Former TOG Soldier Reflects On His Service
Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s on a farm in Mississippi, Spencer Hardney looked around and realized he wanted to do something else.
He attended college briefly but returned home to care for his parents. After working two jobs that weren’t taking him anywhere, he ran into a recruiter at the library in Carthage who told him about opportunities the Army could provide.
Moving up quickly
After scoring well on the ASVAB test, Hardney reported to Fort Drum, New York, in May 1986 where he quickly rose through the ranks as a rifleman. He was promoted to staff sergeant in five years before shipping out to Korea as a squad leader and then going to Fort Benning, Georgia, to become a drill sergeant.
While at Fort Benning, Hardney met with a recruiter for the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and became part of the Honor Guard as a platoon sergeant for the First Presidential Marching Platoon and sergeant of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“As platoon sergeant for First Presidential Marching Platoon, I marched in every ceremony for Department of the Army general officers, especially the White House missions,” Hardney said. “As sergeant of the guard, my primary job was taking care of all the sentinels and their families, and I did all the VIP wreaths – the presidential wreaths and all the high-ranking dignitaries that came to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to lay a wreath.”
Following his time as platoon sergeant and Sergeant of the Guard, Hardney went to work for NATO in Heidelberg, Germany. He was promoted to first sergeant and returned to JBM-HH to be part of Delta Company and Honor Guard before finally ending up at Fort Belvoir as a senior enlisted advisor. He retired in June 2006 as a program executive officer.
Legacy and Pride
Hardney was not the first person in his family to serve in the military; his father served in the Navy, and his older brother served in the Army for a short time; however, Hardney was the first person to retire.
“I said I was going to do three years. Then, three years turned into six, and I just kept going,” Hardney said. “I had no idea what lay out there for me for the first three years and then beyond that, but I got the taste of it, and I was intrigued by it.”
Although Hardney’s ultimate source of pride was his time as platoon sergeant and Sergeant of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, he said working as a drill sergeant, getting kids off the street and transforming them into Soldiers was also extremely fulfilling.
“It was everything to succeed and do well – to learn to be an effective member of the team and to contribute to the team,” Hardney said. “You learn take the good with the bad. The good will get you further, but you also learn or remember the things that you didn't like and that weren't so productive, and you don't bring those forward. At the end of the day, if you put your mind to something and give it 110%, you can be successful at anything.”
The Army of the Future
As an African American, Hardney said he thinks more young Black men and women would be encouraged to join the military if they could see themselves in high-ranking positions.
“I think they have to see a little bit more of the senior leadership positions. You see more Black generals now, and when you look at television, you have retired Gen. Lloyd Austin now as the Secretary of Defense and the things that he's talking about,” Hardney said.
Beyond representation, Hardney said the Army should show that with some effort on the part of the Soldier, serving in the military can provide young men and women with a way out of the struggles of poverty.
“It's not just for Black kids, but for all low-income and struggling families as well. Show them that they can come in and it will provide them with some type of trade,” he said. “But it still takes the individual to be willing to take the first step. I think just showing them that there's something in it for them, that they don't have to do it for a lifetime, but they can do it to help get them to a better place.”
Another opportunity the Army could capitalize on is The Old Guard. Hardney said as a showcase unit with a wide range of specialties, from the Continental Color Guard to the Caissons to the Tomb of the Unknown, The Old Guard would be the ideal place to show off the diversity of the Army.
The strength of the Army is its people, but an individual’s strength or lack of strength doesn’t dictate whether that person will make a good Soldier, Hardney said, adding that the number one trait of any good Soldier is that he or she is teachable.
“If leadership tells you something, rather than have a negative response or being resistant about it, give it 110% to see if it works, and while you're doing that, if you run into something that could be streamlined or made better, gather that information,” Hardney said.
Making the effort to be a member of the team means supporting all teammates and leaders – good, bad or indifferent, he said; just go out and give it 110%.
“It’s not about the strongest person, because at the end of the day, it's not a one-person journey or a one-person Army,” Hardney said. “You're only as strong as your weakest link, so it's not about me and if I can run 2 miles in seven minutes, do 300 push-ups and 300 sit-ups or whatever. It's about the average of the entire team.”