle of a civil war to visit SEAL Team Six. I just told him, that’s where I’m going, chairman, and I’ll report out. And he would say something like, well, just don’t get killed. Okay. So, um, but that was the autonomy I had and based off the trust I had with the Chairman, and for two years, especially with Secretary Jim Mattis, um, I was kind of their directed screwdriver, that and telescope that could go anywhere and deliver them back, real time information on what was going on. So that’s what the position is. And, uh, and by charter and policy, you are the senior enlisted person in the entire US armed forces.

John Berry: And you are now deep in the bureaucracy of the United States military. So I want to take you away from that all because that’s not where a lot of us like to be. Where we like to be is back when we were younger soldiers. And your experience over 38 years took you from Operation Just Cause combat in Panama all the way through Iraq and Afghanistan and beyond. And I want to take you back to that senior noncommissioned officer, that E-7, going through Ranger School, you come back to the 82nd and now bam, you’re a first sergeant. And so we’ve got First Sergeant Troxell out there walking through Fort Bragg, and you see that second lieutenant without a Ranger Tab, Infantry second lieutenant. What are you thinking?

John Wayne Troxell: Uh, well, first of all, I’m thinking, you know, how did the guy end up here first, you know, with, you know, going through his Basic Officer Leader course, Jump School and Ranger School, it was kind of the as you know, it’s the pipeline. If you’re going to be an officer in the 82nd, a lieutenant, generally that’s what you do. So my first question is, how the hell did you get here without going to Ranger School? And then my second question would be, okay, you’re here now. When are you going to go to Ranger School? So a lot of people, um, may have forgotten or do not know that in the 80s and 90s, the 82nd Airborne Division Infantry battalions had three rifle companies, and they had an anti-tank company, a Delta company. That was the TOW Humvees, you know, the tubular launch, optically sighted wire guided missiles. And so if you didn’t have a Ranger tab in the 82nd, you didn’t get a rifle platoon as a lieutenant, you went to Delta Company and you rode around in Humvees until you got your Ranger tab, and then you were off the bench and you would get a rifle platoon. And so that was that. That’s the answer I would always give them.

John Wayne Troxell: And, you know, I had the ground reconnaissance troop there, uh, after the armored battalion deactivated and the division commander at the time, uh, Keith Kellogg, you know, who, you know, just most recently was the national security adviser to Vice President Pence. Uh, he said, hey, I want a thousand enlisted rangers by the summer here, by the time, you know, All American Week rolls around again in a year, he wanted a thousand rangers. And I thought, even though I had this little 19 Delta company or troop, and we only had about 80 people, I said, we are going to get some enlisted Rangers. So in a year, I sent about 25 guys to Ranger School and 12 of them were enlisted. And by the time we got done, every one of our officers in the troop were Ranger qualified as well as jumpmaster qualified. So I said, if I’m going to expect this out of people, especially second lieutenants coming in, that this is what’s expected of you, then we better be leading through our example and obviously myself, my commander, we were Jumpmasters and Rangers and everything. And uh, and so that’s, that’s what I would say to them.

John Wayne Troxell: Now, I even had a lieutenant one timetell me, I said, Hey, when are you going to Ranger school, sir? He says, well, Sergeant Major, I got bad ankle or First Sergeant, I got bad ankles. I said, well, what the hell are you doing here? You know, in a high performing airborne unit that is does some rigorous stuff with airfield seizures and forced entry capability. What are you doing here? He says, well, you know, branch sent me here, you know, so every now and then somebody slips through that is not going to fit that mold. And it’s not that they’re a bad American or anything. It’s just that there’s there was an expectation in the 80s and 90s in the 82nd for young officers that this is what you were expected to be and if you weren’t going to be that, you weren’t going to be there very long. So that’s kind of how I would approach it now. There was a lot more adjectives in in what I was describing to these lieutenants back then, you know, that start with F and stuff like that. But it was out of love, uh, you know, for them to reach and maximize their potential.

John Berry: Well, you know, on Veteran Led, the one word we don’t like the F word fair. We don’t like to hear fair because we know nothing is fair. And fair is a word used by spectators. It’s not by the man in the arena. The man in the arena knows that the fight is coming, and sometimes the wind blows in your direction and sometimes it doesn’t. And there’s. That’s right. And there are results. And as leaders, we have to enforce high standards and we have to get results. And people don’t care what our excuses or what our reasons are. Now I want to transition this into a training accident. I heard this from a Vietnam veteran, Navy SEAL who talked about KIT, killed in training. And in your book, you bring up a jump where the static line broke and the and then unfortunately, the airborne soldier perished. And I think back to my jumps, and I always thought of it almost like every jump is safe. This is the safe as going to an amusement park because we do so much safety work. You know these as you know, hey, if conditions aren’t optimal, you’re not going to jump in on a training jump. If the wind speeds too high, whatever. You don’t jump, turn the plane around, whatever. So it was always like, I hope we get a jump today at for my very few jumps. Um, but from your perspective, uh, doing that training, understanding the risk as a jumpmaster, what’s that like? How is that different? You know, as an airborne soldier, you go out there, they tell you when to go, stand up, hook up, shuffle to the door, and you’re out. You don’t even think about it. But as a jumpmaster. What’s that like? Uh, making sure that all those soldiers safely execute or safely exit that C-130 or C-141 or whatever you were jumping out of back then?

John Wayne Troxell: You know, the pride of being in serving in the 82nd as an officer, an NCO is to be a jumpmaster. Where you are entrusted with the safety of, you know, on a C-130, 65 jumpers or on a C-141, you know, 110 jumpers or a C-17, you know, 100 jumpers, safely preparing them to exit this high performance aircraft and then absolutely exit or, you know, guiding them to, to exit out of this high performance aircraft. Now, the instance I talk about in the book was Operation Purple Dragon, which was the largest jump in training. Well, actually, it was the largest jump the 82nd had ever done since the jumps in World War II into combat. We were jumping on Holland Drop Zone. The entire division was jumping on Holland, Sicily, North airfield, South Carolina, Avon Park Gunnery Range, Florida. We were all over a tri state area conducting airborne operations, and for my sortie there were 20 C-141s of soldiers that were jumping on Holland Drop Zone. And as you know, 20 C-141s, you know, is a lot. And then 110 troopers in each one of those, I mean, you’re talking over 3,000 troopers, and then you cross level people so that they land where they’re expected to land on the drop zone. So in in the stick, you might have Alpha Company 1504 infantrymen, then a couple engineers, then a couple of MPs, then some more infantrymen, and we cross load them like that. And unfortunately, what that does is sometimes you find some of these smaller, uh, military occupational specialties where it’s two privates that are on this. Uh, and for me, it was on my stick, you know, of jumpers. And they didn’t have any NCOs or officers that checked them out before they got there.

