By By Alli KartachakAugust 1, 2008
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. Aca,!" Over the past 36 years, under various names and evolving missions, the U.S. Army Environmental Command (USAEC) has supported the Army's growing role as a world leader in environmental responsibility.
Change came again July 29, as Col. Michael P. O'Keefe passed command to Col. Maria R. Gervais.
Lt. Gen. Robert Wilson, the Army's assistant chief of staff for Installation Management and commanding general of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, presented the colors to Gervais on Aberdeen Proving Ground's McBride Field during a summery morning ceremony.
"With the ongoing transformation initiatives and the pace of military environmental activities Army-wide, I'm confident that Col. Gervais' tour will be rewarding, challenging and exciting," said Wilson.
USAEC leads and executes environmental programs across the Army and provides environmental expertise that enables training, operations, acquisition and sustainable military communities. It became a subordinate command under the Installation Management Command in October 2006, and the ceremony marked the first time USAEC's new colors have been used ceremonially.
Gervais, a chemical officer, is the 16th commander of and first woman to command USAEC or its predecessor organizations. She will be responsible for addressing environmental challenges that face the Army from issues such as base closure and realignment, unit stationing, transformation, installation cleanups and growth of the force while preparing the command for its BRAC 2005 directed move to Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
"My family and I are extremely proud to now be a part of the Army's environmental program," said Gervais. "This command will end one chapter in its history, and will open another in San Antonio."
Gervais joins USAEC as a brigade-level commander with extensive operational experience. In her distinguished, 21-year career, she served with the 11th Chemical Company as a platoon leader and executive officer during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. She was also the company commander of the 101st Airborne Division's Headquarters and Headquarters Company and its Aviation Brigade chemical officer.
She deployed to Turkey with the 21st Theater Support Command as a logistical planner during Operation Iraqi Freedom. At Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Gervais commanded the 82nd Chemical Battalion and served as the chief of staff of the U.S. Army Chemical School and Maneuver Support Center. Just before taking command of USAEC, she graduated from the Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pa.
Gervais has received many awards and decorations some of which include the Meritorious Service Medal (with eight oak leaf clusters), the Joint Service Commendation Medal (with two oak leaf clusters), the Southwest Asia Service Medal (with three bronze service stars), the Parachutist Badge, and the Air Assault Badge.
She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Lander College, a Master of Military Science from the United States Army War College, and a Master of Arts in human resources from Webster's University.
O'Keefe, who holds a Ph.D. in chemistry, moved on to become the deputy director for Research and Development for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency at Fort Belvoir, Va.
"A while ago, Lt. Gen. Wilson said to me, 'what a great time to be a leader in the Army with all the change and transformation that is happening.' I agree. It really has been exciting for me," O'Keefe said.
Under O' Keefe's leadership, USAEC staff employed innovative technologies and business practices to complete the environmental cleanup of 27 installations and 352 installation restoration program sites, reducing potential hazards to and improving the quality of life of Army communities. He ensured the application of new processes for more than 35,000 Army properties to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act that saved more than $25 million.
"Col. O'Keefe never lost sight of what was important and kept AEC focused on installation and Army priorities," Wilson said.
O'Keefe's contributions to Soldier readiness included increasing training range availability while decreasing operations and maintenance cost through the use of innovative range and unexploded ordnance clearance technologies. He also led an aggressive Army Compatible Use Buffer Program that directly protected more than 33,000 acres of training land outside of 23 Army installations by leveraging $62 million in non-military contributions.
"It made me proud to be part of such a large organization that takes care of Soldiers and their Families," O' Keefe said.
Units supporting the change of command ceremony included: the U.S. Army Materiel Command Band directed by Chief Warrant Officer 4 Frederick Ellwein, the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and School Salute Battery led by Chief Warrant Officer 4 Fitzaleert Gordon and Staff Sgt. Lawrence Weber, and the U.S. Army 22nd Chemical Battalion (Technical Escort) Color Guard led by Staff Sgt. Jeremy Harrington.