Fort Bragg's outgoing top enlisted reflects on tour as base gets new command sergeant major
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: February 2, 2018
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Command Sgt. Maj. John K. Cervenka came to Fort Bragg as an infantryman more than two years ago.
His career prepared him to help fight the nation's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It had not prepared him to help lead the nation's largest military installation – part gated city and part training and deployment platform.
Before he came to Fort Bragg, Cervenka spent more than two decades as an enlisted leader among soldiers. He was a Ranger instructor, a senior drill sergeant and held numerous other leadership positions within infantry units.
But at Fort Bragg, he found himself in a very different environment.
Instead of training soldiers and maneuvering troops, Cervenka helped support what would be one of the largest cities in North Carolina.
Fort Bragg has 1,500 miles of paved roads, nine schools, three airfields and more than 52 million square feet of building space supporting a population of more than 175,000 troops, families and retirees.
"There was a learning curve," Cervenka said Thursday, after he relinquished responsibility as the Fort Bragg garrison's senior noncommissioned officer to Command Sgt. Maj. Eric R. McCray.
For 27 months, Cervenka was on the front lines of efforts to support warfighters, their families and others in the Fort Bragg community. Whether it was community events, like Breakfast with Santa, or tragic training accidents, Cervenka was there to help lead.
When Hurricane Matthew threatened dams and destroyed roads in fall 2016, Cervenka surveyed the damage and directed the next steps.
And months earlier, after leaders scrambled over the course of a few months to pave the way for a first-of-its-kind Major League Baseball game at Fort Bragg between the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins, Cervenka was there to greet the teams and ensure the game went off without a hitch.
Col. Kyle A. Reed, Fort Bragg's garrison commander, said Cervenka's commitment and dedication to the Army and community has never wavered, even amid significant challenges.
"It is nothing short of phenomenal," he said.
Reed said Cervenka was a seasoned and experienced noncommissioned officer. But he attributed his success at Fort Bragg to his ability to build a team.
The garrison includes a workforce of more than 3,250 people – mostly civilian employees and contractors.
On Thursday, Cervenka thanked that team, which he said has been unmatched across his military career.
The garrison supports soldiers and their families, he said. And despite being under resourced, they get the job done with the support of retirees, partners and neighbors who make Fort Bragg "a community of excellence."
Cervenka said he had to be taught and coached on installation management, which he described as a continuous game of Whac-a-mole.
"These past 27 months have truly been awesome," he said.
Cervenka had not served at Fort Bragg prior to assuming the garrison command sergeant major position in 2015. But he said he and his family were immediately embraced by the community on post and its neighbors.
"We're here to stay now," he said. 'That's for sure."
Cervenka had been set to retire following his latest assignment. But officials said he was asked to remain on Fort Bragg and instead serve with the 18th Airborne Corps.
Cervenka agreed, yet another sign of his commitment to the force, Reed said.
In his final address to the garrison leaders, Cervenka said McCray was the right man to replace him.
McCray comes to Fort Bragg from South Korea, where he was most recently the senior enlisted leader of the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.
He is no stranger to Fort Bragg, having served on post from 2006 to 2009 with the 108th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.
In the years since, McCray said he and his family have been trying to return to the post, even as Fort Bragg has grown over the same span.
McCray will now help manage that growth as a leader on the garrison team.
He said the size and scope of Fort Bragg was unmatched, which is why so many Army programs are tested here before being expanded to the larger force.
"It's like going through a dessert bar," McCray said. "You got it all."
McCray said being selected as the garrison command sergeant major is a humbling experience.
The new job will come with challenges, he said. But it also stands to be extremely fulfilling.
"Fort Bragg is a soldier's dream.You get to shoot, move and communicate. You get to jump out of airplanes. You get to blow up stuff. You get to do all of that," he said. "But for the first time in my military career, I don't just get to be a taker. I get to be a giver. I get to be the one that is supporting the communities, supporting those warfighters who are going downrange, supporting their families."
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