Defense & National Security

The man at McChrystal’s side

The man at McChrystal's side

The senior enlisted man in Afghanistan serving with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who stood with the general in the White House when President Barack Obama took away his command, recalled to Human Events serving with the general, whose new book “My Share of the Task” is now a New York Times bestseller.

Every relationship between a command sergeant major and the commander is different and it depends on how that commanding officer wants the relationship to support him and execute his priorities, said retired  Command Sgt. Maj. Michael T. Hall, who was the theater CSM in Afghanistan with the general.

The two men had the same partnership in the late 1ate 1990s when McChrystal was the commanding officer of the 75th Ranger Regiment. Hall was also the CSM for the Joint Special Operations Command and Army Special Forces Command both at Fort Bragg, N.C.

“What it really boils down to is that every NCO gets his authority and responsibilities from the commanding officer,” he said.

A good CSM can take on the commander’s secondary priorities as his own, freeing him to focus on the things at the top of his list, he said. “Really your biggest enemy and your biggest asset is time.”

U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Command Sergeant Major Michael T. Hall talks to soldiers about to go out on a dawn patrol. Hall, was the senior enlisted soldier in theater. (Courtesy)

U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Command Sergeant Major Michael T. Hall talks to soldiers about to go out on a dawn patrol. Hall was the senior enlisted soldier in theater. (Army photo)

Hall, who grew up outside of Cleveland, Ohio, now works with the general at McChrystal Group, his Alexandria, Va.-based leadership consulting firm. The new company teaches organizations how to leverage communications and leadership to become more effective through its “CrossLead” process.

“CrossLead is really all about shared consciousness and purpose,” he said. “Everybody in the organization truly understands what they are trying to accomplish.”

Hall had retired from the Army when he got the surprise phone call from McChrystal in the summer of 2009 asking him to join him in Afghanistan as the theater command sergeant major, a decision he made after already being out of the service for more than a year following 32 years in the Army, he said. “Nah, I wasn’t expecting it all.”

It was a 32-year career that included more than 20 years in the Rangers, the Army’s elite light infantry corps, he said.

The career ended shortly after McChrystal was relieved by the president.

The president was reacting to the June 22, 2010 article in Rolling Stone magazine by Michael Hastings, who attributed to members of the general’s command group comments unflattering to the president, Vice-President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the French, and presented a culture many Americans besides the president were uncomfortable with.

McChrystal’s book deals with the controversy around the article, but mostly it is the story about a professional soldier from the end of Vietnam to the Global War on Terror. It begins with his four years at the U.S. Military Academy at West  Point, N.Y., and carries the reader through to his retirement ceremony on the parade field at Washington’s Fort McNair.

In the book, the general makes the point that an inspector general’s report determined that many of the incidents reported by Hastings did not happen and others have come forward to say they were misquoted, but in the end, his command of NATO mission in support of the International Security Assistance Force fighting anti-Afghani forces ended when pre-publication copies of the articles flew through the Internet.

The meeting with the president at the White House was a mere formality.

The Rolling Stone article controversy meant the general had to go.

Hall said he does not remember details about Hastings visiting the ISAF command group because there were many reporters and there were many interviews. “I talked to a lot of guys.”

When the story was hit the Internet, an aide woke up ISAF’s commanding general at 2 a.m., but he went back to sleep, not yet cognizant of the political firestorm it stirring in Washington. McChrystal said he was given the impression that the article would portray the healthy teamwork at ISAF between the NATO partners.

Hall said everyone in the command group reacted differently.

“Some people thought it was serious, some people thought it wasn’t serious,” he said.

my-share-of-the-task300

“There were a lot of people out there relying on us to do our jobs, so they could do their jobs, so we just tried to stay focused, because there was a war going on and people were getting hurt and this distraction had nothing to do with the 99.99 percent of the people in Afghanistan—so it was: Just do your job and don’t worry about it,” he said.

When the time came for McChrystal to meet with the president, Hall took the journey with him out of Afghanistan to Washington, the White House, he said.

The retired command sergeant major said the interactions in the White House just seem like a blur to him now.

He does not discuss the details because the general is uncomfortable talking about it, he said.

“I traveled with him more as a friend than as his command sergeant major, nobody knew what was going to happen, nobody knew whether General McChrystal was going to say, or what the president was going to say, and I was just there to be a friend,” he said.

“If he wanted to talk—or whatever, I was just there to be a friend,” he said.

McChrystal illustrates his partnership with Hall, in a story about the day an explosion outside the ISAF headquarters disrupted the general’s morning battle update brief that the general presided over.

The briefing was a theater-wife conference call with slides with downtrace units giving reports to the commanding general.

“It was the standard morning meeting, nothing special about it, there are a whole lot of things going on in Afghanistan, obviously, but nothing special about this day,” he said.

“We were probably a quarter, maybe half-way through the middle of the meeting when we felt the explosion—the building shook because it was an old building.”

