FORT SILL, Oklahoma (July 2, 2021) -- The outgoing commanding officer of the Marine Artillery Detachment described the MARDET as Fort Sill’s national treasure, and told how he had postponed his retirement so he could command it.
“This experience and service to this unit and the enterprise have been the honor of my life,” said Col. Christopher Tavuchis, who relinquished command of the MARDET to Col. Derek Roberson during a ceremony July 1, at the Old Post Quadrangle.
During the event, MARDET Sgt. Maj. Eric Lopez passed the unit colors to Tavuchis, who then handed them to Roberson symbolizing relinquishment of his command. Roberson accepted the mantle of leadership, and returned the colors to Lopez for safekeeping.
Roberson was most recently the director of Operations for Naval Amphibious Force, Task Force 51, 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Bahrain.
This is his third assignment at Fort Sill. He was here in 1998, as a field artillery lieutenant (student); and again in the Field Artillery Captains Career Course in 2004.
“I’m back at my roots. It’s kind of like stirring the embers of the Marine Corps’ heart,” he said. “It’s an awesome feeling to be back and part of this group of young Marines to work with them and see their growth as they prepare to go the fleet to be part of America’s fighting force.
“I want them to be prepared and confident as they hone the edge of the sword,” said Roberson, who enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1990.
Roberson described his leadership style as, “humbly aggressive.”
Tavuchis will remain at Fort Sill, while he awaits retirement orders. In his remarks, he thanked numerous supporters of the MARDET by name, as well as many of his Marines.
He acknowledged the veterans, and military spouses in the audience, whom he described as rare types of people who will attach their lot to Marines and Soldiers.
“They are completely selfless, they’re loving, flexible, hopeful, always ready to help and plan, and most of all completely committed to our families and to our Marines and the mission,” Tavuchis said.
He recounted the events during his command, which began in June 2019.
Marine Headquarters told the force to modernize while providing little additional resources. So what did his Marines do?
“They lit the light of innovation, and led the MARDET to nearly 100 percent digital content, efficiencies for instructors and students, adaptations to adult learning methods that we can’t turn back from,” Tavuchis said. This resulted in a $30,000 savings in printing costs.
Almost simultaneously, Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger published his Commandant’s Planning Guidance. This hit the community like an Exocet anti-ship missile striking amidships, Tavuchis said.
The MARDET realized the way it was organized for modern learning and embracing emerging capabilities was inadequate, Tavuchis said. Working from the bottom up, his Marines reformed key elements and set about coordinating with the Training and Education Command, Systems Command, Capabilities Development Directorate, and other agencies.
MARDET leaders charted a new direction, trained in new systems, increased High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS manning; and worked to evolve current capabilities into the commandant’s vision, Tavuchis said.
And then the first wave of COVID-19 hit, Tavuchis said.
“The mission from Training Command was clear: Keep moving forward,” he said. That’s what the MARDET instructors and staff did adapting training -- and they delivered flawlessly.
During the second wave of the pandemic, the MARDET lost family member Anna Carter, age 13, to COVID in July 2020, Tavuchis said.
“The unit quickly adapted again, covered down on the family and the challenges presented, and continued to make mission,” Tavuchis said.
New instructors and staff joined the MARDET, Tavuchis said. They continued to produce quality Marine artillerymen for the Fleet Marine Force.
In May, the MARDET staff put on a virtuoso performance during the Training and Education Command’s readiness inspection, Tavuchis said. “This is a testament to the commitment and dedication of our Marines.
“The Marines have performed exceptionally under the most arduous conditions,” Tavuchis said. “Words are insufficient to express my gratitude.”
For the pass-in-review, former MARDET commanding officers retired colonels Anthony Johnson (2008-11); Wayne Harrison (2013-16); and Timothy Parker (2016-19) joined Roberson and Tavuchis as the Marine batteries and ceremonial units marched by.
Editor's note: For more images of the MARDET change of command visit https://www.flickr.com/ photos/fortsillcannoneer/albums/72157719483359053