As I watched the First Army change of command this month, a few things occurred to me:

Army goodbyes are hard.

Changes of leadership are natural and good for Army organizations.

And continuity – the deep historical and institutional knowledge that exists in those who do not change over time – is critical in our ever-changing force.

For organizations like First Army, that continuity rests in our Department of Army Civilians.

I know a lot of our Army pomp and circumstance centers on our uniformed troops – promotions, retirements, changes of command. But I want to take this opportunity to call attention to the quiet, constant professionals in our formation: the civilian workforce.

Their depth of experience is incredible – and humbling.

First Army’s longtime civilian Deputy Chief of Staff, Tommy Thompson, used to joke that as soldiers came and went from the formation, he and all the other civilians in the headquarters kept the ship steady. He also had a joke about the big plans new leaders often came to First Army with. He called them “new bad old ideas.”

Tommy was famous for his one-liners and quick wit but there is something to be said for the idea he was communicating: civilians often know what has been tried – successfully or not – over the past couple decades. We must never forget to mine them for their perspective and expertise.

I look around the headquarters and am amazed at the institutional knowledge here.

Take Dwayne Cook up in ops. He was our G3 Sergeant Major in uniform, acted for a time as the First Army command sergeant major and now is back as a civilian planner.

Or Barney Barnhill up in training. He’s been here for decades and is a former Citizen Soldier himself. Even more, his son, an Army Reservist, now serves with us in uniform. I can’t think of many people with a bigger heart for ensuring America’s reserve component is ready for the rigors of combat.

Or JoAnn Killian who manages our SHARP mission. She’s a devoted Army human resources professional who has translated that passion for caring for troops to preventing sexual harassment and assault within our force.

I could go on and on.

What impresses me so often with our First Army civilian teammates is how long they serve this organization. It’s almost routine to present our civilians medals for 15, 20, 25 years of service. As a guy who moves every two to three years, I am truly blown away by this degree of commitment and longevity.

So during this month of First Army transition, let me take this opportunity to formally thank our civilian workforce, those consummate professionals who, as Tommy Thompson liked to say, always hold the boat steady.

First In Deed! Earn the A!