New Commander Says USMEPCOM Has ‘best mission there is’

By Skip Wiseman
USMEPCOM Public Affairs

Photos by Amy Gregorski
USMEPCOM Public Affairs

The USMEPCOM commander learned what he considers the best thing about being commander during an orientation trip to the Chicago MEPS when he was the incoming Western Sector commander.

Marine Corps Col. Richard T. Brady recalled what he saw there in the summer of 2017. Watching an enlistment ceremony and shippers getting on the bus was especially moving for him.

“That was my first time in a MEPS since 1989 when I shipped out from the Kansas City MEPS,” he said. “I was an applicant at that time, so I really didn’t have a broad understanding of what was going on.

“They had the shippers’ ceremony, then the shippers walked out to get on the bus,” Brady recalled. “I was watching from the second floor of the Chicago MEPS as the shippers were getting on the bus and saying their last goodbyes to their families.

“I could see the pride in the applicants’ faces and the pride in their families’ faces,” Brady said. “I was thinking ‘This is the best mission there is.’ We truly have the opportunity to change people’s lives.”

Brady advises MEPS commanders and senior enlisted advisors to watch an enlistment ceremony if they’re having a bad day.

“Go watch the shippers say goodbye to their families and get on the bus,” Brady said. “There couldn’t be anything better than that.”

Brady also believes every level of the command – headquarters, sectors, battalions and MEPS – plays an important role in USMEPCOM accomplishing its mission.

“The key message for the headquarters is that your proximity to the objective does not determine your contribution to the fight,” he said. “We are all in the business of processing applicants.”

Brady’s previous two years as Western Sector commander gave him first-hand knowledge of the challenges at that level.

“I found that the best role for the sector commander is to be an enabler to the battalions and MEPS,” he said, “to get them the resources, the personnel, the time and the space they need to accomplish their mission.

“Again, we don’t process applicants up here at headquarters,” Brady said. “Nobody in the sectors processes applicants. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have an important hand in supporting and making it easier at the MEPS level.”

Brady’s guidance to MEPS leadership is straightforward.

“My message to MEPS commanders and senior enlisted advisors has been very clear and consistent,” he said, “and I intend to keep providing the same message to all MEPS commanders and senior enlisted advisors who come in.

“The No. 1 priority is to protect the applicants,” Brady said. “There is nothing more important we do each and every day than to make sure the applicants who walk into our MEPS are safe.

“That’s from the time they’re dropped off at the applicant hotel until we release them back to our recruiting partners,” he said. “We are responsible for them.”

Focusing on the needs of and supporting the USMEPCOM’s recruiting partners is another important part of the mission.

“It’s a tough job out there for the recruiters,” Brady said. “We have to be mindful of the challenges they are facing today – historically low unemployment rates and a very tight labor market.

“Young men and women have a lot of options,” he said. “They can go to work, they can go to school. They don’t necessarily have to join the military. We have a historically low propensity to serve so a lot of young men and women today don’t have an understanding of military service.”

USMEPCOM must also support the overall Department of Defense accession efforts led by Stephanie Miller, director of Military Accession Policy.

“I always try to look up one or two levels to see what my boss’ missions are,” Brady said. “Ms. Miller’s mission is the entire accessions enterprise from recruiting to MEPS to recruit training. We have to support her in accomplishing her mission.

“To do that, we have to work with our recruiting partners,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we violate our own orders or regulations or cut corners. It means we support our recruiting partners where we can, providing extra capacity and extra flexibility where we can.”

Brady feels strongly about maintaining personal and professional standards as well because it is one of the earliest military interactions applicants experience.

“We want to make sure we’re presenting Red Carpet Treatment to all the applicants who walk through our doors,” he said. “We set a very high standard because that’s what’s going to be anchored in their minds throughout their military service.

“On the personal side, we all know what military appearance looks like – height, weight, uniform appearance,” Brady said. “We also have civilian clothing guidance to ensure we are projecting the best representation of the armed forces.

