Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Troy Black became the U.S. military’s highest-ranking enlisted member in a ceremony outside Washington on Friday.
As the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or SEAC, Black will work closely with Air Force Gen. CQ Brown, who was sworn in as the Pentagon’s top officer Sept. 29, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to address combat readiness and quality-of-life issues at home and abroad.
He is also the most senior advocate for the concerns of the enlisted corps — the military’s largest uniformed constituency at more than one million active duty troops.
“Our strategic advantage over every adversary is not technology,” Black said in a speech at Friday’s ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia. “It’s not a system or a computer. It’s not a screen. It is the very ladies and gentlemen that you see standing before us right now.”
Black replaces Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Ramón Colón-López, who took the job in December 2019. Army Gen. Mark Milley tapped Black for the post before retiring as Joint Chiefs chairman in September.
The infantry Marine is the first person to earn a promotion to SEAC — a position created in 2005 — after serving as the top enlisted member of a military service. He is also the second Marine to hold the job, after Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia spent four years in the role from 2011 to 2015.
Black enters the role as the Pentagon struggles to get a new generation of Americans to enlist in the armed forces, searches for funds to improve pay and benefits for its members, and revamps its training and acquisitions to vie with China and Russia for influence around the globe.
In a Pentagon press release Friday, Black called for a “whole-of-government approach” to deterring America’s foreign adversaries and said the U.S. must use Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine as a guide in preparing for future wars.
“The challenge coming from … the operational side is, we have much breadth, but not much depth,” he said. “I’ve got to build depth of understanding.”
At the ceremony, Brown praised Black as a “stoic, direct and up-front” man who cares deeply about the people of the armed forces.
“There is simply no one more qualified to lead our joint force and represent our enlisted force and NCO corps at this consequential time,” Brown said.
The chairman also commended Colón-López, the outgoing senior enlisted adviser, for representing the rank-and-file’s interests through the coronavirus pandemic and in the wake of new wars in Europe and the Middle East.
Colón-López has worked within the Trump and Biden administrations to remove the bureaucratic hurdles that can make it difficult for military spouses to find jobs as they hopscotch from base to base. He has also spearheaded efforts to make military education more flexible and relevant, and to improve the quality of care offered by the Defense Health Agency and Department of Veteran Affairs, among other initiatives.
Brown hailed the career special operations airman as a quiet professional.
“You understood the strength of our armed forces wasn’t just in our weapons or our strategies, but in the bonds we build within our units, across our services and with our international peers,” the four-star said.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.