News: Army EOD loses seven sergeants major
Story by Lt. Col. Carol McClelland
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - With about 188 years combined experience, seven sergeants major from Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal retire this year.
“I can guarantee you that everyone here can tie within six degrees of separation, directly or indirectly, to have been influenced by these sergeants major,” said Command Sgt. Maj. David Puig, 20th Support Command (CBRNE) senior enlisted advisor, earlier this summer during an EOD gathering that included all ranks and levels of experience. Puig’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. headquarters oversees all continental U.S. EOD units.
The most recent EOD retiree is Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Hockstedler, who retired in June from the 52nd Ordnance Group, Fort Campbell, Ky.
Temporarily filling in for Hockstedler at the 52nd is Command Sgt. Maj. John “J.T.” Terrell, 184th Ordnance Battalion (EOD), Fort Campbell. He retires August 29 and anticipates a move to Maryland. Other senior enlisted leaders from the same EOD group set to retire are: Sgt. Maj. Laren Larsen, also assigned to the group and Command Sgt. Maj. Larry Cushing, 63rd Ordnance Battalion (EOD), Fort Drum, N.Y.
Command Sgt. Maj. Ted Taala, who retired in January, was from 20th Spt. Cmd. (CBRNE)’s other EOD group, 242nd Ordnance Battalion (EOD), 71st Ordnance Group, Fort Carson, Colo.
Two of the newly retired E9’s that weren’t under the 20th Spt. Cmd. (CBRNE) are Sgt. Maj. Theodore “Ted” McCarty, a range controller with the 761st Ordnance Company, Fort Sill, Okla. and Command Sgt. Maj. Sean Branham, 303rd Ordnance Battalion (EOD), 45th Sustainment Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, Hawaii, who retired in July.
Army EOD Soldiers, who generally shy away from speaking publicly, didn’t hold back while talking about their departing colleagues.
Branham – Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Cherwa who’s undergoing a military move from the 749th Ordnance Company (EOD), Fort Polk, La. to Hawaii, was previously assigned with Branham. He said the first thing that pops into his mind when he hears Branham’s name is “him always talking about how his body is a temple, ‘and I’m going to treat it as one,’ he used to say.”
“It was tough to watch a man with 24 years of experience leave the Army,” said Branham’s last commander, Lt. Col. Mark Faria, 303rd Ordnance Battalion (EOD). “But when you saw his face light up every time he talked about his family, you knew he had made the right decision to retire. Both he and his family have made countless sacrifices over the years and I am glad he will get to be with his family for all those special occasions that he missed in the past due to deployments and other missions.”
Retired but still serving, Branham’s post Army job is as a Junior Reserve Officer Training School instructor at South Fort Myers High School, Fort Myers, Fla. With three Bronze Stars and a Legion of Merit among other accolades, he’s lived the curriculum he now teaches. And physical fitness, a priority in his 24-year Army career, still is. He’s an enthusiastic runner that participates in triathlons, sprints and marathons.
Cushing’s former boss, Lt. Col. Mark Fitch, deputy commander 52nd Ordnance Group, said he’s known Cushing since he was an E7 and Fitch was a captain. “He was my battle buddy—to go literally into battle and spend every day, seven days a week. I could probably tell you more about him than his wife,” Fitch said of Cushing whom he called his work wife. “My daughter knows him as Sergeant Major and she’ll run to him instead of me, so that tells you what a big part of my family he is. The bottom line is the field is losing a great man.”
Enlisting in 1983, Cushing spent his first few years in the infantry where he earned an Air Assault Badge and completed Jungle Warfare School. He spent the next 27 years in EOD with various assignments across the globe that included four combat tours – one in Afghanistan and three in Iraq.
Hockstedler – Col. Mo Quick, his last commander at the 52nd, stays in touch with Hockstedler who served nearly 30 years. “He retired to his home outside Fort McCoy, Wis.,” she said. “He now signs his emails ‘from Fort Living Room, WI.’ He spent his Saturday mowing the unit area and said it relaxed him.”
