FORT GORDON, Ga.--(April 17, 2009) The U.S. Army's Signal Corps recently lost one of its own. Lt. Col. Jeanne Hutchison, former 551st Signal Battalion commander, died Feb. 26 after a brief illness at the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y.
At the time she was the 2nd Regimental Tactical Officer for the Corps of Cadets at the United States Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.
While her passing is admittedly a great loss, her life was filled with many accomplishments and enriched by her Family and Soldiers who served with her. Her life is worth celebrating and her story is worth sharing with others.
The 1988 U.S. Military Academy graduate was listed as one of the top 10 swimmers in the women's 100-yard backstroke and 200-yard backstroke events, according to retired Brig. Gen. Ramon Ong, a member of the West Point swim team from 1959-1963. Hutchison set the 100-yard backstroke record in 1985 at West Point and she remained the fastest female swimmer for five years until her record was finally broken in 1990, he wrote in a eulogy at West-Point.org.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree with a concentration in education psychology from West Point she was assigned as a platoon leader for the 142nd Signal Battalion at Fort Hood, Texas. Her other military assignments include: 2nd Aviation Brigade Signal Officer in Desert Storm, Command of the U.S. Army Signal School Detachment, Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colo., and the U.S. Army Signal School Detachment at Fort Meade, Md.
Later the Texas native became the executive officer for the U.S. Army Element at Lowry AFB, and the 129th Signal Battalion, 29th Infantry Division, Maryland Army National Guard in Bel Air, Md. Her next assignment was the deputy director of training for Visual Information at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade. This assignment led to being appointed Joint Tactical Radio System Information Assurance project officer for the National Security Agency.
The signaleer later took an assignment as the strategic programmer for the U.S. Forces Korea, commander for the Information System Center, Defense Information System Agency in Washington, D.C., before being assigned in 2006 as the battalion commander of the 551st Signal Battalion at Fort Gordon.
At Fort Gordon she made things happen. According to her boss, Col. Frank Penha, 15th Regimental Signal Brigade commander, now Deputy G6, Headquarters, U.S. Army, Pacific at Fort Shafter in Hawaii, as an officer in general, she was totally professional, committed and willing to invest in her Soldiers. "She saw our Soldiers as a group of diamonds in the rough, and did her best to mold those Soldiers into trained professionals," he said. "She displayed an abundance of patience, but if she occasionally found Soldiers that could not meet Army personal and/or professional standards, she ensured that she did not allow them to remain in our Army. She invested equally in her officers, noncommissioned officers and civilians, providing coaching, mentoring, a listening ear and a positive work environment."
One of her company commanders, Capt. David Richards, recalls while he was deployed to Mosul, Iraq in 2006 - 2007 she e-mailed him shortly after being appointed as the 551st Signal Battalion commander. "Hello, she said in the e-mail. I'm your new commander. How are you doing' Is there anything you need' she wrote. She kept regular correspondence with him until he redeployed to Fort Gordon to make sure he was doing well.
As president of the Signal Corps Regimental Association chapter at Fort Gordon Hutchison diligently worked as a fundraiser and recruiter for the organization, according to Lt. Col. Stephen Middleton, 15th Regimental Signal Brigade's deputy commander. "She was the beacon of light for the regiment," he said.
Hutchison had a great sense of community, according to Middleton. She would rather donate furniture to the Augusta Urban Ministries rather than sell it, he said. She also taught classes in the local synagogue in the evenings.
Hutchison was proud of being Jewish. In a surprise visit to the post, which was arranged by the grown children of a World War II veteran, Hutchison personally expressed her appreciation to former Pfc. Luz Perry for her service during that war.
The 551st commander bent down to the frail woman sitting in the wheelchair and simply said, "I am Jewish and I thank you for your service." It was at this moment tears rolled down the face of the former private who had been stationed at Camp Gordon, now Fort Gordon. In those few seconds she said she fully realized the value of her service.
Giving back to one's community is something Hutchison practiced and instilled in her Soldiers. Sgt. 1st Class Rodolfo Fuentes, the senior instructor/writer and noncommissioned officer in charge of the 25P Common Core Branch at the post, recalled one weekend in which the [551st Signal] battalion volunteered their off-duty time painting and sprucing up a local middle school. Hutchison and her Family as well as her Soldiers worked throughout the day painting the interior of the school, he said.
"She was the driving force in all that we did and never accepted accolades" Fuentes said. "She pushed me and several others to excel in all we do as instructors, volunteers, Soldiers and as human beings relying on each other to make it. She showed me that teamwork meant rolling up your own sleeves and leading from the front."
She not only led from the front, but often was the pace setter for the 15th Regimental Signal Brigade's physical endurance challenges which were designed to help the officers stay physically fit for duty. "As a group we would complete some type of intense physical training on a quarterly basis somewhere on post," said Penha, the former 15th Reg. Sig. Bde. commander.
She led by example and her Soldiers worked hard to meet her expectation. "She was an outstanding leader who cared very deeply for all Soldiers and she entrusted me with great responsibility as a first sergeant in her battalion and I tried hard to never disappoint her, said Master Sgt. Wayne Reyna, the first sergeant for Company C, 551st Signal Battalion.
One of the most outstanding qualities the commander possessed was remaining steady, according to 1st Lt. Michael Hudson, executive officer for Company B, 551st Signal Battalion. "I came to think that nothing really could get under her skin to annoy her," he said. "I had the opportunity to see her in some difficult situations, and I found the leadership trait in her that I wanted to emulate-calm under pressure.
"She also spent a lot of her energy in mentoring," Hudson added. "When she was gearing up to leave for West Point she took the time to talk to me about my career goals and she made herself available after arriving at West Point as well."
While her Soldiers held a high priority so too did her Family. She always had a twinkle in her eyes when she talked about her kids and her husband [retired Lt. Col. Robert Hutchison], said Lt. Col. Bernadette Hanley, strategic communications officer, U.S. Army Signal Center.
Hutchison appreciated the support of her career given by her own Family and she in turned helped her Soldiers appreciate their Families who support their careers. One of those Soldiers was Sgt. 1st Class Richard St. Louis, platoon sergeant, Company B, 551st Signal Battalion. He was the NCO in charge of induction ceremonies at CAPSTONE exercises on post.
At the ceremonies the commander would advise her Soldiers to take care of themselves, each other and most importantly their Families.
"She would often say, 'You are the one that raised your right hand and joined the Army," St. Louis said. "Your Families did not sign up for this and we know that the reason that you are able to do what the Army asks of you is because of their support. So you need to take care of them always."
In a message to the West Point community Brig. Gen. Michael Linnington, commandant of cadets at the academy said, "Jeanne was a superb member of the United States Military Academy team, and an integral part of the United States Corps of Cadets. She was an exemplary role model, coach, teacher and mentor to her more than 1,100 cadets as well as an officer representative to the swim team and an active member of the community and the Jewish Chapel."
Hutchison was laid to rest at West Point March 3.