"Some people look at me and they go, 'Man, I don't want to talk to 'sergeant major,' … (but) I am very approachable," said Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Terry Gardner. "I'm an open book, and I'm definitely a man of my word, and I will help as many people as I can if they ask."
That drive to help, to affect positive change, is a passion that has fueled Gardner throughout his 29-year career in the Army.
Today, Gardner's goal is to make Fort Riley the best garrison in the U.S. Army, he said. When he officially assumed responsibility as Fort Riley's garrison command sergeant major in July, he promised to give 110 percent of his time and effort to that goal.
A recent visit to his office found Gardner making good on that promise – answering an email when a call came in on his cell phone, then another on his landline. He addressed each item of business efficiently and courteously, his personal manner seeming to reflect his own vision for Fort Riley.
"My vision is to ensure that we are doing everything we can possibly do to keep Fort Riley operating the way the Army wants us operating and go beyond that," he said.
In addition to ensuring the vision of Fort Riley leadership is communicated to all levels within the installation, Gardner also said he wants to create a great environment for Soldiers, Families and the civilian workforce.
"It's all about taking care of them," he said.
Early in his career, Gardner experienced both good and bad leaders, he said. He recalled wanting to be one of the good ones, telling his wife he wanted the opportunity to "make an impact and influence Soldiers."
"I really do love Soldiering. I love engaging Soldiers," he said. "I've been in 29 years, and I continue to love engaging them."
That personal connection is something that fuels Gardner. He loves to sit down and connect with Soldiers one-on-one, to find out what is on their minds, to ask questions, to explore issues, and, ultimately, to empower them to find solutions, he said.
"You can learn a lot from the Soldiers talking to them," he said.
Gardner seemed destined for the Army. He'd thought of becoming a police officer, he said, but his mother thought he would be well-suited for the military. When a friend of his suggested they enlist under the buddy plan in the mid-1980s, Gardner joined the Army. The buddy plan was an incentive program promising that friends who enlisted together would have at least one duty station assignment in common. Nineteen years after enlisting, Gardner and his friend finally ended up together at Fort Bragg, N.C., he recalled with a laugh.
Gardner also has been stationed at Camp Stanley, Korea; Fort Richardson, Alaska; Baumholder, Germany; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Polk, La.; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; and more. He has deployed in support of Operation Safe Haven in Panama, Operation Restore Democracy in Haiti, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
As for Kansas, Gardner and his wife, Teresa, were unfamiliar with the sunflower state and were skeptical at first, as they drove in from the western part of the state, he said, but they quickly discovered a welcoming community.
"This is one of the best communities I've ever been in in my 29 years of service," Gardner said. "Manhattan, Junction City … it seems like every community around here just embraced Fort Riley like I've never seen."
Gardner said he enjoys the outdoors – hunting, fishing, boating – and just being out and about.
"Kansas has a lot to offer," he said. "Me and my wife, Teresa, we're just happy to be part of the Fort Riley community, and we're just looking forward to the future, to see what Kansas has for us for the upcoming months."
When asked what he wanted the community to know about him, Gardner stressed his enjoyment of the Army and his approachability.
"That's it," Gardner said with a smile. "I'm just 'sergeant major.'"