John Wayne Troxell: And so they show up and their gear is chewed up from the floor up. You know, I found when they came to get inspected, you know, the kid in particular, uh, came to, you know, get inspected by me jumpmaster personnel inspection. And he had like seven one major deficiency and he had like six minor deficiencies. So I fixed it for him. And back to what you said, you know, fair. Of course I ripped his butt, you know, because I said, hey, look, you’re expected to know you and your buddy how to put your parachute on properly and everything, and so sent him to, uh, one of my other jumpmasters after that to check that all the, the, the, uh, deficiencies that I corrected that they were sound and everything. And then we took off. And now think of this. Here’s 20 C-141s in the air. Masked night, mask tac night, combat equipped jump and jumpers are just coming out the door, left and right. And I even told my assistant jumpmaster, I said, look, do you know how long it takes for 20 aircraft to do another turn to come back around to drop zone? I said, we will be in the air for another hour waiting to come back around to drop any, uh, you know, leftover troops, you know, and, uh, I said so it’s important that we get the troops out safely, but quickly, as fast as possible.

John Wayne Troxell: And so when the jump hit and the green light lit, you know, my jumpers on my door, we were getting them all out and everything. And after my last jumper went, I went to look and see if the assistant jumpmaster was getting ready to jump. He still had like 6 or 7 jumpers that hadn’t left and like 3 or 4 of them didn’t get out in the red light came on. And so now I am pissed off because now I know I’m going to be in this 20 plane, uh, train going around to come back around and my troops on the drop zone are already going to be on the assault objectives, and I’m not going to be there with them as the first sergeant. And as we were pulling the static lines back in my safety, it was a good friend of mine, uh, retired Command Sergeant Major Ray Edgar. He holds up this static line to me and he says, hey, check this out. And it was a severed static line, and I, I thought, what is a static line from the mock door doing? It looked like when you do mock door training, one of the static lines here. And then then it hit me, and I said, someone has had a catastrophic failure of their static line. And I said, all right, stop what we’re doing.

John Wayne Troxell: I told the loadmaster, I said, we need to shut the doors. We need to break formation because there’s a jumper out there somewhere without any lift capability from his main parachute. And they, you know, the loadmaster says, well, can’t we stay in formation, go around again? I said, no, we need to break formation now. And because I don’t know if this kid, you know, I was praying that he pulled his reserve parachute and everything. Well, unfortunately, you know, we broke formation. We flew back to Pope Air Base. And as we pulled up in front of green ramp and the ramp was coming down. There was, uh, you know, the departure airfield control group guys were there, there were some CID agents there. And then I knew right then and there that this kid did not pull his reserve. And he went 1100 feet to the ground with no lift capability and died of blunt force trauma by hitting the ground. He was a young PFC, a young engineer, and, uh, and I knew then I said, I told my jumpmaster team, just sit here, don’t touch anything, you know? So we went through a myriad of investigations through CID, through a 15-6, through the Airborne School, through the Advanced Airborne School. And meanwhile, this whole exercise is going, the entire division is out training, you know, in the tri state area. And so I couldn’t be out with my troops. And I was constantly being investigated. The safety center came down, uh, to do an investigation.

John Wayne Troxell: And ultimately the folks up at uh, Aberdeen Proving Grounds came down and they did the, the big investigation, and they finally said that the kid’s static line broke because of him spinning out of the aircraft. I’m sure, you know, I mean, that’s happened to me plenty of times, you know, as a jumper, I get woken up because we’re about to hit the drop zone, and all of a sudden, I get up and I had my static line and boom, I hit my shoulder going out the door and I end up spinning out the door. Well, when he spun out the door, I don’t know if there was something wrong with the parachute or whatever, but it was a break of the static line. And, uh, and unfortunately, you know, he went to his death. So, um, but that was the first time in my life that people were actually like, well, okay, this Troxell ain’t all that now, you know, he, you know, secondary zone promotion all the way up through here. You know, a 19 series guy, was a Ranger, graduate, jumpmaster, graduate, combat jump and all. He ain’t all that. That was the first time, John, that I realized that there was some professional jealousy in the ranks. And folks want to that, you know, are jealous of who you are and what you are. They are hoping for your professional and personal downfall. And fortunately for me, it all came out and it was good. You know, we were exonerated.

John Berry: And Sergeant Major, once again, it comes back to that word fair. Yeah. You didn’t do anything wrong. And yet, as the leader. You deal with the consequences, and that’s something that you have to live with. And it’s something that you know, potentially could affect your career. And it didn’t. The right thing happened. Justice happened here. But there’s the other there’s the human side of it that that you have to live with that. And even though it’s not your fault, you’re the guy that was there. And I think as leaders, absolutely, we have to understand that things happen that aren’t fair, whether in the military or as a civilian in business, that that that’s just the way it works sometimes. And as you brought up stoicism later in your book, and we really just have to, all we can control is, is how we respond to it. And you obviously responded well, your career continued. And for a lot of us, especially at that stage in our military career, we think initially, my career is over. You know, I screwed up, right? It doesn’t matter if I screwed up. I screwed up because something bad happened and I was the leader. I may have done everything perfectly, but it’s on me. And that’s the way we train our leaders to accept responsibility for everything. We own, you own that plane. You own those jumpers. And it’s a, you know, it’s a heavy burden, but it’s also a great burden to have when soldiers trust you with their futures, and I want to dive into that and some of the things that you’ve done. Um, the birth of E-Tool Nation. What I like about this story is you come at this not from the perspective of a politician or the brass. You put together a message to inspire the soldiers and to invoke fear in the enemies. We used to call that psyops. That used to be okay back in the 90s. And, uh, tell us about that message and how it launched E-Tool Nation.

