A military grandparent started Col. H. Charles Chuck Hodges on a path to the Army that led him to command of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, but a commander during Operation Desert Storm, a military school and a handful of professional NCOs stood out in shaping his military values.
Hodges grew up in Florida watching television series like World at War, Combat, Rat Patrol, but he was consumed by football. He earned a scholarship to play for the University of Sioux Falls (S.D.) Cougars. A shattered ankle in his sophomore year also shattered his dream of playing in the National Football League. His parents told him without the scholarship, they couldnt afford to send him to college.
He weighed his options and enlisted in an infantry unit of the Army National Guard in 1985 in Sanford, Fla. As soon as I got into the Army stuff, all the things I had missed about football teamwork, camaraderie, the physical challenges I found in the Army, he said.
Hodges enrolled in the Reserve Officer Training Corps at University of Central Florida and graduated as Distinguished Military Graduate and with his commission as an infantry officer. He went to airborne school, but credited Ranger School for his confidence as a leader.
He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment in the 3rd Armored Division in Germany, and with it, deployed to combat in Operation Desert Storm, during which he learned one of his most important leadership lessons.
The greatest example was (watching) Lt. Col. John Brown (later the U.S. Army Pacific commanding general, then commander of 3rd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment in the 3rd Armored Division speak) on the radio when we made our first contact, Hodges said. Our scout platoon sergeant was (very excited) on the radio, yelling Ive got T-72s to my direct front! Ill never forget it, Lt. Col. Brown (very calmly) said, Sgt. Bedford, engage them. Engage them now. You could hear the calming sense (Browns tone) had and Sgt. Bedford calmly (responded), Roger, sir. Engaging now. I learned by his example, when chaos is breaking out all around you, lower your tone and stay calm.
When he returned from Desert Storm, his grandfather, Forrest Hodges, began sharing more about his World War II experiences. The retired Air Force master sergeant and civil servant was a squad leader in one of at least three lost battalions in U.S. military history. In this one, the 30th Infantry Division fought the German 2nd SS Panzer Division in August 1944 near Mortain, France.
To Hodges surprise, his grandfather had a front row seat to history.
My grandfather was a security squad leader for the battalion commander in the personal protection detail for those guys, Hodges said. The 2nd SS Panzers overran them. He and the command group were trying to hide while the rest of the battalion was on this Hill 314. The battalion commander and S3 (were) up on this hill with a compass and map.
A German grenade sailed in and detonated, wounding the commander.At that moment, Hodges grandfather and squad, the HHC commander and signal officer made their way back to the town of Mortain, hiding from the Germans for two days until the Americans finally broke through and rescued them.
Colonel (Hammond) Birks, (the 120th Inf. Regiment commander), was driving through the town and my grandfather and all these other guys come running out of this farmhouse.
Forrest Hodges later was part of a staged photo of the historic battle that appeared in Stars and Stripes. Hodges took his grandfather to France in 1997 and retraced his units path across Europe, from landing on the beach at D+3 all the way to Magdeburg near Berlin.
His grandfather was not the only NCO to make an impression on Hodges. Among a number of memorable senior NCOs who taught him military values was 1st Sgt. Milt May, who took him aside and quietly took him to task for his boot laces violating Army regulations.
Lieutenant, are you always going to provide such a poor leadership example to my Soldiers, or is today just an anomaly? May asked him, explaining as a leader, he would constantly be in a fishbowl and his actions, good and bad, would be emulated by subordinates.
Hodges went on to command two companies, the first in Korea, and the second in the Old Guard.
Afterward as a major, he entered the Training with Industry Program. He went to graduate school, then worked for six months in Edelman Public Relations in Washington, D.C. for President Ronald Reagans press secretary, Mike Deaver.
I was thrown into the civilian world and worked on a civilian team for six months on a variety of projects, he said.
At Edelman, he worked with a competitor of the company that won the Armys Stryker vehicle contract, which led him ultimately to JBLM. From there, he worked as Military District of Washingtons media relations teacher with a staff of public affairs civilians.
The back-to-back experiences helped him achieve a comfort level in working with civilians.
Civilians-military, everybody wants the same thing to be treated with respect, to be appreciated for the job that they do, to feel like theyre part of something bigger than themselves, and to be rewarded in some way, Hodges said. Military or civilian, whether youre cutting grass or cleaning the motor pool, its the same. Whether we wear a uniform or a suit, its no difference.
From there, he came to Fort Lewis, getting hands-on experience with armored combat vehicles in the first Stryker brigade 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, as a battalion S-3, executive officer and brigade S-3 before taking command of the Tomahawk Battalion, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, in 2007.He led it into combat that year in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Hodges returned last month from the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pa. and took command of JBLM Aug. 7. Throughout his career, his values havent changed.
The command philosophy Ive had for years has always been the golden rule, treat people with dignity and respect, and to stay calm, he said.
In his town hall remarks Aug. 22, he added more bullets to his command philosophy: discipline is not an option; keep it simple, simples hard enough; dont limit yourself there is no box to think outside of; this is a team sport. Were not artists, fencers, or tennis players; before decisions, think of second-, third- and fourth order effects; hunt elk, not rabbits tell me where the elk are; and finally, if you hate change, you will love irrelevancy.