By Megan Locke Simpson, CourierJune 27, 2014
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- History added another page to 101st Airborne Division's rendezvous with destiny the morning of June 20, when the Screaming Eagles longest-serving commander handed the unit's storied colors to a new leader.
Some 13,600 Fort Campbell Soldiers stood proudly at parade rest as the division's 44th commanding general, Maj. Gen. James C. McConville, said good-bye during the traditional change of command ceremony on post and welcomed incoming commander Maj. Gen. Gary J. Volesky as his replacement.
McConville's nearly three-year tenure included a deployment to Afghanistan, where he headed Combined Joint Task Force-101 in Regional Command-East, as well as overseeing the division's first brigade-level Air Assault exercise in 10 years, dubbed Golden Eagle, shortly after his redeployment. Resiliency, readiness, training and transition are all themes both McConville, and his wife, Maria, championed for Fort Campbell's Soldiers and Families. McConville also ordered the division to increase the rate of Air Assault-qualified Soldiers to 70 percent.
Despite key leaders, such as Forces Command Gen. Daniel B. Allyn hailing his accomplishments during the sendoff, McConville continually put the focus back on the success of his Soldiers.
"There's something special about serving in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, and you just have to look over the parade field and see these magnificent Screaming Eagle Soldiers to know why," he said.
He spoke of the fresh, war-fighting spirit still present in Jim "Peewee" Martin, who at 93 completed a highly-publicized parachute jump as a part of recent D-Day commemorations in Normandy. McConville said the Screaming Eagles' motto in Vietnam, "If you want it done, ask the 101," still rings true because of the service and sacrifices of the division's Soldiers.
"From the drop zones of Normandy, to forests of Bastogne, to the jungles and highlands of Vietnam, to the deserts and cities of Iraq, and today, in the villages and mountains of Afghanistan where Strike and Thunder Soldiers are still serving and others of you will follow, Screaming Eagle Soldiers have performed heroically on the battlefield whenever the Nation has needed them," the outgoing commander said. "… It's truly been an honor for me to serve in the company of you heroes."
As McConville travels to Washington, D.C., to begin his next assignment as the deputy chief of staff, G-1, at the Pentagon, he carries with him the experience of commanding the only Air Assault division in the world.
"Someday, when I'm sitting around with my grandchildren … and they ask me what I did after our country was attacked on 9/11, and what I did during the war, I will puff out my chest and proudly tell them that I served with the 101st Airborne Division …," he said.
Allyn, McConville's West Point classmate, presided over the ceremony and spoke pointedly about McConville's service.
"Jim has led this renowned formation with distinction for nearly three years," Allyn said. "Marked by consistent demands on and off the battlefield that exemplify the agility and responsiveness of this great division, prepared and enabled by Team Campbell, Gen. McConville led the Screaming Eagles on multiple short-notice missions, and every time, this division delivered on time, on target and with exemplary mission success."
Volesky replaces McConville to serve as Fort Campbell's 45th "Eagle 6" -- the division commander's call sign. The Spokane, Wash. native comes to the installation after serving as the Army's Chief of Public Affairs. The Infantry officer said it feels like winning the lottery to have the chance to be stationed at Fort Campbell for the first time in his career.
"It's clearly Christmas in July for the Voleskys," he said, as the crowd chuckled.
The Silver Star recipient also wished the McConvilles well, and he spoke of the general's combat-proven experience that he witnessed personally in Iraq.
"For me it seems like yesterday when I was a battalion commander in Sadr City and had the opportunity to work with Gen. McConville and his unit for the first time," Volesky said. "I'll never forget contacting the pilots of the Kiowa warriors that were shooting rockets along our route of advance during a difficult fight. I can still hear Gen. McConville's Boston accent over the radio, saying 'Gary, it's OK.' He was overhead in one of the aircraft supporting our operation -- the same place he always was with his Soldiers where it mattered most -- sharing in the danger and the hardship they all faced. Sir, it's been an honor serving with you."