New battalion commander infused with 'can-do' spirit
March 1, 2013
Lt. Col. Mark Raymond Biehl is settling into his new position as commander of Headquarters Command Battalion on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, a job he took over Feb. 12.
Biehl, a native of Bowie, Md., comes to JBM-HH from Fort Bragg, N.C., where he last served as the U.S. Army Special Forces Command G3X division chief.
"I've been on Fort Bragg pretty much continuously since 1998," he said, citing as an exception the time he attended Marine Corps Command Staff College at Quantico in 2006 and 2007 and lived in the Courthouse area of Arlington County.
"Just like anyone, I'm going to take the first 30 days and do my own personal assessment," he said of his new command. "But Col. [Eric] Fleming [the previous battalion commander] left the battalion in such great shape, running so smoothly, I don't perceive any problems or any drastic changes that need to be made.
"It's a change, but it's still [about] problem solving," Biehl said, describing his approach to leadership. There may be different kinds of problems, he stipulated, "but it's still the same application of techniques you use to solve problems. It's providing support to the 7,000 folks that are in the battalion -- admin support, command and control -- ensuring that everything is running smoothly.
"It's a unique challenge," he continued. "The almost 7,000 Soldiers [here] aren't really mine. I can't really control them. The ones I can actually physically reach out and touch are probably less than 20. Everyone else works for a boss or a directorate or an agency. It presents some unique challenges. I'm still trying to wrap my head around it."
Biehl, the first in his family to choose the military as a career, is infused with a can-do attitude passed on by his father, who served in the National Guard prior to the Vietnam War. A grandfather served in the Navy during World War II.
"My father always used to tell me: 'You can if you think you can,'" he said. "So it's kind of been my motto for life, essentially."
Biehl said growing up in the Washington area was instrumental in helping him choose a career path. It exposed him to a lot of people who were career military or worked for the Department of Defense. Bowie also wasn't far from Annapolis, where he got to know Naval Academy midshipmen and military culture. He said that influenced him when it came time to look at colleges. He received his commission through the U.S. Military Academy in 1994 in the Corps of Engineers.
"It seemed like a pretty good option," he said. "I figured I'd try it and see if I liked it. And here I am 19 years later, still trying it."
Biehl's bachelor's degree is in environmental science.
"When it came time to pick majors … I still wasn't sure if I was going to do five years and get out or stay and make it a career," Biehl said. "That was an up and coming field -- anything environmental, so it was a guarantee that if the military didn't work out for me, I could pretty much get a job. It was a high-demand field in the early '90s. It's always applicable."
The battalion commander's office is decorated with artifacts from Africa. There's a sculpted elephant resting on a window sill and an ornate hand-carved chief's chair next to a filing cabinet. These are keepsakes from his work with the 3rd Special Forces Group.
"As a detachment commander, as a young captain, I did multiple trips into Africa," Biehl said, rolling off the names of countries like Cameroon, Senegal, Djibouti and Nigeria. Each Special Forces group has a specific area of responsibility, he explained, and prior to 9/11 the 3rd's was Africa. "It's designed like that so you can get the language capability, you [absorb] the culture … so you can interact better with people."
While this is his first time working on a joint installation, Biehl is familiar with a purple working environment. "I'm a Special Forces guy, and [it] is inherently joint, so it's not something new to me. I've been working with the sister services for years and years," he said. "That's how we operate. I understand [joint] language very well.
"I went to the Marine Corps Staff College; I understand Marine speak. Even as a young captain, as a team leader, I had Navy [explosive ordinance detachments] assigned to me, I had Air Force [joint terminal attack controller] that belonged to me, and at one point I even had a Marine rifle company -- we had it all -- not to mention our coalition brothers. I'm no stranger to our allies."
Biehl said he sees changes ahead for the Army as it ends some of its commitments overseas.
"The Army's going to have to draw down. We're right on the verge of a huge change… I think 34,000 troops are coming home by the end of next year from Afghanistan," he said. "It's going to be different. We're going to transition out of the wartime Army mindset. In this position, I'll have to facilitate that, and assist in taking care of the Soldiers who are dealing with a list of issues that result from more than a decade of war. So we've gotta, kinda clean up a little bit and take care of the deserving Soldiers that need our help."
Biehl said the traffic in the Washington, D.C. area hasn't gotten much worse than when he lived here six or seven years ago to go to school.
"I'm probably one of the few people in a rare case where I came to the D.C area and shortened my commute to work," he said. "It's really nice. I enjoy it. It's almost a 20-minute drive. Where I lived before in Pinehurst [N.C.], it took almost an hour to get to Fort Bragg."
Biehl lives in Falls Church with his wife, Ann of Pasadena, Md., and two daughters: Ava, 2, and Hazel, who is 8 weeks old. March 1st marks the couple's 11-year anniversary.
Biehl said he appreciates the diversity of the Washington area.
"I love the culture. There's never a shortage of anything to do. If you need it, more than likely, it's right around the corner," he said. "There's so much up here and there's so much to do. You can't get bored in this area. It's almost a constant feeling of not keeping up; there's so much to do and so much to see."
The last time he lived in the area, Biehl said he and his wife took advantage of the metropolitan area's offerings all the time. "But we didn't have kids then," he said. "Now we have two small kids and it's a little more difficult. But we plan on taking advantage of some of the culture."
Biehl's greatest solace, however, is found on the homefront.
"I enjoy spending time with my family. I missed almost the entire first year of my daughter's life while I was in Afghanistan. Getting to spend time with my wife and daughters now is how I regenerate," he said.