FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. - A twenty-year veteran of Greely Hall will soon hang up his hat and bring his duties to the country to an end after more than 40 years of dedicated service as both a Soldier and Government Civilian, as Robert Plante, the NETCOM Assistant Chief of Staff, G-7, Force Management Directorate, retires in December.
Joining the Army in 1978, when the all-volunteer force was still in its infancy, and the Vietnam war was still a recent memory, Plante said, “It was a post-Vietnam Army; my boot camp drill sergeants were Vietnam war veterans; discipline was much different than it is today,” as he explained how the Army has changed since he first raised his hand.
During Plante’s active-duty Army assignments he spent three tours in Germany, two when the Berlin Wall was standing and one when the wall came down. He also had assignments to Forts Bragg, Gordon, Hood, Rucker, and Huachuca, with some time spent in the Gulf War.
After putting in more than 20 years, the Florida native retired from active duty, but not from his service to the nation as Plante rejoined the Army in December 2000 as a Government Civilian.
“I’ve always worked force and manpower management for NETCOM,” said Plante. “I wanted to leverage my 20-plus year’s active-duty Army experience to improve theater signal force structure.
“I’ve worked for NETCOM, and its predecessors, my entire civil service career,” Plante said. He went on to explain how his military service helped prepare him for civil service employment by providing him with relevant operational experience, in peace and war.
Plante, who has been the G7 Force Management Director since he established it four years earlier had worked Force Management when it was a Division under the NETCOM G-3.
When asked what project he enjoyed most during his work as director, Plante said, “Developing and implementing the plan to convert all theater signal structure across all components from functional to multi-functional; the Integrated Theater Signal Battalion (ITSB) was the genesis for the current Expeditionary Signal Battalion (ESB), which I also lead the development of.
“The NETCOM Force Management Action Plan is the foundational document upon which force structure has been and will continue to be created and modified,” said Plante. “The plan ensures the Command and the Army has the capability and capacity required to support the Warfighter.”
Of the ten commanding generals Plante has worked for during his time with NETCOM, two came to mind when talking about ITSBs and ESBs. “Maj. Gen. [James] Hylton [retired] and Maj. Gen. [James] Baker [retired] were instrumental. Maj. Gen. Hylton was the driving force behind the ITSB and Maj. Gen. Baker transformed how the NETCOM Headquarters does business, he really put us to the test.”
When talking about manpower, Plante explained the changes he has seen in the command during the past 20 years and he doesn’t think it is going to get better any time soon. “In terms of force structure capability and capacity, NETCOM has actually seen a significant reduction. In terms of NETCOM Headquarters capability and capacity, ditto. Over the last several years there’s been a significant brain-drain, which will get worse over the next 5-plus years.”
But there were also positives. During his time here Plante said he knows the Army had the best theater signal force structure possible, and to ensure that continued he continually focused on training and mentoring subordinates to ensure they were building the bench for the future so they could do the same.
His advice to others who want to make government service a career is simple. “Be a life-long learner; take advantage of all the training opportunities you can,” Plante said. “Ensure you lead a balanced life, i.e., between work, family, and physical and mental fitness. If any of these get out of balance, they will eventually adversely impact the others.”
Plante said his family has been a tremendous help. “They’ve been right there with me…through thick and thin. Through lots of long TDYs and long days,” he said.
“They are glad it’s over so we can now spend a lot more time together and enjoy the remainder of our time on this earth,” said Plante. And when asked what he plans to do in the future, Plante smiled and said, “As long as my wife and I are physically and mentally able to, we intend to travel and stay active.”