News: Senior Ironhorse NCO set to retire following 28-year career
Story by Staff Sgt. Jason Thompson
FORT HOOD, Texas -- Retirement from the U.S. Army is a monumental time for any Soldier who has served for 20 years or more. It marks the end of a successful career serving and sacrificing for their country and a beginning to a new period of life in which former Soldiers have the opportunity to return to serve their Families and give back after their sacrifices.
Command Sgt. Maj. John Gioia, senior enlisted leader, 4th Infantry Division, has reached the retirement point in his career after 28 years of service and will be honored with a retirement and retreat ceremony June 15.
Gioia was selected as the division's senior enlisted leader while he was serving in Germany as the command sergeant major of Joint Multinational Training Command.
"One of the first orders of business I had to conduct after I had assumed command of the 4th Inf. Div. was to select a senior enlisted Soldier for this division," said Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, commanding general, 4th Inf. Div. "I went out and hunted for a Soldier who had character and moral courage, possessed a fire in their belly, and a desire to lead by example. I had met John Gioia via video teleconference interview and the interview hadn't gone more than one minute before I knew, this is the guy I want. He had all the qualities I was looking for."
Fittingly, 4th Inf. Div. Soldiers came ashore on Utah Beach, France, during the invasion of Normandy on D-Day in World War II, June 6, 1944, and during the day Gioia received the news from Hammond, he was on a staff tour on Utah Beach.
"The historians were discussing with us how [ the 4th Inf. Div.] came ashore and my cell phone rang," said Gioia. "Maj. Gen. Hammond got on the phone ... I told him that oddly enough, I'm standing on Utah Beach. He said to me, 'wow, the stars are beginning to line up. How would you like to be my division command sergeant major?'
"I could not believe it, but I said, 'Sir, I would be honored to,'" Gioia continued. "That was May 26 when I received the phone call. I arrived at Fort Hood June 4, , two days prior to the anniversary of when 4th Inf. Div. Soldiers invaded Utah Beach on D-Day."
From that day the rest was history as Gioia became only the third division command sergeant major in the history of command sergeants major with an engineer career background and was the only one to lead his division into combat operations.
"When I first joined the Army I thought I was a four-year guy," said Gioia. "I literally joined the Army because I needed the discipline in my life. I was a wild young man. My dad died when I was 11 so I didn't have a father figure growing up, so I was a little rebellious. I needed something to put me in place, so I joined the military.
"I used to tell my wife that getting to 20 years is a job — it's not a career, it's a job," he continued. "When I went over 20 years it became a career. Did I ever envision becoming a division sergeant major, never, not in a million years. I've been a victim of great circumstance, everywhere I've been. Just talking from the engineer side of the house, it is uncharacteristic for an engineer to have accomplished what I've done."
Gioia joined the Army June 27, 1981, from Buffalo, N.Y., and was originally stationed in Fort Devens, Mass., followed by multiple assignments to Germany, Korea, Fort Hood and two deployments to Iraq.
Throughout his career in the Army, Gioia has always maintained the philosophy to always remember where he came from, nor forget the lessons he had learned from being a Soldier first.
"Never forget where you come from," said Gioia. "Too many guys wear the uniform and wear the rank and forget that they are a Soldier, and they think they're above and beyond those Soldierly things to do — go to the range, take [physical fitness] tests or urinalysis."
When asked what advice he might give to young Soldiers just beginning their careers in the Army, his advice was simple — do what you love to do.
"When you get to the end you can really start to see the benefits," said Gioia. "It's surreal to think that when I hang my uniform up and no longer put my boots on, I will continue to get a paycheck every month for the rest of my life.
"Is it a worth to stick around? Certainly. It's not necessarily a reason to stick around for the money; it's not about the money. It's about doing what you love to do and serving your country and your fellow comrades.
"This is hard now," Gioia continued. "I grew up in an Army that wasn't back to back to back deployments. In the 80s and 90s we weren't deploying every other year. The only year-long deployment out there was Korea. You look at the Soldiers of today and it is every other year they are deploying. How do you do that long term? I don't think anyone has the answer to that.
"I will say this, 'Do your job, treat people the way you would want to be treated with dignity and respect, never shy away from a hard job and you will be challenged. Have fun. Ultimately you need to have fun at what you are doing. If you hate coming to work every day then you need to do everyone a favor, including yourself, and try something new.
"Above all this, don't forget that you have a Family. As a Soldier you give so much to the institution and you take so much from your Family. Finally I'll have the opportunity to give to my Family and will not have to give to any other institution."
For his service to the 4th Inf. Div, Gioia will be remembered as a strong leader and a great influence and mentor the Soldiers he served with.
"He has been everything I could've asked or wanted in a command sergeant major for the past two years," said Hammond. "He has supported and defended the constitution of the United States better than anyone else.
"He will be missed. He can't be replaced. Someone else will come along, and will do it differently, it will be his way, it will be a great way and it will work. John Gioia has made a great mark in this division's history and in the hearts and minds of Soldiers and Families."