Capt. Gregory Youngblood is the Aide-de-Camp to White Sands Missile Range Commander Brig. Gen. Eric L. Sanchez. Youngblood has served in the Army for a little over four years and comes from a military background with both his father and his grandfather having served in the military. We asked Youngblood a couple of questions on what being in the Army means to him and why he chose to join.
This is the first in a series of WSMR Soldier profiles.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I was born in New York but I bounced around the country a lot because my dad was a Submariner in the Navy. I grew up, in my formative years, in Arlington, Texas, where I was heavily involved in sports during school, with football being the big sport in North Texas, and I also did scouting since Tiger Cubs and earned my Eagle Scout at 16. My junior year of high school we moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, I graduated in 2008 and I went to North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, where I studied Geology and Physics. I attended college on a four-year Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship, which is a great opportunity to both pay for college and to help develop leadership skills. My grandfather was in the Air Force and my father was in the Navy, but I didn't care for boats or planes so I set my sights on the Army. I also have a strong volunteer background through both the church and scouting so I always knew I wanted to continue serving and to give something back to the community and to a country that had afforded me and my family so many opportunities. Joining the Army was a really great choice to continue that path. While pursuing my bachelors in Geology I spent summers doing field research projects, a lot of which brought me to the Southwest, so I was absolutely in love with this area before moving here to White Sands.
I met my wife Christina, my freshman year of college. We started dating during our sophomore year and soon after graduation we got married. She's been my greatest supporter during my time in the Army, and I couldn't have followed this path without her enduring love, strength and courage. To be corny for a second, I may have studied Geology – but she's my rock.
After commissioning as an Officer in the Army in August 2012, I went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for Basic Officer Leadership Course. My first assignment was to a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery, A-2 ADA THAAD, 11th ADA Brigade, where I became the Sensor Platoon Leader for the Army's newest Air Defense system. I was extremely fortunate to have a great first Battery Commander Capt. Peter Lawall, he was the type of leader who was always supportive, would let you lead your Soldiers and would be there for advice and to point you in the right direction when you needed it. He helped me grow as a leader in that very first assignment. In March of 2014 I deployed in the Homeland Defense of Guam Mission where they sent our THAAD unit to Andersen Air Force Base in Yigo, Guam, for both defense and deterrence in response to North Korean aggression. After returning from that yearlong deployment, I was selected to move up to the S-3 Planning and Operations staff in 11th Brigade Headquarters. Col. Al Wiernicki was the Brigade Commander who I had the opportunity to work with on a few missions, and was able to learn a lot from his leadership and mentorship. He's a very deep thinking and level-headed leader; the quintessential quiet professional who had the innate ability to absorb massive amounts of information and always has the perfect thing to say. The best leaders I've had the opportunity to meet in the Army always work towards solutions rather than dwell on the obstacles to success, Col. Wiernicki was definitely one of those leaders. In the spring of 2015 I had the chance to interview with Brig. Gen. Eric Sanchez for this position and shortly thereafter I came to work up here at WSMR in July of 2016. I love being a part of this team with such an essential mission and historical importance, I feel like I learn 1,000 new things a day and every day is something completely different.
When you were little what did you aspire to be?
In keeping with what my major was in college, I actually wanted to be a geologist. As a kid I used to always hunt around in the creek looking for rocks and fossils, and at a very young age I was really interested in all things geology, especially earthquakes and volcanos. In the third grade I even did a science fair project categorizing all the different types of rocks in the local park. I still get to enjoy it mainly as a hobby, but I will probably look for a job in the field when I get out of the Army.
What is your favorite book or television show?
I really like science fiction authors, Douglas Adams series "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" is one of my favorite I've read nearly a dozen times. If you look in my aide backpack I'm always carrying a towel (According to the book, a towel is about the most useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have). As for TV, it's a pretty wide gambit, but Blue Bloods is my favorite show right now. My best friend is a law enforcement officer, and the show does a really good job of tackling all of these issues you see on national television in terms of law enforcement interaction with the public and tells both sides of the story. Also, who doesn't love Tom Selleck?
What led you to the Army?
Duty and wanting to give something back to the country that provides so many freedoms and opportunities. There's nowhere else but the Army where someone fresh out of college can be given so much responsibility and leadership opportunity and you learn so much so quickly. In just four years of service I've had a very diverse array of experiences that have all served to help develop me as a leader. It's proven to be an invaluable experience towards anything I want to do in the future.
How long have you served in the Army?
Commissioned in August 2012, so about four and a half years.
Did you think you'd be serving this long?
I've definitely got a solid eight years in me. As long as the Army will have me I don't see a reason to stop anytime soon. I'll keep doing it as long as it's challenging and there are opportunities to do great things.
What have you learned during your time in the Army?
You learn a lot, I've said it before but it truly is 1,000 new things a day, especially here at WSMR. One of the more unique things you learn about is people. I'm constantly amazed by the amount of people you meet who are doing excellent things in the Army in 100's of different ways. Deploying to Guam was an incredibly great experience. An interesting thing I learned there was that the Chamorro people of Guam have the highest rate of service per capita, more than any of the states in the U.S. They're very family and service oriented and are literally the kind of people that will give you the shirt off their back. You learn about people by learning where they come from and what their story is. That's one of the most invaluable things for me.
Is there a moment you can look back on and share that can help define your time in the Army?
Right before a unit deploys you do a field training exercise, also known as a culminating training event or a mission rehearsal exercise, so that's what we did before deploying to Guam. Seeing a unit you worked beside every day, and will ultimately deploy with, that is at the top of their game and is so cohesive, it is a really great feeling. We were all really excited about the mission. You can't ask for a better workplace than one where everybody is excited about the mission. It was a very exciting and memorable time. It's great to work with individuals who are really firing at all gears. It's all of the little things. Here, during Rancher's Day (an event held annually to thank the local ranchers with their continued working relationship with the installation during test missions) I was able to experience Trinity Site with the local ranchers. One of the gentlemen I talked with there could recall the day the atomic bomb was detonated and seeing the blast as a kid. Experiences like that are almost every day out here. So for me, my best and favorite times in the Army are always about the people around you and your team.
What is something the Army has instilled in you?
A lot of leadership skills and responsibility.
How has the Army helped shape you to become the person you are today?
A lot of the events that have helped shape me have been based on the leaders I've had the opportunity to work with. From Capt. Lawall to Col. Wiernicki, to Gen. Eric Sanchez here at WSMR. I always take a few things away for my own leadership toolbox. All these leaders were forward thinkers, team builders, and had a genuine concern for people and their families. I look forward to taking all these small lessons learned and insights with me forward to wherever the Army takes me.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
WSMR really is a great place to live and work. I love this assignment and look forward to trying to get back here again in the future. It is such an important mission we have out here, and it truly is a national treasure – not just the land and instrumentation, but the experience and stories of the workforce.