VICKSBURG, Miss.- U.S. Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Tracy Thompson assumed leadership of the 412th Theater Engineer Command in a change of command ceremony held here June 29.
The ceremony represents the changing of the guard between the outgoing and incoming commanders and is the epitome of ceremony.
Ranks form. Flags unfurl. The band plays and cannons blaze, but put aside the pomp, the ceremonies and traditions a change of command entails, it all comes down to two commanders and their visions of today and tomorrow's 412th TEC and the Army.
Maj. Gen. William M. Buckler Jr., the outgoing commander, has served the 412th proudly, leaving a legacy on those he leaves behind as those before him have done. Now, Thompson is ready to make his mark as well.
Thompson is like many career Soldiers today. He was born and raised in Wisconsin, but lives in Virginia and traveled to his previous command in Texas. He has a private practice as an attorney. He joined the Army Reserve in 1981 as an enlisted combat engineer, joined the officer ranks and served in various roles as construction officer, company commander and inspector general while juggling a family life with his wife, Sheri, and their two children, Jacob and Sarah. The term well-rounded comes to mind and Thompson's life and career certainly reflect it.
Thompson comes from the 420th Engineer Brigade, out of Bryan, Texas, where he crafted his leadership style while serving as commander for three years.
"The brigade has such outstanding people, it almost ran itself," said Thompson. "The preparation for this job [412th commanding general] came from watching people at the 416th TEC such as my mentor Maj. Gen. David Conboy, 416th's commanding general, and seasoned staff officers like Jim Murphy."
Thompson said his toughest challenge and best experience builder at the 420th was standing up a command and headquarters for 310 Soldiers.
"I made dozens of mistakes and learned hundreds of lessons regarding hiring, being bamboozled, resume' embellishment, counseling sub-standard performers early and the importance [and politics] of money in getting things done in a large command," he said.
One of the lessons Thompson learned as a commander is the value of a good staff.
"It's indescribable the difference a highly competent staff makes on your [commander's] life," said Thompson. "Versus when you have a staff that is green and doesn't properly screen the items not meant for the commander's decision and attention."
Thompson feels all entities: the Army, corporate, non-profit or any other, are all about people. During his command at the 420th, Thompson made his first priority encouraging and helping key leaders.
"If you get the right people in the right positions and treat them well, great things will happen," he said.
His second priority was providing trained and ready units for mobilization.
"We averaged 10 to 12 percent of the brigade mobilized during my time in command. That's about 400 to 450 [Soldiers] mobilized at any given time," said Thompson. "Without exception, every unit successfully mobilized and completed its mission. We had a few leadership stumbles, but the missions were resounding successes."
Thompson is proud of the 420th's mission successes down-range and the high promotion rates of noncommissioned officers and officers as well as the positive command climate.
"We have improved in nearly every category by which we are measured ... which most often beat the Army average, particularly in our headquarters," he said.
Thompson says one of his greatest strengths is his "fear of failure."
"That always keeps me searching for and open to new ideas," he said.
So for the 412th TEC, a two-star Army Reserve command headquartered here in Vicksburg, Miss., a new commander with new ideas takes the lead and it's Thompson who is at the helm.