When Army Sgt. Maj. Gilbert Morales talks about his friend and colleague, Sgt. Maj. Larry Strickland, he can't help but make a baseball analogy to the Baltimore Orioles' legendary shortstop.
"He was the Cal Ripken of our career field, a real icon," says Morales. "There is no real replacing him."
Like Ripken, Strickland was planning to retire at the end of September. He had served 30 years in the Army, rising to the highest rank an enlisted man or woman can attain—sergeant major—and for the last 10 years was a personnel adviser to a series of three-star generals in the Pentagon.
Strickland was an advocate for enlisted men and women amid the top brass of the Pentagon as they set policy on everything from promotions to pay raises to family leave.
"He did not hesitate to go to a three-star general and tell him, 'You are about to make a mistake.' That was his job. And he obviously did it well, since we went through four or five generals and each time we got a new one, he asked Larry to stay," says Martha Carden, a civilian Pentagon employee who was Strickland's friend and officemate for 11 years.
Only 19 days away from retirement, Strickland came to his Pentagon office on Sept. 11 even though he didn't have to be there, Morales says. Because he was retiring, he needed to use up his annual leave or he would lose it. But he came in anyway, Morales recalls, because there was going to be an important briefing the next day on Army transformation. "He wanted to make sure those briefings were right," the sergeant major says.
But the former UW student never made it to the briefings or his retirement. On that day American Airlines Flight 77, commandeered by terrorists, crashed into the west side of the Pentagon where he was working.
Strickland, 52, is survived by his wife, Debra, a sergeant major at Ft. Belvoir, Va.; three children; Julie, Matthew and Chris; and a year-old grandson, Brendan.
We honor you, Larry Strickland.
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