There are men and women who join the Army and know being a Soldier is for them. There are other Soldiers who join but aren't quite sure if they will be "lifers," as the military community calls retirees.
I Corps Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell was one of those unsure Soldiers, but soon enough he would know.
After joining the Army in 1982, Troxell spent his first year at Fort Bliss, Texas, where he met his wife, Sandra. Soon he received orders to report to Germany. Despite his reservations, Troxell did well in Germany, earning 3rd Armored Division's Soldier of the Year title and an induction into the Sgt. Morales Club. Eventually, homesickness made him re-evaluate life as a Soldier.
"I told my wife that I wanted to get out, and when she asked ‘where will we go?' I told her I wanted to go back home to Davenport, Iowa," he said. "That made her upset and she ended up ignoring me for three days. That's when I had to do some soul searching."
Troxell said he spent those three days thinking about what to do, and he came up with a solution - and stipulations. He would re-enlist only if he could go to the 82nd Airborne Division and be a paratrooper. He got what he wanted and, after arriving, he said he knew the Army was his calling. With that realization came reality. He had a family to support.
"You get promoted; you get more money, the better you can take care of your family. I needed to be the best Soldier I could be so I could do that," he said.
Many Soldiers get stuck in the mindset to only do the minimum; they become "middle of the road" Soldiers and that is the problem, he said. That was never a choice for Troxell, because the 82nd Airborne Div. didn't allow middle-of-the-road Soldiers in its ranks.
"My assignment at the 82nd was very influential in making me the kind of Soldier I became. You were expected to give 100 percent, all the time. There was no 70 percent. If you weren't continually getting better, continually excelling - you were out," he said. Although being a paratrooper helped define the type of career Troxell would have, he said his most memorable assignment was being the command sergeant major of a Stryker brigade combat team that deployed to Iraq from Fort Lewis, the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
"With the Stryker (brigade), I saw how we have revolutionized as an Army," he said. "It was the best assignment I ever had ... aside from this one, of course."
The opportunity to help lead I Corps and serve as the commanding general's senior enlisted adviser brought him back to JBLM, and he eagerly accepted it. Working as the senior enlisted member at Army Accessions Command, Troxell was itching to get back into the fight. Upon hearing I Corps was deploying to Afghanistan, he told his commander he wanted to go, as long as they approved. They did and his name was submitted, along with four other command sergeants major, for the coveted position.
On Jan. 28, Troxell received a call from Lt. Gen. Mike Scaparrotti, I Corps CG, notifying him of his selection for the position.
"I was in a parking garage at the time ... and I know you could hear me throughout the entire garage - yelling, screaming, doing back flips," Troxell joked. "Then he told me two things. First was congratulations, and second was ‘pack your stuff, you're going to Afghanistan in a week."
The trip to Afghanistan was the first of many for Troxell, as he began evaluating the operating and living conditions he and his Soldiers will see in the upcoming summer months as they deploy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Although the mission might be different because of the NATO environment, Troxell believes the corps is prepared.
"We are a trained and ready corps headquarters, and we will be providing direction and resources to regional commands so they are able to accomplish their missions," he said.
His deployment as I Corps' command sergeant major will be yet another chapter in the military life Troxell has lived for nearly three decades.
But in the meantime, Troxell will be focused on the professional development of Soldiers and Airmen on JBLM, as well as continuing to improve the quality of life for servicemembers and their families. This will be a collaborative effort with his rear detachment replacement, Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Verbeke.
"We are going to continue to do great things for Soldiers, Airmen and families here."
Fundamentals, having fun
It's been nearly three years since Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell has been in the Northwest, and since his return this year he has noticed some big changes - most recognizable is the change to JBLM.
But there are other things he has seen as well. With positive changes in the quality of life, including better housing facilities, he said things on JBLM are heading in the right direction.
Troxell was stationed here as the command sergeant major for 4th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div., and has returned as the I Corps command sergeant major. In the short time he has before taking the I Corps Headquarters downrange, Troxell has no plans to stop making improvements for the Soldiers, Airmen and family members on JBLM.
For Troxell, focusing on the force means getting back to the fundamentals that he said make the Army great.
"We need to develop (more) hardened Soldiers ... and build (more) resiliency," Troxell said.
To aid the return to the basics while continuing to develop Soldiers, Troxell relies heavily on the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness model. The model is designed to strengthen the spiritual, emotional, physical, social and family dimensions of all Soldiers and their families.
Emphasizing the need to strengthen troops both physically and mentally allows for the return to military standards, positioning units and Soldiers with the opportunity to grow and succeed to meet the current and future demands on our forces, Troxell said. This also applies to family members.
"We need to have hardened families as well," he said. "They know our lives are at risk every time we go out. Some (families) understand that, but some are in denial and don't want to accept it."
If Soldiers can be resilient, they are able to be more efficient and combat effective. If families are resilient, they are able to be the solid rock for Soldiers to lean on for support, he said.
While Troxell is building resiliency in his Soldiers downrange, he is handing the reins to Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Verbeke, the former 593rd Sustainment Brigade command sergeant major who will be serving as the I Corps command sergeant major.
Verbeke believes there are three components that help build resiliency: structure, education and good leadership.
Since daily physical training and work standards allow Soldiers to know what to expect, life can be a little more predictable and help prepare them to handle daily stressors, Verbeke said. Education is not just about military schools and colleges, but knowing when and where to seek help if they need it. Lastly, Verbeke put great emphasis on senior noncommissioned officers and junior officers.
"These leaders are like middle level managers. They have to be more aware of their Soldiers and what they are doing. They need to plan for the Soldiers, which goes back to providing that structure and education," Verbeke said.
Even though Troxell and Verbeke agree that Soldiers need to continue to work on building resiliency, getting back to basic Soldier fundamentals and continuing to stay disciplined, they encourage Soldiers to have fun while doing it.
"Leaders and Soldiers forget what it means to have fun," Troxell said. "We're in a tragic business. We continue to honor the fallen and take care of their families, but would they (the fallen Soldiers) want us to just sit around and be down? Heck no!"
Verbeke believes team building is a great way leaders can have fun with their Soldiers, but they have to set the conditions no matter what level of leadership they are in.
"When you enjoy the people you're with and you enjoy the things you're doing, then you're going to have fun. If you have leaders with a good plan, with good conditions, Soldiers will walk away having fun," Verbeke said.
Despite Troxell and a large element of the corps headquarters deploying, Verbeke believes good things will continue to come about for JBLM Soldiers, Airmen and families.
"This time we have a luxury," Verbeke said, "All the brigades are here, unlike the last time I Corps deployed, so we have a large pool of outstanding people to grab from if we ever need to make something happen."