FORT LEE, Va. (March 9, 2021) -- When young private Stephen Iacovelli cleaned toilets, pulled guard duty and marched amongst battle buddies as an advanced individual training Soldier here in 1985, he likely never fathomed wearing the star of a general officer one day.
Similarly, he couldn’t have imagined holding down a fulltime civilian position in another state, carrying two separate “commanding general” titles as an Army Reservist, and performing those military duties where his career began.
Putting it in Iacovelli’s words, he is living a dream.
“I still can’t believe it,” he said. “There are 80 brigadier generals in the Army Reserve, and I’m one of them. How could I have imagined that as an E-1 36 years ago?”
Iacovelli is the deputy commanding general for the Army Reserve, Combined Arms Support Command. He also leads the 94th Training Division (Force Sustainment) that’s headquartered here. He splits his time between offices located less than a mile apart. In the civilian sector, he serves as an information technology executive in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina.
The Citizen-Soldier’s hectic military schedule is such that his staff members insist “it is the most fulltime part-time job they’ve ever seen,” said the New York native with a laugh.
As members of CASCOM’s leadership team, Iacovelli and his National Guard counterpart, Brig. Gen. Ralph Hedenberg, hold the only two DCG titles at the Sustainment Center of Excellence and play important roles in reserve component affairs and relations.
“We are here to advise the CASCOM commander on Reserve- and Guard-specific issues – to be kind of a conduit between the Sustainment Center and, in my case, the U.S. Army Reserve Command,” said the 54-year-old.
Though he fills two distinct reserve positions, Iacovelli’s titles are strongly linked, he emphasized.
“What’s nice from my point of view – being dual-hatted – is that CASCOM is responsible for Quartermaster, Transportation, Ordnance and Personnel Services,” said Iocavelli, who assumed both of his titles in August 2018. “Four of my (five) brigades (under the 94th) are aligned with those career management fields.
“On the CASCOM side, we’re the proponent. We come out with the doctrine and programs of instruction. On the 94th side, we actually teach classes under CASCOM’s programs of instruction and execute what is being put out from a proponency point of view. So, having one foot on either side is great because I get to see things from the proponent side and execution side.”
Iacovelli estimates his time is divided 40/60 between his military duties, which require substantially more time than the typical one-weekend-per-month and two weeks of continuous training yearly, and his civilian job, which is altogether another dimension in his career juggling act.
“The only way I can make it happen, obviously, is with the support of my family because I’m traveling a lot,” he said of his wife Carol and daughter Sarah. “Even if it’s here, which is only two hours from my home, or somewhere far across the country, they’ve put up with it.”
So has Iacovelli’s civilian employer, which has honored his military service by tailoring duties to accommodate his soldierly obligations.
“My civilian job has really bent over backward for me,” he said. “Because of my responsibilities in the military and frequent travel, it’s hard to be on a project that’s forward-facing with a client (and) time-constrained. If there is a deliverable that’s due, and I find out I have to attend a briefing or travel for something and can’t be there for it, it makes it difficult.
“So, the things they’ve been having me do are either internal projects or work for clients that is not forward-facing – behind-the-scenes type things or work that’s not time-sensitive but still contribute to a project.”
Reserve Soldiers can fully concentrate on their duties and responsibilities when they have the backing of employers, Iacovelli acknowledged. This is an important factor in accomplishing the overarching mission.
“I know my employer’s support of what I do as a reservist is not an isolated case,” he said. “There are businesses and organizations across the spectrum doing everything they can to assist America’s Citizen-Soldiers. I’m immensely appreciative, thankful and proud of their roles in the defense of this nation.”
Meeting simultaneous military and civilian job demands requires ambition and aspiration. For Iacovelli, it is rooted in a largely ideal childhood sprinkled with family get-togethers, team sports played all over the neighborhood and family members who served their country.
“I had two uncles who were in the military during World War II,” he recalled of his middleclass upbringing in Commack, Long Island. “One served in the Army under (Gen. George S.) Patton and the other was in the Marines and did the whole island-hopping campaign (in the Pacific). I spent a lot of time with them as a kid, and I watched a lot of war movies on TV.”
