Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Anthony "Tony" Grinston, a 1986 Walker High School graduate, said Monday afternoon that the Army is in good hands with the next generation, saying the Army is "more educated in our enlisted than most armies are in their commissioned officers."
Grinston, who was sworn in three months ago as the sergeant major over the entire U.S. Army, has been honored with receptions and events for several days in his hometown to mark the event, and served as the grand marshal of the Jasper Veterans Day Parade on Monday. He was also honored at a luncheon at the Jasper Civic Center that day.
A brief press conference was held after Monday's luncheon and featured questions from ABC 33/40 and the Daily Mountain Eagle.
Grinston, who is now based in Washington, said he had great memories of family, friends and community as he was growing up in Jasper as a small town. He noted everything seemed to be community pleasing in nature, where everyone took care of everyone else.
"It was like when you did something, (people would say,) 'You're Mary's boy. You had better stop doing that.' But that is what shaped me to what I am today," he said. "It's this community. My Mom (was) a single parent, a phenomenal person has really turned out three very disciplined kids.
"But it wasn't just her. It was the entire community. It was the church, the police department. I still remember taking cookies to the police department every Christmas. It was the whole community and to grow up in that was really great."
He also recalled wondering around in the woods near the streams, "just to be a kid" in the outdoors.
"Maybe it was destiny to go into the military, because I really liked being outside," Grinston said.
Grinston said he had chances in the Army to go around the world over 32 years, to places like Paris, Barcelona, Munich, London, Tokyo and Seoul.
"But the real reason I stayed was for the people," including a number of "phenomenal" leaders, he said.
Asked what it was like to be in his hometown on Veterans Day, Grinston said it meant a lot to him.
"I don't think I've ever been back for 32 years on Veterans Day," he said. "This is my first one as a veteran. To see the veterans today, it was a great moment. We actually stopped the vehicle (during the parade). There was a World War II veteran; it was his birthday and he was 93." A woman was holding a sign alerting Grinston to the occasion.
"I jumped out and just wanted to shake his hand, because I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them," Grinston said.
He noted preceding generations of veterans are like forefathers to current military. When he came into the military in 1987, the Vietnam veterans groomed him. Now, the new recruits look to the Iraqi veterans for stories and guidance.
Grinston said the reception received now for veterans is because of the Vietnam veterans, as they were not received well at all after that war. He said he is not proud of that fact, but the way veterans of Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq was a direct result of Vietnam, as people eventually said that would never happen again in the nation.
"They came out in waves and made sure the American people stood up for their military. That has resonated from Desert Shield to now, that as a nation we have done much better for our services," he said.
Noting the number of young people who came out for Monday's parade, he said he always tells people the military is in good hands with the next generation.
"They are extremely smart. They are talented, and they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. As I am closer to the end of my career than I am to the beginning, I can say the Army is in good hands," he said.
Grinston said many people don't understand that "we have the greatest Army in the world. We have phenomenal officers. What separates our army from every other army in the world is our non-commissioned officers. Every officer in the army will tell you that. Every NCO tells you that. We are more educated in our enlisted than most armies are in their commissioned officers."
He said everyone who graduates from the sergeant majors academy will earn a four-year degree. Fifteen years ago when he attended the academy, 246 had a bachelor's degree, 56 had a master's degree and three Ph.D.'s graduated.
"That is in our enlisted corp, not our officers. Most countries just don't have that in their officer corp," he said.
He said of his recent promotion he is over the entire Army, and that there is only one sergeant major of the Army. When the active Reserve and National Guard are added to the totals, he is in charge of over 1 million men. He notes he visits National Guard and Army Reserves, as well as all components of the Army.
Asked how much the honor means to him, Grinston said, "It is hard to imagine how humbling that is. Every day you wake up and are the face of the enlisted and the whole Army. To work with the Secretary of the Army, it is an honor. It is a privilege.
"I actually like to tell everybody, I am your sergeant major of the Army. I am not the sergeant major of the Army. I am your sergeant major of the Army." Pointing to the reporters, he said, "I am actually yours, too. "As I said a few minutes ago, I serve the people of the United States."
He said he doesn't just live the Army values for the Army but for the American people, which he doesn't take lightly, as he said the American public is worth the effort.