Army’s New Enlisted Leader: The Bet a Green Beret Can Lead the Rank and File

August 5, 2023
Command Sergeant Major Michael R. Weimer, Command Sergeant Major, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, presents a green beret

Sgt. Maj. Michael Weimer has effectively spent his whole Army career in Special Forces, and a large swath of that time in the secretive Delta Force.

He has more than enough combat bona fides — three Bronze Stars and Joint Service Commendation Medal with valor, along with two Purple Hearts.

On Friday, Weimer took the helm as the new sergeant major of the Army. The service will now see how a Green Beret leads its rank-and-file soldiers.

“My own assessment was, I have the least experience in the total Army compared to others. … I absolutely do believe I come at problems differently. I love change. I don’t like change for change’s sake, but I’m not a ‘status quo’ person,” Weimer said in an interview with “I think [special operations] helped me in that space.

“We need a fresh set of eyes; we can use a different perspective,” he said.

As the service’s top enlisted leader, Weimer is in charge of assuring the force is ready for war. But the role is much more than that. He’ll be the face of the Army and set the tone while overseeing personnel issues that make up the bulk of the day-to-day concerns of the force.

No one questions Weimer’s combat credentials. But he comes into the role with little experience with the conventional Army and all its challenges, frequently different from those faced by special operations, which is often siloed from the regular force.

Out of the previous 16 top enlisted leaders, only three spent time in special operations — but even they spent much of their careers in the conventional Army.

“I had to reflect on that,” Weimer said.

Michael Grinston, the previous sergeant major of the Army, suggested Weimer apply for the role. Roughly 30 command sergeants major applied for the position, with three, including Weimer, being seriously considered in final interviews.

Weimer’s Superpower

Weimer, 51, is usually jovial. He walks into a room and makes it a point to acknowledge everyone there, taking the perfect amount of time to ask them how their day is; intensely listening; finding some quick common ground; and moving on. He says his Christian faith is what ultimately grounds him.

He has a knack for remembering faces and names after only a single brief interaction, which one Pentagon staffer described as his superpower.

Weimer often wears a uniform stripped of accolades, rarely wearing his Combat Infantryman or Air Assault badges, awards that are not special in the units he served in. He doesn’t even wear a combat patch, a unit insignia on the right shoulder sleeve that shows who a soldier went to war with.

But his formal dress uniform is in perfect condition, stacked with numerous awards and badges, ready for the most nitpicky inspection.

“You’re going to see me mix it up. But your character and who you are isn’t in your badges. Those are things you accomplished on your journey,” Weimer said. “Oftentimes, it was a long time ago. I’m really interested in what you’re doing today.”

On Fridays, he’ll wear a complete uniform because he sees it as the appropriate thing to do, but for him, it remains all about now.

“You got to get up in the morning and bring it again. You can’t rest on, ‘Well, I brought it 10 years ago,'” Weimer said.

Grinston retired Friday, after enlisting in the Army in 1987 as an artilleryman. He was unusually vocal on social media and uncommonly available to the media during his tenure.

During his four years as sergeant major of the Army, Grinston oversaw some of the most transformative times for the service, including the implementation of its new physical fitness and marksmanship tests, revamping grooming standards for women, and implementing the Expert Soldier Badge. His tenure also overlapped with the COVID-19 pandemic, Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and the gruesome slaying of Spc. Vanessa Guillén.

Grinston was widely known for wielding social media to reach out to rank-and-file troops and to defend soldiers’ rights to serve even as political commentators bludgeoned the force for being more welcoming to women and other historically marginalized groups.

“There was a requirement to be able to do what they did to speak up and advocate, get our messaging out. I give them the big kudos. They were what we call the pathfinders in that space,” Weimer said, referring to Grinston and his team. “How it’s going to look for me, I don’t know. … We’re going to engage, and we’re not going to completely withdraw. … I think it’s too important.”

Weimer comes in at a critical time for the service. After two decades of the Global War on Terrorism, the Army is in the midst of shifting its policy and doctrine and upgrading its gear for conventional warfare.

“I’m passionate about a warrior mindset,” Weimer said. “Now, what does that mean for a cyber warrior [or] logistician? That’s the piece I think we’ve got to really dive down to,” Weimer said. “It’s truly a mindset. I get up, put on this [uniform] in the morning. How do I fit in that warrior culture? We got to define that and coach, teach and mentor and model it.”

Personnel Issues

The force is facing a number of personnel issues that fall directly into Weimer’s portfolio, including a huge backlog of aging barracks where junior enlisted troops consistently report mold infestations and other poor living conditions.

The Army has a budget of about $1 billion per year for renovations and new construction, but some estimates suggest that it needs significantly more funds, and it’ll be more than a decade until some of its worst barracks are addressed.

The service is also facing a suicide crisis within the ranks, with 255 soldiers dying by suicide last year across the active-duty and part-time service components. The Army has virtually no policy or guidelines for units to handle soldiers with mental health issues or suicidal ideation. Much of that has been left to individual divisions to craft their own ad-hoc regulations after the Army stopped its process of establishing service-wide guidelines that had been at least three years in development.

The service is also eyeing changes in how it feeds troops, either by upgrading nutritional options at dining facilities or allowing soldiers to use military meal cards at restaurants — the former is struggling to get off the ground and the latter is in the midst of a trial period at Fort Drum, New York.

“We absolutely need the policies, the talent and also the funding. … It’s critical. But the fourth piece is engaged leadership, slightly intrusive, just intrusive enough to be involved in the people domain,” Weimer said. “That’s the piece I’m going to spend a lot of time on while I assist on the policy and resource piece, because I have the ability to do that in this position.”

Army Fitness

The two chambers of Congress also have dueling proposals to change the Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT.

The House is aiming to set gender-neutral standards for combat arms, and the Senate wants to revert back to the old fitness test — something the previous sergeant major of the Army immediately blasted, calling the idea “unreasonable.”

Like Grinston, Weimer believes keeping the ACFT is non-negotiable. But he agrees it can slowly morph over time. Army planners have already been mulling a plan similar to the House’s proposal by adjusting the baseline standards for combat arms.

“We absolutely needed to be doing more than sit-ups, push-ups and a two-mile run to be true professionals at warfighting,” Weimer said, arguing that the old fitness test was too easy and a poor measure of fitness. “There’s some uncertainty in where we are going … but what we’re not having is a question on whether the ACFT is good for the Army.

“We’re having some discussions on the standards, and we’ll continue to do that,” he said.

Weimer previously served as the senior enlisted leader for U.S. Army Special Operations Command. He joined the Army in 1993, earned his Army green beret in 1996, and served as a Special Forces weapons sergeant. He is a graduate of Norwich University, where he earned a bachelor’s in strategic studies and defense analysis.

Finally, beards are a subject of much discussion among the rank and file. Sometimes, with a changing of the guard, there is a glimmer of hope in the Army’s formations for relaxed grooming standards.

But for Weimer, that’s a hard pass.

“No,” he said when asked about beards. “I shave seven days a week. For me, it’s about discipline.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that Weimer served with U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

— Steve Beynon can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.



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