His father was enamored with the “World at War” TV series, Iacovelli remembered.
“It was on every Sunday,” he said. “My father was never in the military, but it was just something I was brought up around. I thought it (being in the military) was something I would do for a little bit.”
Originally, that “something” was not wearing Army green but Air Force blue. He wanted to be a pilot, but his plans were derailed by a mere technicality.
“When I went to talk to the recruiters, they said, ‘Hey, you have to go to the Air Force Academy.’ I’m like, ‘Well, I’m not going to the Air Force Academy to be a pilot.’ So, I walked across the hall and joined the Army,” he said with a chuckle.
Seventeen-year-old Iacovelli enlisted in the USAR delayed entry program as a 76C equipment records and parts specialist (now 92A automated logistics specialist), attending basic training at Fort Sill, Okla., and AIT at Fort Lee’s QM School.
Iacovelli effortlessly dredged up three-decades-old memories of Soldiers from different quartermaster military occupational specialties marching through the warehouse areas along A Avenue and groups leaving as they reached respective classrooms. He remembered tutoring foreign students who taught him cricket.
The lasting impact, though, was the instilled principles of teamwork and working toward the common cause of becoming capable warfighters. Iacovelli compared it to the team sports he enjoyed as a youth. At the same time, the intrinsic opportunities of greater responsibility moved him to believe he could better himself and those around him.
“It’s the values the drill sergeants instill in us – to never give up, try your best and be your best – and as you start moving up in rank and gaining more responsibility, you don’t want to let your unit down. You want to really take care of your unit, doing all you can for it.”
Not long after Iacovelli joined his first reserve unit, he became an ROTC cadet at Brooklyn Polytechnic University under a special program and was later commissioned as an Engineer officer. Since then, he has served as a commander from company to brigade level and has held staff positions across the S1-to-S4 spectrum.
Don’t assume, though, that affable and positive-minded Iacovelli’s trip up the career ladder was an idyllic stroll through green pastures under sunlit skies. He has experienced people and places that were the metaphoric equivalent to a thunderous downpour.
“I once knew a leader … who was absolutely toxic,” he acknowledged. “People came to me asking for help (as) a subordinate officer. It was pretty hard to be in that situation. … That was a time when I really questioned, ‘Why am I here? Why am I doing this when it’s not worth the time, aggravation and hassle?’ What restored my faith is when the Army recognized what was going on and took action.”
He can now reflect on it as a teaching point; part of his progressive comprehension of the leadership perch and its power to resolve issues.
“You really don’t see too much as a private in basic training,” he reflected. “However, when you get a bit more time in, you start to see things that don’t make sense from your vantage point. You think, ‘Well, if I was king for a day, I would fix this,’ and as you start moving up in rank and gaining more responsibility, you have more of an opportunity to fix some of those things and set the standard going forward. That’s really why I stayed (in uniform).”
It’s also what got him to where he is now. Iacovelli said taking care of Soldiers is one of the pillars of his leadership philosophy. To illustrate his stake in that line of thinking, he relayed a story told to him by another Soldier.
“I had someone call me right after a change of command,” he said. “(The new leader) stood in front of the formation and basically told the unit … ‘I’m here because this is setting me up for my next assignment.’ When the person said that, he lost the unit. People see it. If you’re not a genuine person, and you’re not concerned about the unit you’re in, people know it.”
Iacovelli has six months remaining in his current assignments. He will be 55 at the end of that term, and if he earns another star, he can stay an additional five years. Though mostly mum about his future prospects, it is popularly assumed he will jump at the continued opportunity of bettering himself and those around him.
He put it this way: “People always ask me, ‘Well, when are you going to retire?’ ... I could have done so a long time ago, but the higher up you go, the more ability you have to help people.
“Doing what’s best for somebody,” he continued, “may not necessarily be what they want, but hopefully, they’ll turn around one day afterward and say, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m really glad that happened because, in hindsight, that was really the right thing to do.’”
That sentiment suggests Iacovelli is still anchored to the values taught to him by drill sergeants, despite being far removed from his days cleaning toilets, pulling guard duty and marching amongst battle buddies.