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SEAC discusses authentic leadership during Cal Guard Service Member of the Year Banquet

By Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Cossel
California National Guard

For many of the gathered Soldiers and Airmen of the California National Guard, the position of senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff was one they were not familiar with. They could be forgiven – only the fourth individual to hold the rank, SEAC Ramón “CZ” Colón-López took to the podium, Jan. 18, in San Diego to answer questions, educate the group on the SEAC position and detail priorities of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The initial meet and greet was just a warm-up for the day. After speaking with the assembled troops, Colón-López visited with Airmen and Soldiers during various break-out sessions.

Introduced by California’s Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Adjutant General, U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Thomas James, Colón-López began the day during an all-hands meeting. Colón-López explained the position of SEAC – the highest enlisted position in the Department of Defense.

The SEAC position was created in 2005 under then-Chairman Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace with the first SEAC being Army Command Sgt. Maj. William Gainey. As the highest enlisted position in the Department of Defense, the SEAC advises the chairman on all matters involving enlisted personnel. As Colón-López explained, it means a lot of travelling, spending time with troops wherever they are and keeping a finger on the pulse of enlisted personnel.

Following his explanation of the position, Colón-López pivoted to the importance of readiness and developing leaders from the bottom up.

“I want to echo what Gen. Baldwin (Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, California’s Adjutant General) said to you about empowering your junior troops,” Colón-López said.
“It is the responsibility of us as the NCOs and officers of today to grow, develop and mentor the leaders of tomorrow.”

Candid and disarming, Colón-López elicited laughs of confirmation from the group and quickly turned to the question and answer portion of the morning.

“I want to hear from you,” he said. “What’s on your mind, what do you want me to take back to the Chairman?”

Colón-López fielded questions about readiness, and the high numbers of suicides in the military’s ranks. On the issue of military suicides, Colón-López noted the issue was one of the highest priorities of the Chairman and that programs were currently being implemented to address the problem.

“We must remove the stigma of seeking treatment,” Colón-López stressed, “and ensure that anyone that needs help gets the help they need.”

Later that evening, Colón-López was the keynote speaker during the Service Member of the Year Banquet.

The annual SMOY banquet recognizes the top troops from the California Army Guard, Air Guard, and State Guard.

“This is probably the most people I’ve seen standing behind a podium,” he told the more than 1,000 assembled service members – the largest crowd in the event’s history.

Colón-López took the opportunity to thank the often unheralded family members in attendance.

“Your sacrifice is seldom measured or rewarded. But you always rise to task without reservation or expectation,” he said. “You truly are the strength of this nation.”

Colón-López spoke of the rich history of the California National Guard and its many accomplishments for the state and nation. He lauded all the individuals nominated and left them with an impassioned message.

“Let this experience serve as a life-long expectation of your performance and your capabilities. You are now the standard and you are not allowed to regress.”

In closing, he charged everyone to use this milestone as a defining check point in their career.
“After tonight, your mission is to help others have their moment in the future, much like you’re having here tonight.

“You need to be the change you want to see and you need to be the leader that you always wish you had. Carry on with humility and humor and never sell your soul in order to impress. Just be comfortable being you.”

Following the ceremony, Colón-López was invited to join members of the 562nd Band, Air National Guard Band of the West Coast for an impromptu jam session on the electric guitar.

For Sgt. Alec Rantanen, 149th Chemical, Biological, Radioactive and Nuclear Defense Company, 49th Military Police Brigade and winner of the California Army National Guard Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year Award, the impromptu performance was the perfect action to match SEAC’s words.

“As NCOs we must remain professional in and out of uniform,” Rantanen said. “But SEAC showed me that despite that fact, we need to be authentic and build relationships with our Soldiers, Airman, Sailors, Marines.”