Command Sgt. Maj. Tony Gayton (left) accepts the ceremonial noncommissioned officer’s saber from Col. Mike Scholes, the 78th HRF commander.
By Sgt. 1st Class Roy Henry
Public Affairs Office
Georgia Department of Defense
Sergeant Maj. Tony Gayton accepted the noncommissioned officer’s saber from Col. Mike Scholes, 78th Homeland Response Force (HRF) Commander, signifying a “change of responsibility” in a ceremony held here at the 78th’s new headquarters.
Gayton, a Tate, Ga. resident who comes to the 78th from his position as the operations sergeant major for Joint Forces Headquarters, takes the reigns of leadership from Command Sgt. Maj. Ed Hepler. Hepler, who joined the HRF a year and a half ago when it was the Decatur-based 78th Troop Command, is now command sergeant major for the Clay National Guard Center.
Part of the 78th’s transformation into becoming the state’s homeland response force has entailed a change in commanders. With a change in its senior enlisted leadership, the 78th continues moving down the path toward the external evaluation and validation of its ability to conduct its new mission: providing support to civil authorities in times of natural or man-made crisis.
“This is more than a timely transition between two senior leaders,” said Col. Scholes. “It reflects this organization’s responsibility to put the best and brightest leaders in key positions to better our ability to meet our homeland security mission as we begin the task of protecting the citizens of this state and the nation.”
Hepler, who received the Meritorious Service Medal and an NCO saber to mark his more than 35 years of military service, will retire later this year. That retirement, Scholes says, will come during the 78th’s evaluation and validation. Hepler’s assistance to Gayton in the meantime will “be vital to providing stability and continuity within the 78th,” said Scholes. Both NCOs, Scholes added, will serve the unit as it prepares for its homeland defense role.
“Major General Maria Britt, the Georgia Army Guard Commander, once said to me, ‘It’s part of our responsibility to know when to step aside, when our time comes,’” Hepler said. “The 78th’s transformation is that time for me. It requires a sergeant major who’ll be around to guide it through that transformation, and beyond, someone who fully understands what’s needed to be successful in its new mission. And I believe Command Sergeant Major Gayton is that person.”
As for Gayton, he said he looks forward to the “new and exciting times ahead for the 78th HRF. Taking on the responsibility of being the HRF’s most senior enlisted leader is, undoubtedly, a great challenge. But I know that, with Command Sergeant Major Hepler’s help, we – as a unit – will meet that challenge head-on and prove that the Georgia Guard and the 78th have what it takes to successfully take on the homeland response force mission.”