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By Barbara Wilson, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office
“Always do everything you ask of those you command.”
That is how Gen. George S. Patton described a leader.
In a nutshell, it’s how the Director of the Joint Staff, Illinois National Guard, would describe himself as a leader.
“I try to be as involved as possible. I try to lead by example,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Glisson, of Festus, Missouri, who officially retired Feb. 29 after 32 years of military service, with 30 of those spent as a member of the Illinois Army National Guard. “As someone who’s in a leadership position, you’re always up front whether you want to be or not. In my current position, I represent not only the Adjutant General and Governor, but I just finished an event where I was representing the Commander-in-Chief.”
Glisson, who was honored for his many years of service during a ceremony March 7 at the Illinois Military Academy, Camp Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois, was inspired to join the military by his desire to serve, but was initially recruited by the United States Marine Corps.
“Their basic sales pitch was ‘they didn’t care what you do during the year, they just want you for the summers’,” he explained. “When I went to college, I thought I would check around so I talked to the ROTC Detachment and looked at their scholarship opportunities. It just seemed a better fit, [so that’s when I enrolled in ROTC in 1984].”
Glisson was commissioned in May 1988 as a Field Artillery officer through the ROTC program at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois, through early commissioning, graduating from college in December 1988. He was originally commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves, attending the Field Artillery Officer Basic Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, before deciding to attend Graduate School at SIU-C.
Glisson said he was unassigned to a unit prior to attending the Field Artillery Officer Basic Course, and while attending Graduate School, received a letter from the Army Reserves which basically stated ‘find a unit or be assigned to one in northern Indiana.’
“I picked up the phone and started calling around and found someone who could help me get into the Illinois National Guard,” he said.
Glisson became a member of the Illinois National Guard Feb. 9, 1990.
After three decades as a member of the Illinois National Guard, Glisson has advice for young Soldiers who are undecided about their National Guard future.
“I’m only half kidding when I say I never expected to live past 30 or make Captain,” Glisson said. “But I turned around twice, and I’m in command, married, and have a baby on the way.”
Glisson said as a young officer he wasn’t thinking about long range goals.
“Don’t discount it,” he said. “Serve and see how you like it. If you’re good at it, especially if you’re good at it, then we need you to stay. Plenty of people come in and aren’t good at it, but they get good at it.”
Glisson said the one thing he would have told himself is to take it more seriously.
“I really didn’t understand what I was getting into,” he said. “There’s a perception there’s the ‘real Army’ and we’re [the National Guard] over here doing something else. That’s not the case. That new lieutenant, new sergeant, are in the real Army. There’s not a separation by component or job skill. We can’t afford to have jobs that don’t serve a purpose. I didn’t understand that as a new lieutenant who was still going to school.”
Glisson said leadership is also about taking care of those who are serving.
“The entire business is about Soldiers and people. We have a mission to do, but we can’t complete that mission without the Soldiers, Airmen and other servicemembers from the other components. Taking care of those who serve is a really big deal,” he said. “The military is a profession. It’s got incredible responsibility to it.”
A second piece of advice Glisson would offer a Soldier who is serving in a leadership position is to carry a notebook.
“I would tell them write things down. It’s incredibly hard to get junior Soldiers to do,” he said. “A notebook can be a really powerful leadership tool.”
Glisson often works with Boy Scouts and said a piece of advice he would offer young people who are interested in the military is to first enlist for active duty.
“We don’t have a requirement for national service in this country, so anyone willing to step up, it is incredibly important they get all the encouragement they can,” he said.
“Enlist on active duty and complete your initial tour. Pick a branch, get your GI Bill money,” he said. “Get out, go to school and then join a reserve component. If you want to pursue a commission, then pursue a commission. Do a different job. Let the Department of Defense train you to do a different job. Then if you like it, stay in the military.”
Some of Glisson’s most memorable moments in the Illinois National Guard provides a light-hearted moment in time, but others are the result of a great loss.
“I’ve had fantastic experiences during my 32 years of service because of Soldiers who could fix, drive, or break anything we gave them,” he said.