John Wayne Troxell: Yeah. So, you know, when, uh, Jim Mattis came in as the Secretary of Defense, his first meeting after he was sworn in by President Trump, he got sworn in on a Friday, uh, in 2017 January. That Monday, his first meeting he had was with myself. It was breakfast with myself and all the service senior enlisted, uh, and he sat down because he was focused on the force. And then after we had breakfast, he said, hey, I want you to stick around, you know, and so all the service guys left. And here I was, Secretary Mattis and I, uh, sitting across from each other at his conference table. And he says to me, I want you to get the word out to the force. He said, um, we are no longer going to talk about defeating our enemies. He said, I understand defeat is a doctrinal term, but we are going to use a Mattis term, that means we are to annihilate any person or any threat whether it is a state or non-state actor that tries to impinge on the freedom, homeland, or way of life of the United States of America and any American. Get the word out. Just a phenomenal inspirational message. You know that the troops needed to hear. Especially, the folks fighting in Libya, in Somalia in Syria Iraq, Afghanistan.

John Wayne Troxell: It was the message that people wanted to hear. And, you know, as a senior enlisted leader, I knew that I had to understand my two bosses, the Chairman and Sec Def, their vision and priorities. And I had to develop focus areas and themes and messages that would complement their vision and priorities. And so, you know, as Mattis kept talking about annihilating any threat. And then, you know, shortly after he took over, you know, uh, we dropped the mother of all bombs in, Nangarhar province and Afghanistan, the Assad regime and Syria, uh, was doing some things with the Russians and attacking innocent Syrian Kurds with barrel bombs that had chlorine weapons in them. And, you know, President Trump made the decision, we’re going to do something. And Secretary Mattis made the decision to drop 59 Tomahawk missiles on Syrian regime and Russian targets in western Syria. So I just as I was going out and visiting troops, especially our special operators, I was in Syria, and I was in Raqqa watching the fall of Raqqa. And I was with our most elite army special operators behind the fence at Fort Bragg. And I was up on the roof of this building, and I had their unit sergeant major with me. I had the JSOC sergeant major with me and the SOCOM sergeant major with me, I had all the key leaders.

John Wayne Troxell: We all did this tour together to come over and check on the fight, and we were putting a royal dose of scunion through the Syrian Democratic Forces on ISIS and, you know, supported by our elite special operations forces, Marine Corps artillery and others that were just doing a great job. And, uh, as I was standing up there, every time there’d be a lull in the fight, a Mad Max Fury Road kind of vehicle would come out, a vehicle-borne IED that would attack the SDF, or a female suicide bomber would come out like she was going to surrender or looking for help, and she would detonate on these SDF fighters. And sometimes and in some cases, it wounded some of our American advisers and everything, our elite special operators. So I’m on the roof of this building with a guy leading the fight. And I said, you know what? You know, excuse my language. I said, these assholes have two options. They can surrender or die. And I had been talking with one of the unit sergeant majors, George is his name, is his first name and, uh, you know, he he’s a 20 year career guy in that unit. And we were talking about the professionalism of soldiers through their lethality, their fitness, their readiness and capabilities.

John Wayne Troxell: And I kept bringing up the entrenching tool. He and I both were bringing up the entrenching tool that, you know, even if they run out of bullets, they have to be able to execute and neutralize threats using non-standard methods, the entrenching tool being one of them. So as I sat out there and I said, they have surrender or die and, in the unit, Sergeant Major Rob says to me, well, what do you mean by that? I said, well, if they surrender, you know, we’re a peace loving nation. We’ll treat them with respect, we will safeguard them to their detainee holding facility cell, give him three hots, a cot, but more importantly, due process in a court of law for their terrorist actions. I said but let there be no doubt, if they do not surrender, then we’re going to kill them with extreme prejudice, whether that’s dropping bombs on them, shooting them in the face or if need be, beating them to death with our entrenching tools. And so Rob kind of chuckled. He says, you ought to put that in your update to Chairman Dunford and Secretary Mattis tonight. So I did. I wrote that, and within an hour Mattis wrote back and said, keep saying that. That echoes what I’m getting after in terms of annihilating the enemy.

John Berry: And that resonated. And the troops rallied around it. People loved it.

John Wayne Troxell: Well, yeah. So for, you know, to the point, for four months, that’s I was going around saying this all the time and it was never an issue, John. The troops loved it. I was getting messages from everywhere. And, you know, now some of the people in in Washington D.C. didn’t like what I was saying. You know, they were like, hey, what is this senior enlisted guy talking about, you know, in terms like this and everything? And it was never an issue until General Dunford and I run a USO tour in Kabul, Afghanistan, and we got thousands of soldiers in a hangar there, and I’m up on stage. And it got to the point where I started carrying an entrenching tool with me because it got so popular. And so here I come, walking out on stage, it’s General Dunford, myself and Captain (Retired) Flo Groberg, Medal of Honor recipient, is with us, and he’s got an entrenching tool. And so the minute we walked out, the crowd went bananas. And then I said, you know, my quote, you know, you know, ISIS has two options: they can surrender or die. If they surrender, we’ll treat them humanely. If not, we’re going to kill them. And the place went bananas, you know, and but after it was done and I was walking off the stage, there’s portly little civilian dude come walking up to me. He had crew-served cameras around his neck, so I knew he was in the media, and he was a Washington Post reporter, and he accused me of telling the troops to go out and commit war crimes. And I said, obviously, you don’t know anything about the military. We train soldiers, Marines and battlefield airmen how to use non-standard weapons to neutralize threats. Okay, so that’s how that all started. But then that’s how it got into the media, was because this guy did a story on it. And my public affairs guy, Rob Couture, did a post on social media with my quote with me holding an entrenching tool, and that went viral. And it got picked up.

