When I took command of First Army in October of 2018, I would often say that I was 60 percent effective but 120 percent committed. First Army is one of the most unique organizations in the Army – the only one devoted 24/7 to enabling and ensuring the readiness of the nation’s entire reserve component – and I had much to learn.
What a learning curve it was – and what a privilege for a career active duty Soldier to grow to fully understand and appreciate the Total Force and the 52 percent of our Army that resides in the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.
I met some incredible patriots along the way:
Identical twin sisters who were teachers in their civilian lives and hard-charging OC/Ts in their Army lives.
Successful business owners who were not content to make lots of money and go home to a comfortable life; they also wanted to serve their nation, go into harm’s way when called, sacrifice on behalf of freedom and their fellow Americans.
Farmers and factory workers, engineers and attorneys, police chiefs and nurses – civilian professional after civilian professional willing to manage the complicated juggling act of being a citizen and a Soldier.
There were “lightbulb” moments where a Guard or Reserve Soldier explained something in a way that made me see things in a whole new light. An ARNG commander once reminded me that the active duty spends more time training on a single skillset than most Guard units get to train in the entire year. That puts our call to partner with these units – to set them up for success as they mobilize in defense of our nation – in a whole new perspective.
From my earliest days in this building, I tried to distill the remarkable 103-year existence of this organization into three categories: People, Mission, History. I will always think of First Army and my time here in that construct.
Bottom line, our PEOPLE are second to none. Sometimes these modern patriots even embody the rich heritage of First Army. Think of our G-3 Sergeant Major Mark Heyliger, a tough-as-nails infantryman who is the epitome of the quiet professional. His grandfather – Frederick “Moose” Heyliger – commanded the 101st Airborne’s famous “Band of Brothers” Easy Company after D-Day, fighting under the First Army flag. Great people like this – who carry a love of our Army and First Army so deep in their hearts – are what make this organization great.
Our MISSION is truly of critical importance to the nation. Some folks in our headquarters have joked that in retirement I’m going to start cornering ordinary people in coffee shops and airports to brief them from my First Army slide deck. I feel confident that Chelle will protect the innocent public from that sort of onslaught, but the truth is that Americans should know the First Army mission.
They should know that 52 percent of their Army today lies in the reserve component. They should know that America has never fought and won a war without the Guard and Reserve. They should know that any Citizen Soldier they know who deploys in service to their nation – whether that be a child or a sibling, a neighbor or a co-worker, a friend or an employee – will pass through the First Army area of operations. And they should absolutely know that in our increasingly volatile world, with near-peer competitors seeking to challenge us, First Army serves as a major deterrent to would-be aggressors because we enable America to mobilize hundreds of thousands of Citizen Soldiers into a fight on short notice.
And last – but not least – our HISTORY. It’s almost unthinkable that Tom James, a pretty average Citadel student who only wanted to serve in the Army for a few years, today has his picture hanging on a command wall with absolute Army legends: John Pershing, Omar Bradley, Courtney Hodges. From commanding all American troops in France during World War I to commanding all ground and airborne forces on D-Day, First Army’s history couldn’t be richer. It is an honor to play any small role in it, and it has been my true joy to get to know about so many of the ordinary men and women who became extraordinary heroes while wearing our iconic block A patch on their left shoulders.
These coming days are going to be bittersweet for me. It’s hard to take off this uniform. I know some people say they are ready for retirement, but I’m not. It’s going to hurt, it’s as simple as that.
But I guess that ache means a couple of things: First, it’s been a heck of a good run. And, secondly, I wouldn’t change a thing. I certainly wouldn’t change the fact that the culminating chapter of my career unfolded here, at Task Force Deed.
Finally, as I say goodbye to my First Army divisions, brigades, teammates and headquarters, let me tell you this: You are in good hands.
Maj. Gen. (P) Tony Aguto is a dear friend and was my deputy when I commanded at 7th Infantry Division. He and his wife, Mel, represent the best of our force and its families. The Army got it right; I couldn’t have handpicked a better person to come and continue the important Total Force mission here at First Army.
I’ll close with three statements I know you’ve heard me say again and again. But they truly come from my heart as I say goodbye to each of you and this historic organization.
We stand on the shoulders of giants.
Earn the A!
And thank you – each one of you – for your service and leadership.
FIRST IN DEED!
Deed 6, out.