In 1995, Glisson said he had the opportunity to participate in a military course at Fort Irwin, California with armor personnel. An incident one night taught Glisson to ask questions before assuming anything.
“The Sergeant in charge of the tank did a fantastic job showing me around the weapons system and the whole inside of the tank,” Glisson continued. “But they didn’t show me anything about water. I drank a lot of water, and at one point my canteen was empty. I crawled up on the back deck of the track, opened what I thought was the water can. It was already dark outside, so I fill my canteen – with 50 weight motor oil. That’s what they stored in the water can outside of the track. The clean water was stored on the inside of the tank. They didn’t tell me that. These guys got a big kick out of watching the lieutenant fill his canteen with motor oil.”
A second memory, passing over a promotion to Colonel, Glisson thought meant the end of his career, but it wasn’t the case.
“I turned down the opportunity to get promoted to Colonel at one point,” he said. “I knew I had family responsibilities I couldn’t cover down on if I had taken the promotion. I knew the unit was going to deploy, but I had to bow out. I assumed my career was over but that wasn’t the case. Two years later, I was offered another opportunity and everything worked out.”
A deployment to Afghanistan in 2008-2009 drove home the seriousness of the military profession for Glisson and others.
“Most Soldiers want the opportunity to deploy. That’s why we came into the military and that’s why we went to school to learn the job we have,” he said. “My career is full of non-standard missions. That’s what the deployment to Afghanistan was – a big ball of non-standard missions. It wasn’t just one deployment. It was 30 plus separate missions all rolled up into the deployment for the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.”
“The missions were all non-standard and very complex, requiring a lot of creativity and agile thought,” he continued. “I think that’s one of the things that makes the National Guard powerful and viable. We all have at least two sometimes three or four other skillsets.”
Glisson said the deployment also taught the Soldiers the nature of war.
“We had 18 from Illinois killed in action during the deployment,” he said. “It was a costly deployment, both in blood and treasure. A total of 43 from the Task Force were killed, including a number of Afghan support personnel. For people who had never experienced that type of impact, it was a huge learning experience.”
Glisson said the military has shaped his family dynamic from the beginning of his career.
“I was in the military before I met my wife, so she married into this job. When our sons were born, they really didn’t volunteer for any of this either and they’ve had to deal with my temporary duty assignments and deployments,” he said. “It has impacted how the family relationship gets formed. It affects my relationships with my entire family and my wife’s family.”
Pride runs deep from Glisson’s family for his military service.
“I know my father was extremely proud of my service,” he said. “My mother watched her brother go off to Vietnam and come back, so I know she’s very proud. I know my wife and kids are very proud of what I do.”
“I’ve worried about the impact my career would have on my sons because of the time I’m away,” he continued. “I think the military has made us stronger as a family. My sons, Connor, 20, and Dylan, 17, were really too young to do much about it when I was in Afghanistan. My wife, Laura, really did a wonderful job at stepping up and holding the household together. It hasn’t been easy, but I think they’re proud of their service as well. Families also serve and it’s a really big deal.”
Glisson has a clear message for families of service members.
“We as service members can’t do what we do or what we need to do if we don’t have the support or at least the tolerance of our families and loved ones. When we deploy the last thing we need to be worried about when we’re trying to do a job overseas is what’s going on at home,” he said.
He also has a message for his own family about the sacrifices they had made during his military service.
“My wife had a full time job as a teacher. She has battled cancer three times and had to walk away from her teaching career because of it. I think having dealt with all we had previously, helped us be a stronger family,” he said. “I owe them one big thank you. I wouldn’t be nearly as successful in my own career or be able to contribute to the success of the missions of our organization without their backing and support. I really can’t thank them enough.”
While Glisson has put on his uniform and laced up his boots for the last time as an Illinois National Guard Soldier, he hasn’t yet mapped out his next mission – life after retirement.
“My plan is to take a few months and get things caught up at home, spend some time with the family,” he said. “I would like to be involved in a mentorship program through higher education work with veterans or the military.”
Glisson, who has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Jewelry and Medalsmithing and 40 years of experience at blacksmithing, hopes to also focus on art as a hobby.