FORT POLK, LA — Fort Polk’s top enlisted Soldier hung up his boots and passed the torch to his replacement during a change of responsibility ceremony Aug. 13 on Fort Polk's Warrior Field.
JRTC and Fort Polk commander Brig. Gen. William Hickman gave Command Sgt. Maj. Eric Crabtree charge of the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk colors during the 9 a.m. ceremony, replacing Command Sgt. Maj. Clarence Keithley, who is retiring after a 34-year Army career.
Hickman was first to speak and said he and Fort Polk were fortunate to have Keithley as command sergeant major.
“He has excelled in assisting me in the complex business of running an Army installation like the JRTC and Fort Polk,” Hickman said. “Even more important, he has been a teacher and mentor, not only for the Soldiers here, but also to the people who live and work on the installation — more than 25,000 Soldiers, Family members and civilians.”
Calling Keithley a “Soldier, professional, leader and honest broker and teller of the truth,” Hickman said the service men and women of Fort Polk have been well served.
“He (Keithley) has immeasurably strengthened the Army’s NCO Corps and this installation,” Hickman said. “He has always stood up for the troops. That’s why they trust him; that’s why I trust him; and that’s why everyone at Fort Polk will miss him.”
Hickman also thanked Keithley’s spouse, Tina, for support and service.
“Thank you for volunteering over the years to support our Soldiers and Families,” he said. “You are always welcome at Fort Polk.
Although unable to attend the ceremony, Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler sent the following statement for Hickman to read:
“I would ask that you offer my congratulations to Command Sergeant Major Keithley as he comes to the end of a very long and fruitful career … His example of duty, loyalty and selfless service is truly the example for all to emulate. I am personally indebted to him and proud to call him friend…”
After his remarks to Keithley, Hickman addressed Crabtree, who returns to Fort Polk after a stint as command sergeant major of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan. This marks Crabtree’s third assignment to Fort Polk, following tours as an observer/controller with Operations Group and a platoon sergeant with the 1st Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment (Airborne) in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.
“Command Sergeant Major Crabtree brings with him a wealth of unique experience and expertise and I know he will make his mark on Fort Polk,” Hickman said. “He comes back to JRTC and Fort Polk with a wealth of combat experience both in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Hickman said he knew of no one better prepared for an assignment as JRTC and Fort Polk command sergeant major.
“Welcome back to the command team and Fort Polk,” Hickman said. “I know you will make a positive and lasting imprint on everyone.”
Keithley followed Hickman to the podium and thanked the Soldiers and Family members of Fort Polk for their support during his 11 months as JRTC and Fort Polk command sergeant major.
“I have truly enjoyed serving with the great officers, sergeants major, noncommissioned officers and civilians at Fort Polk,” Keithley said. “They are a true group of professionals.”
Keithley said he leaves Fort Polk — “the best home town in the Army” — with bittersweet emotions.
“It’s been my honor to serve in this great community,” he said. “A community that is one of a kind in its support of Soldiers and Families, and a bunch of good old down home folks who love the military and are generous.”
He wished Crabtree the best of luck in his new duties.
“It’s been my experiences over the years that as one leader departs, a better leader comes in to replace him,” he said. “In this case, the Army got it right when they chose you as the next JRTC and Fort Polk command sergeant major.”
Keithley closed by thanking his spouse of 39 years, Tina.
“You have been my bedrock, my partner, my battle buddy and the love of my life,” he said. “Thank you for being my one true friend in life. I love you.”
The career Soldier said his only wish as he prepares for retirement is that the Army would say: “Well done, Tanker. Mission complete.”
“I will always continue to be an American Soldier,” he said.
Crabtree closed the ceremony by saying it was an honor to return to Fort Polk.
“Fort Polk and JRTC play such a vital role as the Army’s premier training center and power projection platform,” he said. “And it’s also vital to the communities around it.”
He thanked Hickman for selecting him as the next JRTC and Fort Polk command sergeant major.
“I can assure you I will spend every waking moment toward executing your intent and taking the utmost care of our Soldiers and their Families,” Crabtree said.
In addition to his prior tours at Fort Polk and with the 101st Abn Div, Crabtree has served in numerous light infantry, Airborne and Air Assault units. He is a graduate of Ranger School, Airborne and Jumpmaster schools, Air Assault School and the Special Operations Interdiction Course. His awards include the Legion of Merit, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, Bronze Star (4th oak leaf cluster), Meritorious Service Medal (2nd oak leaf cluster), Army Commendation Medal (4th oak leaf cluster), Combat Infantryman’s Badge (2nd award), Expert Infantrymen’s Badge, Senior Parachutist Badge and Air Assault Badge.
He participated in Operation Desert Storm with 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment and has complete five combat tours since Sept. 11, 2001.
Crabtree is married to Gina and the couple has two children: Erica and William.