FORT Sill, Oklahoma (June 17, 2022) As the largest field artillery brigade in the Army, the 434th Field Artillery Brigade’s change of command ceremony is a big deal.
Maj. Gen. Kenneth Kamper, commanding general, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill, officiated the ceremony, in which hundreds turned out to see the historic ceremony between Col. Daniel Blackmon and Col. Michael Stewart.
Kamper said Fort Sill’s 434th FA Brigade is one of only four places in the U.S. Army to conduct Basic Combat Training (BCT). The 10 weeks of basic training, offered at Forts Sill, Leonard Wood, Jackson and Benning, is a huge part of the Army’s enterprise and essentially brings 60,000 new Soldiers into the Army every year.
“It's hugely important to our Army,” said Kamper. “It's been done very well over these last couple of years. There is no doubt in my mind we'll continue to do it very well. During his tenure, Blackmon oversaw the training of 39,000 new Soldiers through Basic Combat Training, transforming them from civilians to Soldiers.”
Kamper said Blackmon led the brigade through a challenging and unprecedented time. His leadership was pivotal to the brigade’s success during the COVID-19 pandemic, safely deploying and redeploying more than 7,000 trainees during two holiday block leaves, and the re-activation of 1st Battalion, 22nd Field Artillery Regiment.
Kamper also noted Blackmon’s efforts to communicate with the families of basic trainees by holding twice-a-month Facebook Live town hall meetings.
“Blackmon significantly enhanced community and family engagement across all platforms and skillfully communicated the Army’s message. These efforts had immeasurable impact on building the trust of new and future Army families and Soldiers as well as supporting the Army’s overall recruitment efforts,” said Kamper.
“Blackmon’s consistent and proactive messaging approach has solidified the trust of the Army profession in individuals and families across the country. He oversaw the establishment of virtual training for the Army’s English-Second-Language cohort of trainees received and integrated at Fort Sill,” Kamper said.
This virtual link enabled the trainees to continue receiving the language training necessary to allow them to enter BCT when travel to the Defense Language Institute was not supportable during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his speech during the ceremony, Blackmon said that to successfully navigate the rapidly changing world took not only his effort, but the effort of the men and women of the 434th.
“To say it was a Herculean effort would be an understatement,” Blackmon said. “But each of these people was responsible for making it happen.”
Blackmon thanked numerous people in the crowd, both in front of and behind him. To the members of the regiment he left, he gave high praise.
“Anywhere you go, your leadership will be appreciated,” Blackmon said. “I would be happy to serve with you any time.”
Blackmon will assume new duties on Fort Sill as the incoming chief of staff. In that position, he will oversee all staff, both civilian and Soldiers, on Fort Sill.
Col. Michael P. Stewart assumes command of the 434th after Blackmon. Stewart has served in the Army since 1998, and has seen various commands at Fort Belvoir, Fort Polk and at Fort Sill. He commanded a combat battalion in Iraq during Operation Inherent Resolve before coming to Fort Sill.
In his opening remarks, Kamper said he had great confidence in Stewart’s ability to lead the Soldiers of the brigade.
“He’s proven his leadership abilities in previous commands,” Kamper said. “And there’s no doubt in my mind we got the right man for this job.”
Stewart said he looked forward to taking command, leading the Soldiers in the “sacred mission” of both the military and of Fort Sill.
The ceremony concluded with Stewart turning to face the members of the brigade he now commands, watching over the crowd as they sang the “Army Song.”