The Deputy Commanding Officer at the 20th Spt. Cmd. (CBRNE) Col. Tom Langowski and Hockstedler deployed together as the command team for Task Force Paladin in Afghanistan. He said Hockstedler is the embodiment of the NCO Creed. “I have not met anyone more professional than you, and I certainly had all the time in the world to do my job because you executed yours without fail, and you consistently provided leadership that developed a whole new generation of EOD leaders,” said Langowski.
On his last Army Physical Fitness Test Hockstedler scored a 297, just three points shy of a perfect score. With two combat tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, the retiree started out as an armor crewmember and tank gunner before switching to EOD where he had assignments in Alaska, Texas, Colorado, Georgia and Egypt, among others.
Larson – “There’s a definition of power, then there’s the power behind the power – he’s really the power behind the scenes, making things happen and getting things done,” Puig said of his colleague.
Sgt. Maj. Patrick Stanley, 3rd Ordnance Battalion (EOD), Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wash., said he was glad Larson was retiring because he’s one of the few left who knew ‘Private Stanley.’ “I appreciate your leadership and your patience with Private Stanley. You got me to where I am now,” he said.
A graduate of the Air Force Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., Larson’s worn his rank since June 2004. After enlisting in the Army in 1987 and receiving EOD training at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., he spent his first year learning his trade in Korea with subsequent overseas assignments that included three years in Germany, nearly four years in Hawaii and most recently, a year in Afghanistan.
McCarty – Described as tall and talkative, McCarty, an active duty Soldier, volunteered to deploy with the 441st Ordnance Battalion (EOD), an Army National Guard unit, because they didn’t have a sergeant major. EOD technician, Maj. Lucas Towne, currently secretary general staff for 20th Spt. Cmd. (CBRNE), was assigned to a newly activated EOD company deployed to the same area as McCarty’s unit. “My experience with him was that he would always do the right thing for the Soldier,” Towne said. “He’d get them the right equipment and help them stay protected. And he was a great sounding board for our first sergeant. He was always willing to give his advice and opinions on things. He always seemed really excited to be around the troops.”
A sergeant major for the past four years, McCarty earned the EOD Badge – a wreath, in memory of EOD personnel who lost their lives doing EOD duties; bomb with three fins that represent nuclear, conventional and chemical/biological warfare; lightning bolts, that symbolize the destructive power of the bomb and courage and professionalism of EOD personnel; and shield, representing the EOD mission – to protect personnel and property in the immediate area from an inadvertent detonation of hazardous ordnance.
Taala – Lt. Col. Dean Minor, formerly assigned to the 242nd Ordnance Battalion with Taala, said the first time he met talkative Taala it was over the phone, “And he had a lot to say. It was all about empowering an EOD team.” Minor told a story of Taala dressing as a penguin for the soldier of the month board. “When the first one came in and started giggling he threw them out and said, ‘Come back when you can act like a Soldier.’”
Terrell – Lt. Col. Mark Krussow, 52nd Ordnance Group operations officer, had Terrell as an instructor at the EOD School. “He would run my class in and out, up and down. And his memory is phenomenal. From a mercenary point of view he was awesome,” Krussow joked. “I appreciate him and we will miss him.”
Fellow future retiree Taala admitted he had a learning curve for the first few months working with Terrell. “I was just trying to figure out what he was saying. He talks so fast he sounds like a ferret on crack – pure gibberish. He didn’t care who you were, what language you spoke or used to speak; as long as you worked hard he would enable you then get out of your way.”
Both an avid learner and teacher throughout his career, he’s completed at least one (usually more) military training, or course, at least every other year since 1990, including Air Movement Operations, Nuclear Weapons Disposal and Facilities Engineer Management. He’s also taught as an EOD team leader in Korea and at Fort Bragg, N.C., and later as a training instructor and writer at Indian Head, Md. With a long list of awards and decorations, a Legion of Merit and Bronze Star Medal with Valor top the list.