REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama -- As he prepares for the next chapter in life, the sun will soon set on one Soldier's career.
Lt. Gen. David L. Mann assumed command of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command in August 2013. He began his career in 1981 and on Aug. 2, he will bid a fond farewell after 35 years of service.
Mann said when he arrived, he was very excited and very humbled. Being an air defense officer, Mann said there is really no higher level to command for air defenders than at USASMDC/ARSTRAT, and while he dreamt about it, he never really expected that honor.
Because of the complex nature of the command, Mann said knew he had a lot to learn.
"Quite frankly, I didn't know what I didn't know," Mann said. "I knew a lot of the tactical level weapon systems we have for air and missile defense. Coming to this command and learning about the strategic forces and global missile defense platforms we have was huge.
"Learning the space side of the house has been one of the biggest challenges I focused on during the past three years," he added. "Learning about the importance of space and understanding the Army is the largest consumer of on-orbit space assets is something I've tried to share with our senior leaders."
Mann also added that space is a new and critically important domain the Army has begun to embrace.
"If you look at a brigade combat team, roughly 70 percent of our weapons systems rely on on-orbit space assets," Mann said. "Space is a growth area and will continue to be so into the future. As we have been able to share the capabilities that we bring, we have seen a dramatic increase in demand for our capabilities, which is a good thing."
In addition to executing our strategic mission, Mann said after taking command he focused on ensuring the safety and quality of life for the force.
"We have teammates and their families at Fort Greely, Alaska, where it gets 50 to 60 degrees below zero, who operate the nation's only defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles," Mann said. "Making sure they have what they need in terms of the mission and taking care of their families. For example, housing and medical support have been a top priority.
"We also have Soldiers civilians and families in the Marshall Islands at Kwajalein Atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; we want to make sure they have what they need to take care of their families, while at the same time being able to execute their very sensitive mission," he added. "We are asking folks to live in very austere, remote and challenging environmental conditions, it's important to make sure they have what they need in terms of life support."
Mann took a moment to talk about his replacement, Maj. Gen. (promotable) John G. Rossi, and what he can expect as the SMDC commanding general.
"We are very fortunate with the new leader who will be coming on to take the reins of this command," Mann said. "General Rossi and his family will be a great addition to this command and this community. I know he will come to love and embrace this command as much as I have. I know he will also be excited to learn about some of the unique capabilities we bring to the Warfighter.
"It is fast-moving, it is never dull and it is critically important to our nation's defense," he added.
Mann also had some advice for people thinking about serving in the military.
"To the young men and women who are considering joining the Army team, it is very important for them to understand the nobility and importance of the mission," Mann said. "It is not your typical occupation, it is a lifestyle choice and they need to truly understand the importance of serving one's nation.
"I will certainly miss serving with the young men and women, both military and civilian, who serve our nation," he added. "Those who serve in the military are part of a unique community. They experience sacrifices and challenges that are hard to appreciate unless you have lived in that environment. It is a small community, and missing them and their selflessness is going to be a tough one."
Besides leading SMDC at Redstone Arsenal, Mann has served in numerous command and staff assignments, both overseas and in the continental United States. Places he has served include Iraq and throughout the Middle East, Kosovo, Cuba, New Mexico, Colorado, Georgia, Texas, Kentucky, the Pentagon and others.
He spoke of what the immediate future holds for him and his wife, Robyn.
"We are hoping to get stable and be able to visit with the grandkids," Mann said. "We are looking forward to staying here in Huntsville. In our 35 years of service this is probably to first place we have come to where almost immediately we thought this place has potential for us to stay here after the military.
"The community leaders and people here are so supportive," he added. "I have lived on many military installations where the local community was very supportive, but this community takes it to a whole new level. People give from their hearts and it is very evident. We love it here, and we are going to stay."
Growing up as the son of an Air Force pilot during the Cold War, Mann talked about who inspired him to become an officer and to serve his country.
"My father was an Air Force officer," Mann said. "He entered during the Korean War when they needed pilots. Although he only had a high school education, he applied for pilot training, took a test and was accepted and sent off to flight school. Growing up as a military brat, I remember passing toiletries through a chain link fence during the Cuban Missile Crisis when he was on alert. Just seeing his selfless service was inspirational for me."
Mann talked about how tremendous and resilient military families are. He said those who wear the uniform are focused on the mission and sometimes forget the strain military service puts on families; moving to a new locations, making new friends, setting up a new household and putting children in new schools.
"They also have to live with uncertainty when their loved ones deploy," Mann said.
In closing, Mann spoke about the inspiration he finds at home and how his wife has been beside him throughout his career and has been his foundation.
"I notice my wife's grace under pressure, her selflessness, the sacrifice she has gone through and her steadfast commitment to recognizing what is truly important in life," Mann said. "Sometimes life is hectic because we're focused on so many issues, but at the end of the day I can count on her to keep me grounded."