Just after the blast, there was confusion inside the headquarters as to what to do, until the order was given to evacuate the building, he said. The blast came Aug. 15, 2009, five days before the national election.

McChrystal wrote, “A voice came on the sound system immediately directed the briefing to end and all personnel to depart the operations center. Mike Hall leaned over to me, ‘And where are we going to go, to the bunkers? What will we accomplish there?’”

The general said Hall then gave him sage advice: “I suggest we let the people responsible for securing the compound do their jobs, and we can stay and do ours.” The briefing continued and it became a part of the operations center culture that they would continue working thorough attacks at, near or around the building.

Hall said he was just being practical.

It just didn’t make any sense to him that they were the ISAF leadership and they would be cut off from operations in a bunker waiting for the “All-Clear,” he said.

Hall said he did not know what to expect and that is how his Army career started.

“My story is that it was one of the things you did back then where I grew up, you went to high school and you went in the service and you served for a little bit, then you came back and you went to college,  or you went to work for Ford Motor Company or U. S. Steel or something,” he said.

Serving for a little bit became a career after he reported to Fort Benning, Ga. for duty with the Rangers for his first assignment after Boot Camp, he said.

“I was really, really lucky, I started with the 1st Ranger Battalion, it was a really good unit with really good leaders,” he said. “I like to say that the first day I walked in after initial training, A Company, 1st Ranger Battalion, it just seemed like I found the 10 best friends I would have in the world.”

Although Rangers were not new to the Army, in his book, McChrystal wrote that in the tumult after the Vietnam War, the Army decided to establish two Ranger battalions as islands of excellence, where the the craft of infantry would be practiced at the highest level and then shared with the rest of the Army, when it stabilized. There are now four Ranger battalions.

The retired command sergeant major said, “The Rangers are a standards-based organization, and what makes them a little bit different from other organizations is that they enforce their standards.”

When he explains the Rangers to others he tells them it is their ability to police their own ranks, he said.

“Comparatively, it’s sort of easy to get into the Rangers, the hard part is staying in and maintaining the standard every day,” he said.

“The ideal is to see what is right and to continue to do what is right until it becomes second nature,” he said.

It was as Rangers that Hall and McChrystal bonded, and Hall said the man had not changed.

“The one thing that is unique about Stan McChrystal is that anyone who has known him, basically from the Academy until today,” he said.

“He is the most genuine person you will ever meet,” he said. “Noncommissioned officers just universally respected the heck out of him—they knew he would truly, truly listen—didn’t always agree, but he was also a good enough leader so that he could say: ‘Hey, I hear you, but let me explain to you we’re not going to do it that way, we’re going to do it this way.’”

It makes a difference, he said.

“When you feel the commander listened to you, even if he makes another decision, you are going to execute his mission pretty darned hard,” he said.

After the meeting at the White House, McChrystal went to his  Fort McNair home and Hall returned to Afghanistan at the request of the new commanding general of ISAF and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Gen. David H. Petraeus for about four months until CSM Marvin T. Hill arrived. Hill and Petraeus had served together in Iraq.

Hall said when he left ISAF it was time to retire again.

Hall on battlefield circulation with soldiers in Afghanistan (Army photo)

Hall on battlefield circulation with soldiers in Afghanistan (Army photo)

Passing through Fort Benning, where his Army career started, it took him two days to outprocess and re-retire, he said.

“It was pretty easy after I’d already done it once.”

Sign Up
  • Dustoff

    In remarks with Afghan president Hamid Karzai at the White House this
    afternoon, President Barack Obama said the U.S. has fallen “short of the
    ideal” in Afghanistan:
    ********************************

    Excuse me. O-dumber YOU fell short in Afagn, not American. It’s been your operation since 2009, what now. Blame this failure on Bush too.

  • 1Mojo_Risin9

    ObadaBuckethead is by-far the worst standard as to judge anyone or thing!!! His total incompetence and lack of economic acumen is breathtaking, a cockroach is judged by higher standards!!!

  • http://paleosnus.blogspot.com/ Local_Ale

    This is at least the second Human Events article hyping McChrystal’s book; McChrystal who is doing the talk show circuit calling for “gun control” and demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the 2nd Amendment.

    How much was Human Events paid to promote the book?

  • terry1956

    neither should have got involved with nation building and maybe promises should have never been given to leave Afganstain.
    Normally the private sector could do better than DOD in these foreign ventures but the Taliban and Al Quedia is in Pakastin now as they were even when Clinton was president.
    Pakastin has nukes, Iran is trying to get them.
    Maybe we need permanent miltary bases and surrounding land as US Territory owned and controled by the US in Afganstain and Iraq.

  • http://twitter.com/WinstonCN Winston Smith

    McChrystal is a democrat and voted for Obama. He is worthless…

  • ed_in_tx

    While giving credit to McChrystal for his military accomplishments, we should realize that he is a gun grabbing statist who supports Dear Leader in his attempt to ban guns.

