January 10 interview with U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major Alexander Aguilastratt, Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo) senior enlisted leader
How would you describe the state of JTF-Bravo today?
U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major Alexander Aguilastratt, Joint Task Force Bravo: I would say, in one word: relevant. JTF-Bravo has been around for a long time, but at one point, we were stuck in “what used to be.” Like every noncommissioned officer (NCO), you create your senior enlisted leader initiatives to support your commander’s intent. It’s incredibly important to take care of our joint operations area, but we have also expanded into South America in areas that are important to the combatant commander like NCO development.
How important is a historical and cultural perspective for members of JTF-Bravo, and how does it inform your decision-making model?
Command Sgt. Maj. Aguilastratt: The historical perspective has a lot to do with cultural awareness. We need to adapt cultural awareness to our military needs. It is not only the language capabilities, but I am also going to steal our combatant commander’s narrative, which is that we are all Americans — we have shared values, we live on the same continent.
We have an advantage that our adversaries don’t have. They’re invaders here, and they’re trying to inject a slate of values that we do not share, that are not conducive to the values of this hemisphere. We take our individuality — we take our strengths and we take our partner nations’ strengths — and we know now what is important for them and important for us, and we work on that. We celebrate our common goals and our common objectives and our values, and we also celebrate our differences — and that is OK.
How do you connect junior enlisted members to strategic impacts?
Command Sgt. Maj. Aguilastratt: Messaging. One way of connecting them is the development of the NCO corps. Let me tell you one of my proudest moments. We were invited to the South American Defense Conference last year , and I was invited to speak in front of the South American chairmen and their senior enlisted leaders, and I really didn’t say anything other than showcase the great work that our enlisted men and women do here: how a tech sergeant or a master sergeant has responsibility for the only C-5 capable runway in the hemisphere.
How our crew chiefs for the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment [1-228th AR] and our first sergeants and our sergeants keep our helicopters flying over terrain that strongly resembles the INDOPACOM [Indo-Pacific Command] region. How our [Army forces] battalion keeps everything rolling, from force protection to maintenance to everything, with three components. That works at the NCO level and every enlisted member has a voice. To us, it’s day-to-day, but when you go outside the scope of your own armed forces and you hear the comments from the partner nations, you know how special the NCO corps is.
Another great moment was when we were invited by ARSOUTH [U.S. Army South] — and we were extremely grateful for this — to augment their staff on the planning of Southern Vanguard in Chile. We could have sent planners, and it would have been entirely fine, but we decided to send two sergeants major. Those guys, and their experience in combat and the national training centers, shaped that exercise. Our Chilean counterparts went out of their way to bring all their enlisted to the base to hear what we had to say.
I think that is the right approach to NCO development in the hemisphere, to educate the officer corps on how important our NCOs are. One of the key phrases was from Command Sergeant Major [Bryan] Zickefoose, who directed attention to why an NCO corps is important in Latin America. The quote was: “A 21st-century nation that wants to win wars cannot afford not to have an NCO corps.” The constant messaging to our men and women about how important they are and what they are doing — that they are that last tactical mile protecting the homeland — increases pride, increases morale, increases discipline, which is extremely important, and drives across this sense of purpose that every professional soldier, sailor, airman or marine needs to function.
What is the value of developing leaders, and how does that help build our team?
Command Sgt. Maj. Aguilastratt: The commander has enabled me to develop our NCOs. We have to hold NCOs responsible for being at the point of friction — the critical point. At JTF-Bravo now we have NCOs working day-to-day operations and planning at the operational and strategic level. For example, our knowledge management system was nonexistent about 60 days ago. Now, an Air Force NCO is in charge of it. By her own initiative, she took it upon herself, and now we have a knowledge management page — something that will perpetuate the commander’s intent. Our crew chiefs are flying missions that are inherently dangerous: from planning to execution to recovery to after-actions.
The 1-228th AR is not a regular aviation unit — it does not have a recovery element, so they have to do everything themselves. When they had to have a precautionary landing in the middle of the jungle in Costa Rica, they recovered themselves. They operate over rough terrain, over water, doing inherently dangerous missions. Our medics are reservists, but their value to Army readiness is often underestimated. They’re in a region of the world in which they can perform surgeries in medical exercises on a regular basis. I mean, they’re seeing gunshot wounds, they’re seeing burns on all ages. And they’re performing surgeries, all in the field under austere conditions.
This is going to become increasingly important where we’re going to have to fight fights where surgical and medical capabilities have to be extremely close to the forward line of troops to save lives. These guys are training and building readiness for the joint force. When we go to the point of friction, we get those lessons-learned and we execute them again, each time better and better and better. Mistakes are acceptable — we learn from our mistakes, and we move forward. We develop our leaders, and we don’t accept patterns. But we learn as we go, and we develop as we go. So, I’m extremely happy with our people — extremely happy and extremely proud.