FORT LEE, Va. -- Any notion of kicking back and enjoying life without the rat-race of responsibility is clearly repugnant to retired Command Sgt. Maj. Milton B. Hazzard Jr.
When he concluded his military service in 1995, “The Duke” continued to march forward in full, muscle-rippling stride. He has since achieved success in business as a chief executive officer, and his personal pursuits include service as a church deacon, a sustainment community stalwart, and a mentor of up-and-coming logistics professionals.
Now 76 years old and a great-grandfather, the former Quartermaster Corps Regimental CSM continues to demonstrate the same driving intensity, resolve and competiveness that defined his three-and-a-half decade military career. Unwavering is his determination to wage a silent but deliberate battle against the notion of fading away into what others label as the “golden years.”
Hazzard tersely responded, “Not at this minute,” when asked if he planned to curb his CEO and community responsibilities anytime soon. He defiantly added, “I determine when I’m going to work and when I’m not,” afterward.
“Work” is a powerful, stimulating force for the seasoned veteran – something that is interwoven into his substance and being. It was birthed under the roof of a fiercely independent father in a 1950s’ working class Philadelphia neighborhood. Hard lessons from dad laid the foundation upon which the son stands today.
“I had a very stable family life,” he said, acknowledging the efforts of the late Milton Hazzard Sr., and Ophelia, his 98-year-old mother. “My father was from the old school, so he dominated the family, and he was certainly a no-nonsense guy. I think I adopted some of his habits in that regard.”
Hazzard’s father, nicknamed M.B., was a proud World War II veteran and certified welder while in uniform. He also was a classic man-of-the-house provider who encouraged his six kids to work hard, respect elders, shun assistance programs and embrace the concept of personal responsibility.
“He just demanded everybody to pull their own,” recalled Hazzard. “I remember one day I was complaining about something, and he said I could ‘change it by getting a job.’ I got work as a newspaper delivery person, and was able to make a bit of money. I found out years later he had arranged it but never let me know.”
Hazzard said it was part of his father’s plan to help him decipher the laws of action; that doing something about something is likely to move the needle in a positive direction – in theory at least. However, when the young Hazzard was exposed to the real world, he came to comprehend sometimes shadowy institutional practices stood between effort and fair benefit.
“In the ‘50s, Jim Crow in the civilian world was a thorn in the side of black people,” he said. “Opportunities for well-credentialed black professionals – from my standpoint – were lacking. There seemed to be a glass ceiling. I knew people who had (college) degrees who thought they were doing well if they were able to get on the police force or be a mail-delivery person.”
Hazzard’s sense of equity, self-esteem and intellect worked as deterrents against finding civilian employment as a young man. He became interested in military service after hearing his active-duty uncles speak favorably about the Army’s merits in regard to race and equal opportunity.
“The Army, from their perspective, seemed to measure people based on their abilities, performance and success, and I bought in to that,” he said. “It led me to enlist as early as I could.”
The 17-year-old signed up for combat engineer. The first mentors he encountered – mostly veterans of WWII and the Korean War – encouraged him to seek higher opportunities in the practice and science of influence.
“They said, ‘You need to focus on leadership,’ and I should make it a priority rather than trying to concentrate on some specific MOS,” remembered Hazzard, who was later awarded quartermaster military occupational specialties through on-the-job training. “They would guide me into units where I could get leadership jobs.”
Hazzard bolted through the ranks fairly early in his career, earning corporal in 1961, sergeant first class seven years later, and CSM in 1977.
The growing list of those who further shaped him into an enlisted leader included Cpl. Hobby – the first name eluded him – a basic training assistant platoon sergeant (there were no drill sergeants in those days), who was inclined to call on a green but eager Hazzard to take on duties such as marching troops to and from training facilities.
“I learned how to maneuver the Soldiers as a platoon and how to call ‘Jodie,’” said the Vietnam veteran, referring to what is now known as singing cadence. “He then spent time teaching me basic leadership skills – counseling, etc. I knew I was sort of doing his job, but I was learning. We kept in touch until he died.”
The influences of Hobby and others helped Hazzard formulate his own equation for leadership. His was structured around the pillars of competence, discipline, compassion, and most importantly, loyalty.
“I found if you had a devoted personal connection with the people you’re working with, they will react to that,” he said of the latter. “I’ve heard people say behind my back and to my face I was demanding, particularly in the area of discipline; but I was fair. Hearing that, I began practicing that trait, and it eventually became a part of me.”
Hazzard noted how the concept of leading and shaping Soldiers was far different in his formative Army years than what it is today. The sphere of influence was far more authoritarian and regimented, and there were hardened expectations of compliance.
