Sgt. Maj. Michael “Tony” Grinston is no stranger to a weight room. As a matter of fact, anytime he traveled to bases around the world, the nearest gym felt like home to him. He’s been known to take part in workouts with service members, even when he is in uniform. One of his most famous photos is him deadlifting three plates at a base overseas, which impressed the soldiers watching him in the weight room that day. Grinston always jumps at the chance to clang and bang on the iron because fitness is a pillar in his life.
“It’s very important to me,” he said. “I can’t imagine my life without fitness. I still get up first thing and run because it can give me clear thoughts and wonderful clarity.”
A native of Alabama, Grinston’s first connection to sports and fitness came justfrom playing outside when he was a kid. Like many kids in his home state (Roll Tide), he watched college football and played the sport himself at the younger levels growing up. He was also into martial arts and running.
“I don’t remember a time that I wasn’t out doing something active.”
Grinston joined the United States Army in 1987 when he was 17 years old. He completed basic training in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. His family is familiar with service thanks to his grandfather and uncle, but he clearly didn’t envision the long-term career he would wind up having when he first signed up. Along with serving his country, he wanted to set himself up for the future.
“When I first joined, I was thinking about how I could use some college money, and I had several friends that were joining. We had always talked about it, so when the opportunity came up, I took it.”
Grinston reported that he didn’t score 300 on his first PT test, but he still passed it. Others were glad he passed, but he was disappointed he didn’t max it out. He immediately committed himself to reaching that goal. All he needed was the incentive to know he didn’t the first time.
“I did it again after basic training and got 299. The running took some time to master because I had to get under 12 minutes. Once I was able to master that, I got 300.”
That commitment to personal excellence transferred to his life in service. Throughout Grinston’s career, he would be deployed overseas multiple times, including as a part of Operations Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Inherent Reserve, Enduring Freedom, and to Kosovo. He has held several leadership positions in artillery throughout his journey, and that leadership has provided a great service to his country. Part of that leadership included showing others that they were capable of more than they believed.
“If they said, ‘I can’t do that, it’s too hard,’ I would tell them to add the word ‘yet.’ You can’t do it yet. Adding that word can make a big difference, and that helped them figure out how to do it. It was all about the mindset.”
Over two decades after he joined the Army, he found himself being sworn in as the 16th Sargeant Major of the Army on Aug. 9, 2019. That was never a formal goal for him when he first committed to service, but he was honored to have held the position.
“There were a lot of things going through my mind that day. There are a lot of responsibilities that come with that,” he explained. The husband and father of two would end his active-duty career in service in 2023 with several honors, including the Army Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (2nd award), Bronze Star Medal with Valor (2nd award), and the Bronze Star medal (3rd award). Along the way, he earned the Ranger tab, Master Parachutist badge, Air Assault badge, Drill Sergeant Identification badge, and the Combat Action Badge.
Starting in January 2024, Grinston began a new career, but it isn’t too far away from his previous one. He now works as the CEO of Army Emergency Relief (AER), a nonprofit organization assisting soldiers and families in financial need. While he is working in a new role, he’s still in a leadership role and making a difference in the lives of America’s heroes in uniform and their families.
“If a soldier goes on emergency leave and needs assistance to fly back, we’re going to help you get that ticket. That is a combination of grant and loan. We also do scholarships for family members and children. AER is a great organization, and I’m really proud they selected me to lead that organization.”
Aside from his new professional role, he still considers himself an advocate for fitness and wellness. He hopes that he can continue to spread the good word of health to both veterans and future members of the military. He intends to remain an example through his actions as well as his words. As someone who has been physically pushing himself since childhood, he finds himself to be his best when he focuses on his fitness.
“To this day, I’m still that way. I don’t know what the world would be like for me if I wasn’t active. That is not a life I want to have.” For more information about Army Emergency Relief, go to www.armyemergencyrelief.org.