22 June 2016

Saying Good-bye to a Friend and Sergeant Major

A personal note today: An old friend and former Iowa citizen-soldier died last week. James "Jim" Edwards McEntaffer, 65, lived in Atlantic, Iowa. He'd fought cancer for two years. He died June 17, 2016.

I first worked with him when he was the command sergeant major for the Iowa Army National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division. Later, he was my civilian boss, after he and I had each retired from military service.

As the top enlisted soldier in a unit of more than 3,000 of his fellow Iowans, McEntaffer was friendly and effective in his role as an advocate for the rank-and-file. Despite the sputtering, @$$-chewing stereotype of sergeants major, I don't remember him ever visibly losing his temper. Instead, he'd individually address the stakeholders of each part of a problem, bring about consensus, and establish a unified effort toward the commander's objectives.

That's a long way of saying this: He got things done by helping others get things done, and didn't care who got the credit.

One year, during Annual Training at Camp Ripley, Minn., he posted two interrogatives as a banner in the unit's Tactical Operations Center ("TOC"). Later, I'd incorporate those questions into Sherpatude Nos. 1 and 2. They are:
1. Continually ask: "Who else needs to know what I know?"

2. Continually ask: "Who else knows what I need to know?"
McEntaffer was also indirectly responsible for Sherpatude No. 8: "Know when to wake up the Old Man. Also, know how to wake him up without getting punched, shot, or fired." I'd been on night shift in the TOC, and had chosen to execute the brigade commander's wake-up criteria for reporting significant incidents. At the next shift-change to the day crew, his joking validation—something about how I was lucky to still be alive—was the best kind of praise.

He had a smile. And his eyes smiled, too.

When he wasn't around, his fellow soldiers—even the brigade commander—called him "Mac." In uniform, rank comes easier than respect, and love hardest of all. Mac more than earned all three—from his peers, his leaders, and his subordinates. The nickname was never uttered with sarcasm or malice.

In the field, one of my great joys was to encounter Command Sgt. Maj. McEntaffer enjoying a reflective morning cigar. The blue light of dawn, the second-hand tobacco smoke, a couple of smart remarks around the circle before starting the day? It was better than breakfast.

When I worked for him as a civilian, it was for a contract job, writing and developing instruction materials for the military. He demanded our products deliver the same care for soldiers that he had demanded of us in uniform. The best part of the job, however, was that if I timed my morning arrival to work just right, I'd get a chance to again walk through the smoke, and call him "sergeant major." Just like old times.

See you on the objective, sergeant major.


An obituary is here.

Family and friends can pay their respects on Thurs., June 23, 2016, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Hockenberry Family Care Funeral Home in Atlantic, Iowa.

A private graveside service and interment will be held at the Iowa Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the family prefers memorials to the Unity Point Hospice of Cass County Memorial Hospital in Atlantic, Iowa.

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