  • http://twitter.com/AbigailMark1 Abigail Mark

    “I suggest we let the people responsible for securing the compound do their jobs, and we can stay and do ours.http://www.makes73dollareveryhouronthecomputer.qr.net/jUvE/article/2025158/facebook-lets-some-people

  • chuckie2u

    Yup folks should read the resumes of the Generals and their CSM’s and then compare them to Obama’s . Real eye openers on who should be in charge.

  • http://twitter.com/JayJoyce Jay Joyce

    Whenever something good happens (rarely under this administration) Obama says “I” whenever he fails (much more often), he says “we” He is a sad excuse for a leader.
    MC Chrystal really was disappointing when on a Fox News interview he prefaced a comment and excused radical Islam by saying they do it because they have been humiliated . Yea the humiliation comes from seven Arab nations attacking Israel and instead of destroying Israel they got their butts whooped, so the entire world has to live with their incompetence and humiliation, of course the Obama meme is that they have been humiliated by the West and MC Crystal seems to prefer the Obama BS version.

  • boysenberry

    0bama cant deal with “Real Men”, he can only deal with “Yes-Men” and boot lickers. He also cannot deal with any kind of criticism, even ever so slightly, he is too arrogant for that. After all he IS the smartest man in the room.

  • k1smeac@aol.com

    I agree with you boot licker

  • k1smeac@aol.com

    Any leader of our must back the people not the President

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rich-Haynes/100000145346677 Rich Haynes

    McChrystal has very little knowledge of firearms rounds other than the .5.56. He calls it a very powerful round. In actuallity is is a medium powered round with about 1,400 ft-lbs of energy coming out of the barrel. Over 200 yrd its is very weak. It is banned in most states to use for deer hunting due to its weakness and less ability to kill. people are derr bsized animals. They say it tumbles when it hits something so do all bullets when the hit bone etc. All deer hunting cartridges are more powerfull. As an example the 30-06 has been with us since 1906 and is a commonly used deer cartridges. It has about 2,900 ft-lbs of energy over 2x that of the 5.56. Many, many military complain about its weakness at distance. His knowledge of the 2nd Amendment and the Constitution are severly lacking. Just like his judgement in Rolling Stone magazine.

  • Robert Teed

    Stanley McCrystal made a statement on TV that people should not be able to posses Semi Auto rifles. He as are all general officers political appointees and mouthpieces for CINC/POTUS. McCrystal fell short of his oath to defend the Constitution from foreign& Domestic enemies when it comes to the 2nd amendment.

  • 3rdjerseyman

    Another war we decided to lose. There’s no battle men like Hall and McChrystal can’t win except the one against the leftists who control our government, media and academy. McChrystal was done in by a Rolling Stone writer who has gone on to brag about it. Obama is such a weakling that instead of laughing about it, he made a decision that cost our country and the Afghans blood and treasure.
    Obama’s comments last week are an insult to everyone who served in Afghanistan and a incomparably insensitive assault on the feelings of those who’ve lost life. limb or loved ones in this, now abandoned, cause.
    In the big picture, Obama has destroyed a generation’s chance at peace. The black flags are rising.

  • BH206L3

    To me when anybody says unnamed sources as far a journalists go, I read made up. The only thing Mc Crystal did was letting Rolling Stone anywhere near the Command. There are plenty of places in Afghanistan were such persons could just disappear. Rolling Stone is an enemy to the Army and always has been. BO was and is a small petty man, to take unnamed sources in a rag like Rolling Stone for gospel, says more about him than the General.

  • http://twitter.com/AlRoberts3 Al Roberts

    The story is forever old and always new. Good, honest, smart military leaders smacked down by corrupt immoral, stupid political leaders.
    It would appear that it is going to continue until the politicians have destroyed the nation or try to turn it into a dictatorship. The question about the military is whether they have been able to brainwash enough officers coming out of West Point to get the military to enforce the destruction of the Republic.

  • http://twitter.com/AlRoberts3 Al Roberts

    Obama has had more military killed in his 4 years than all of the time Bush had in Afghanistan. But that was on purpose. Each time they are attacked now, they have to communicate with the White HOuse to get permission to defend themselves.

  • http://twitter.com/AlRoberts3 Al Roberts

    Where do you come from. It was not about nation building. It was about the Taliban and the terrorist attacks on America. And the terrorists are still hiding in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Only now they are hiding in PLAIN SIGHT as they have offices in Khandahar, so Obama can “negotiate” with them. That is code for having a place to GIVE AWAY OUR MONEY TO OUR ENEMIES.

  • http://twitter.com/AlRoberts3 Al Roberts

    You don’t understand and you give him too much credit. Obama is not a bucket head. He KNOWS exactly what he is doing. If you ever do learn what his plan is, you will see that NOTHING including the Benghazi actions, were by accident. It was ALL on purpose.
    They are checking our RESOLVE and finding out just how much imcompetency America will put up with. And it looks like was have had our spirits crushed. NO ONE is screaming long enough to actually change it.
    Think about how the media scream about Watergate. And it was NOTHING compared to what Obama does on a DAILLY basis.