07 June 2010

A Change in Command: Dust-up or Sandstorm?

There was lots of rumor and innuendo in the bull pen this past week, as the commander and top non-commissioned officer of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry Division were abruptly reassigned. This is only days before the unit moves out to three weeks of Annual Training in Camp Ripley, Minn., and only a few months prior to deployment of approximately the unit's 3,000 soldiers to Afghanistan.

The Des Moines Register splashed the news on the front page, and attempted to offer context without a lot of information. The news article indicated Col. Tom Staton and Command Sgt. Maj. Craig Berte were relieved "due to violations of Army regulations"--a phrase that, weather-wise, could mean anything from gale-force winds to the proverbial "tempest in a teapot."

I'm not personally privy to the particulars of this human resources sandstorm, nor do I wish to speculate. As they say, whatever happened is "way above my pay grade." I was gladly following the leadership of both Staton and Berte, and now I'll gladly follow the leadership of their replacements. That's the way the Army works.

It should be recognized that Staton and Berte have worked for years to make our organization a success. Regardless of the circumstances of their reassignments, they're deserving of some thanks: After all, they got us pretty far down the road toward deployment to Afghanistan. It's too bad that last week's dark clouds obscured their efforts, and potentially tarnished our unit's reputation.

On toward less bleak sentiments ...

One of the advantages the Army National Guard enjoys over the active-duty Army is that we soldiers mostly grow up with one another. Our officers and non-commissioned officers are friends, family, and neighbors. We're rooted in our communities, and share common histories.

That means that when people change positions, we're still likely (and lucky) to see familiar faces.

For example, a story-telling warrant officer in headquarters company often talks about being squad leader to a kid named Tim Orr, way back in the day. Orr grew up to be the brigade commander, and is now The Adjutant General ("TAG") of the State of Iowa.

Such familiarity can make command transitions easier and more efficient.

The new brigade commander is Col. Ben Corell, who has previously commanded the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment (1-133 Infantry)--a Red Bull division unit. He deployed his battalion to Egypt in 2003-2004 on a peacekeeping mission, and to Iraq in 2005-2007 on a ... non-peacekeeping mision. The latter deployment was part of the 1-34 BCT's historic 22-month stint in Iraq--no other Army unit, reserve or active-duty, was deployed longer. (60 Minutes embedded with the unit, resulting in the hour-long "Fathers, Sons and Brothers." See text here, or purchase here.)

To my knowledge, the new command sergeant major has not yet been announced.

Unlike most civilian organizations, a military unit is designed and trained to be machine-like. While the life of every soldier may be individually precious and irreplaceable, we are each trained ultimately to be replaceable. Like Eli Whitney's celebrated musket-parts, we are interchangeable. We are trained to take life, and to give our own. We are trained to step up when another falls: "Mission first, soldiers always."

See you on the objective!

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