John Berry: I want to stop you here. And I hate to interrupt, but this is so important for our listeners, for our veterans that are running companies. Once you reach a certain level of notoriety and people know who you are, you are now a target. And so I really love the way you work through the strategy of this. You know that the guy with a crew-served cameras. I love that, uh, is going to write a story so you don’t wait for it to come out, you know, wait and see. You take the fight to the enemy, so to speak. The press is not. In fact, you’ve been friends with them, but you know that this guy’s hostile. So you get a hold of your publicist. Your publicist says, we’re going to get on top of this. And they blow up social media with the E-Tool quote, what happens?

John Wayne Troxell: It went viral. I mean, it I mean, millions of people saw it and loved it. And I was getting notes from our military from all over the world. I was getting notes from UK military, from Canadian Forces, I was Afghan, some of my counterparts in Afghanistan had seen this who were still fighting. And they said it was so inspirational. But there were there were some folks, you know, that you know, that use that f word, “fair” that thought that I was wrong for doing this, you know. And when I came back after that USO tour, you know, I had people, tons of people, I mean, hundreds of them coming by saying thank you. And all of a sudden people were bringing E-Tools for me to sign them. You know, they wanted me to autograph their entrenching tool, and I’m talking I had sailors bringing E-Tools to me. They don’t even get issued the darn things. But all of a sudden, I noticed there was a difference in how some people treated me in the Pentagon. I even had a Navy three-star that was on our Joint staff walk into me and tried to tell me, you need to walk this back. He said, that’s inappropriate for you as an enlisted guy to say something like that.

John Berry: Let me jump in because this really bothers me. Who trains our junior officers? The NCOs. And you have a bureaucrat come in and tell you, enlisted soldiers should be seen and not heard. The voice of the enlisted person does not matter. And that’s why we needed a SEAC because people were not listening to our warfighters. They were listening to the bureaucrats, the politicians, the senior officers. And here you are rallying the troops. And let’s face it, this was a long fight. You start talking about Iraq and Afghanistan, the two decades there. There are some tired soldiers. There are some tired service members who have been five, six, eight deployments. They need some motivation, and they need to know that someone appreciates our warrior ethos. Someone cares enough about our training to tell us that I believe you can destroy the enemy without a conventional weapon. And quite frankly, obviously that reporter knew nothing about the Geneva Convention or the rules of engagement. But clearly you set the tone and said, soldiers, you’re going to win this war, and I have faith in you, and you’re going to win because you’re better trained, you’re stronger, you’re tougher. That was really the message that most people heard. That’s what the soldiers heard. But the bureaucrats heard what they wanted to hear. And you came at this so strong, and that’s when you started to see resistance.

John Berry: And the more popular you became, the more powerful you became in advising others. Uh, that hurts some people’s feelings because you are a take charge leader. And of course, as you say, you’re pursuing excellence. Excellence in everything. You don’t deal with substandard performance. And at some point, there is a substandard performer. Who launches an investigation on you and look me at a lot of people know we represent veterans nationwide, but I started off as a criminal defense lawyer defending the damned, the people who were falsely accused. And here you are, a guy who took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, did it for 38 years, and now some mediocre non-performer who remains anonymous, makes a bunch of allegations, most of which were false. The other ones were minor infractions. But tell us how that feels. After you went out there. You’re going to battle every day living the life for the soldier. When I say go to battle, I mean the bureaucracy, the bureaucratic battle, not the battle you want to be in on the front lines, helping the soldiers. You’re trying to fight the information war to support our soldiers. And now someone has thrown this at you. And how do you respond? How does that feel when you’re at the top of your game and you’re being attacked?

John Wayne Troxell: Yeah. I mean, when I first, you know, got called in, uh, and was briefed that I was suspended pending an investigation. You know, I was like, well, what am I under investigation for? And, you know, I they wouldn’t tell me, but they but the Public Affairs Officer, who’s a guy by the name of Pat Ryder at the time, who is now, uh, the Secretary of Defense’s public affairs guy. He says, but we’re going to do a press release tonight to let the world know that you are suspended. So I’m like, wait a minute. You’re not telling me what I’m under investigation for, but you’re going to tell the whole world that I’m under investigation. And, John, you know, generally the three things leaders get in trouble for, they did something inappropriate with someone outside of their spouse. They’ve done something bad with money, or they’ve done something bad with drugs or alcohol. And none of that was the case with me. But I knew this could be a problem, you know? Well, when the press release went out, because I had built this relationship with the Pentagon press corps, where twice a year I was taking senior enlisted in to do press conferences and everything, they had a wait and see attitude, more so than especially the, you know, the ones that would normally jump on it, like the CNNs, The New York Times and folks like that.

John Wayne Troxell: They had a wait and see. They said, hey, we’re going to see what happens here. You know? So the response, the negative response was kind of muted. The overwhelming response from the troops was support to the point that somebody created a Facebook page titled #Free3. You know, since I was the third SEAC and it was free3 and all of a sudden there was thousands of people on this page, you know, that were behind me and supporting me. But I knew because I was under investigation and I was suspended and I could not perform duties as the SEAC, and I had to sit in a cubicle in the center of the Pentagon and wait for this whole process out. I knew there was eyes on me, and I knew I had to continue to make sure that this didn’t get any worse for me. So I said, I’m not going to give the people that filed this complaint against me the satisfaction of trying to do professional and personal harm to me. And second of all, after about 24 hours of feeling sorry for myself, I shoveled myself up and I said, I’m going to fight this. So I went in and, you know, requested to see General Dunford. And I said, sir, there’s two ways this is going to end.

John Wayne Troxell: Either you’re going to fire me and tell me to retire or you’re going to reinstate me, but I ain’t quitting. I said, if I quit now, then the troops, I would be hypocritical to the troops by telling them they got to hang in there and they got to get after it and everything. So for six months, I was a stoic and, uh, I came to work every day. I did PT, I sat at that cubicle, did nothing all day except read books and watch TV and things like that and waiting for the process to go through. But not once did I lose faith, John. I was not going to let fear of how this thing would end overcome me. I focused on faith that if I continued to be what I said I was, or I’ve always said I was, and I continued to do the things that’s expected of me, I will continue to be that example for the troops. But second of all, I was confident that this was going to come out because I knew when the when I was told hostile and toxic work environment, torturous language and all these other things, I was like, I said, there’s only one person that I know that would file a complaint like that. Okay. And that person was getting run over by my junior NCOs, my E-7s and my E-6s, and this was an E9.

