STARKE, Fla. – Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony L. Whitehead, the National Guard’s top enlisted leader, visited Florida National Guard members April 21-23 to check in with troops, meet with senior military leaders, and observe weekend drill training.
Whitehead met with various units, including troops assigned to the 211th Regional Training Institute, Camp Blanding, conducting reclassification training to become qualified air and missile defense crewmembers.
“We have SEA Whitehead here, and he is visiting our live fire lane, observing the execution of our students moving as a team and bounding down the lane to engage targets,” said Florida Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Sean Lee, infantry instructor assigned to the 2-211th.
Whitehead, who advises the chief, National Guard Bureau, on all enlisted matters affecting training, utilization and the force’s health, routinely visits Guardsmen across 50 states, three territories, and the District of Columbia to check morale and readiness.
There are more than 43,000 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen on duty around the globe, including about 10,000 Soldiers and 2,000 Airmen in the Florida National Guard.
“When we talk about our National Defense Strategy and how we need engaged, ready Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guard and Space Force service members across the board, our Guardsmen here in the Florida National Guard get after the training important to readiness as an individual and a team,” Whitehead said.
Lee told Whitehead what drives him to lead students who have chosen to cross-train into the infantryman military occupation specialty, one of the military’s main land combat force roles.
“The way I like to put it, when you are a kid, you play Soldier, and when you play Soldier, you are essentially pretending to be an infantryman. So, to me, the infantry is the backbone of the Army,” said Lee. “I am privileged to train and mentor young Soldiers to develop into noncommissioned officers themselves to better the Army and the force for America.”
With every visit, the SEA encourages leaders to educate, empower and execute.
“I believe in leading by example and not by exception, and that is what I have seen here at Camp Blanding,” he said. “So, what it tells me is that we have got engaged leadership.”
One of Whitehead’s top charges to the enlisted force is to create a secure and safe environment for younger generations to join, stay and develop into career-driven future leaders.
“Here in the Florida Guard, we have 19-year-olds coming in, looking at the jobs they have decided they want to be a part of,” said Whitehead. “It is the senior noncommissioned officers that are training them. Not only are they leading from the front with technical competence, but they are doing it with emotional intelligence. I got to hear them talk about the training they received, the confidence they developed, and the caliber of the instructors.”
Whitehead said visiting Guard members is one of his favorite moments as the senior enlisted advisor.
“When we go out into the field, whether it be me, Gen. Dan Hokanson, chief, National Guard Bureau, or any of the NGB leaders, we hear stories from our Soldiers and Airmen about why they joined,” Whitehead said. “We must understand the uniqueness of their stories. There is a connection we can utilize to reach folks in our communities and recruit them into our force. Those stories remind you of where we [leaders] were that many years ago.”
During his visit, Whitehead attended a change of command and retirement ceremony. Maj. Gen. John D. Haas assumed command of the Florida National Guard as adjutant general. Maj. Gen. James O. Eifert retired after over four decades of military service and four years as the state’s highest-ranking military official.
“I am so grateful to visit with the Soldiers and Airmen in the great state of Florida and, adding to that, an opportunity to witness a time-honored tradition of a change of command and the retirement of a leader, a personal mentor of mine, Maj. Gen. James O. Eifert,” said Whitehead.