“The other side of standards is standardized processes,” he said. “We have to have standardized processes because we’re operating in 65 locations. We want to reduce any uncertainty for our recruiting partners. They need to know they get the same high standard of services at the Fargo MEPS as they would at the Sioux Falls MEPS, or the Kansas City MEPS or the St. Louis MEPS, Syracuse MEPS and the Springfield MEPS.

“It’s also cheaper for us to conduct operations with standardized processes.”

Brady’s final piece of advice for MEPS commanders and senior enlisted advisors is “when in command, command.”

“We get very few opportunities in the military to be in command positions,” he said, “and they usually last for a brief period of time – two years at most. I want them to make the best of it. Leave it all out there on the playing field. I don’t want any of our commanders or senior enlisted advisors to have any regrets when they leave.

“We rely heavily on the tactical decision-making of our supervisors and technicians,” Brady said. “This organization couldn’t survive if they didn’t make decisions at the tactical level.

“Every day, thousands of young men and women walk through our doors and 99.9 percent of them will walk out with some kind of qualification decision without any problem,” he said. “It’s that .1 percent that we run into problems with. That’s where the commanders and supervisors step in. We couldn’t survive if they weren’t making those decisions every day.”

Brady used his own processing at the Kansas City MEPS in 1988-89 to illustrate the importance of Red Carpet Treatment. At that time the MEPS was spread over four floors in a building downtown.

“Throughout the day, you’re running back and forth between floors,” he said. “The intercom overhead is hollering out people’s names. At some point, about one or two o’clock in the afternoon, I was told to come into an office and stand against a bare wall. I didn’t know what was going to happen next.

“The next thing you know, a Marine captain comes walking in and says raise your right hand,” Brady said. “That was the oath of enlistment ceremony. There was nothing more or less to it than that.

“I did get a Polaroid picture from it, which I still have,” he said. “I think that was the last time I actually had hair, so I’ve kept it.”

Brady said USMEPCOM has made great strides in how it treats applicants since then.

“We’ve come a long way since then in the way we treat applicants, and the presentation of our facilities, the applicant hotels, across the board,” he said. “We don’t want to go back to that period. It’s important, because it’s all about anchoring at a high level in applicants’ minds of what they can expect working in the Department of Defense and the armed forces.

“They still have a choice when they come into our MEPS,” Brady said. “It’s taken a lot of time and effort for the recruiters to get them to that point. We don’t want to give them a reason to walk away.”

Brady said the difference between being a sector commander and USMEPCOM commander is “perspective,” and that he is confident in the abilities of the sectors and battalions.

“At the sector level, you’re much more focused on the tactical level, the operational level, day to day operations,” he said. “We have two very capable sector commanders and sector teams, plus battalion teams that are on the ball at the tactical level. My focus will be much more up and out than down and in.

“At the USMEPCOM level, it’s much more of a strategic level,” Brady said. “It’s certainly important to understand what’s going on at the tactical level, but communications with all our partners is equally important – the recruiters, the training partners, and accession policy folks at the Pentagon.”

Brady sees the command’s near term challenge managing day-to-day operations and some small organizational changes, while long term goals will deal with transformation and modernization.

“We really have to have a focus on day-to-day production, doing everything we can to help our recruiting partners get through the summer period and the rest of the fiscal year,” Brady said.  “Some of our recruiting partners are struggling to make mission this year. We think closer to the end of the year, they’re going to start ramping up their projections. We want to be ready to support them.”

Brady said the organizational changes will be in the headquarters and aimed at supporting the sectors and MEPS and aligning functions.

“In the near term, it’s not only looking at systems and processes, but putting mechanisms in place that change the way we think,” he said. “How we think in the future needs to be different than how we think today.

“We have to be less reactive and more predictive,” Brady said, “breaking through some of the stovepipes in the headquarters, getting people out front and leaning forward on issues, not waiting for things to go wrong, but fixing things and heading off problems beforehand.”

Brady thanked the men and women of USMEPCOM for their hard work. 

“This organization couldn’t survive if it weren’t for the almost 3,500 people who work in the headquarters, sectors, battalions and MEPS,” he said. “This is an exciting place to work with an incredibly exciting mission. We can do a lot of good for the organization and the Department of Defense to maintain the quality and quantity of the All-Volunteer Force.”