John Wayne Troxell: And, uh, so yeah, it was it was difficult, you know, and really, when that happens to you, there are people that walk away from you because now you’re radioactive and they don’t want that radioactivity getting on them for fear that they might come under investigation. But I wasn’t going to let the weaponization of the system, the people, the bureaucratic types, I wasn’t going to allow them to get the satisfaction. And I, you know, stayed the course and when General Dunford called me in and as you described in the book and I talked about the minor offenses, you know, I was counseled on those and everything. Then he told me to get back to work. And so I left his office that day. I did the Conor McGregor walk, going back to my office, because I knew that in 20 years of being a command sergeant major, I had not changed my leadership style at all and had never once been in question until I’m the senior guy in the DoD, and I knew this was a weaponization of that. The one thing I did do is I was more cognizant of my inner circle after that, because I trusted some folks that I shouldn’t have trusted, and they looked to do professional and personal harm to me. So.

John Berry: Yeah, there’s a big lesson for veterans getting out there that become successful, start their companies, is that you really do have to have that inner circle, and you do have to be situationally aware because it is a different environment. And even in the military, look in the field, oh, we’re in combat. Yes. We want First Sergeant Troxell, the barrel chested, steely eyed killer, to take this company of 19 Deltas and destroy the enemy. Absolutely. That’s what we want. Or annihilate the enemy, right? But that’s the guy we want. But then we get back to garrison, and it’s, oh, we want this monotone, robotic, emotionless leader who is going to make the decisions we want to make when that’s not you. Your authenticity is what whoever you are that day is who you are all day, every day. And you don’t change. And I want to I bring this up because I want to talk about an even more courageous and authentic thing that you did as the SEAC, which was getting help for PTSD and overcoming the stigma and setting that example for all of the soldiers who suffer from the same reality. So please take us through that.

John Wayne Troxell: Yeah. So, you know, my I got my baptism by fire in the combat jump and just cause in ‘89. And it was the first time that I had seen combat casualties. You know, here we were 24 hours before the airborne assault. We thought we were going on half day schedule for Christmas time and spending time with our families. And here we are, you know, 12 hours into the operation and, you know, young E-4 out of second Battalion, 504th was killed in action, a kid that thought he was going to be spending time with his family. And now he just gave his life in defense of freedom. And, you know, seeing Americans back then, a peacetime military, Americans killed in combat that are wearing the same glint tape as me, the same air American flag on their shoulder in the same unit patch and everything. It had an impact on me. Um, but I just thought, hey, this is the way it is, you know, when you’re serving in combat. And then seven months later, we go into Desert Storm, and, you know, hundreds of soldiers are killed in that operation. And I never thought that I had an issue with combat. I never you know, I just thought, hey, I’m an angry mfer and that’s what I’m supposed to be because I’m a first sergeant and a sergeant major. And then certainly in ‘03/‘04 in Iraq and ‘07/’08 in the surge, you know, when I lost more soldiers, 54, uh, during the surge in Iraq and over 500 severely wounded, amputees, burn victims and everything, and then my own, you know, uh, instances with, you know, my mortality by getting blown up twice.

John Wayne Troxell: I didn’t realize it was having an effect on me, you know? And, um, but again, I, I wasn’t facing it head on, and I refused to believe it. And then ‘11 and ‘12 in Afghanistan, when we lost 332 soldiers that year across the entire ISAF, um, you know, and doing all of these, uh, you know, ramp ceremonies and everything, it had an impact. But I still I wasn’t believing it. And it was a year before I was retiring. I had been reinstated. I was back in the job, and I came home one day to my wife, Sandra, and we were one year out from retirement. I said, hey, we got to start planning on what we’re going to do, where we’re going to live and stuff like that. And she goes, well, before we get to all of that, you need to go see somebody. You need some help. I said, what do you mean? She goes, well, in a year, this whole sergeant major of the universe, this SEAC thing, this, you know, surrender or die, E-Tool Nation stuff, all of that’s going to be done is going to be me and you. And she said, I can’t deal or live with you anymore with all the anger you have.

John Wayne Troxell: So initially, John, I went to therapy because I wanted to appease my wife. But when I got in there at the DeLorenzo clinic in the Pentagon and saw my therapist at the time, Gina was her name, and I sat down with my initial consultation with her. And through the course of an hour, it felt like she was ripping my head open and could see what was going on in my brain. And she knew what was going on with me. And all of a sudden, I walked out of there and I felt better. And then I went back to my second session, and I felt better. And then when she told me, hey, you have chronic PTSD, you’ve probably had it since Operation Just Cause, and I think, uh, you know, um, through therapy, I think we can get you to be calmer, uh, less hyper vigilant, you know, and, uh, and doing the things that you’re doing now. So now think of this, John. Now I’ve got to walk out. I’ve just been diagnosed with PTSD, and it’s been something I’ve been in denial about. But now I got to go tell Mad Dog Mattis and Fightin’ Joe Dunford that I’m in therapy. The two hardest, arguably hardest Marines in combat since Chesty Puller. And I have to go tell them I’m in therapy for PTSD. And you know what, John? For them, it was an afterthought. General Dunford said, hey, good, I’m glad you’re doing that. You know, good for you.

