A family affair for sergeant major, private serving in Korea
January 4, 2006
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — Until recently, when he’d get home from work at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, Command Sgt. Maj. Freddie Brock was used to his wife and stepdaughters asking how his day had gone.
But move over, Command Sgt. Major Dad: Your son, Pvt. Tommy Brock, is fresh out of training, newly stationed in South Korea, and mom and his two kid sisters can’t get enough of him. He visited his family in Seoul over Christmas.
“Tommy’s ‘Big Brother,’ ” the elder Brock said Thursday. “They (stepsisters Savannah, 10, and Breannah, 8) look up to their big brother.
“It used to be, ‘Dad, how was work?’ … But they wanted Tommy. ‘How was work today? What did you do? Did you arrest anybody?’ Things children would ask. But I got thrown on the back burner that day.”
The elder Brock, 43, is the sergeant major for the 8th Military Police Brigade in Seoul. A 23-year Army veteran, he’s served in South Korea before, including a tour at Camp Humphreys from 1998 to 2000. And his father was a career noncommissioned officer whose Army service included three tours in Vietnam and one in Korea, when he too was stationed at Camp Humphreys, in 1962.
Pvt. Robert Lee Thomas Brock, 20 — they call him Tommy — joined the Army in July and went through basic training and MP training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. On Dec. 21, he began duty in South Korea with his first unit, the 557th Military Police Company at Camp Humphreys. He’s assigned to 1st Platoon.
For Tommy Brock, joining the Army’s MP Corps when your father is a longtime and senior figure in that community has its “pros and cons.” And both men are aiming to strike what the elder Brock calls a “fine balance” between their separate professional lives and their father-son bonds.
At MP school, Tommy Brock learned the hard way how important that can be.
His father was sergeant major for the 701st Military Police Battalion, which provides instructors for all soldiers going through military police training. And battalion headquarters was just 500 feet from the son’s training company.
One day during a private conversation, father asked son how a particular class had gone. Without meaning to put the drill sergeant in a bad spot, the son mentioned that the instructor’s cell phone had been plenty active during class time.
“‘If he’d stay off his cell phone or it hadn’t kept ringing so much it could have been a pretty good class,’” The father recalled his son telling him. “‘But I really couldn’t learn too much.’”
Soon, a strong reminder came down that cell phones and teaching were a bad mix.
Later, Tommy Brock recalled, the drill sergeant in question seemed to feel Pvt. Brock had done him wrong.
“I don’t want to say he took it personal, but I kind of think he did because when I called the office he kind of lit into me.”
Relations between the private and the drill sergeant were strained thereafter.
“It’s a fine balance,” said the elder Brock. After the cell phone incident, his son wrote asking if, in the future, dad could please not repeat the things his son might say. “’Cause he got smoked pretty good,” the father said.
But there were the good things too.
Now and then the sergeant major or his wife would drive discreetly by their son’s company area at the MP school, hoping he’d catch a glimpse of them.
“I would drive around the block, like any other dad. So you try to separate being the command sergeant major from being a dad. “It was more of a morale boost,” the sergeant major said. “If he could see the car, you know, let him know we were thinking about him.”
“I got to see him a lot,” Tommy Brock said, laughing. Most servicemembers in their first six months of service have minimal family contact, he said. “Maybe that one phone call a week or mail call. But for me, it was pretty much every other day.”
Then there was roll call during classes at MP school. “When we first started, all these instructors, they would do a roster before class, and they would name all the people and you would say ‘Here, sergeant.’
“And it would be weird because they would call my name, and they would pause, and they would be like, ‘You’re Sergeant Major Brock’s son.’ … I felt like it was home.”
But he hopes others will draw a clear professional distinction between himself and his father, saying, “I’m here to do my job and not be known as the sergeant major’s son.” So he was especially encouraged when his new platoon sergeant at Camp Humphreys, Sgt. 1st Class William Finch, told him he understood the difference.
“He understood I’m Private Brock, and that’s Sergeant Major Brock. When I put on my BDUs, I represent me and do my job. … On the other end, that’s Sergeant Major Brock and that’s his job … I’m his son when I take my BDUs off.
“He completely understood that,” Brock said of Finch. “He’s treating me like any other newcomer in the military, not for my last name or who my dad is. I haven’t been here three weeks, and already it’s been great.”