Top enlisted Lewis-McChord soldier heading to S. Korea

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If the Army had to pick a soldier to turn into an action figure at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, I Corps Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell would be one of the top candidates to see his biceps turn into flexible plastic.

At home, he's the senior soldier pushing troops to take on punishing exercise routines that have involved telephone poles, heavy chains and tractor tires. He's known to feed high-ranking soldiers cat food on exhausting three-day drills.

At war, he's a five-time combat veteran who puts himself in dangerous places to lead soldiers. He calls those combat assignments the most gratifying of his 32-year Army career, even if they're the most difficult.

Troxell, 49, will move to a new assignment this month as the top enlisted soldier at U.S. Forces Korea, closing out a 10-year period in which he either served in Lewis-McChord units or worked closely with them overseas.

He's being succeeded by Command Sgt. Maj. James Norman, 50, the first African American soldier to be named command sergeant major of the I Corps at Lewis-McChord. Norman took his new post from Troxell at a ceremony Tuesday.

Norman is an Iraq veteran coming to Lewis-McChord by way of the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. He was assigned to Fort Lewis early in his 32-year Army career as a soldier in the 109th Military Intelligence Battalion. Since then, he has served at Army posts all over the nation, as well as in Germany and Japan. He participated in the military's humanitarian relief after Japan's deadly earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

Command sergeants major often leave a lasting impact on soldiers in their care. Troxell stood out at Lewis-McChord even among the outsize personalities who held similar ranks around the Army.

"Yes, John Wayne Troxell. His parents just got the name perfect," said I Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, likening Troxell to the cowboy characters played by the late actor.

Troxell came to Fort Lewis in 2005, serving as command sergeant major for the Stryker unit that became the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. The brigade deployed to Iraq the next year as one of the "surge" units serving 15-month tours. It lost 54 soldiers to fatal casualties; another 500 were wounded.

"It was one of the most memorable times of my career, but also one of the most trying," Troxell said in his remarks Tuesday at his farewell ceremony.

He has served as the I Corps command sergeant major for the past 21/2 years, including a yearlong assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan, when he was the senior enlisted soldier advising former I Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti.

At home, Troxell led several initiatives to improve leadership, fitness and discipline among the 32,000 soldiers stationed at Lewis-McChord.

He gathered senior enlisted soldiers for several so-called "Mangudai" exercises — named for a legendary test of Mongolian warriors — in which they stayed awake for more than 50 hours doing combat drills while eating little food. The intent was to put the high-ranking soldiers under stress and remind them about the demands they place on the men and women in their units.

He fed participants a ball of cat food and rice on one Mangudai. On the next, participants got pig brains.

Troxell recently participated in military exercises in Pacific nations such as Australia, the Philippines and South Korea as part of Lewis-McChord's shift from the Middle East to its traditional task watching eastern Asia.

He visited the demilitarized zone in South Korea last month, getting within arm's length of North Korea. He noticed North Korean soldiers filming him as he approached the border. He said their efforts to document his trip and figure out who he was drove home the importance of the job he's about to take.

"This is the job for me," he said. "If I am going to continue to serve, I want to be where I am on point for our nation."

He and his wife, Sandra, plan to settle in the Puget Sound area when they leave the Army, he said.