FORT BELVOIR, Va. - Brig. Gen. John M. Epperly took command of the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division, Army National Guard, from Maj. Gen. Blake C. Ortner during a traditional change of command ceremony May 5, 2018, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Lt. Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, Vice Chief, National Guard Bureau, presided over the exchange of unit colors that represented the transfer of command from Ortner to Epperly.
Epperly, a resident of Stafford, Virginia and a 1989 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, previously served as the deputy commanding general of the 29th.
"I am remarkably humbled to take command of such a storied division," Epperly said.
Epperly thanked Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia and Maj. Gen. Linda L. Singh, the Adjutant General of Maryland, for choosing him to command the 29th ID.
"I am deeply appreciative to Maj. Gen. Williams and Maj. Gen. Singh, for the trust and confidence they have placed in both me and my command team," he said.
Epperly thanked his wife and sons, for their support throughout his military career.
"I want to thank my wife for her love and undying support during our Army journey. She's been there every step of the way for past 29 years," Epperly said. "I must also thank our two sons, who have also answered the call to serve the nation. I'm incredibly proud of these two young men and their decision to serve."
Addressing the assembled guests and the Soldiers of the 29th ID, as well as representatives from each of the brigades that comprise the division, Epperly explained that the National Guard would continue to have a robust operational tempo.
"It would be a gross understatement to say the citizen-soldiers of the division are busy. Even though we returned home a scant 10-months ago, we are already busy preparing for our next mission," he said. "Like their forbearers, our citizen-soldiers have become an indispensible part of the nation's defense. Indeed, there are great challenges ahead for the 29th."
Hokanson commended the Soldiers of the division for their dedicated service.
"I'd like to recognize and offer my sincerest thanks and appreciation to the Soldiers and families of 29th. Without your dedicated service and sacrifices none of the accomplishments and accolades of this division would be possible. The 29th Division has been answering the nations call since WWI and has served our nation with distinction everyday since," he said.
Hokanson also congratulated Epperly on his selection to command the division.
"Like so many 29th ID commanders before him, his distinguished and selfless service will take the division forward to meet its next challenges," said Hokanson.
Maj. Gen. Blake C. Ortner, the outgoing commander, took command of the 29th in 2015. Both Hokanson and Epperly praised him for his leadership of the division over the previous three years.
"Few senior leaders in our organization have the breadth of experience of Maj. Gen. Ortner's. A true warrior leader, Blake provided a model every young officer in this organization should strive to emulate. You are leaving this unit in great shape and that is the highest praise any outgoing commander could hope for," said Hokanson.
"Today, we send off Maj. Gen. Ortner to his next assignment. I was fortunate to serve with him on numerous occasions, including our recent deployment to the Arabian Gulf region last year for Operation Spartan Shield," said Epperly. "I am proud to have been his deputy commander and prouder still of the history we have made. We wish you well in your next assignment, sir."
Ortner welcomed Epperly as the new commander and thanked the Soldiers of the division for their service.
"I could not have asked for a finer unit, or a finer group of soldiers, noncommissioned officers, and officers to serve with. My greatest honor has been to have the privilege to serve with you all," said Ortner. "As I pass the command to Brig. Gen. Epperly, I can do it with confidence. He is, without a doubt, one of the finest officers I have known in my 35-years in the United States Army."
Ortner has been selected to serve as the Military Executive for the Reserve Forces Policy Board in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, according to an announcement made March 21, 2018, by Williams.
"The assignment of Maj. Gen. Ortner to this position is a result of his vast experience, and we are excited to see him represent Virginia at this level," Williams wrote in the announcement.
Prior to the change of command from Ortner to Epperly, the two affixed the Meritorious Unit Commendation streamer and Global War on Terror campaign streamer to the division's colors. The division was awarded both streamers for its recent deployment to the Central Command area of responsibility from December 2016 to July 2017, in support of Operations Spartan Shield and Inherent Resolve. The new campaign streamer is the first to be added to the 29th ID's colors in more than 70 years.
Epperly is a 1989 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he received Bachelor of Science degree in General Engineering and International Relations. He also holds an MBA in Finance from Drexel University and a Master of Science in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College.
He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Armor and Calvary and served on active duty for over eight years in various assignments including Tank Platoon Leader, Heavy Mortar Platoon Leader, Tank Company XO, and Battalion S4. He also served as an Assistant Professor of Military Science in the Reserve Officers Training Corps at Drexel University.
Epperly joined the Virginia Army National Guard and branch transferred to Infantry upon leaving active duty in 1997. Over the last 21 years, he has commanded at every level, from company to brigade within the 29th Infantry Division. He commanded 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment and deployed the battalion in support of Operation Vigilant Relief to assist civil authorities in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He later took command of 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment and deployed the battalion for combat operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2007-2008.
Epperly took command of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in 2012. Following brigade command, he served as the 29th Infantry Division G3 (Operations). Most recently, he served as the 29th ID's Deputy Commanding General for Operations and deployed in this role to the Arabian Gulf Region in 2016-2017 in support of Operation Spartan Shield.
Epperly resides in Stafford, Virginia and is employed as an Executive Vice President with DMI Inc., in Bethesda, Maryland.