News: Stryker Brigade bids farewell to longstanding senior NCO
Story by Sgt. Kimberly Lessmeister
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash., – While there are many ways to describe a good leader, there is no better description than that of Sgt. Maj. Brian Hollis.
“Bald. Intimidating. I knew him by reputation and I’d only been here a few hours,” said Maj. Stephen Phillips, the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division “Raiders” operations officer, recalling his first impression of the former brigade operations sergeant major.
The senior non-commissioned officer, known for his love of the Boston Red Sox and cigars, is also revered as a hands-on leader who sought the hard tasks.
Soldiers of the Raider Brigade gathered May 15 here to bid farewell to Hollis as he retires after 26 years of service.
During the retirement ceremony, people close to Hollis spoke about him and the impact he has had on both Soldiers and the brigade.
Hollis joined the brigade as the operations sergeant major for 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment in 2007 during the unit’s first deployment, which was in Support of Operation Iraqi Freedom
After redeployment, he became the brigade operations sergeant major, where he influenced every echelon within the unit by ensuring that they were taken care of and kept infiormed
“I think (being able to watch 4th SBCT progress since its beginning is) a unique experience to any other one in the Army because when the brigade got back from the ‘07 deployment, it was pretty much ripped apart…(and we) brought in all new people,” Hollis explained.
“The only reason I had the fortune of staying was I was ‘off cycle’ so to speak, so being off cycle gave me the opportunity to watch the brigade through two accelerated deployments,” said Hollis.
Through those deployments and training exercises to Yakima Training Center in Washington and the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., Hollis has, in some way, played a part in every major brigade event.
Over the past five years in the brigade, he has positively impacted those around him and made the working environment an enjoyable one, said Phillips.
The experience of working closely with Hollis in the operations cell was one Phillips said he would not forget.
“He made the job of (brigade combat team operations) fun,” said Phillips. “That’s not simply said because it’s a difficult job at times and there are many moments that can be taken as frustrating, but he was always able to put a lighter spin on it and just keep things in perspective.”
Phillips said that what Hollis accomplished in his career, including overseas deployments to Honduras, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Iraq and serving in several Army units made him the leader he is today.
“With 26 years of service …(and) life experience comes a degree of maturity and knowledge and insight that you can’t get just by being good at what you do,” said Phillips. “Some of that is intangible (and) irreplaceable.”
However, Hollis humbly attributes many of his successes to the people around him.
“The first thing, is you have to realize the people that you work for and the people around you really make the brigade, and this brigade’s always had great (commanders and command sergeants major) that allow the staff to do what they need to do,” he said.
While it is hard for Hollis to choose a favorite memory during his time in the Raider Brigade, one thing distinctly came to mind -- how well the unit executed “The Last Patrol.”
During The Last Patrol, soldiers of the brigade drove more than 360 miles from Iraq to Kuwait at the end of their second deployment. The tactical road march was a symbol of the departure of combat troops in Iraq and the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“That was not easy to do,” said Hollis. “At that point almost every unit had gotten used to coming into Iraq and leaving Iraq one way and one way only and that was putting things on trailers and catching a flight.”
“Coming up with the plan to get the brigade out of Iraq (by) driving was pretty amazing,” Hollis said.
With the brigade preparing for another deployment in the fall, this time to Afghanistan, Hollis hopes to leave behind well-trained NCOs to help take care of the brigade.
“You have to care,” said Hollis. “Even the best, smartest will not succeed (if they don’t care).”
His compassion and dedication to soldiers is part of what some, including Phillips, consider the legacy he is leaving behind as he retires.
“People will talk about him here in (4th SBCT) and elsewhere in the Army for many years to come and that is an awesome thing when you think about it,” said Phillips. “I know every unit I go to from here on out will have a small piece of Brian Hollis incorporated in it somehow.”