THESSALONIKI, Greece – This Father’s Day story actually begins in 1956. That was the year Panayiotis ‘Panos’ G. Pittas, a student at the American College (Anatolia) in Thessaloniki, Greece received a William J. Fulbright Scholarship to study in the United States. Although Panos didn’t realize it at the time, his decision to accept the scholarship, leave his home and move to the U.S. would lead to more than 60-years of service to the U.S. Army, both for himself and for his yet to be born son, Michael.
A SCHOLAR AND A RAZORBACK
With a Fulbright scholarship in hand, along with excellent English skills, the 19-year old Panos landed in Fayetteville, at the University of Arkansas, to study mechanical engineering.
“I looked forward to learning about life in the U.S. and I enjoyed it very much,” said Panos.
He did many of the same things other college students did in the late 1950s. He joined a fraternity. He worked part-time as a bartender and in the engineering department to make ends meet. He went to football games. In fact, more than 65 years later, he still knows the words to the Arkansas Fight Song.
“Hit that Line! Hit that Line!” said Panos. “I also travelled by bus, train and car out west. I even road-tripped up to New York.” For two consecutive summers, Panos volunteered as a firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service. “I remember one summer, we were fighting 29 fires all at once.”
After more than four years in the U.S., Panos was called back to Greece to serve two years in the Greek Army. “Because of my English, they assigned me as an interpreter for U.S. and Greek forces,” he said.
30 YEARS SERVICE TO THE U.S. ARMY
When his time in the Army was over, Panos sought work through the U.S. Embassy and was fortunate to qualify for a position with the U.S. Army’s Terminal Transportation Unit, which supported the movement of U.S. Army equipment at ports in Greece and across the region.
“I started as a cargo checker,” recalled Panos. “It was a very good job. I was lucky to have good officers to work for and good colleagues around me.”
For the next 30 years, Panos would dedicate his professional life to the Army and to the challenging, complex mission of transporting Army and allied equipment at ports all across the European theater.
During his career, Panos not only served in Greece, he also deployed throughout Europe in support of REFORGER (Return of Forces to Germany) operations. He rose to become the chief documentation supervisor in the Greece Detachment. During Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Panos deployed to Dammam, Saudi Arabia, as a cargo documentation specialist with the (then) Military Traffic Management Command (MTMC).
“I have great memories of that time,” said Panos. “It was a very hard mission, but I remember that our unit was held in high esteem for the job we did.”
A FAMILY LEGACY
Panos retired in 1993 and remains deeply proud of his career. “I was very happy,” he said. “I made good friends with the Americans I served with. I met great people and I had great commanders.”
Panos’ legacy of service to the U.S. Army lives on in a number of ways. Today, the U.S. Army’s Transportation Corps, Eastern Mediterranean Detachment, carries on the mission of supporting strategic maneuver for requirements in both the U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command areas of operation.
Mr. Andre J. Cameron, director, TC Det – Eastern Med (Greece), credits Panos with setting the right conditions for the current command’s success. “Mr. Pittas was the pioneer of what we do and why we’re here. He absolutely laid the foundation for our success today.”
Even more importantly, Panos’ legacy lives on in his youngest son, Michael Pittas, who serves today as the terminal manager for the TC Det - Eastern Med. In fact, Michael joined the MTMC Team in 1994, only three months after his father’s retirement.
“When I heard about the opening for the position in MTMC, now SDDC, I didn’t hesitate,” said the younger Pittas. “I had to apply. I was proud of my father and I remember the stories he told, including the stories from Desert Storm. I wanted to have experiences like that of my own.”
Michael says his father’s legacy is one of the things that drives him today. “Yes, my father’s service inspires me to keep up his legacy. Especially in the first years, it was always in the back of my mind. His good name, that was an extra push to excel and do things better.”
In many ways, Michael’s career parallels his father’s as he has also deployed across Europe and to the Middle East in support of strategic port operations.
“What an incredible legacy to have the Pittas family, both father and son, 60 years collectively in this business,” said Cameron. “The partnerships, relationships and friendships they have formed over that 60 years represents the best in all we do.”
HOST-NATION ‘SURFACE WARRIORS’ KEY TO MISSION SUCCESS
Today, the Greece Detachment is part of the 839th Transportation Battalion, 598th Transportation Brigade, Surface Deployment and Distribution Command. In addition to the Greece Detachment, the 598th has highly-mobile detachments in key locations across Europe supporting port operations and expanding strategic maneuver options for land force commanders in two theaters. The 598th’s diverse team includes Soldiers, Department of the Army Civilians and host-nation transportation professionals from seven different countries.
"Our host-nation professionals are a foundation of our success in executing strategic seaport operations that enable the Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise,” said Lt. Col. Scott F. Wyatt, commander, 839th Transportation Battalion. “Michael and his father Panos are truly inspiring examples of the close, enduring personal and professional relationships we have with our partners in Greece. For nearly 60 consecutive years, we've been honored to have a member of the Pittas family serving right alongside our U.S. Soldiers and DA Civilians. They represent two generations of hard work, commitment and dedication to our Army and we’re grateful to have such incredible professionals - and such wonderful people - who are willing to serve on our team."
DEPLOYED ON FATHER’S DAY
The 598th’s operational tempo has been particularly high during 2021, with requirements to execute nearly simultaneous port operations in support of DEFENDER-Europe 21, Atlantic Resolve, African Lion 21, along with ongoing sustainment operations in Europe and Africa. In fact, Michael Pittas will spend Father’s Day this year deployed to the port in Alexandroupoli, Greece.
“Of course, I’d like to spend more time with my Mom and Dad, but unfortunately that’s not always possible,” Michael said with a smile.
To learn more about the Surface Deployment and Distribution Command and the 598th Transportation Brigade, please visit: