Seventeen days ago, Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley said he was sitting on the Canadian border at Fort Drum, N.Y., when he was told, “Pack up, Ranger. Move out. You’re moving to Central Texas.”
“What a difference 17 days makes,” said Milley during a chilly Thursday morning ceremony during which he assumed command of III Corps and Fort Hood.
He also received his third star Thursday inside III Corps Headquarters, before heading out to the ceremony on Sadowski Field.
The command colors on the field, he said, represented the 50,000 soldiers, 80,000 family members and 230,000 community members, retirees and others that work, live or use Fort Hood — a place he had first set foot on a mere 96 hours before with his wife, Hollyanne, by his side.
“In 96 hours, more people from this installation and this community have wrapped their arms around Holly and I, and have showed us the love and the warmth of Central Texas. I have to tell you, that speaks volumes,” he said. “With the tremendous whirlwind we’ve both been on the last couple weeks, to know that you are a part of a family, to know that you are welcome in a place you’ve never been and to know the heart and soul of an installation is here to support you, that is a reassuring fact for a guy like me.”
Milley joins the Phantom Corps after serving one year as the commander of 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum, N.Y., where he spent many other highlights of his career including command of the division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
“Contrary to popular belief and contrary to the program, this is not my first time serving with the soldiers of Fort Hood,” he said. During a 2004 deployment, Milley’s brigade was attached to the 1st Cavalry Division, under command of then-Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, in Baghdad, Iraq.
“At my first meeting with (Chiarelli) I looked down and stared at the funny boots he was wearing and I realized, being a light infantryman, that the good general was out of uniform,” Milley said. He then decided to let him know.
“I quickly, rapidly assumed the position of attention and I quickly learned that those weren’t just any boots, they were tanker boots with the little belt buckles.”
Despite 32 years in the Army, Milley has spent most of his career in special operations and infantry, but said that deployment taught him to truly appreciate the power of an armored unit.
“They all wrapped their arms around a brigade that didn’t wear their patch and didn’t come from their culture. ... I will never forget and will be forever in debt to the tanks and the Bradleys and the Apaches that applied unrelenting firepower in support of me and my soldiers in some very, very bloody situations,” he said. “As I join this team, I recognize now I might actually get a Stetson and some cowboy boots.”
Gen. David Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Forces Command, said Milley is keenly aware of the corps’ mission and he is proud to add Milley to the list of Fort Hood commanders.
“General Milley is a proven combat leader capable and worthy of the increased responsibility being put on his shoulders today. He brings a wealth of proven leadership to this corps and to this military community,” Rodriguez said, adding Milley’s challenging combat experience makes him uniquely qualified for the job.
Aside from Iraq and Afghanistan, Milley has also deployed to Egypt, Panama, Haiti and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
A 1980 graduate from Princeton University, Milley, the son of a sergeant, was commissioned through ROTC, according to his online biography.
In addition to a bachelor’s degree in political science, Milley also holds master’s degrees from Columbia University in international relations and from the U.S. Naval War College in national security and strategic studies.
Milley accepted the III Corps colors from Brig. Gen. James Richardson, who served as interim commander during the nearly month-long gap between Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr.’s departure to command U.S. Army Europe and Milley’s arrival. Richardson will resume his duties as deputy commander.
Since relinquishing command in New York on Dec. 3, Milley traveled directly to Germany, where the Phantom Corps was conducting training for its deployment to Afghanistan in spring 2013.
“It’s an extraordinarily complex, dangerous and tough mission,” Milley said. “But I have absolutely no doubt that the seasoned officers, noncommisisoned officers and soldiers of this corps are up to the task. I have no doubt that we will lead our American soldiers and our NATO soldiers to the successful accomplishments of our mission.
“This time we go to Afghanistan, and while the location is different, it doesn’t matter. ... The mission is the same. It’s to defend freedom and celebrate the oppressed,” he said.