26 February 2008

Former Marine, Now a Soldier, Leads By Example

Photo: Army Sgt. William H. Hall, a Foley, Ala., native, and team leader with the personal security detail for the commander of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, prepares for a mission Feb. 20, 2008. Hall, a father of six with another on the way and a former Marine leads by example by daily mentoring, coaching and training his soldiers. Photo by Sgt. James P. Hunter, USA

Noncommissioned officers in America's Army have always served as the vanguards by mentoring, coaching and training troops during peacetime and war. Sgt. William Hall, 39, has always led from the front. Throughout his life, he said, he has lived by the motto, "You lead by example."

"Sergeant Hall is the NCO that all (sergeants) and junior enlisted should strive to be: always leading from the front and always setting the proper example," said Staff Sgt. Charlie Collier, a Lufkin, Texas, native, who serves as Hall's squad leader.

Hall said he wants to ensure his soldiers know that if they come into a sticky situation while operating in northwestern Baghdad, they can look at him and know he's going to make the right decision.

"Soldiers watch what you do," Hall said. "Anybody can demand respect, but few people earn respect. If (soldiers) truly respect you by you earning their respect, they'll follow you anywhere you've got to go."

Hall, a native of Foley, Ala., serves as a team leader on the personal security detail for Col. William Hickman, commander of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. He described his job as "exciting, demanding and rewarding."

The security element travels throughout the battle space daily, escorting the commander as he meets with soldiers, Iraqi leaders and Iraqi security forces.

"We go out every day," Hall said. "It's pretty demanding, because we concentrate on the entire (area of operation), going everywhere in northwest Baghdad."

Hall said the key is learning the routes through continued planning, but that at times he has to make key decisions on the spot. "You've got to make sure you know where you are going, because everybody is following you," he said. "Your main job is to get everybody where they need to be."

Though Hall is responsible for leading the convoy, he said, he serves an even greater responsibility to his soldiers. He hopes he can make an impact on their lives.

"You make sure they are good soldiers, make sure they do what they are supposed to do, ensuring they stay alert," he said. "You have to make sure they are there every day, maintaining their arms and their equipment. The main objective is to complete the mission."

However, leading by example is nothing new to Hall, who grew up in a small town along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. His town had a well-known football tradition. He was a part of that tradition since the age of 8.

In 1989, three years after graduating from high school, he joined the Marine Corps and served as an infantryman with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. He was a team leader and a squad leader. Many members of his family served their nation, but none of them served as a Marine, so he decided to go against the grain.

"I always heard it was kind of hard," Hall said. "At that point in my life, I needed something challenging."

As a Marine, Hall earned his Ranger tab and airborne wings. "I got to experience a little bit of the Army through the Marine Corps," he said.

He worked himself to the rank of sergeant, and in 1995 he decided to leave the Corps. He had orders to become a drill instructor, but his father was ailing from heart disease and he wanted to spend what time he had left with him, Hall explained.

In the meantime, Hall worked as a sod farmer and in the lumber business, but the passion for the military never left him, he said.

"I was an operations manager in a lumber company for several years -- made good money -- but I had a desire to serve my country again, (to) come to Iraq and be a part of history," he said. "I felt like I would have cheated my life if I didn't come over here and at least gave my effort in the battle against terrorism."

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Hall had wanted to rejoin the military's ranks, but family and job commitments stood in the way, until one day when he said, "Hey, I don't want to miss out," the sergeant recalled.

Hall joined the National Guard and served with the 20th Special Forces Group. He went through the selection course, but even after completing the 21-day course, was not selected. He didn't see this as a weakness, he said, but rather as a sign. He said he felt as if he still had the mental and physical capabilities to make it through, so why not go active duty?

"Sometimes in life you have to do something that makes you feel better inside," Hall said. "I was on my way to Desert Storm and it ended, so I was like, 'Man, I missed out.' I said, 'Enough's enough.'"

Six weeks after leaving the National Guard for the active-duty Army, Hall was in Iraq.

"This is what it's all about. Everyone's got to do their time and do the right thing," he said with conviction. "Not too many people can say they came to Iraq and defended their country."

It was a sudden decision, but Hall said he always has had his family's support. Hall and his wife have six children, with another on the way. His wife had just graduated from nursing school and was still in the process of beginning her career, but he knew whatever he chose to do, his wife and children would back him up 100 percent, he said.

When Hall gets the rare opportunity to kick his feet up and relax, he thinks about his wife and his unborn son, and he counts his blessings, he said.

"(God has) let me do what I've always wanted to do," he said. "I've always had the desire to be in the military."

Author Army Sgt. James Hunter serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.
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