John Wayne Troxell: And Mattis, you know, he says, oh, great. Now when are you going back to Yemen to tell me what’s going on with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula? It was it was an afterthought to them. It was like, okay, go do what you got to do. But we still expect you to do this. And I thought, what best, better example to fight the stigma of getting help than having the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff tell the SEAC. it’s okay you’re in therapy, but I still need you to go to these combat zones and these other areas to get us the pulse of the force. And for me after that, I’ve been in therapy now for five years, and it has made me a better husband, father, grandfather. But more importantly, especially in the corporate world, it’s made me more effective in running my own small business, but also doing business development for those organizations that I consult for. It was absolutely the best thing I did. And as my, uh, therapist said, it’s not a function that something is wrong with you. It’s just that you are having normal reactions to the abnormal stuff that you’ve been through in combat. And, you know, and we’ve got to look at that more and more as we move forward and why it’s okay to go and seek help.

John Berry: Yeah, and I think that the problem with the stigma is there’s all this head trash. And we’re telling ourselves these stories that people are going to think differently about me. But we know better in the military, in the military, the great commanders, all they see is excellence. And if you’re excellent, they don’t care. Hey, that’s great, Sergeant Major. I’m glad you’re addressing that. Now let’s get on with the mission, because so long as you’re a high performer, nobody cares that you’re getting counseling, that you’re getting treatment. They just want you to continue to be a high performer and continue to contribute to the mission. And that’s all you want to contribute to the mission. So we give ourselves this weird thought that that people are going to think less of us or it’s going to make us less of a person. But the one thing I’ve learned in the military is the one thing that matters is performance. And if you perform, people respect you. They don’t look down on you. And as long as you’re performing, you’re going to be part of the team. No one’s going to pull you off the team because you have PTSD. Now if you don’t get it treated and bad things start happening and you start feeling those secondary and tertiary effects, and the team feels that, yeah, it’s going to be an issue. But if you get treatment and you’re a high performer and you stay a high performer, nothing has changed. And it’s amazing that, you know, it takes a senior non-commissioned officer to set that example, to push that message, and to continue to push it, because there are still several soldiers I know and veterans who say, no, no, no, I’m worried about how this could affect my career, how it could affect my future. And my response is always, but what’s going to happen if you don’t address it?

John Wayne Troxell: That’s right. Yeah. So you know, the one thing I didn’t want, John. I didn’t want anybody feeling sorry for me. You know, I’m not a victim, and I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for me. I’m a guy that focuses on being a champion. You know, either being in the band of excellence, of doing everything right, or if there’s something wrong, championing a course of action to fix whatever’s wrong. But the one concern I had is I didn’t want anybody feeling sorry for me, and I didn’t want anybody to give me pity or think anything differently. And when Madison Dunford approached it that way, it told me I was doing exactly what I should be doing. And now, you know so much of what I do now because I’m on the road, you know as much now as I was as the SEAC. And I have a lot of pressure, you know, being a small business owner and sponsoring veteran athletes and, and consulting for nine different businesses every day. My physical, mental and emotional well-being are the first and thing that I take care of every morning. Mindfulness is something that I’m big into now. Um, I focus a lot on yoga and stretching. I think of this an old Airborne Ranger, First Sergeant Troxell, he came in and said, we’re going to do yoga today. What are you talking about? We don’t do yoga here, right? We’re going to go on a ten mile run or a 20 mile foot march, all right. Or we’re going to, you know, do a stress shoot or whatever. And, uh, now it’s exactly what I focus on before I do anything else, I get up in the morning and I take care of myself physically, mentally and emotionally because if I didn’t do that, then somewhere along the line in this post military corporate world, those demons would catch up to me and it would affect what I’m trying to do now with business, with my family and my friends so that I am big on it.

John Berry: So let me take you now to we’ve just done the Change of Responsibility ceremony. You’re out of the military and tell us about that transition into building PME hard and E-Tool Nation. You’ve got two companies now. You consult with other companies. You work with brands. But tell us how that transition went because you’re on top of the world and now you got to come back to earth and start businesses. So tell us about that.

John Wayne Troxell: So, you know, John, it was quite easy for me because when I was selected as a SEAC, I had 34 years in and I had to get a waiver to go beyond 35, because the Army standard for NCOs is, you know, you can only stay 35 years. And so when the extension came to me from, you know, Department of the Army, it said your request for extension is approved, your retirement date is now 2020, but be advised no other extension will be authorized. This is your terminal assignment. It said so that’s that was the congratulations I got from the Department. But that sent a message to me. I know in four years that I’m done. I can’t get promoted anymore. I can’t do anything else. So that kind of set my mindset that for four years I am going to be the best that I can be to the point that ten days before my retirement ceremony, I was in Afghanistan with General Milley and President Trump, and even Trump said, what the f are you doing here? You’re retiring in ten days. But that’s that selfless service thing that we all live by, John. But I knew, uh, as I was getting down towards the end that I wanted to do something to give back, uh, to and pay it forward to the troops, support fellow veterans. And then I wanted to take a run at building something post-military. And the one thing I focused on, John, was I was not going to be lost in my museum, meaning I was not going to look back and say, man, I was the SEAC at one time, man I was the former First Corps sergeant major, I was a Stryker Brigade sergeant major and all this stuff. I was like, no, I’m looking forward.

John Wayne Troxell: I am proud of my 38 year career, and I am going to use the knowledge, skills, attributes and experience that I’ve gained from 38 years to help me post military, but I’m not going to look back. And so when CZ Colon-Lopez took over for me at my retirement ceremony, I said, here’s my cell phone number, I don’t want your cell phone number. And he said, why not? He said, we’re friends and everything. I said, dude, because if you want my help, you call me. I’m not going to be calling you to say, hey, how’s things going or anything? I’m not the SEAC as of tomorrow. And I woke up the next day, and I wrote in my little journal, and I put a post on social media. I said I learned three things this morning after my retirement ceremony. I said three things this morning: the sun came up, we have the greatest military in the world, and number three, I’m not in it. So let’s move forward and get after this. So I started my consulting company, and the minute I went, uh, you know, I hit my retirement date, I signed five contracts to consult, and then I wanted to do something with the E-Tool Nation thing, because, John, I’ve signed almost 6,000 entrenching tools in the last five years, and I’m still signing them now.

