Sgt. Maj. Alford McMichael, the sergeant major of the Marine Corps, has accepted a new job under Gen. James Jones, commander of the U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander.

Sgt. Maj. Alford McMichael, the sergeant major of the Marine Corps, has accepted a new job under Gen. James Jones, commander of the U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander. (Sandra Jontz, S&S)

ARLINGTON, Va. — Sgt. Maj. Alford McMichael has made an about-face. The top enlisted man of the Marine Corps isn’t retiring after all.

This summer, McMichael is moving to Brussels, Belgium, and will again work for Gen. James Jones, commander of the U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander — this time in the newly created job of senior enlisted adviser to NATO, creating noncommissioned officer training programs for allied nations without one, he told Stars and Stripes on Tuesday in an exclusive interview.

McMichael, 51, will leave his current job June 26. It has not been decided yet when he’ll start his new job, billeted for 36 months, though the orders he received last week say his start date will be no later than July 31.

“Gen. Jones and Gen. [Michael] Hagee, our commandant, both agreed this would be a great thing for our country,” McMichael said. “What we want to do is help create the NCO corps, especially in the new countries that are coming into the NATO league … helping them create that form of training … [and] helping them establish that form of NCO corps within their military.”

Seven nations seeking to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization received invitations. They are Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

“I think the biggest challenge will be to tear down the walls that have been there longer than my presence, and to get people to see the value of what we’re trying to bring to the table, of an NCO corps that it will not threaten the commissioned corps, it can only strengthen the organization.”

McMichael, who has served under three commandants, would not say if Jones handpicked him for the job or if anyone else had been considered. Jones is traveling and was not available for comment.

Jones has the right guy for the mission, Hagee said.

“When Gen. Jones explained his concept to help some of the new NATO countries in developing a professional NCO corps, I knew Sgt. Maj. McMichael’s leadership, professionalism and experience made him the ideal choice,” Hagee said. “He’s a tremendous sergeant major, a role model and contributed much to our Corps. This billet will allow him to continue to serve the country he loves so much.”

Hagee has not named a successor for sergeant major of the Corps. The list of candidates includes Sgt. Maj. John Mersino, command sergeant major of U.S. European Command; Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, sergeant major of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe; Sgt. Maj. John Estrada, sergeant major of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing; Sgt. Maj. William Kinney, sergeant major of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

The creation of this new NATO job falls in line with shifts Jones, the Corps’ former commandant, has tossed out since assuming his new role in mid-January.

“I would say this is Gen. Jones’ vision to help these countries understand the effectives of NCOs and senior NCOs in the armed forces of America and how they can benefit their staff, which I think would be a great undertaking to go and try to instill a new culture, not only in a country, but also in a military that is basically foreign to this process,” McMichael said.

McMichael said he “got a call from Gen. Jones a few weeks ago” — then last week got his orders to officially segue to a new life in Europe. “It’s a great opportunity to do something, if the word special is not too overblown, to do something special as well as different.”

He speaks no language other than English, but plans to learn, he said. He’ll likely tackle Danish first (since he studied it while stationed at the American Embassy in Denmark) followed by French, which is heavily spoken in Brussels. His wife, Rita, is excited about the new life they’ll lead, he said.

McMichael said he isn’t concerned that he has no predecessor from whom to learn. Being the first isn’t new for the soft-spoken career Marine who enlisted Aug. 27, 1970.

McMichael was the first sergeant major to serve in Manpower and Reserve Affairs in 1996. Back then, “a lot of people didn’t understand what the manpower sergeant major would do. Now they can’t figure out how’d they do without.”

“You needed someone to be involved with the everyday working parts and you needed someone to be the eyes and ears for the deputy commandant of Manpower and Reserve Affairs.”

He said he wouldn’t mind it if he’s known as the education sergeant major.

“One of the most important things we do is to educate. After safety, education is the most important thing that got me going every day.

“My goals … have been education of the military member, education for the spouse, the right education for the children and joint education for the service.”

The last refers to learning the ins and outs of other services. “Our way is not the only way. We are not the only service. We’re a great military country and we’ll be fighting the fight with combined forces.”

Rarely does THE sergeant major of the Corps continue his military career upon leaving the post.

This new job beckoned. “It was very difficult for me to say no.”

So he didn’t.

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