News: Old Ironsides starts new chapter at Fort Bliss
Story by David Poe
FORT BLISS, Texas -- The salute blast of howitzer cannon fire cascading off El Paso’s Franklin Mountains marked the official welcoming of the 1st Armored Division to Fort Bliss May 24.
The division colors were uncased for the first time in the states since 1971 after 40 years in Germany. Gen. James D. Thurman, commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, Bliss’ commanding general, and Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport, Bliss’ command sergeant major, became 1st AD’s commander and command sergeant major respectively. They received the colors from Maj. Gen. Terry A. Wolff and Command Sgt. Maj. William M. Johnson, 1st AD’s outgoing commander and command sergeant major respectively.
“It’s an honor to be standing on this parade field with the greatest asset in the United States Army … its soldiers,” said Thurman. “This is a very special day for the 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, and two amazing command teams. It’s my pleasure to be here to unfurl the colors of the 1st Armored Division, to officially welcome this unit to Fort Bliss, and participate in the passing of the command.”
While the historic day marked a milestone for Team Bliss, it was anchored in symbolism as 1st AD’s four brigade combat teams have transitioned from Germany to West Texas since 2008 in accordance with the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure initiative.
Following the inspection of troops and passing of the 1st AD colors, Thurman took to the podium and turned the audience’s attention to the soldiers on the field.
Among many insights from the career soldier, Thurman shared his views on the seamless transition of great leadership which was occurring at Noel Field during the ceremony.
“Gen. Terry Wolff took command of the 1st Armored Division in May 2009 at Wiesbaden, Germany,” he said. “It was a rare and extraordinary opportunity and General Wolff has done exceptionally well in leading this great organization. I also want to thank Command Sgt. Maj. Johnson; sergeant major you’ve done a tremendous job also.”
“This is a unique change of command today as the new 1st Armored Division commander is no stranger to Fort Bliss and is a son of El Paso, Texas,” said Thurman. “Gen. Dana Pittard and his wife Lucille have played a central role is standing up the divisional units here in Texas and taking these soldiers and families under their wing. Since [his arrival] the installation has continued to grow and remains focused on training and deploying [units] capable of conducting a full spectrum of operations.”
Thurman, who recognized that the strength of the 1st AD was its Soldiers and also its Family members, thanked Martha Wolff, spouse of Maj. Gen. Terry Wolff for her care of 1st AD troops and families, then turned his remarks to Lucille Pittard and said with confidence that the 1st AD Family remains in good hands.
“To the soldiers, civilians and families of Fort Bliss, your family just got bigger today as you’ve gained a prestigious, disciplined, and storied division. Today we turn a page in the history of this great organization and begin a new chapter. As we do, we can be sure that the 1st Armored Division will answer our nation’s call.”
Wolff followed Thurman with remarks which noted his command team’s place in ‘Old Ironsides’ history, one which evolved with the day’s ceremony at a time he said he felt was right.
“Eleven days ago in a moving ceremony at Wiesbaden Army Air Field we cased the 1AD colors and saluted the departure of the final American Army division headquarters in Germany,” said Wolff. “That ceremony appropriately highlighted 40 years of rich history, but today marks a new chapter and I’m thrilled to help reunite the division headquarters with the brigade combat teams; a step that is long overdue.”
Wolff deployed the 1st Armored Division headquarters from Germany to Baghdad where he commanded United States Division-Center for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn from January 2010 through December 2010.
Wolff was followed by a reflective Pittard, who as an El Paso native, said he felt being named 1st AD’s new commander in his hometown was a true honor, and as he pointed to the 1st AD units on display during the ceremony, said now leading the 1st AD was even more so.
“Ladies and gentlemen, take a look at the sharpest soldiers in the United States Army -- the 1st Armored Division soldiers,” said Pittard. “This can’t be a coincidence; taking command of America’s only armored division in our hometown of El Paso ... it just doesn’t get any better than this.”
As a captain, Pittard commanded a tank company in the 1st Armored Division during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
He thanked his family, Fort Bliss community, the City of El Paso, and surrounding communities for being one of the most supportive military regions.
“Team Bliss and the 1st Armored Division will continue keeping our people first,” he said. “We’re committed to making Fort Bliss the premiere installation of choice and making sure that its quality of life is what you so richly deserve. Your unwavering support and loyalty will never be taken for granted.”
He closed by directly addressing 1st AD soldiers in attendance who represented the thousands of soldiers throughout the division.
“You are the epitome of excellence. Stay tough, stay fit, stay disciplined, trust each other, and trust your leadership,” said Pittard. “We don’t have much time to waste. I know you’ll be ready … I know I’m ready.”
Special presentations during the ceremony included at U.S. flag flown on the U.S.S. Constitution and a proclamation from the Mayor John Cook of El Paso designating 1st Armored Division Day.
There are approximately 16,000 “Old Ironsides” soldiers at Fort Bliss assigned to Heavy, Stryker, and Light Infantry Brigades. Soldiers from the 1st Armored Division will test experimental equipment and train for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in months ahead.