Kentucky Soldier walks the walk as new state command sergeant major

Story by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

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Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Chumley Jr. sits at his desk at Joint Forces Headquarters in Frankfort, Ky., Oct. 15, 2013. Chumley assumed the role of Kentucky’s eighth State Command Sergeant Major on Oct. 1 after serving as the Command Sergeant Major for the 138th Fires Brigade. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

FRANKFORT, Ky. – In May of 1985, Thomas Chumley Jr. walked through the doors of the Elizabethtown, Ky. armory for Bravo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery.

He knew he was home.

The 13-year Navy Veteran had experience as a gunner, so when he enlisted into the Kentucky National Guard, it was an easy transition into the Army’s artillery. Chumley said adapting to the changes around him has been the easiest thing for him to do in his military career.

On Oct. 1, Chumley assumed responsibility for every enlisted Soldier in the Commonwealth, as he became Kentucky’s eighth State Command Sergeant Major.

And he did it with ease.

CSM Chumley

Task Force Longrifles Soldiers, Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Chumley and Master Sgt. Jeffrey Peel from the Joint Forces Land Component Command (JFLCC) conduct a guide-on casing ceremony in Djibouti, April 20, 2013. The Soldiers deployed with 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery to the horn of Africa in 2012. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Daniel Van Horn)

“I’ve said it before, but this is the highlight of my career, this would be the highlight of anyone’s career,” he said. “There’s few Soldiers out there that thought they would ever become a CSM.”

Read about the change of responsibility ceremony here.

Enlisting into the Navy, Chumley said was a rebellious decision against his father, a hard-core, strong-willed Army NCO at Fort Knox. But, after 28 years in Army green, he has been told he’s more like his father than he knows.

Chumley said he is where he is because of his standards and the standards presented before him as he progressed in his career. From a gunner with Bravo Battery, Chumley became a platoon sergeant, a brigade intelligence sergeant, then first sergeant before becoming the Command Sergeant Major for 2nd Battalion, 138th.  Taking what he learned from each position, Chumley rose though the artillery ranks over the years to become the Command Sergeant Major for the 138th Fires Brigade in 2011.

Col. Brian Wertzler, commander of the 138th, has worked alongside Chumley for more than 20 years in the Kentucky Guard. He said Chumley’s professionalism has had a profound impact on the careers of the Soldiers in the 138th, helping to foster quality leaders and skilled artillerymen.

“Command Sergeant Major Chumley is undoubtedly the best NCO that I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” said Wertzler. “NCOs and officers alike have always been confident in his knowledge and ability to provide answers, solutions, guidance and direction to any problem; and he proved worthy of that reliance. I am glad to see that Command Sergeant Major Chumley’s untiring efforts, dedication to excellence, leadership and sound judgment have afforded him the opportunity and the recognition to be the State Command Sergeant Major.”

As Chumley settles into his new office in Frankfort, his walls are adorned with keepsakes of a long career in artillery. He agreed that there is a lot of red around him, but is excited to get accustomed to all the branches of the Kentucky Guard. He also knows that changes are coming to the military as the country draws down from war and deals with budget constraints.

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Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Chumley became Kentucky’s eighth State Command Sergeant Major during a change of responsibility ceremony in Frankfort, Ky., Sept. 12, 2013. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

“We’re going to get back to basics,” he said. “We are going to help Soldiers with their careers, where they’re going and what they need to do. The future is looking good, we’ll know what we have and where to put the right Soldiers in the right places. We’ll make sure Soldiers across the state know the information and their families know, just like when I first came to the Guard.”

When ‘Sgt.’ Thomas Chumley first arrived at that armory in Elizabethtown, he was immediately aware of the camaraderie amongst the Soldiers of the battery, many of which were old school mates of his and Vietnam Veterans. Old friends such as 1st Sgt. Roy Wright and Sgt. 1st Class Gabe Ford, who had taken the battery to Vietnam in 1968-69.

Chumley was met with a challenge to adapt to the artillery and the principles of the branch. Chumley said his early leaders instilled in him the basics of being precise, deliberate and safe. They fired rounds downrange without being able to see them, so the knowledge and skill that went into ensuring each step performed to the last detail was crucial.

“All Soldiers deserve good leadership,” he said. “I was fortunate to have that with Bravo Battery. There’s a standard, you go by that standard, its about the basics. I plan on providing that leadership with the precision and capability of an artilleryman.”

Ask him about his leadership style, he will answer, ‘honest, straightforward and here for Soldiers.’ When asked how he will lead as the new State Command Sergeant Major, the answer is a humble one.

“You communicate and set the example,” he said.” I realize that when I walk out my door, eyes are on me. I will practice what I preach, I have to meet the standards, I have to walk the walk. I’ll never ask them to do anything I haven’t done or wouldn’t do myself.”

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