SEAC visits JBER

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Hailey Staker
  • JBER Public Affairs

Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramon “CZ” Colón-López visited Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson with Alaska congressional members, Jan. 17.

During his visit, he discussed suicide prevention and behavioral health optimization, visited with Detachment 1, 3d Air Support Operations Squadron members and the Alaska Air National Guard’s 212th Rescue Squadron, and hosted a town hall for more than 400 JBER personnel.

“I’ve been in the service for 32 years, and I’m on my 33rd and final year,” Colón-López told the town hall audience. “It’s been a good run, but it hasn’t always been easy. I joined the service to get some discipline and structure in my life, and I reverted to my old ways in my first assignment, where I got an Article 15, alcohol-related incident. Almost got kicked out.”

Colón-López shared a story from when he was a Transportation Management Office specialist and how a technical sergeant from a completely different unit intervened.

“It only took one person to make a difference and turn the ship around for me,” Colón-López said. “She sat me down and asked why I was in the situation I was in, and it was really easy to shift blame. Every time I looked at that dynamic, I know there was some ownership on my part that could have prevented that from happening.”

She gave him 24 hours to think about it, and he did just that and in every scenario he played out in his mind, he was at fault.

“The next day I decided to meet with her, and she went to the personnel office, made photocopies of paper records and did some math to get me back on track,” Colón-López said. “She said, ‘I know your supervisor and he isn’t going to do this for you, and you’re not a bad kid. I think you have a future ahead of you and I want to help you out.’”

By 2003, Colón-López retrained out of TMO and became a pararescueman. When attending the Noncommissioned Officer Academy, he went to lunch and ran into now Chief Master Sgt. Vicki Orca. Upon recognizing him as the TMO airman she had helped before, she acknowledged how he was ahead of her plan, having now made technical sergeant himself.

“In 2009, when I made chief, she was the second phone call I received,” he added. “I tell you that story because that’s the power each of you has to influence somebody else, especially in remote locations. You begin to interact with each other, get to know the things that make you tick and piss you off, and then you can better understand when somebody is not quite right. And that’s when we get to help each other out.”

But that wasn’t the only time Colón-López needed to rely on something else. He explained the stresses that built up after he became a pararescueman and went to the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, deploying 17 times.

“Throughout all that time I was deploying, stress was overcoming all of us, and there was an unwritten badge of honor that you didn’t talk about it, you didn’t whine about it. You just sucked it up,” he said. “To go ahead and seek help was a sign of weakness. Nobody did it because you didn’t want to be that guy on the team to be the weak link, which came to our detriment. I lied on my PHA for 17 years until the wheels came off."

By the time the wheels came off, Colón-López had lied on his physical health assessment for 17 years. He’d also sought help at least four times and planned to commit suicide before the Special Operations Command care coalition came forward to help.

“After the fourth time, I was done,” he said. “It was embarrassing enough admitting this stuff, and I’m not going to do it again. The SOCOM care coalition said, ‘don’t get off the train just yet; we need to help you out.’ It’s because of that that I’m here today.”

Through care, he learned he had eight traumatic brain injuries and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. During his interviews with Gen. Mark Milley, the 20th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to become the SEAC, Colón-López was up-front about his past and seeking treatment.

“Gen. Milley was like, ‘I think that’s a good thing because there are a lot of people that are having the same issues you’re having, and what better than the leader that relates to them,” Colón-López said. “A leader that relates to its people. You have to be a visible example of the change you want to see and the behavior you expect. You set the tone for the organization, whether positive or negative; that’s up to you. If you touch one life, you can make a world difference.”

Colón-López then discussed some of the differences the joint force will face in years to come compared to conflicts of the past.

“Now we have a lot of other issues,” he said. “A lot of information, a lot of uncertainty of what’s going to happen next. The fight with the Taliban and Al Queda was pretty simple.”

The Taliban was not adhering to the Geneva Conventions, and so the military had to evolve and change its tactics to conform to the fight at hand.

“Conventional Warfare is dead,” he added. “If you think we’re going to go banner after banner, ship versus ship, plane versus plane, and that is just going to be the way the fight goes on, you’re grossly mistaken. There’s going to be a lot of stuff going on in the background - influence, psychological operations, homeland and political issues - that are going to impact the way we fight, and that’s via the means of our fighting spirit being influenced.”

The SEAC asked the service members in the room to stand and recite the oath of enlistment along with him.

“Think about that for a second,” he added. “That’s the most important oath, a promise outside of marriage that you will make to anyone, and in this case, that promise was made to the American people, the people you grew up with, your sons and daughters, the ones that are oblivious about the threats surrounding us. I ask every single one of you memorize it. It’s going to remind you in the worst of times why you’re wearing that uniform.”

He then took questions from the audience, like possible steps that are being taken to combat inflation and increase pay for service members.

“Your voice is being heard, we’re paying attention to the economy, and we’re flexing to make sure you have everything you need,” Colón-López said. “One action we’re going to take this year is the quadrennial review of military compensation.”

During the Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation, the Department of Defense commissions a complete review of compensation principles and concepts for armed forces members.

“We’re looking at the option of a time-in-grade pay table that takes care of time in grade instead of time in service. It will also include a targeted pay raise for E-1 through E-6 to alleviate issues like food insecurity, as an example,” the SEAC said. “When was the last time we got a targeted pay raise for the DoD? Decades ago…we’re pushing for that.”

Though Colón-López provided oversight on additional pay table initiatives, he left the audience with food for thought on promotions and positions.

“I’m here because of the joint initiatives between the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force,” he said. “This position is purple…but my profession will always be an Airman. As you ascend through the ranks, you’ll make some adjustments, but please do not sell your soul for a position or a rank.”

He then directed his comments toward the Airman Leadership School students in attendance. ALS is the first step in professional military education for senior Airmen and staff sergeants as they gain the responsibility of supervising younger Airmen.

“Start building the right habits now because your reputation and credibility gets measured each day,” Colón-López said. “The best position to be in is when you report someplace, and people expect nothing but results because of what you’ve done in the past, not because you’ve told them but because people have been impacted by that change.”

After the town hall, the SEAC visited with U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David Nahom, commander of Alaskan North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, Alaskan Command and 11th Air Force, and Chief Master Sgt. Kristopher Berg, the Alaskan NORAD Region, Alaskan Command and 11th Air Force command chief to discuss the future expansion of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex.

The JPARC is the Department of Defense’s premier training venue in Alaska, covering more than 77,000 miles and providing a realistic training environment that allows Airmen to train for full spectrum engagements, ranging from individual skills to complex, large-scale joint engagements.

Colón-López ended his trip with a visit to the Alaska Air National Guard’s 212th Rescue Squadron, where he and Alaska congressional representatives received a rescue triad briefing from AKANG Brig. Gen. Anthony Stratton, the 17th Wing commander. They focused on some of the recent missions the 176th Wing responded to and how obtaining a newer model HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter will improve operations in the future.