COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Eugene Patton Jr. grew up in the shadow of a man whose Army career he always admired but has ultimately surpassed.
Patton recently pinned on the diamond as the first sergeant of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, exceeding his dad's rank of sergeant first class when he retired from the Army in 1976.
Patton credits his father for his service and success.
"It was good to surpass what my dad did finally," said Patton. "On the day of my promotion ceremony, he asked me what it feels like to have a sergeant first class call a first sergeant' son.' He said he always believed in me and that he knew it was only a matter of time before I reached this level."
Patton earned the nickname "Chip" from his family, who saw him as a "chip off the old block" in his father's image. He was promoted during a ceremony at 100th Brigade headquarters in October. His dad, who relies on a walker to get around, was driven by a family friend from his home in Tennessee for the occasion.
"I was proud to have him there and represent our family in that way," Chip said. "He wasn't able to make it to my promotion to sergeant first class, so that was special to have him here."
The first sergeant is a senior non-commissioned officer in the Army. First sergeants serve in the same pay grade as master sergeants but are entrusted to lead as the most technically and tactically competent NCO at the company level. The first sergeant is often known affectionately as "Top" and is the ultimate enforcer of standards and discipline as well as the final authority on all aspects of Soldiering.
In 1957, Patton's father enlisted in the Michigan Army National Guard, where he served for more than 20 years as a tanker. Chip was only a small boy when his dad retired but cited the frequent reunions and friendships he shared with fellow Soldiers as his inspiration to join the Army.
"We were always friends with the Guard Soldiers he served with," Chip recalled. "It wasn't until I was 28 years old and he sent me a picture of him standing with his section sergeant next to a tank. I thought to myself, 'I'm 28. If I am ever going to (enlist), I better do it now.'"
He enlisted in the Colorado Army National Guard in 2003, wanting to follow in his father's footsteps as a tanker. The Colorado Guard, however, did not have a tank unit. So, he joined the 2nd Battalion, 157th Field Artillery.
"I saw field artillery as the closest thing to being a tanker," Chip said.
He has served in the 5th Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, 117th Space Battalion, 86th Brigade Combat Team and the 100th Missile Defense Brigade. He also excels outside of his unit and duty position, serving in the Veterans of Foreign Wars Association, National Guard Association, Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States, Association of the U.S. Army, and the American Legion.
Chip is the President of the Pikes Peak Chapter of the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club. He has been named the Colorado Army National Guard Outstanding Soldier of the Year four times for winning the grueling Best Warrior Competition, which tests Soldiers on their fitness, weapons competence, and knowledge of Army doctrine.
He is close to completing his Master of Science in Criminal Justice and consistently finishes at or near the top of his class in Army and NCO education courses.
"I like to challenge myself," he said. "It takes discipline. It's not like I have a photographic memory, but I can memorize things with enough repetition. It doesn't come naturally; it takes time and effort and focus."
Chip said his favorite line from the Creed of the Noncommissioned Officer is, "I will communicate consistently with my Soldiers and never leave them uninformed." He said his goal is to retire as a command sergeant major.
It is a future his dad also envisions for him.
"It was a good feeling to see him get promoted," said Patton Sr. "I'm proud of him. I'd like to see him as a sergeant major in a couple of years."