Troxell: Future warriors must mesh high-tech skills, 'beat 'em to death with an entrenching tool' attitude
America’s future enlisted leaders will need to couple the ability to bring violence to bear on the country’s enemies with a range of new skills, such as diplomacy and countering disinformation campaigns, the Pentagon’s outgoing top enlisted advisor said.
The forces of the future will have to maintain a “shoot ‘em in the face, beat ‘em to death with an entrenching tool attitude,” said Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell in a wide-ranging interview with Stars and Stripes earlier this year. “But we also have to be savvy enough to understand all-domain conflict, especially when it comes to cyber, information operations and things like that.”
The third senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Troxell retires Friday after nearly 38 years in the Army, including four years advising the chairman and the defense secretary on issues that affect the enlisted force.
His comments echo remarks he made in Iraq and Afghanistan two years ago during a USO tour, in which he said the Islamic State faced the choice to surrender, or die — by bomb, gunshot or bludgeoning with an e-tool, a type of shovel. The comments circulated widely and he’s since signed hundreds of e-tools sent to him by fans of his statement.
Troxell sat down with Stars and Stripes during a conference in Germany organized by his successor, U.S. Africa Command senior enlisted leader Chief Master Sgt. Ramon Colon-Lopez, which focused on enlisted professional development among U.S. partner militaries in Africa.
Troxell believes future enlisted leaders will need to focus on maintaining low-tech capabilities while embracing new technologies, allowing them to compete with “great power” adversaries like Russia and China around the globe and in the cyber and space domains.
Adapting to new domains and technologies will be “one of the toughest challenges the Army will face in the next 25 years,” will likely lead to new military specialties and force the Pentagon to compete with private industry for skilled recruits, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Mad Scientist Laboratory said in a blog post Thursday.
In addition to bringing more technological know-how, noncommissioned officers also will be expected to do more of what looks like diplomacy in leading and influencing foreign partners, Troxell said.
There’s also a current need for NCOs to better police their own, he said. He cautioned against taking personal beefs with peers to a third-party to “weaponize” them, and instead called for dealing with such issues person-to-person.
Referring to recent discipline issues within the special operations community, including the removal of a SEAL team from Iraq for alleged misconduct, he said such cases can undermine officers’ trust in their NCOs.
Good conduct and leadership produce enlisted personnel who thrive, he said, citing his own experience of 14 years in the 82nd Airborne Division as contributing to his success.
“Culture is driven by leadership,” he said. “How the leaders act and how the leaders perform, the culture will adjust to how the leaders are doing.”
During Troxell’s tenure as SEAC, he traveled to nearly 60 countries, often advising his counterparts or gathering information to advocate on behalf of U.S. enlisted troops.
“How do you follow a guy like this with all the accomplishments he had over the past four years?” Colon-Lopez, his successor, asked Pentagon reporters Monday. “The answer is pretty simple: We can never do enough for our troops compared to what they do for us.”
A career special operations airman, who earned a Bronze Star with combat “V” for valor and the Air Force Combat Action Medal for actions in Afghanistan, Colon-Lopez will be the first airman to hold the position.
As for Troxell, he’s looking forward to spending more time with family — something many service members sacrifice for their duties — and seems ready to relax his grooming standards.
“The next time you’ll see me, I’ll be working on my beard,” Troxell told the Pentagon reporters.