Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Dailey always knew he wanted to join the Army, but he never expected he would someday be named the service's top enlisted soldier.
"I don't know if anybody can possibly fathom assuming the responsibilities of this role," Dailey said.
Dailey, who entered military service in the footsteps of his grandfathers, father and oldest brother, has been named the next sergeant major of the Army.
Just 17 when he enlisted in 1989, Dailey, now 42, will be the youngest soldier to ever serve in the job.
"It's quite a humbling experience," said Dailey, who is the command sergeant major for Training and Doctrine Command.
Dailey was selected by Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno after being considered by a board and participating in an interview with Odierno.
Soldiers to SMA: Here's the top 6 fixes we want now
When Odierno informed him that he had been selected for the position, Dailey said it was "a little bit of a shock."
"Then you realize you have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders, and there are a lot of soldiers counting on you," he said. "It's a big undertaking. I told the chief he could be very confident in the fact that I would do the best I possibly can."
Dailey will become the 15th sergeant major of the Army on Jan. 30. He will succeed Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler, who was sworn into the job in March 2011 and will retire after almost 33 years in uniform.
As sergeant major of the Army, Dailey will serve as the Army chief of staff's personal adviser on matters affecting the enlisted force. The exact duties will vary depending on the chief of staff, but much of the senior enlisted soldier's time is spent traveling across the Army to observe training and talk to soldiers and their families, according to information from the Army.
The sergeant major of the Army also recommends quality of life improvements to Army leadership and sits on councils that make decisions affecting enlisted soldiers and their families.
Dailey, the third of four brothers from Palmerton, Pennsylvania, signed up to join the Army in the 11th grade.
In an interview with Army Times, Dailey said he went to the recruiter with the hopes of becoming an AH-64 Apache mechanic.
"Because of the availability at the time, they showed me the infantry tape, and it looked pretty hooah, and I thought, 'let's give this a try,' " he said. "I was a young kid from a very humble family. I spent a lot of time outdoors, and I loved it."
Dailey said he was inspired to stay in the Army by the noncommissioned officers at his first duty station, the 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, in Schweinfurt, Germany.
"I was blessed with having phenomenal leaders during my first duty assignment. I attribute my success today to that," he said. "When you're a first line leader, you make a lasting and lifelong impression on those soldiers. I'm proof of that."
Throughout his career, Dailey has served in Germany and Korea, and at Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Stewart, Georgia; and Fort Carson, Colorado.
He has served as a radio telephone operator, rifleman, Bradley commander, battalion master gunner, a Primary Leadership Development Course senior instructor, platoon sergeant and first sergeant. He served as a command sergeant major at the battalion, brigade and division levels before being selected as the senior enlisted soldier for TRADOC in August 2011.
He is a veteran of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and he deployed four times to support Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.
His experience over multiple deployments taught him to focus on training and educating soldiers, Dailey said.
The Army has an obligation — to America's fathers and mothers — to properly train and prepare soldiers for war, he said.
"This is a family business, not just a soldier business," Dailey said. "It's a tough business. Our soldiers, unfortunately, have to pay the ultimate sacrifice sometimes for what we consider the ultimate freedoms in America."
He also believes his experience helps him relate to soldiers, who have shouldered multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 13 years.
"We're heading into some complex times," Dailey said. "That requires an understanding of what our soldiers have been through for the last 12 to 13 years."
His time away from his family — his wife, Holly, and son, Dakota — also has taught him the resilience of Army families, Dailey said.
His son, now 19, is a freshman at Pennsylvania State University who plans to study mechanical engineering.
"I attribute that to mom's success," Dailey said. "I am blessed to have married a wonderful woman. If you ask soldiers at any duty station we've ever been stationed, she's poured her heart and soul into the Army."
At one family event at Fort Carson, where Dailey was the division's top enlisted soldier, a woman referred to him as "Holly's husband."
It's a title he gladly owns, he said.
"In the eyes of the family support network, I'm Holly's husband," he said.
His time at TRADOC helped him transition from "being an operational leader to a strategic leader," Dailey said.
TRADOC also is home to many of the Army's key initiatives, including its efforts on leader development, requirements for building the future Army, and recruiting new soldiers, Dailey said.
"The war fighter is why we're all here, but I learned in this position there's a bigger part of the Army that's critical to the success of those soldiers," he said.
SMA on tattoos, leadership
In case you were wondering, Dailey said he doesn't have any tattoos, a hot topic among soldiers, many of whom are upset by the Army's new, tighter tattoo rules.
Tattoos are "a big topic" for soldiers, and it "always comes up" when he meets with soldiers, Dailey said.
"It's something the chief and I discussed, as well as something the sergeant major of the Army's board of directors continues to discuss," he said. "It's something we have to be cognizant of, but the Army has established a standard, and that is how we live. We're a professional Army that lives under rules and regulations, and it's our job as NCOs to support the chief of staff of the Army and Secretary of the Army."
Looking to the future, Dailey said the Army will have to contend with a changing and complex world even as the service gets smaller.
But he said he also believes there are plenty of opportunities for soldiers.
"You have an individual responsibility to maintain readiness and be good stewards inside the profession," he said.
But there's also "plenty of opportunity for leader development, there's plenty of opportunity for NCOs to train and educate their soldiers," he said. "I think we have a very bright future in front of us."
In announcing the selection on Nov. 3, McHugh said he has "the utmost confidence" in Dailey.
"His experience, leadership, devotion to soldiers and commitment to our Army make him especially suited to assume this important duty, one that Sergeant Major of the Army Chandler has masterfully performed for the last four years," McHugh said in a statement.
Odierno called Dailey a visionary leader.
"Command Sgt. Maj. Dailey epitomizes the competence, character and commitment we require of our soldiers and leaders," he said in a statement. "I have every confidence in his ability as a visionary leader to help guide our Army through this time of great complexity and rapid change."
Chandler congratulated Dailey in a post on his Facebook page.
"I'm confident he will provide good counsel to the Secretary and Chief as he has a track record of being a steadfast advocate for soldiers and families," Chandler wrote. "Throughout my tenure, I have counted on his support and advice, especially in the areas of leader development and the Army profession."