FORT HOOD — 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 through a variety of changes, including budget cuts and deployments.
“I’ve been privileged to serve five years in this division, culminating as the division commander,” he said.
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 the division commander, 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 well-being 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.
During Ierardi’s 20 months as commander, 1st Cavalry’s 4th Brigade Combat Team was inactivated as part of the Army’s downsizing, budget constraints were created by congressional gridlock, a division soldier died in combat for the first time in more than two years and First Team troops were deployed 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 directly to sexual assault in the military. “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.”
For 10 months of his command — while III Corps deployed to Afghanistan — Ierardi also served as the senior post commander; a task, he said, that was successful due to good teamwork.
“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 said.