For the first time in nearly three decades, Col. Jeffrey Sanderson ’84, chief of staff of the U.S. Army installation at Fort Jackson, S.C., is waking up not knowing what to wear. The career soldier, often simply referred to as “the chief,” recently retired from service that began when he was just a teen.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 17,” said Sanderson, who joined the North Carolina National Guard in 1979 and entered active duty upon his graduation from Western Carolina. For the past three of those years, Sanderson sat in the southeastern corner of the “White House,” as post headquarters is often called, his window giving him a daily view of the nation’s colors.
“Every day for three years, I have turned and faced that window to retreat,” he said. “I’ll miss that. I’ll miss hearing a good cadence (but) more than anything, I’ll miss the people.” He also will miss putting on that uniform each day. “One of the most stressful days of the week for me is Sunday,” he said jokingly, explaining how his 16-year-old son, Jake, a budding clotheshorse, sometimes helps him pick out the right tie for church.
As senior aide to the commanding general, Sanderson admits he tended to micromanage some projects, keeping his hands in several pots throughout the post to ensure that he accomplished his task of carrying out the commanding general’s mission. One of those pots included First Lady Michelle Obama’s visit to Fort Jackson.
For Sanderson, growing up in Waynesville with a father and numerous uncles who served their country in the military, it was hard not to develop a strong work ethic. When Sanderson’s father came to Fort Jackson in 1942, the World War II tanker’s training in the hot South Carolina sun consisted of carrying a 4-by-4 piece of wood (there was no rifle to give him) as he and his fellow troops marched to Camden.
Sanderson takes great pride in the dedication of noncommissioned officers and believes the way Fort Jackson turns civilians into soldiers is on the money. The training ensures “that soldiers have the technical skill set to fight and win. Not just fight – fight and win. These battalion commanders have a laser focus on the right things: basic rifle marksmanship, physical training, medical training and values.”
That proper training comes from one thing, Sanderson said. “There’s absolutely no substitute for strong,
positive leadership,” he said. The word “positive,” he said, makes all the difference. “Negative leadership doesn’t get you anywhere.”
Sanderson and his wife, Teresa Sanderson ’87, will celebrate a quarter of a century of marriage in December by working on their 6-acre farm in Hopkins, S.C. “I have dragged her all over the nation. I have put her through two wars,” he said. “The true, great strength of our Army, I think, is our spouses.”
Reprinted in edited format with permission of The Fort Jackson Leader.