CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait—The “Desert Knight” Soldiers of the 595th Transportation Brigade (SDDC), said farewell to their outgoing commander Col. Michael E .Ludwick and welcomed their new commander Col. Ricardo L. Sierra-Guzman during a July 6 change command ceremony at the camp’s Zone 1 gymnasium.
Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command’s, Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Heidi J. Hoyle, said in her remarks she admired Ludwick’s ability to handle all challenges.
“Every single challenge, he turned into an opportunity,” Hoyle said. “His strategic thinking and deliberate planning allowed the 595th Brigade to transport and project power to the right place at the right time—every time.”
Speaking directly to the outgoing commander, the general said he made the U.S. Army move in the U.S. Central Command theater.
“Under your leadership, you have offloaded and discharged at least one vessel per day--into the hundreds of numbers of vessels throughout your tenure,” she said. “You transported thousands of pieces, hundreds of thousands of pieces, of cargo, totaling multi-million tons of ammunition and hardware in support of our operational requirements.”
“You brought a solutions-based collaborative problem solving attitude to the table that has allowed the 595th to by-pass any obstacle in its path,” she said.
The general said Ludwick had to answer to his SDDC chain of command, as well as his customers at 1st Theater Sustainment Command, which handles all logistics in the USCENTCOM area of responsibility, across an operational area covering 20 countries and 79 seaports.
“It’s easy to do this, if you are Michael Ludwick,” she said.
Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Justin M. Swanson, the deputy commanding general of 1st Theater Sustainment Command, said he learned to expect Ludwick’s foresight.
“The thing about Colonel Ludwick and the 595 is every time we started to think about the next operation, he’d already thought about it,” said the general, who is also the commanding general of the Indianapolis-based 310th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), whose Soldiers deployed here to staff the 1st TSC operational command post.
Ludwick, who received the Legion of Merit from Hoyle at a short award presentation before the change of command, delivered remarks after he, Hoyle, Sierra-Guzman and 595th Trans. Bde. Command Sgt. Maj. Luis D. Benitez executed the passing of the brigade’s colors.
Ludwick thanks his champions, highlights key NCOs
In his remarks, Ludwick said he was grateful for his Soldiers, who he called champions. “I’m forever grateful and I’ve very thankful.”
The colonel also thanked Benitez.
“I was also fortunate to serve with a phenomenal senior NCO,” Ludwick said. “This NCO is a true professional. He is truly the backbone of this organization and the driving force behind the brigade’s success.”
Benitez said he still remembers the day he first met Ludwick June 23, 2020 at Baltimore-Washington International airport as the two men were flying into theater.
“We did quarantine together,” he said. “From that moment on we shared and learned from each other.”
The command sergeant major said he and the colonel had similar values, including his agreement with Ludwick’s motto: “Putting people in the position to win” and the commitment to take care of the mission and take care of Soldiers.
“Then, the Soldiers got motivated, and of course, there is buy-in and they understood that the motto was not a fake value,” he said. “We actually live by putting people in the position to win.”
Ludwick recognized another NCO, Army Reserve Sgt. Raul Vega, who deployed here with the Mobile, Alabama, based 1184th Deployment and Distribution Support Battalion before extending for a second tour with the 840th Transportation Battalion (SDDC), for his contributions to the brigade’s “Red Dot” safety campaign and his personal achievement.
“Sergeant Vega, who deployed here as a member of 1184th and served as the battalion safety NCO and championed the “Red Dot” safety campaign,” he said. “His efforts resulted in zero safety mishaps, which is phenomenal.”
The colonel said Vega’s decision to serve another tour inside the 595th TB showed that he was eager to be part of something larger than himself.
Vega’s hard work and commitment to safety were confirmed when he was named the brigade’s Safety NCO of the Year—followed by his selection as Safety NCO of the Year by SDDC, Army Materiel Command and the U.S. Army.
“He built upon the Red Dot safety campaign, which is just a small campaign effort at the brigade and he made it his own and brought it all the way to the Department of the Army,” he said.
Vega said he did not expect Ludwick to namecheck him at the ceremony, but he was not surprised.
“He’s always mentioning me,” he said. “He is very proud of what we accomplished.
The Morgan City, Louisiana, native said the Red Dot safety campaign began with an analysis of previous accidents and previous safety events.
Based on that analysis, Vega and the brigade safety staff developed a training program focused on drivers of various pieces of equipment, such as trucks, off-road buggies and forklifts.
All drivers attended mandatory safety classes in order to create a safety mindset in them as they drove equipment on and off ships with dimly-lit decks and in and out of the yards—often at night.
“Our goal was to protect life and property—and I think we achieved it. But, deploying over 2,000 pieces of equipment without any minor or major accidents, it was just very, very intense,” the sergeant said.
Ludwick closed his remarks with a quote from President Abraham Lincoln: “All that I am or hope to be, I owe to my family—and in this case, I owe all my things to the SDDC family—ladies and gentlemen, thank you for attending this ceremony, Surface Warriors, Desert Knights, Desert Knight 6 signing off.”
Sierra-Guzman speaks to his formation as new commander
After the outgoing commander spoke, it was time for Sierra-Guzman to address his troops for the first time.
“Desert Knights, I look forward to meeting each and every one of you,” he said. “It is truly and honor to be your commander.”
Sierra-Guzman also thanked Hoyle for trusting him with the command and he thanked Ludwick for ensuring a smooth transition.
The colonel then thanked his wife and children for their support of his career and he assured them he would be home soon.
“Mom and Dad, I never thought I would be in this position,” he said. “It all started when I was a kid, and my dad used to take me to his National Guard drills, and I remember dad in his pressed uniforms and shined boots,” the colonel. “Later, that unit became mine—and my dad became my first first sergeant—and here we are.”
Once he was finished thanking his parents, the Cayey, Puerto Rico, native paused and then turned slightly to his command sergeant major and asked, “Sergeant Major Benitez, are you ready?”
“Yes, sir,” Benitez said.
“Alright, let’s roll.”