John Wayne Troxell: And so we turned the E-Tool Nation into a group of like-minded people that are about lethality, readiness, fitness, but are striving for excellence in everything they do. But I also turned it into my nonprofit so I could support people like The Lighthouse for the Blind, you know, or, you know, a Soldier’s Child Foundation that is all about Gold Star children. And then I even came up with an idea, there are so many active duty and veteran athletes that are trying to get after their craft, whether that’s powerlifting, bodybuilding, mixed martial arts, boxing, whatever. And I said, let me turn the E-Tool Nation into a little sponsorship thing. And so I’ve got three athletes now that I sponsor; one mixed martial artist, one female world record powerlifter, and a bodybuilder. And they’re all former enlisted people that served and, uh, they’re veterans. And the one guy, my bodybuilder was a law enforcement officer, too. And our female powerlifter, she got out of the army after she retired and became a military spouse and everything. So, uh, I sponsor them, and I help them out to reach their athletic goals. And as a matter of fact, our MMA fighter, “Hitman,” just fought here in Shelton at the casino, uh, last weekend and Sandra and I were cageside watching him choke out this other guy, and he was doing it with E-Tool Nation and PME hard on his shorts, and it was in his walkout gear and everything.

John Wayne Troxell: So that’s kind of the direction I wanted to go with this and you brought this up earlier. You know, the character of conflict will continue to evolve, and we’ve got hypersonic weapons, you know, cyberspace, space as a warfighting domain. But the one thing that will transcend all of that is that, you know, it’s brutal and unforgiving and that it is a will of one force against the other. And as we we’re seeing this in Ukraine, we’re seeing it in Israel and things like that and Gaza. And so we can’t forget the necessary lethality, readiness, fitness and professional or personal, excuse me, physical, mental and emotional hardness that is needed out of our men and women, uh, to be ready to fight and win. But also in our veterans that they have that necessary PME hard about them to get after those demons that they’re dealing with, to get after things that they want to do post military and not be lost in their museum. Push forward and what I want to do. So that’s kind of where I went with that, you know? And uh, and it’s, I’m truly blessed, and things are going well for me and my family, uh, post-military life.

John Berry: Yeah, it looks amazing. And the first time I saw this, like PME hard and you know, knowing that army acronyms oh professional military education hard and no, no. But Physical Mental Emotional okay. Now we are at the part of the show where we talk about the After Action Review, the three best examples of leadership you saw, and the three worst examples of leadership that you experienced. Now, before we get there, though.

John Wayne Troxell: Are you talking about people or leadership styles?

John Berry: You can give either one. You’re the leader here, you’re the experienced, you’re the senior non-com you tell me. But I want to start off with this. Was that what I really enjoyed learning about you was that you have confronted the most crucial future problem for our leaders, which is that our hardest leaders who enforce tough standards, who demand nothing but excellence, are now considered toxic in our culture that somehow accountability is wrong, that somehow commitment is wrong, that somehow dedication to our team members is wrong. And as you know, you don’t love a soldier by coddling them. We love our soldiers by challenging them. And so as we get to these battlefield leaders like John Wayne Troxell, who has done more for, well, quite frankly, given back more than probably most of us could ever dream of. Uh, you know, someone has a low performer can come out and say, well, he’s a toxic leader. And it’s mind-blowing. But this is the world we live in now. And so as you go through those 38 years of military experience and beyond in the civilian world, your insight into this is gold. And so I am really excited to hear the three examples of great leadership you’ve seen. And then we’ll go to the three bad ones.

John Wayne Troxell: The three examples are, first of all, leaders who are leaders of presence. You know what I mean by that is not just, you know, being at the right place at the right time, but that when they show up, they are brimming with positivity and enthusiasm, and the troops get fired up when they come around, you know, and they know they’re going to hear a message that will resonate with them and that will fire them up. And they know that, uh, you know, that leader has focused more on faith over fear, and there’s more certainty in their, you know, actions than there is doubt. And the troops are attracted to that. Um, and I will tell you, a leader of presence for me was, uh, my key mentor, Roger Blackwood, uh, retired command sergeant major, former first Armored Division CSM. He was my first sergeant in the 82nd and, uh, my division sergeant major during the surge in Iraq. And I’ve seen this guy as a first sergeant pull up, you know, offloading ammunition and opening it up with a leatherman and rip the skin off his knuckles down to the tendon. And he looks at me and says, John, what do you think of that man? And instead of stopping and going to see the medics, he’s wiping blood off on his uniform and he’s steadily handing out ammunition. He is more focused on the mission. I seen this guy on a jump break, his ankle on the jump, and he cinched his jump boot or his, uh, combat boot up tighter and he never left.

John Wayne Troxell: He refused to be that. He was a leader of presence. Everything about him was that leader of presence. The second one. And really the example is performance by a leader. And, you know, it’s a leader leading by their example, you know, and a leader that leads with performance, has vision and purpose in everything they do. And they move a little bit faster than other folks because of how they have conditioned themselves. They are, um, you know, processing information a little bit faster. And because of their experience and what they’ve done in the past, they can see two and three steps down the road. It’s like a chess match, you know. And that was Joe Dunford. I mean, Joe Dunford, he every year he and I did the Marine Corps Marathon, the Army ten miler together. We did every service’s fitness test. And he was a guy that was transparent and everything he did, and he was a leader of example, even as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And then the last one is a leader of persistence and persistence. Get after what we talked about earlier, balancing the humanity of leading men and women, you know, the empathy and compassion along with the necessary discipline, accountability and efficiency that gets after productivity in our war fighting missions. Too many times, and you just described it, if you if empathy and compassion ain’t weighing down discipline and accountability, then you’re toxic. You know, you know, a slight inflection of your voice, hey, there’s something wrong with you. There’s not something wrong with me even though I’m chewed up from the floor up, you know, and everything.

