CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Riti will retire this summer after serving in the U.S. Army for over forty years. As the highest enlisted rank that one can achieve, he has served in eight different commands in the position and rank of command sergeant major, the latest with the U.S. Army Reserve 108 Training Command, headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Originally hoping to join the Marines in 1978, the U.S. Army lucked out when 17-year-old Riti went to a recruiting station in Yonkers, New York, only to discover the Marine recruiter out to lunch. Seizing the opportunity, an Army recruiter, talked Riti into enlisting, and even went to the talented youth’s house to gain parental permission, as he was just underage.
Riti was instantly inspired by his drill sergeants at Basic Training, and he later became a drill sergeant himself. He remarked on their influence over his military career and said, “Everything was a learning experience. They disciplined us when they had to, but not because they just wanted to. They explained what we did wrong and how to fix it, and so they were great mentors. I told myself, if I ever become a drill sergeant, this is who I’m going to model myself after, and I did.”
The command sergeant major places a heavy emphasis on the importance of treating people with dignity and respect. As a drill sergeant, he talked to everyone in his platoon and ensured he got to know each of them. In return for his respect and fair treatment, his platoon worked hard and earned awards including Honor Platoon, the Army Physical Fitness streamer, and Best Platoon Streamer. Respect is not just a word to Riti, but a value he takes to heart, as one can clearly see him implement it in his daily interactions with others.
Although drill sergeants initially motivated Riti, one person in particular made a significant impact on him and helped shape his leadership style. Riti shared about this fallen hero.
“When I was a private first class, I had a staff sergeant by the name of William Atkins, who taught me everything about being a Soldier. He showed me how to put together training plans, how to conduct a layout for clothing and equipment inspections, and how to build sand tables. He was a complete role model, and always showed me what right looked like. His appearance was always so sharp, and I tried to emulate him. I watched how he conducted himself, and how he spoke to people. He very rarely used profanity and if he did he apologized.”
When asked for the one piece of advice Riti could give to those staying or coming into the military, he emphasized the significance of mentorship. Just like Atkins mentored him, Riti explained how important it is to take the time to teach and guide your subordinates by being the right example. When choosing a mentor, “You look for someone who leads from the front, and that’s who you want to be like,” said Riti. He brought up Maj. Gen. Mark McQueen, commanding general of the 108 Training Command, as a prime example of a great leader.
“Leadership is not a position, it is action,” said Riti. “General McQueen is one of the greatest people I have ever worked for. He will not pass a Soldier without talking to him, and not only looks out for them, but for their Families as well. He is always leading from the front and living the Army values in a way where everyone can see it,” Riti said. Another leader that Riti commented on having a tremendous amount of respect for is Maj. Gen. Leslie Purser, the previous commanding general of the 108 Training Command.
Although a handful of mentors helped Riti throughout his career, he in-turn has helped handfuls of Soldiers throughout their time in service. Riti ensured to know every Soldier in his unit that he came across, in every one of his assignments. Throughout his forty years of service, his actions exemplify his deep commitment to Soldiers and their Families. His guidance, presence, and leadership will be missed immensely, as he has truly made a significant impact throughout the ranks. As Riti turns the page in a new chapter of life, the 108 Training Command wishes him the best of luck and enjoyment in retirement.