More than 440 senior enlisted leaders, representing all services — active, reserve, and retired — descended on Houston, Texas, June 20-22, 2019, from all parts of the United States to attend the Great Sergeants Major Reunion, the largest gathering of senior non-commissioned officers in America.
Out of U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy (USASMA) classes 1 through 10, there was only one Sergeant Major in attendance. Gene McKinney, who served as the 10th Sergeant Major of the Army, was among the many sergeants major to participate in this year's event. Sadly, 16 sergeants major have passed since the last gathering in 2017.
The Department of Veterans Affairs was well represented, with two Veterans Experience office employees–both retired command sergeants major (representing classes 53 and 55)–on site to share MISSION Act and suicide prevention and awareness information, and hand out the VA Welcome Kit.
CSM (Ret) Eric Montgomery speaks with SMA (Ret) Gene C. McKinney at the event in Houston.
As the conference room filled, VA staff were there to welcome attendees and hear their concerns and feedback about VA. One attendee, Larry Williams, said "the White House hotline is the best resource in place." Others similarly expressed wishing they had this information before leaving service, and that VA's presence at the reunion convinced several to enroll in VA. Even those still serving, or soon to be retiring as sergeants major, reported a desire to share the VA Welcome Kit information with their soldiers.
It was an invaluable opportunity to attend, to share what's happening inside VA, knowing that these senior enlisted leaders will be VA advocates to their soldiers all over the country.
Retired SGMs from USASMA class 55 at the GSM Reunion 2019.
Command Sergeant Major (retired) Ivanhoe Love Jr., who also served three terms as the mayor of Liberal, Kansas, was the keynote speaker. His spoke about living healthy lives, the importance of annual checkups and the power of positive thinking. He also stressed the importance of having personal relationships, staying connected and informed, and how these factors impact life longevity.
Although he was not in attendance due to health reasons, fellow Sergeant Major (Ret) Ernest Colden, a World War II, Korea, and Vietnam Veteran from South Carolina who turned 95 on June 23, 2019, was recognized.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.