John Wayne Troxell: And we can’t forget that if we continue on this road with this imbalance like that, that, uh, it will rear itself in combat on the worst day of a service member’s life because when you focus more on that than the discipline and accountability, it creates a sense of entitlement in men and women that if they are 60 percenters and they shoot for the minimum standard, that they are in the band of excellence, and the enemy always gets a vote, as you know, John, and it will rear its ugly head. And it has in the past in combat, where we’ve suffered unnecessary casualties because we didn’t have that necessary discipline and accountability to our mission. And for that, probably the best that I’ve ever seen for me in doing that was from way back when I was a young, uh, E-5 in Germany, and my platoon sergeant at the time was a guy named, uh, Warren Hyman. And, uh, this was in the 80s. Okay. When we were coming out of the Vietnam era, there were still some issues. I mean, serious issues with racism and the ranks and everything. And this guy was an African American guy, and he was just he knew how to balance with me and the other folks in our platoon how to treat us like human beings. But more importantly, if you don’t have your shit together, then I’m going to smoke your ass, you know? And it caused us to love him more because we knew we had this healthy fear about us.

John Wayne Troxell: That if we aren’t where he expects us to be, that he is going to rip into us, and it was the healthiest environment I had ever served in. And this was in, you know, the in the in the 1984 through 87 when I had this sergeant first class, this phenomenal leader. And so those are the three examples. Now, the bad leaders, I won’t mention any names because I could give you a litany of names here. But to go on those three things, a leader of presence, I see too many leaders that lead by do as I say and not as I do, okay? And they will do something completely counter to what they expect the troops to do, and not as dangerous or not as stressful. And the troops will see it, and they expect that the troops will not pick up on that. So that’s the one example. And then the performance, expecting something out of the men and women that you lead that you aren’t willing to do yourself. And I’ll give you the best example here real quick. When I was a brigade CSM during the surge in Iraq, I had some attached battalions to me, and I went out about seven months in deployment to this battalion that we had just had been task organized to us. They had been in country about six months, but they had been task organized to us.

John Wayne Troxell: And I went to visit the battalion sergeant major at his combat outpost. And I walked in there, and this guy’s body armor was clean. I mean, it was like, damn, this dude’s been in country six months. And he had creases in his sleeves of his uniform and in his trousers. And he was surprisingly, John, you know the deal. You spend so much time wearing your kit all the damn time, your shit gets dirty and everything. And, uh, I asked this guy, I said, how are you so clean and everything? He said, well, I’ve been in the Army 30 years. I’m retiring when I get back, it’s not worth it for me to go out of the wire. And I said, but an 18 year old kid that doesn’t have a choice. He’s going out of the wire every day. His life means less than yours does. I said you’d live for 50 years. Okay, where are you as the example, going out and leading your men and women? So those that refuse to lead through your example. And I, in some cases, I call them cowards. And I write about one coward specifically in the book. And then the last one is the people that virtue signal to the troops, are the worst kind of leaders. When they are looking to be popular, they are worried about if I say the wrong thing, all of a sudden, the IG is going to be on me or something like that.

John Wayne Troxell: And so they will virtue signal and they will focus on the empathy and compassion and let the discipline and accountability lag, okay. And then when things don’t go right, they will try to blame others, you know, for what’s going on when it’s their fault. One of the things I tell, uh, I talk to company grade officers and senior NCOs a lot. And one thing I tell them, if you’re one of those leaders that is walking around blaming the big bad army for what’s wrong with, you know, you serving right now and in the force. I got news for you. You are the big bad army. You have to make it make sense, and you have to champion ways to fix any challenges you have down there, or if it’s too risky for you to fix, send it up your chain to get assistance and everything. But don’t say, well, hey, I hear you that things are jacked up, but the Army’s making us do this and everything. No, you own it as an officer and an NCO, especially a senior NCO serving in the Army. So those are the three good and bad that I would have. And in the end, John, if people just balance the empathy, the humanity with what it means been effective in combat, they are going to have a great organization, they’re going to have a cohesive team, and they will have self-discipline in their ranks. Not just willing obedience, but people that will take ownership.

John Berry: Well, thank you so much, Sergeant Major. And the last point, that’s the true gold because it’s ten times worse in the civilian world. You know, I can remember being in meetings as a lieutenant and then as a as a company commander. And you know what? We would fight it out in the meetings. The meetings got bloody. But when we left that meeting, we were one team. And we didn’t blame Big Army. We didn’t blame the commander. In fact, we might not like the mission, but we’d go back to the team and say, guess what, guys? We got a great mission. This is a great opportunity because that was our responsibility as leaders to uphold the organization, and the organization entrusted us to lead, and we owe the organization the support. And if we disagree with the organization, then we take that up the chain. We never take that down the chain. And that example year has really hit home with me. I’m sure it’s hitting home with a lot of our business owners who are veterans who are listening to this. But I want to end this, uh, by letting soldiers, Veterans, others listening to this how they can get a hold of you it to learn more about E-Tool Nation or PME Hard.

John Wayne Troxell: So they can go to my website to learn more about what I do. Um, you know I sell E-Tool Nation and PME Hard apparel, I sell my books on there, but more importantly, they can learn about my leader development program. I have a teammate, a retired Air Force command chief, uh, former JTAC. He and I started a leader development company called lead LE9D. They can learn more about what I’m doing there to give back and everything. They can learn about my veteran athletes and everything. So They can also go to our Facebook page E-tool nation uh and follow there. And I’m also on all social media Facebook, Instagram, X, and LinkedIn. Now make sure you get the right one. The guy with the blue check mark. That’s me. There’s plenty of fake ones out there okay, so make sure you look for that blue check mark. If it doesn’t have a blue check mark, then it’s not the real John Wayne Troxell.

John Berry: Great. Thank you so much for sharing it. And we’ll have more information and links in the show notes. But I want to thank you for everything that you have done for our soldiers for the past, present and future. Thank you so much again. SEAC three Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell, a leader that gave for over 38 years and continues to give back. Thank you, Sergeant Major.

John Wayne Troxell: Thank you John. Boom.

John Berry: Thank you for joining us today on Veteran Led, where we pursue our mission of promoting veteran leadership in business, strengthening the veteran community, and getting veterans all of the benefits that they earned. If you know a leader who should be on the Veteran Led podcast, report to our online community by searching @VeteranLed on your favorite social channels and posting in the comments, we want to hear how your military challenges prepared you to lead your industry or community, and we will let the world know. And of course, hit subscribe and join me next time on Veteran Led.

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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