By Karin J. Martinez, VMC Public Affairs OfficeJuly 27, 2017
VICENZA, Italy -- A new era in United States Army Garrison Italy began here when Col. Steve Marks passed the role of garrison commander to Col. Erik M. Berdy in a change of command ceremony July 21 at Hoekstra Field.
Berdy, a 1994 U.S. Military Academy graduate, brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the command, and the goal of "flat transparency" in the way the organization will operate.
"We need to be open and clear across the entire command so that the lines of effort are clearly understood," said Berdy. "Coordinating and synchronizing is kind of my mantra, as I come from a planning background."
A self-proclaimed "systems-oriented guy," the new commander said he plans to take time to observe how USAG Italy operates and see what he can bring to the table.
"(A leader) has to give himself time to genuinely assess a situation. You owe it to the organization and to yourself to take that look over a period of time, and to get unfettered feedback from those elements that support the mission," Berdy said. "With that information, you can then really identify the best path."
That process, coupled with determining command objectives and clearly identifying the lines of effort to pursue, will enable the leader to create an environment that will sustain the community. It's important, he said, to ensure the garrison continues to provide resiliency, readiness and services needed to service members, their families and others in the community because this is the way to support national security requirements.
The new commander said key leader engagement will also be an essential component of his leadership.
"Key leader engagement, in my mind, is of supreme importance in this type of environment," he said. "We, at the appropriate level, must engage with our Italian hosts in a manner that is productive for both. There are steady, state-level engagements that units (participate in) as mission dictates, but there are also engagements that should occur to support activities that we are attempting to pursue in terms of U.S. national foreign policy in Italy, and Europe at large."
Whether it is Berdy himself, the commanding general or other senior leaders, the garrison commander said key leader engagement is going to be deliberate, calculated, and designed to support long-term goals. It will not be "the scatter shots" many people are susceptible to, he said.
"It has to be networked and connected to optimize the effect," he added.
Although he has been serving in the Army for more than 20 years, leading a garrison is a new experience for Berdy, just as it was for Marks when he assumed command in 2015. As an infantry officer, Berdy's experience thus far has been in combat arms, but he said he is ready for the challenge of his new command -- even though it came as a bit of a surprise.
"Speaking matter of factly, it was a bit of a challenge to realize that I was not going to command a tactical formation, but that I was (going to) command a garrison," explained Berdy. "Then I looked at my peer group and saw a good number of people who were a lot better than I was, or will ever be, not get a command at all. I was grateful and thankful.
"It wasn't until I actually got here and started talking with Steve Marks and the (garrison) directors that I realized this was all about leadership. This is about supporting and enabling a team of professionals who are striving to do right by the people and community they serve. It has rejuvenated my morale and given me the inspiration and motivation to be as good as I can be at this.
"My shortcomings are going to be lack of knowledge and experience in the technical details of running a garrison. I will gain that over time. What I need to figure out is what I bring to this garrison. ... I think I will bring leadership, organizational skills. That will mean bringing the right people together to the right place to maximize what we have."
Berdy's dedication seems to come from a long line of Soldiers before him. Growing up in a military family, the leader said he didn't ever plan to serve but, somehow, he came full circle.
"We are a multi-generation Army family -- except for a couple of Marines whom we don't talk about," he said, laughing. "In fact, my mom's dad was a Marine who fought in World War II. The irony is, that being a kid growing up in that environment, I was saying to myself, 'I will never join the Army. I can't stand it.' Yet somehow, by hook or by crook, I wound up here.
"It is the base that was built by my family. By my parents. By my father and grandfather in particular. It was one that emphasized service to nation. We all came over [to the United States] from somewhere else. ... Everyone became an American, and I think they took to heart the idea of service to nation. For us, it was just the Army. That helped me to see what my purpose was in life."
His time in combat arms has had the most profound effect on him, said Berdy, who deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from 2007 to 2008. He said that deployment was probably the most influential event of his life.
"Professionally and personally, it drove home a whole bunch of things," Berdy said. "It taught me lessons on training and about how you teach an organization to knock down barriers and share information. How to be integrated and transparent, and to help leaders make decisions under supreme stress and duress. How to compartmentalize and make decisions. Frankly, too, that life is too damned short and that you need to be happy with what you do. If you're not, it will come out in a multitude of different ways, like high-risk behavior. Honestly, it all comes down to focusing on people."
The new commander plans to do just that: focus on people to best support the mission of the garrison and have some fun in Italy, too. He returns to Italy after having served here with 173rd Airborne Brigade from 2006 to 2009. He and his wife, Kelli, plan to spend some time in Tuscany and on the Amalfi Coast with their daughters.