Handing over the reins of America’s First Team next month is going “to break my heart,” said Maj. Gen. Anthony Ierardi.
For nearly 20 months, Ierardi has led the more than 23,500 soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division. The soldiers of today’s cavalry are reflective of those of the past — a thought Ierardi had during the 1st Cavalry Division Association’s reunion held at Fort Hood last summer.
“It’s just a legacy of service,” he said during an interview with the Herald last week from his division office. “I’ve been privileged to serve five years in this division, culminating as the division commander.”
On March 4, Ierardi will pass on the division colors to Brig. Gen. Michael Bills during a ceremony on Cooper Field. Until the Army announces his next assignment, he will move across post to III Corps to serve as the deputy commander.
In his remaining time as Pegasus 6, Ierardi plans to train in the field with 1st Brigade Combat Team at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.
“It’s the best it could be,” he said of this final task.
During his tenure, Ierardi had three main initiatives — the mission, soldier wellbeing and being a team.
“But really it all comes down to readiness,” he said. While commanders before him led the division headquarters on deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, his focus was on “developing and building ready teams.”
These teams will be challenged when Bills takes about 350 soldiers from the division headquarters to Afghanistan later this year.
“It’s not just about going across the cattle guard and training. It’s about soldier readiness. It’s about providing a climate where everybody is successful,” Ierardi said. “Sure, there are going to be challenges in that, but I think largely we’ve succeeded in this endeavor. We continue to succeed, and our soldiers continue to succeed.”
Some of those challenges include the division reorganization required from the inactivation of 4th Brigade Combat Team as part of the Army’s downsizing, the budget constraints created by congressional gridlock, the loss of a soldier in combat for the first time in more than two years, and sending troops to deployments in unexpected locations.
About 1,500 soldiers from the division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team are finishing up a nine-month mission to Afghanistan, while the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade has a battalion in Kuwait and a battalion in Afghanistan. The reconnaissance squadron of 3rd Brigade is about halfway finished with a peacekeeping mission on the Sinai Peninsula.
“As I speak, we’ve got soldiers deployed to Afghanistan, Kuwait, Egypt and Korea — all from one division,” Ierardi said. “And you don’t just do that simply by training. You do that by training and developing leaders and taking care of people. The primary initiative of anything I’ve focused on was readiness — readiness of our soldiers and readiness of our units.”
Taking care of soldiers also means looking critically at those systems, and making positive adjustments, particularly when combating soldier suicide and sexual assault.
“What I would tell you is that we’re making progress, but we’ve not yet solved this problem,” Ierardi said, speaking about sexual assault. “We have programs that are set now. The Army has directed a number of programs that we have instituted. Now it’s ensuring that the soldiers have the confidence that if something happens they can come forward. We are working hard right now to ensure that we’re building confidence and conducting sensing sessions or we’re talking to people in a way that would allow them to feel comfortable that if there’s a problem ... that they’ll have the confidence to come forward and know there won’t be reprisal, that they’ll be protected. And that gives us an opportunity to investigate and determine what’s going on.”
For 10 months of his command, Ierardi also served as the senior post commander during III Corps’ deployment to Afghanistan.
“It was great to have everybody pulling on the oars at the same time,” he said of the team effort among the garrison command, civilian employees and those at the mission support element day in and day out.
“It’s having strong support systems. It’s having experienced folks that have been here a while. It’s having a supportive community that has been through this ... and they kind of understand what’s going on.
“I’m at the top of the ship steering a bit, but the reality is, you’ve got a lot of people working down there hard to keep it moving. It wasn’t my success, it was their success,” he added.
As he moves over to corps and hangs up his Stetson, Ierardi said he’ll do so with a heavy heart.
“I’m confident (Bills will) settle in here and get the division moved to Afghanistan, and really, to be truthful, I’m looking forward to moving over to corps and working with Gen. Milley as his deputy and assisting him in getting things done here at Fort Hood.”
When he greets Bills next month, Ierardi has one piece of advice: “Hold on.”
“It’s going to go way too fast,” he said. “Don’t blink because before you know it, it will be over. ... Contribute as much as you can.”