By Kari Hawkins, USAG Redstone June 20, 2014
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Take it from a two-star general who has been "boots on the ground" in recent months: the Aviation and Missile Command sustains the equipment on which the Army builds its Soldier strength.
"The employees who make up AMCOM need to know they are truly making a difference in Soldier lives," Maj. Gen. Jim Richardson, the organization's newest commander,
"I was a recipient of their hard work. The work AMCOM does to sustain equipment for Soldiers gives us the advantage."
Coming to AMCOM from his most recent assignment as commander of the National Support Element Command-Afghanistan and deputy commander of the III Corps and Fort Hood, Texas, and bringing with him both his Apache helicopter aviator roots as well as the experience of six deployments during 32 years of service, Richardson is a "Soldier's Soldier" and hands-on leader who works every day to emphasize the mission progress that is being made as a result of the teamwork, communication and expertise of the Army's Soldiers and civilians. He assumed command of AMCOM on June 12.
"I remember Operation Enduring Freedom (in 2001-03) when I was a battalion commander (3rd Battalion, 101st Aviation, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Kentucky) and we were flying at night in the darkest places," he said.
"Now, when you fly in Afghanistan, towns, villages and cities are lit up. The communications has skyrocketed with 18 million people having cell phones. They've come a tremendous way with schools. Millions of kids, and especially girls, are going to school every day. They have made tremendous progress in education, in communications, in infrastructure and technology, and from a medical point of view."
Even from a security perspective, the progress has been huge, he said. In 2001, Afghanistan did not have an army. Since 2006-07 when the Afghan Army was stood up, its soldiers have proven again and again that they are committed to providing a secure and safe nation for their people.
"They are unbelievable fighters," Richardson said. "From the battalion level and below, we have accomplished a lot of training with them. They now have responsibility for their country and we have turned back to an advisory role. They're in the lead; we are there to advise and help. Our primary reason for being there is to provide training, advice and assistance to the Afghan Army and police.
"Now we are helping to put systems in place so they can acquire, manage and sustain the supply chain they need to support their Army. The people want us over there. We are part of 51 nations that have come together to work for this huge progress."
Richardson said he has seen a sense of accomplishment among the U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan. "They are making a difference every day," he emphasized.
It's those experiences in the field -- during four deployments to Afghanistan and two deployments to Iraq -- that make Richardson "humbled and honored" to be selected to serve as AMCOM's commander.
"For 32 years, I was a customer of AMCOM," he said. "We wouldn't have been able to sustain combat operations during 13 years of war without AMCOM.
"I wanted to give back to the Soldiers, and DA civilians and contractors who have given so much to me over 32 years. This organization and the people within this organization have given for years and I was one of the recipients of all the hard work they have done to sustain us."
His new position, he said, provides the opportunity to stay connected tactically to the Soldier in theater. And that connection is important to a two-star general used to being in the fight.
"My number one priority is people," Richardson said. "My job is to support the people of this organization. That's a huge focus for me.
"Their character, trust, loyalty and commitment to the job is extremely important. It's not about me trusting them. It's about them trusting me, and it takes awhile to build trust. I look forward to gaining that trust and leading this organization. A lot of times, people talk about the challenges of an organization. I don't think of them as challenges. I think of them as opportunities."
As the war in Afghanistan comes to an end and the Army draws down its troop numbers, and the Army's organizations face tightening budgets and reshaping to reflect a leaner military, Richardson said the Army mission is still very much vital to the nation's defense posture.
"No matter what the budget, readiness is priority number one. The position throughout the Army is that our job is still to sustain our forces. We must still remain ready to go to war," he said.
A 1982 University of South Carolina ROTC graduate, Richardson saw the Army as his opportunity to serve his country.
"None of us are in it for the money. We are in it for the people of this nation," he said.
"But what kept me all these years? The people. You can be in some of the worst places in the world, but the people and the camaraderie make it all worth it. I love what I do and serving this nation and being with people who also are committed to military service. Being a general officer was never in my thoughts, but I decided a long time ago to make the Army my career."
Richardson said he has been fortunate, from the beginning of that career, to be associated with great organizations. At the University of South Carolina in Columbia, he saw a Cobra helicopter fly by and decided in that instant that being a helicopter pilot was the right career choice for him. But he had to branch armor because aviation wasn't a branch in his early Army years.
"I was in the right place at the right time and I had the skills to be chosen as an Apache helicopter pilot. I was raised in the attack helicopter community," he said.
"Each helicopter community has its own culture. We are fortunate that battalion commanders truly understood all that Apache helicopters -- and all Army helicopters -- bring to the fight. But in combat, the most heroic people in Army aviation are not the Apache helicopter pilots. The most heroic people are the Medevac pilots, crew chiefs and medics on Black Hawks."
Yet, the Legion of Merit with three oak leaf clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star with three oak leaf clusters that Richardson has in his war chest are testimony that he, too, has been a hero at war.
"When the ground tactical commander and his Soldiers are in trouble, they need to know we're going to be there, that we are going to deploy in support of them," he said. "In 13 years of war, we have shown Soldiers who are in trouble that we will be there for them. We are there to support the missions of ground maneuver troops."
Of all his assignments, Richardson has been motivated the most by being allowed to lead Soldiers into combat. Now, as the war winds down, he said aviators should still be able to maintain a high level of motivation and commitment through their training.
"Our training tests us," he said. "It is hard, tough and realistic, and the reason we perform so well in combat."
Richardson said he is used to being on a "winning team with great people" as an Army aviator and officer.
"I've made it because of the people I've been around," he said. "I've made it because I have put people first and I've worked hard. Take care of the people around you, and they will take care of you. It's about being a plow horse, not a show horse."
While at AMCOM, Richardson will be separated from his wife, Brig. Gen. Laura Richardson, a Black Hawk pilot. Brig. Gen. Richardson most recently served in Afghanistan with her husband, where she was the deputy chief of staff of communications for the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force. She is now assigned to serve as the director of the Office of the Chief of Legislative Affairs at Fort Myers, Virginia. The couple have a daughter, Lauren.
"The Army really works hard to keep us together. But the assignments are not as easy to co-locate as you get promoted. The most challenging time for our family was in 2003 when we were both in Iraq and our daughter had to stay with her grandparents," Richardson said.
"Families are so important to the Army. If you have a problem at home, then you have a problem on the job. So, we depend on family readiness groups to provide strength for our families while their Soldiers are deployed. In the Army, we re-enlist families. It's all about the family. They are the backbone for our Soldiers."
Richardson has seen a lot of change in the Army since he first commissioned in 1982.
"The professionalism of our Army has made tremendous leaps and bounds. We are committed to an all-volunteer Army that attracts top students. Graduates want to be in the Army and they want to use technology," he said.
"In my early years, we flew by the seat of our pants. It's a different Army today. The focus of the Army is on professionalism. It's important to understand where we came from and where we are today."
Today's Army -- a winner in all ways, Richardson said -- benefits from winning organizations like AMCOM and its parent organization, the Army Materiel Command.
"I want to come in here at AMCOM and maintain a winning spirit," he said. "I'm in listening mode. I want to learn this organization. And I want to connect it to the Soldiers it has given the advantage to on the battlefield. I look forward to meeting AMCOM employees, leading this organization and making a difference."
Richardson is also looking forward to learning about Team Redstone, the local community and the leaders who support Redstone Arsenal.
"I've always heard about this community," he said. "I can't wait to meet the community leaders and be a part of this community, and to participate in this com