Centennial, Colorado –
Already nervous, new recruits waited restlessly in their seats as the bus pulled into what would be their new home for the next nine months. Many of the newly enlisted troops had, no doubt, begun to second guess their decision as they frantically tried to mentally prepare for what the U.S. Army was about to put them through. Having already signed on the dotted line and committed to an Army life, the bus came to a halt.
The doors opened, and silence ceased as the drill sergeants boarded the bus.
The instructors walked along the aisle, screaming at the new recruits that they had 18 minutes to unload and that 16 of those minutes had already passed.
With no time to think, the Soldiers scrambled to understand what was being said through the yelling.
Every young troop who exited the bus met the “infamous brown round,” a hard brimmed drill sergeant hat, and a voice shouting to move faster.
It is something many people will only experience through the movies, but this was one Soldier’s introduction to the Army. It was his first time away from home. He missed his family, friends, and the only life he’d ever known. The Soldier was U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Russell A. Hamilton.
It was just the beginning of his first day of Basic Combat Training.
“The Army of 1986 was a very different Army than the Army we have today,” the former Colorado Army National Guard state command sergeant major said.
Hamilton said he spent little time wondering where his discipline and values came from.
“It was an environment that bred discipline into you; it emphasized discipline every single moment of every single day,” he said.
After more than 33 years of service, Hamilton retired April 6, 2019, at a ceremony at the Peterson Air and Space Museum, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
His career was a full one, with 16 years of active-duty service and another 17 with the Colorado Army National Guard.
He entered active duty July 25, 1986, and served in various positions including an armored crewman, tank commander, platoon sergeant, and many more before he transferred to the COARNG Active Guard and Reserve program. During his time with the COARNG, he served in the 100th Missile Defense Brigade (Ground-based Midcourse Defense) as an element crewmember, brigade master evaluator, and other positions before assuming responsibility as the state command sergeant major.
While he said some things have changed since his first days in the Army, he said he appreciates that the camaraderie has remained the same through his varying positions, whether as a leader or subordinate. And while there are many memorable moments over his career, Hamilton said he reminisces about being a tank commander the most.
“It was the first time I was responsible for three other human beings and their well-being, and their training and what they did and their daily duties,” he said of his time as a young staff sergeant and tank commander in charge of a crew.
He saw his Soldiers take the information and guidance that he learned from his mentors and pass them along to the next generation.
“To watch them grow and be successful was just so incredibly rewarding,” he said.
Two Soldiers Hamilton has enjoyed watching grow into the leaders they are today are U.S. Army First Sergeants David Ceja, 193rd Military Police Battalion, COARNG and Rene Saiz, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, Joint Force Headquarters, COARNG.
He said he often refers to his Soldiers as his “family,” remembering when he was the platoon sergeant and Non-commissioned Officer In Charge, of the now first sergeants.
“(Ceja) was one of those gung-ho (sergeants) that no matter what circumstance you gave him … you knew he would always get the job done,” he said. “So, to watch him grow over the years and develop into a first sergeant, and I hope one day a command sergeant major, … makes me proud.”
Hamilton said he is proud of the Soldiers he mentored and it shows through those who were able to serve under his leadership.
“I’ve always learned the good things about being an NCO from him,” Saiz said. “He not only said what a good NCO should be, but he showed us as well. So, all of the good traits I have as a first sergeant … I learned those from him. Learning how to take care of Soldiers, deal with special circumstances and do what’s best for the Soldier and their family, while still accomplishing the mission; those are the things he instilled in me.”
Saiz said one thing that he will continue to pass along to his troops is holding them to the standard, saying standards set the foundation.
“You have to be fair and impartial, but you have to stick to the standards,” Saiz said. “The reason Colorado has done so well with its NCO corps, is because of him. He grew his Soldiers; he didn’t just tell them what they needed to be.”
Hamilton said he holds in high regard retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph Borja, Space and Missile Defense Command and Army Forces Strategic Command.
Having worked with Hamilton for a number of years, Borja described him as, “Very passionate, humble and trustworthy, and his heart is with the warriors as well as their family members, to include the civilian workforce.”
Borja served as a mentor to Hamilton and was in his NCO support channel when Hamilton was in the 100th Missile Defense Brigade.
Borja said he would observe his troops, but that he always “made things happen.”
According to Borja, Hamilton is a “quiet professional.”
“The Soldiers really gravitated (toward) him, just because of his leadership,” Borja said. “How he would teach them (and) coach them; he mentored as well as motivated (them). He’s one individual everyone looked to as a role model within his command.”
Borja learned, through Hamilton, to never underestimate Soldiers from any state or organization.
“He really walked me through how the National Guard can do (as good)[DLO1] or better than the (Active) Army[DLO2] ,” Borja said.
Many of Hamilton’s “lessons learned” came from his time as an Active Component Soldier.
As a young “buck” sergeant, he said he remembered a teachable moment that instilled him with greatness, he said. Serving in a supervisory position, he oversaw a job his team worked on.
“I really didn’t have the authority … to tell them that they could go,” he said. “When the platoon sergeant came and look(ed) at it, it wasn’t (completed) to standard.”
That was the first time Hamilton remembered failing as a leader.
“It was viewed as my Soldiers’ (failure), but really I failed as a leader because I didn’t make sure my team met and exceeded the standard,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said he used this as a foundation for his leadership thereafter.
Regardless of his reasons for joining, whether it be for college, adventure, travel or pride, he said he didn’t lose sight of the big picture.
“We’re all here to serve something greater than ourselves,” he said.
Hamilton put great emphasis on his mentors who taught him many valuable lessons. They cared and were selfless, and they took the time to develop the Soldiers coming up behind them, he said.
“What they got when they first received me was far from a finished product and far from perfect,” he said. “But they did their best to chip away at the edges and make me into the Soldier I am, and that I tried to be, throughout my career.”
While his Army family was with him throughout his 33-year military career, his wife, Deatra, moved with him to every new post, supporting his career every step of the way. Hamilton said he looks forward to retirement with his wife, son, daughter and grandson.
“They truly have been amazing,” he said. “I was the one who got to wear the uniform, but they served right along with me. I just can’t thank them enough.”
Borja wished Hamilton’s family well as they transition to civilian life, after so many years immersed in the military.
“I wish him and (Deatra), his lovely wife, all the best in their future endeavors,” Borja said. “The Hamiltons will always be a part of the Borja family.”
And while he is looking forward to retirement, he isn’t going far, as he is returning to missile defense as a civilian contractor to work as an instructor.
“I’ve been very honored and humbled just by the show of support (at the retirement ceremony), by those who have supported me throughout my career, whether I was in a leadership position or a subordinate position,” Hamilton said. “It’s been such an honor to serve with such amazing people. And I know our future is in great hands, because I’ve seen the (Soldiers) who are coming up behind me, and I know they’re going to do great things.”