The 1st Cavalry Division deputy commander for support Col. Matthew J. Van Wagenen was promoted to brigadier general and received his first star during a ceremony at Cooper Field on Friday.
Maj. Gen. Paul Calvert, the 1st Cavalry Division commander, said Van Wagenen was a seasoned and capable leader that has led and commanded at every level through the rank of colonel.
“Upon transition of the division headquarters back to Fort Hood this past August, Matt has served as our deputy commanding general for support,” Calvert said. “He has, and continues to demonstrate excellence at all facets of his duties and responsibilities that have been entrusted to him.”
Calvert said Van Wagenen was ready to make the transition from an armor officer to a general officer. He said Van Wagenen was forward thinking, inclusive and inspires others to action.
Commissioner Timothy McGonigle, a long-time friend from Van Wagenen’s hometown in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, read a citation from the Pennsylvania state legislature paying tribute to Van Wagenen on his accomplishment.
“Matt, we love you, everybody back home is proud of you and God bless you and God bless the 1st Cavalry,” McGonigle said.
Van Wagenen said if someone had told him three years ago when he was taking command of a brigade that he’d be back at Fort Hood being promoted to brigadier general, they’d have a better chance at winning the Powerball jackpot.
“No one in the U.S. Army gets anywhere alone, it’s a team effort every day on and off the battlefield,” Van Wagenen said. “My promotion today is no different, I would not be here today without three special families.”
Van Wagenen thanked the Fort Hood and First Team family, past mentors, peers and subordinates, and his family.
He said the promotion was the heaviest amount of responsibility he’d ever taken on in the Army.
“It’s about taking care of our “First Team” troopers here; a lot of responsibility comes with this rank,” Van Wagenen said.
Van Wagenen’s wife, Stefanie, replaced his colonel insignia with the brigadier general insignia on his uniform during the ceremony. His daughter Isabelle presented him with a ceremonial general officer belt and son David presented him with a general officer’s Model M9 pistol.
Van Wagenen also had advice for other young officers wishing to achieve the rank of a general officer.
“Don’t ever aspire to be a general officer,” Van Wagenen said. “My advice is to do the best you can in the position that the Army gives you every day, and the rest will take care of itself.”
Van Wagenen said the biggest difference between a general and the previous officer ranks is generals are no longer specialists in a specific military occupation.
“I was an armor officer up to a colonel today, I’ve become a general officer and we are generalists, we can run anything in the Army,” Van Wagenen said.
Van Wagenen said his biggest take-away from being promoted to general on such a storied location like Cooper Field with the 1st Cavalry Division was having his family with him.
“My family walking onto the parade field to help promote me is something I will remember for the rest of my life,” Van Wagenen said.
Van Wagenen said his biggest mentor throughout his career was retired Gen. James D. Thurman, who last served as Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea commander, before retiring in 2013.
“I’ve known him since I was a second lieutenant and he gave me a chance as a young officer,” Van Wagenen said. “He’s a role model, he’s a leader for our nation and I look up to him the most.”
Van Wagenen’s most recent previous assignments include serving as the commander of Task Force Southeast in Gardez City, Paktia Province, Afghanistan from April to August 2017, and commander of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, from June 2014 to March 2016.