“‘Right’ really didn’t apply,” he said of the Army of the ‘60s “because they could get a little rough with you at times. It was effective. They had a saying that if you grabbed them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”
Some effective and accepted leadership techniques from the old Army would raise eyebrows and probably generate formal complaints today. Nonetheless, they are “teaching points,” in Hazzard’s opinion, that show what the Army’s mindset was in the male-dominated ‘60s era and how much the professionalism has evolved since then.
Hazzard was a part of that evolution. His career straddled the pre- and post-Vietnam military mentalities, and he inevitably carried baggage from each. Through it all, he relied on time-honored principles.
“I always tried to lead by example,” he said, noting how he religiously ran with units during physical training and visited with Soldiers at their places of duty. “I tried not to ask anybody to do anything I wouldn’t.”
Clearly, the Army liked what they saw in Hazzard. He earned CSM in 17 years and was one-of-five finalists for the Sergeant Major of the Army position in 1990. He also counts his five-year stint as QM RCSM as a time-in-service highlight.
Hazzard, however, is hesitant to call his career successful, pointing out there were painful shortcomings and failures that make for a powerful dissenting argument.
“There is so much more I should’ve contributed to the mission,” said Hazzard, a QM Foundation Hall of Fame inductee. “I loved what I was doing. Over the years, however, I’ve had Soldiers get into some ‘life’ trouble, did not get promoted or they were having some other problems. I’ve always kind of took that personal as a failure on my part. What was it that I didn’t do?”
Hazzard recounted how he mentored a promising senior noncom who decided to risk everything for a few dollars in a black market scam. He was subsequently accused and convicted of a crime and sent to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Hazzard vividly recalled the haunting image of the Soldier after the verdict, his chains and shackles clanking as military police escorted him from a building.
Superficially, the story illustrates the limits of influence; that Soldiers are ultimately responsible for their actions and behaviors. Hazzard’s wife has reiterated that point to her husband more than once, and he agrees with her, but he said “it doesn’t ease the thorn in my flesh.”
How Hazzard thinks about the Soldier profession has made an impression on retired CSM Don Wells, deputy to the Logistics NCO Academy commandant. Though he never served with Hazzard in uniform, he said he knew him to be a sharp, straight-shooting, lead-from-the-front standard-bearer who left no doubts he was in charge.
Wells recalled how Hazzard would meet with quartermaster Soldiers attending the Sergeants Major Academy, and in retirement, how he frequently returns to Fort Lee to share his insights.
“I always cherished (his advice),” he said, recalling Hazzard’s visits when he was the 23rd QM Brigade CSM and QM NCOA commandant. “He kind of laid the foundation for guys like me, and I will always respect that.”
A 1988 encounter with Hazzard in the freezing cold at a field site in South Korea made an impression on then-Pfc. Sean J. Rice, who recently relinquished his duties as the QM Corps’ top enlisted Soldier, the same position Hazzard held at the end of his career.
“He came out in full kit and literally said ‘I just want to talk to Soldiers,’” said Rice, noting how distinguished visitors typically came out in dress uniforms. “That stayed on my mind throughout the many years, so anytime I go to the field to visit Soldiers, I’m in full kit.”
In addition to the way Hazzard presented himself, Rice observed, it was how he related to Soldiers, generating camaraderie and a sense of shared experience amid the hardest conditions, that impressed.
“I thought that was great,” he said, “because I was a young Soldier looking for aspiring African-American role models. It was powerful. I was like, ‘OK, I want to be like that. It was my first impression of a CSM.”
Undoubtedly, Hazzard’s legacy is robust and intact. The QM NCOA auditorium bore his name until the building was turned over to the Transportation School eight years ago. The QM Corps headquarters located in Mifflin Hall continues to evoke his memory with a conference room named in his honor.
Although Hazzard still holds a job, he continues to support the installation as a member of the Quartermaster Foundation and other organizations.
On top of that, he recently completed his first book, “Secret of the Buffalo Soldiers,” a work inspired by an interest in history and an early assignment to Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where the famed warriors were once headquartered and are now celebrated.
“Here were these people paying homage to my race that I didn’t know anything about,” said Hazzard, referring to his time in Arizona. “That sort of piqued my interest. I began to buy books, participate in trail walks and do research. It was just interesting in what I was finding.”
The Buffalo Soldiers, formed following the Civil War, were noted for their fighting prowess during the country’s western expansion. Much of their story has been omitted from history books, thus it was a “secret” exposed to Hazzard and increasing numbers of others.
“I didn’t know the role Buffalo Soldiers played in the development of the United States of America,” he said, “and that’s what I want readers to get out of it.”
“Secret of the Buffalo Soldiers” is available online.
Hazzard resides in northern Virginia with his wife of 34 years, Carrie. He has six children and 19 grandchildren.