KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Burch, the Army National Guard command sergeant major, made a special stop here Oct. 20 to visit with Soldiers and discuss the higher standard expected of them as troops draw down from theater.
A group of National Guard Soldiers collected on the back deck of the 550th Signal Company headquarters, all of whom were from different units and different parts of the United States, and all here for different missions, but were united for that brief moment by the words that were spoken by one of their leaders.
They seemed impressed by the fact that their top noncommissioned officer cared so much about his Soldiers, and the upcoming changes to be implemented, that he came to deliver the message and field questions in person.
"I really liked that," Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Bates, a member of the 230th Signal Company said. "That's 'The Guard' way. We're more of a family oriented, tight-knit group from hometowns. It felt like a family setting."
"Due to the [operational tempo] over the past 10 years, complacency with the standards has slowly crept in because we had to fill positions," Burch said with candor and honesty as he looked into the eyes of each Soldier. "Now that our troops are drawing down in Iraq and Afghanistan, we don't have the need for such a large force."
Cuts will be made and restrictions for height and weight will be tightened up, ensuring the Soldiers are fit to fight when their county and their communities call on them to serve, he said.
"He told us how it was, and he didn't sugarcoat anything," Bates said. "If you can't pass a [physical training] test you will be put out of the Army. I think it's great. I think it will make the military more efficient with less people."
"As a young NCO it was important to me that we're getting rid of complacent leadership in the National Guard," said Army Staff Sgt. Ricky Lutz, the public affairs officer with the 580th Signal Company at Bagram Airfield. "It gives me hope and forward momentum. It gives me a reason to work harder."
After Burch's informative speech covering upcoming changes in funding, procedures and personal accountability to include promotions, Army performance fitness test standards and deployment schedules, he took questions from the Soldiers.
"What's important to you is important to me," he said as he opened up the floor to questions.
"What it meant to me is that the National Guard command sergeant major came down to tighten up our shot group," Lutz said. "We need to tighten up our weight program. We need to tighten up our PT program, and those who can't conform to those standards will be thanked for their service and then sent to the house."
After questions were answered Burch concluded his visit with a few special mementos.
"I think it's about time to give out some coins," he said as he looked around the group for Soldiers to honor with his coin.
Leaders from each of the units stood and gave names, and Burch posted those Soldiers. He asked the leaders not to tell him why their Soldiers should receive a coin because he wanted to hear the reasons from the Soldiers themselves.
Army Spc. Kimberley Espey, a member of the 230th Signal Company, lit up as she showed off the small, round, prized possession clutched in her hand.
"This is my very first coin," she said, as she looked down with a smile.
As Burch packed up to deliver his message to other Guard units here and in the surrounding areas, the Soldiers expressed their gratitude for his visit.
"It shows a lot about his character, to offer his time to make a trip out here," Bates said.