The initial meet and greet was just a warm-up for the day. After speaking with the assembled troops, Colón-López visited with Airmen and Soldiers during break-out sessions.
The SEAC position, which is the highest enlisted position in the Defense Department, was created in 2005 under Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The SEAC advises the chairman on all matters involving enlisted personnel. As Colón-López explained, it means a lot of travelling, spending time with troops wherever they are and keeping a finger on the pulse of enlisted personnel.
Colón-López emphasized the importance of readiness and developing leaders from the bottom up.
“I want to echo what (Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, California’s adjutant general) said to you about empowering your junior troops,” Colón-López said.
“It is the responsibility of us as the (noncommissioned officers) and officers of today to grow, develop and mentor the leaders of tomorrow.”
Colón-López fielded questions about readiness, and the high numbers of suicides in the military’s ranks. On the issue of military suicides, Colón-López noted the issue was one of the highest priorities of the chairman and that programs were currently being implemented to address the problem.
“We must remove the stigma of seeking treatment,” Colón-López stressed, “and ensure that anyone that needs help gets the help they need.”
Later that evening, Colón-López was the keynote speaker during the Service Member of the Year Banquet.
The annual banquet recognizes the top troops from the California Army Guard, Air Guard and State Guard.
“This is probably the most people I’ve seen standing behind a podium,” he told the more than 1,000 assembled service members – the largest crowd in the event’s history.
Colón-López took the opportunity to thank the often unheralded family members in attendance.
“Your sacrifice is seldom measured or rewarded. But you always rise to task without reservation or expectation,” he said. “You truly are the strength of this nation.”
Colón-López spoke of the rich history of the California National Guard and its many accomplishments for the state and nation. He lauded all the individuals nominated and left them with an impassioned message.
“Let this experience serve as a life-long expectation of your performance and your capabilities. You are now the standard and you are not allowed to regress.”
In closing, he charged everyone to use this milestone as a defining checkpoint in their career.
“After tonight, your mission is to help others have their moment in the future, much like you’re having here tonight.
“You need to be the change you want to see and you need to be the leader that you always wish you had. Carry on with humility and humor and never sell your soul in order to impress. Just be comfortable being you.”