FORT LEE, Va. – “Great job, number 14. Take charge of the Ordnance Corps.”
With that closing statement by her new boss, Brig. Gen. Heidi J. Hoyle, Chief of Ordnance, Command Sgt. Maj. Petra M. Casarez began her journey as the corps’ new Regimental CSM here Friday.
Preceding the moment was a ceremony offering the usual military pageantry and precision of movement – as well as a dramatic cannon salute – conducted on the Ordnance Campus’ Whittington Field. The viewing stands and flanking observation areas were filled to near-capacity, and notables in the audience included Maj. Gen. Rodney Fogg, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general, and senior leaders from each Sustainment Center of Excellence school.
The actual change of responsibility occurred when CSM Terry D. Burton relinquished the Ord. Corps colors to Hoyle, and she entrusted them to Casarez, a 25-year-Soldier who has “served in every leadership position, from squad leader to CSM,” according to her bio.
Initially trained as a Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic (now a 91Z senior maintenance supervisor), Casarez has spent a good part of her career overseas. She has completed four tours in South Korea and three in Germany. Stateside, she has served with the 187th Ordnance Battalion, Fort Jackson, S.C., the 143rd Ordnance Battalion, Edgewood, Md., the 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga., and most recently, Army Materiel Command, Redstone Arsenal, Ala.
“I am honored to welcome (CSM Casarez) and her family as the newest members of our Ordnance command team,” Hoyle expressed in remarks following the flag passing and presentation of the regimental CSM charter. “(She) is a seasoned combat leader, well-respected and comes with the highest recommendations from those who have served with her. I look forward to serving with her, and I anticipate nothing short of … superior performance as my trusted advisor and the senior enlisted leader within the Army Ordnance Corps. I couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome you to the team.”
Expressing her thanks to Burton, Hoyle said there is “no better role model or standard-bearer in the Army” and that many were inspired by his unwavering devotion to three things – Soldiers, family and faith.
“Long after he retires from the active roles of our Army, I know I will still hear his voice saying ‘we have to take care of our Soldiers,’” Hoyle observed. “This was his mantra. He looked at everything through that lens. … We’ll also remember his devotion to family. Balancing work and relationships with loved ones can be challenging in our business. Command Sgt. Maj. Burton served as a reminder that we can take care of our Soldiers and our families. The Burtons exemplify the motto family strong is Army strong.”
Highlighting Burton’s achievements as the 13th Regimental CSM, Hoyle said he “championed high-visibility initiatives” like the annual Ordnance Crucible, which has “proven to be a valuable asset for developing tactical competence across the operational force.” He’s led the corps’ implementation of NCO-C3 – a program that focuses attention on the common core competencies all effective enlisted leaders must know. Transformations of AIT training have occurred under his watch as well – efforts that are “adding rigor to functional paths” and better preparing Soldiers for their first operational assignments.
“Like all great NCOs, CSM Burton is well-grounded in Army values and expected leadership qualities. Underpinning that is his unshakeable faith that demonstrates itself through compassion, humility and transparency. It inspires the same in others,” Hoyle observed. “With CSM Burton, it was Soldiers first, family always and faith before all. I cannot think of a finer NCO to shape the future leaders of America as he moves down to Huntsville, Ala., to lead a Junior ROTC program.”
Burton spent the majority of his time at the lectern thanking others, with moments specifically focused on the contributions of his family, the mentors who influenced him, and fellow staff members and garrison service providers who contributed to his success.
Using an analogy to illustrate his viewpoint on leadership, Burton told the true story of a 9-year-old boy who was desperate to play the piano and snuck onto a concert stage prior to a performance by Polish pianist and composer Ignacy Jan Paderewski. The audience booed at the boy’s attempt to play “chopsticks.” The musician heard this and immediately came out to sit next to the youngster and encourage him to keep playing. Joining in, Paderewski created a magical moment that drew cheers from the crowd.
“Professional noncommissioned officers are the Paderewski’s of the Army. They bring the best out of America’s sons and daughters, shaping them into a team that is celebrated as the best fighting force in the world. They clear up chopsticks by applying leadership principles and focusing on coaching and mentoring. They instill Army values.
“NCOs aren’t sergeants, and there is a difference,” Burton further noted. “Sergeants depend on outside motivation; NCOs provide motivation. Sergeants enforce standards on others but not themselves; NCOs live standards and set the example. Sergeants cover their butts. NCOs do the right thing regardless of the consequences. Sergeants avoid responsibility. NCOs feel responsible for everything they can see.
“This November will mark 30 years of service for me, and over 27 of (them), I have served our Army honorably as a noncommissioned officer. I had three priorities: the Soldiers, my family, my faith, and I truly believe I got that right. … Command Sgt. Maj. Casarez, I wish you and Tom the best while serving with this team. Congratulations and God’s speed.”
Casarez said she would “use every available talent and means” to ensure superior maintenance, ammunition management, explosive ordnance disposal, and explosive safety are advantages enjoyed by the United States Army over its enemies.
"I fully understand our force’s duty to perform under adverse conditions and will work with the team to continue to perfect this craft. We will train, educate and develop ordnance professionals,” she said with an accent indicative of her Helsinki, Finland, roots. “I will set the example and maximize my human potential, making sure Team Ordnance abides by the Soldiers Creed. In our supporting role, we will use every available skill to maintain superiority and always be current both tactically and technically, understanding the ever-changing Army. Our vision is to be the first organization units turn to for (operational) needs. I am at your service and ready to go."