PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan (9/7/2012) – It's a simple story built on a simple adage: “lead from the front.” Sometimes that means leading from the side. In this case, it's leading from the side of an aircraft.
Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Larry Farmer, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, smiles at his crew members during the early morning hours of pre-flight inspections on Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Sept. 2, 2012. Camaraderie and unit cohesion are regular traits for the 82nd CAB. Photo by Army Staff Sgt. Anna Rutherford
A door gunner dismounts from the side of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and calmly touches the shoulder of a boarding passenger to yell instructions. From inside the aircraft, his words are inaudible over the slap of rotor blades. Between the lack of sight from the dust of the soccer field-turned landing zone and the inability to hear over the din of the aircraft, there is no way to ascertain what he is saying.
The passenger nods his head and acknowledges as he begins to move quickly toward the aircraft. He does a double take as he glimpses the mass of chevrons and rothguards surrounding a star enveloped in a wreath – 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Larry Farmer calmly utters some
information over the headset to his pilots aboard the Black Hawk and awaits the next passengers.
This story begins with a man rising before the sun and coolly puffing a cigar as he sips on his coffee from the second story outdoor deck just outside his office. The scene is nothing new for him. He's put on the uniform for more than 29 years. Why does he serve? The response is simple.
“The soldiers,” states Farmer, the San Diego native. “Enjoying the job and coaching, teaching and mentoring young men and women. It's been a great career.”
Like so many young men and women, he joined because he was “tired of living how [he] was living.” His pre-Army life, wasn't the life he wanted.
“I got tired of just existing, not living,” said Farmer. “I was 20 years old, no job, no money – got to know the McDonald's restaurant pretty well, cleaning. I figured I'd try something else.”
Although his mannerisms could put any newcomer at ease, Farmer is far from simple. Among his regular sergeant major activities, he finds time to fulfill duties as a crew-member on rotory wing aircraft, fly to the many bases his paratroopers are stationed, and conduct professional development training. To keep his sanity on deployments, he also conducts a strenuous physical training regimen to beat soldiers half his age not only on their two-mile run time, but also at the occasional pick-up game of basketball.
Farmer, a father of two and a husband to his wife for 26 years, keeps unique hobbies such as officiating professional in-line speed skating and high school basketball.
“Growing up in the Army, I got into quad-speed-skating,” explained Farmer. “They've since gone to in-line skating and as they moved into in-line I got out of the competition and now I'm a national official. That keeps me pretty busy.”
When asked if he brought skates to Afghanistan, he chuckled, “You know, I saw a guy skating a couple of weeks ago around the block and I told the boss I should have brought mine, but no I didn't bring them. I'm too busy to go out and skate right now.”
Serving as a door-gunner isn't just a once-a-month activity for him to pass the time. He fulfills these duties three times a week.
“Door-gunning isn't about me,” he said. “I've got young soldiers who are flying about 120 hours a month. When we get to that level I gotta sit them [the soldiers] down for awhile and then they don't have anybody to fly. In fact, just about all my sergeants major door-gun to help in the mission sets.”
Between the heavy mission sets, Farmer and 82nd CAB Commander Col. Terry Jamison, conduct three-day battlefield circulations each week to one of the brigade's task forces across Regional Command-East. While Jamison flies with officers, Farmer door-guns.
As he gets up from his seat on the deck, Farmer finds time to pick up the flight crew's gear, load the weapons and begin cleaning the windows on the aircraft. His movements are deliberate and deft, and it quickly becomes apparent that he is no stranger to the pre-flight preparations for an aircraft – or for that matter, hard work. Farmer's hard work and leadership is apparent in his soldiers throughout the brigade.
“I haven't been working with Command Sgt. Maj. Farmer for long,” said Spc. Minhaj Mohammed, a regular crew member for the 82nd CAB. “I like him; I think most everyone does.”
The crew loads up and as the aircraft conducts its regular pre-flight prep, Farmer converses with his crew chief and pilots. They are synched together in perfect rhythm and the chatter on the headsets is almost another language. For an outsider, the aircraft looks to be just an extension of the team, but this is the first time Farmer has flown with this crew.
The aircraft takes off, and during flight, Farmer can feel each banking movement of the aircraft and spots for the pilots, calling in visibility over the headset at each slight lean.
It wasn't always this way, though. It would be foolish to believe that this one man was always the leader he is today. His pivotal moment came when he was still a young soldier.
“Well...as all young specialists do, you get into some kind of trouble and [my] platoon sergeant sat me down and asked me why I joined the Army,” Farmer recalled. “I told him it was to change my life, and he asked me if I was doing that. I realized I wasn't – I was still doing the same things I was doing before I came into the Army - I started to turn my military career around and I think I can affect change if I stay with it.”
For Farmer, the platoon sergeant was an eye-opener he will never forget.
Farmer will soon retire, marking more than 30 years in the Army. Later in the evening, Farmer is back in the deck chair– comfortably puffing on a cigar as the Afghan sun begins to sink below the horizon. When the sun finally sets on this leader's career, his legacy will still live on.
“It's not what you do, it's who you affect,” Farmer points out. “My legacy is not what I did, it's who I affected.”
By Army Staff Sgt. Anna Rutherford
Provided through DVIDS
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