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Fort Campbell, KY – Recently the Bastogne senior enlisted adviser, Command Sgt. Maj. Wray E. Gabelmann, briskly walked through the tinted glass doors of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), headquarters and warmly greeted the Soldiers manning the staff duty desk.
Gabelmann turned the corner and passed a wall of photos of past leaders of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), as he made his way into his office as he had done so many times in the past 30 months.
But today the office was different.
Personal items from 30 years of Army service no longer hung on the infantry blue walls of Gabelmann’s office. Only a crisply starched Battle Dress Uniform hung on a now-empty bookshelf. He placed his hat on his desk and took a moment to reflect on his life of service.
During a change of responsibility ceremony, March 3rd, 2020 at Sgt. Leslie H. Sabo Jr. Physical Fitness Center, Gabelmann passed the responsibilities of senior enlisted adviser to Command Sgt. Maj. Derek Wise, as Bastogne Soldiers stood in formation.
Gabelmann is set to retire later this year bringing three decades of service to an end.
“I have always wanted to serve,” he said. “Ever since I was a little kid I knew that being an infantryman was what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t want to be anything else.”
Gabelmann’s embodiment of the Army Values and love for Soldiers is reflected in his popularity among Bastogne Soldiers.
The Gabelmann Family has served the nation over many generations, said Tammy Gabelmann, Gabelmann’s wife of more than 30 years. From childhood to adulthood the Gabelmann’s have been a part of military life for roughly 51 years.
The couple met when Tammy Gabelmann was in her junior year of high school. At first she was not interested in moving, but that changed after she met her future husband. He shared with her his dream of serving in the Army and she supported him.
“He absolutely loves what he does,” Tammy Gabelmann said. “There is nothing else in the world he would rather be doing then what he has been doing.”
The day after Gabelmann had been promoted to sergeant first class, he received orders to go to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he served as a drill sergeant. Tammy Gabelmann was pregnant with triplets at the time and her doctor would not allow her to travel.
Gabelmann did all that he could to balance Family life and his duty to the Army.
“He has always done his job the best he can,” Tammy Gabelmann said. “And he is a great dad.”
During his time as a drill sergeant, Gabelmann was voted Meanest Drill Sergeant of the Cycle, but his wife knew better. After work he spent every minute enjoying his Family, including the times his daughters would put lip gloss on him and barrettes in his hair, Tammy Gabelman said.
“You know, just typical dad stuff,” she said with a laugh. “If only these guys could see the real you.”
After his time as a drill sergeant, Gabelmann came to Fort Campbell for the first time. He would have other assignments but returned to Fort Campbell in 2017 and became the brigade command sergeant major of Bastogne.
Gabelmann sees every Soldier in the brigade as his friend. So, when he would travel to visit Soldiers deployed to different parts of Iraq he would always say he was going to visit his friends, said Command Sgt. Maj. David Moore, senior enlisted adviser, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, as he reflected on his interaction with Gabelmann.
“When I first met him I liked him immediately,” Moore said. “He was laid back in the way he approached things and allowed sergeants major to approach things. He explained to me that his goal for the sergeants major was to help them run the battalion without interfering. He let us know his door was always open. His whole vast knowledge of 30 years in the Army was ours for the taking. If we needed anything, just ask.”
Not knowing anyone, Gabelmann met up with Moore for dinner. After they had eaten Moore and Gabelmann walked back to Moore’s containerized housing unit, more commonly referred to as a chu, where Gabelmann enthusiastically suggested they watch a movie. Moore politely declined.
However, a month or so later Moore was in his chu winding down after a long day when there was a knock at the door. It was Gabelmann in shorts and flip-flops.
“Hey, you want to watch a movie?” Gabelmann asked.
All Moore could do is laugh and watch a movie.
“He makes Soldiers and other people feel like they are his friends, which is good because some Soldiers need that,” Moore said. “Some Soldiers don’t like to talk to sergeants major. But everybody in this brigade wants to talk to Sgt. Maj. Gabelmann.”
Moore said everywhere you go in Bastogne you can hear Gabelmann’s catchphrase. “AHHH Bastogne!” when he runs by formations during morning physical training nearly the whole battalion will shout “AHHH Bastogne.”
When Gabelmann was a child he would collect Army recruiting cards and send them out. Much to the annoyance of his father, the recruiters would call looking for a young Gabelmann, who was much too young to join. He wanted to be just like his grandfather, who fought in World War II and would often tell young Gabelmann exciting tales of his time in the Army.
But, it is not all about war stories for Gabelmann. It is all about 30 years of service, deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, countless training events and many hours spent at the office to ensure Soldiers were being cared for.
“For me, it’s been about the camaraderie of the events,” Gabelmann said.
“It has always been the camaraderie, brotherhood, trust, the experience that is always amazing to me. Regardless if I was being shot at or something was happening around me, events that happened that were minutes that seemed like hours. But at the end of the day whatever happened, sorrow, sadness, you always came back to having a good time and the relationships and the discussions about Family and ‘what do you want to do in the future?’ Those things I think are my experiences that I take away and enjoy the most … Everything has always been what I wanted to do,” Gabelmann said. “I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.”
Topics101st Airborne Division, 1st Battalion 506th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 506th Infantry Regiment, Bastogne, Change of Responsibility Ceremony, David Moore, Derek Wise, Fort Benning GA, Fort Campbell KY, U.S. Army, Wray E. Gabelmann
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