CAMP BONDSTEEEL, Kosovo –
Hall of famer, and historic Duke University men’s basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, once said, “To me, teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one. You become selfless.”
This is what Midlothian, Virginia resident, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Gregg K. Whisler, equal opportunity advisor, Kosovo Force Regional Command-East, has believed since he joined the Virginia National Guard in 1983. While solely serving for the state of Virginia, he will enter his 40th year of service on Nov. 9, 2022, and will retire in April 2023, just months upon returning from his current deployment to the Western Balkans.
“It hasn’t totally hit me yet, although I see things and I reminisce about something in the past and I get a little sad,” Whisler said when asked how he felt about the Army not being a part of his life anymore. “I am going to miss it. If I could get another waiver I would. I don’t want to go, but I understand the regulation and maybe it is time. I am going to miss serving and miss the Soldiers I (currently) serve with, and those I have served with.”
Whisler was born on April 2, 1961 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Growing up he exceled at both academics and sports while attending Monsignor John R. Hackett High School in his hometown. He played football, wrestled, ran track there, and then went on to attend the University of Dayton in Ohio where he met the love of his life, Josie. They married at the age of 19, and immediately after had their first child at 20. They have three children, Ryan, 41, Rachel, 35, and Mary Claire, 34.
“My wife Josie and I have been married for 42 years,” Whisler said.
After leaving college early to work and support his new family, Whisler’s journey would take him to Virginia in the early 80s when his wife accepted a third-grade teaching job there.
“I moved to Virginia because at the time the auto industry was down and people were leaving the Midwest and moving south and east,” Whisler said. “My Wife had more job opportunities there because they needed elementary school teachers in Virginia.”
Upon arriving in Virginia, Whisler attended the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in math. He received a scholarship with the contingency of having to teach math for at least three years upon graduation. Whisler has now taught math in the state of Virginia for more than 30 years, far exceeding his three-year commitment back in the 1980s.
Alongside his civilian career as a math teacher, Whisler has served with ten different units within the Virginia National Guard throughout his career, to include the unit he’s currently deployed with, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. He stated the Army appealed to him because of the team aspect and the diversity he found in the service.
His military career started out as a combat medic, as an ambulance driver. He then reclassified as a nuclear, biological, and chemical noncommissioned officer, both jobs were in support of the 276th Engineer Battalion.
He’s held many other positions within the Virginia National Guard, to include, a chemical section and company NCO, platoon sergeant, operations NCO, first sergeant, human resources technician, personnel strength manager, and equal opportunity advisor.
Kosovo marks Whisler’s fifth deployment in his nearly 40-year career, having previously deployed three times to Iraq and once to Central America. He said his military service has gone by quick, until he starts to realize and think back on all the changes he’s seen.
When asked what is the biggest takeaway from his military career he said, “Change happens. Can’t avoid it. You really only have three choices. One, embrace it. Two, try to have a positive influence on the direction change takes. Three, accept it. You can’t fight it. I think being able to handle change in one of three ways, without fighting it, is a big reason I have lasted this long.”
According to Whisler, the three biggest highlights of his career are that he was one of 21 Soldiers out of 125, and the only guardsman to earn the Expert Field Medical Badge in his class in 1985. He won the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Soldier of the year in 1986, and in 2005, he graduated first as the Distinguished Honor Graduate in his Warrant Officer Candidate School in Fort Rucker, Alabama.
Today, Whisler holds two Master of Arts degrees, one in administration from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and the other in theology, from St. Leo University in Florida. He also coaches high school football at Thomas Dale High School in Chester, Virginia. And, after completing his Master’s in Theology in August 2021, he was ordained as a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Richmond and assigned to St. Edward the Confessor Parish in North Chesterfield, Virginia.
“As an educator in the civilian world, not only do I teach but I also try to take every opportunity I can get to learn. I learn new things from my students all the time. It is the same here (in Kosovo). I have learned a tremendous amount in our time here. From the Soldiers of all experience levels and ranks; from observing and engaging in the way people interact; through exposure to the culture here and in this region. It may seem strange for someone at the end of their career to say that, however I don’t think I will ever stop that quest. Not April 30, 2023 when I do retire or my last days on earth,” Whisler concluded, when asked what was the most rewarding part of serving in support of Operation Joint Guardian.
Operation Joint Guardian is NATO’s longest-running peace-keeping operation, and it takes place in the Western Balkans. Kosovo Force, or KFOR, is also NATO’s largest peace-keeping security force on the ground, which consists of roughly 3,700 troops from 27 allied and partnered contributing nations.
KFOR’s legal guidance comes from its mandate through the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and the Military Technical Agreement, which were both published on June 9 and June 10, 1999, respectively, preceding the June 11 implementation of KFOR’s authority in the region that year.