Command Sergeant Major Christopher Kepner, the top NCO of the 28th Infantry Division, is a big man with a big personality. On any duty weekend, 28th ID soldiers can expect to see Kepner anywhere—on a range, in a dining facility kitchen, in a motor pool, or walking into an administrative section office. He strides faster than everyone one around him. It’s usual to see him striding down a hallway with a soldier breaking into a trot to keep up. And just as usual to see this marathon runner with a Ranger Tab stop in mid stride to correct a deficiency or encourage a soldier doing a good job.
In 2010, soon after Kepner became the top in Command Sergeant Major in the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade he led an NCO Development course for all the sergeants in the brigade. He began that course saying,
“You need to do only two things to be a leader in the United States Army.
First, keep the men safe as much as possible.
Second, make sure your soldiers maintain standards in every area.
And how will you know if you are doing these two things?
You will eat lunch by yourself for the rest of your career.”
Kepner went on to tell the 28th CAB sergeants how maintaining standards saved the eyesight of one of his soldiers when he served as Command Sergeant Major of a Stryker Battalion in Iraq in 2008 and 2009. As the young soldier was being loaded into a MEDEVAC he thanked Kepner for “staying in our shit about Eye-Pro[tection].” Let’s hear a little more about how the Command Sergeant Major looks at his world:
I am a product of . . .
. . .the Army, more so than anything else. I owe the Army a lot. I graduated high school when I was seventeen. I was living at home. I had a Gremlin. I was a cook at the IHOP. The only thing I cared about when I got out of high school was, whether I could make enough money to pay for the insurance on my Gremlin, and where was the next party. And, one day on the way home I thought, “Hell, I’ll join the Army.” I had no goals and I had no direction at seventeen. So, I really, I really, I think, owe the military for who I am and where I am at today for instilling that discipline.
Relaxation is . . . .
. . .Sitting on my deck, looking out over the mountains, sipping a Tullamore Dew (12-year-old Irish whiskey, ed.), and smoking a good cigar.
There’s value in . . .
. . .taking stock in your life and understanding where you’re at and using that to determine where you want to be.
You can have the best idea . . .
. . .But, it doesn’t mean squat if you can’t, execute it. The same way with ideas. There are big-idea guys that couldn’t lead a squad across the street.
My home is. . .
. . .my sanctuary. It’s very isolated. I have fourteen acres at the bottom of a mountain. I can be or do whoever I want to be there and the outside world is very secluded from that, and I need that.
There’s drama . . .
Everywhere! Oh, lord! There is drama everywhere. Everywhere you have people who interact you have drama. So, we all have to learn how to live within it and work within it. To accomplish your goals, you’ve got to be able to manage drama. If you say, “I hate drama,” and ignore drama then you’re, you’re not going to be able to do anything. If somebody says to me, “Oh, I can’t stand the drama.” I say, suck it up and do what you need to.
War is. . .
Here’s what I will say about war. I believe that as Army volunteers, we have given up our right to decide which wars are correct and which wars are incorrect. So, so for me to say, make a statement like, “War is,” does not lead to “This war is right,” or “This war is wrong.” As volunteer members of the service we don’t have that right. We’ve given that up that right. So, so that being said I would say that war is necessary but it is certainly also horrible.
Do you get “whiplash” switching from military to civilian life?
The short answer is No. I’ve been in the military since I was seventeen. Came on active duty when I was seventeen. Spent the first seven years of my adult life on active duty so I was certainly influenced by military people, growing up in that environment. That carried over into my civilian job as an operations manger for Schnieder Trucking. So, I would say I do not have whiplash but I do have to step it down a little bit for the civilians.
But civilian or military, I am I’m pretty much always that focused and intense, and I’m up front with my direct reports at work. Not too much gray area there. As a matter of fact, I had to have a conversation, a performance conversation the other, the other day with one of my direct reports and the conversation was, “You’re not getting it done. We’re not achieving excellence. And, because we’re not achieving excellence your work, your work-from-home one day a week has just been revoked.” So, No. I don’t have a great change.
How do soldiers see you. . .
When we deployed, I was on patrol walking with one of the platoons. During the patrol, the Platoon Sergeant said, “You know, Sergeant Major, my soldiers call you The Velociraptor.” They think I just swoop in from the sky to jump in their . . . [correct them].
“They dare each other to walk past you with some kind of uniform or standards violation,” he said, “and they all talk [deleted] about it, who will really do it.”
And, I think that sums up the way people see me.