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Former first sergeant guides soldiers to success.

WHEN he walked into the orderly room at Company C., the airborne pathfinder barked at the first Soldier he saw, demanding to know why the specialist didn't call the company to "at ease."

Thomas Cruise had just arrived at his new duty station at Fort Rucker, Ala., and no one at Co. C knew what they were in for. But soon enough they would learn all about their new first sergeant. At first they would fear, then loath him. Later, they would come to admire and respect him. And while in charge, he would carve a path that many of his Soldiers would follow.

Over the next 25 years, 15 Co. C, 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment Soldiers would be promoted to sergeant major. And each credits their former first sergeant for their success.

CSM Thomas Cruise (Ret.) was the Co. C first sergeant from 1978 to 1980. During his tenure he led and guided his Soldiers to aspire to bigger and better things.

"He was the epitome of a leader--if you look it up in the dictionary, there's his picture," said CSM Angel Febles, a former member of the unit.

"He was the type of NCO that you would follow to hell and back," said CSM James Boyett (Ret.). "His mentorship guided us in the right direction. He saw where we had been and where we needed to go. I knew him very well. I worked with him on a day-to-day basis," said Boyett, former operations sergeant for the company.

Cruise joined the Army in 1961 as an infantryman. He later served with units such as the 101st Airborne Division, the 2nd Inf. Div., the Vietnamese rangers, the 24th Inf. Div., the 1st Ranger Bn. and as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, S.C. "I was raised by the 101st. I was raised by NCOs from World War II and Korea. They instilled in me very strict discipline, pride for the uniform and attention to detail," said Cruise. "When I got to Fort Rucker, there were 124 men with very poor appearances. But with discipline and hard work as a team, they got it together, and it was one of the greatest units I ever served with."

"You will never find a person more willing to stand up for his men, whether they were right or wrong," said Steven Webster, a former Soldier in the unit.

Cruise left his mark on the soldiers he led and mentored. Whether they stayed in the Army or got out, many kept in touch with him. His leadership style and mentorship were passed on to his troops who have, in turn, passed it on to their Soldiers.

"The way he guided me is the way I try to guide my Soldiers," said Boyett, who has also mentored a Soldier to the rank of CSM.

The impression Cruise made on his men is still evident more than 20 years later.

"He was a man's man and a Soldier's Soldier. He was probably the best Soldier the Army ever produced," said Webster.

"He always had a no-nonsense, take-charge attitude. He told us what we were doing and where we were going--there was no doubt in your mind that he was in charge," said Mark Higginson, former company member.

"He was very firm but fair. He was a very demanding leader, but always led by example," said SGM Peter Motta (Ret.).

One thing Cruise demanded was that his Soldiers always work as a team.

"He set the standard, and we have followed in his path," said Febles.

As a way to thank their mentor, Febles and other former Co. C Soldiers honored Cruise by making him a lifetime member of the 509th Inf. Regt. "I am happy without a question. It's an honor that the Soldiers did this for me," said Cruise, during a Co. C reunion.
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Title Annotation:Focus on People
Author:Roe, Matthew
Publication:Soldiers Magazine
Date:Feb 1, 2004
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