Brig. Gen. Patrick R. Michaelis, Fort Jackson commanding general sat down to discuss his tour as post commander. He will relinquish command of the installation during a change of command ceremony Aug. 31 at Victory Field.
Q: How would you characterize your time here as commanding general?
A: Fast. There’s always a lot to get done, it makes the days feel long and the weeks short. The work we do here means this is a very rewarding job, I think one of the most personally rewarding jobs I have ever had. We’re producing the next generation of Soldiers every day, making huge impacts on the Army with every Basic Combat Training graduation. Navigating the largest training post in the United States through COVID, dealing with two waves of variants, and trying to open up as soon as it was safe, all the while maintaining the strategic output of tens of thousands of citizens to Soldiers was a difficult challenge. I’m glad I had the team of leaders I did to make it possible.
Q: Who or what would you credit for making your tenure here successful?
A: The team on Fort Jackson is second to none. Every command team here, from garrison, the Soldier Support Institute, the Leader Training Brigade, Moncrief team, the Institute for Religious Leadership, and the Army Training Center brigades, they enabled whatever successes I can count. Their professionalism and commitment are the only way things gets done around here.
It's also important to mention every officer’s most important relationship, the one with their senior enlisted advisor. Command Sgt. Maj. Philson Tavernier is a great partner. He guided me through many decisions with his perspective and his disciplined initiative is something that is very refreshing for a commander.
Q: What has been your fondest memory as the commanding general?
A: I have quite a few. First, it was seeing Bonnie, my wife, step up to the occasion beside me. She really focused on connecting families and resources, doing what she does best: taking care of people. And not just connecting resources, she connected people to help create a better community. Her compassion and kindness inspire me and I’m very proud of her.
I’m also fond of the Christmas tree lighting ceremony. It took six months of very tedious work from so many people to enable that ceremony last year. It was just a microcosm of what this place can do. After those months of work, families and children gathered around, and I could see the twinkle in their eyes as the lights blinked on. It was just as we were coming out of COVID lockdowns, and I was so pleased to be able to bring people back together as a community. That left me feeling warm and I won’t forget that night.
Another is Independence Day celebration on Hilton Field. The support of the USO in helping us bring the surrounding community onto post and celebrate the nation was awe-inspiring. The festivities were great, the fireworks rocked, and Breland might be on my most-listened playlist now. Having 25,000 people rally to one place and celebrate our independence gets about as patriotic as you can get. I really cherish that night.
Every graduation was a fond memory, to witness the culmination of ten weeks of hard work and dedication and see the transformation from citizen to Soldier. I would ask families every Thursday if they could notice a change in their loved one, and invariably they said yes, and noticed they were infused with a purpose and character they might not have had before. It validated everything we do here on Fort Jackson.
I will also forever remember every step of building the Future Soldier Prep Course. You know, leaving a legacy is every leader’s dream, and it’s not for the sake of fame, but it’s proof that you actually made a positive change to the Army. I think this Future Soldier Prep Course will be the biggest change to the accessions and training enterprise in decades. In the short time it has been in operation, I have had the pleasure of witnessing many recruits unlock their innate potential and personally congratulated the trainees who greatly improved their score. I just know America’s youth is up to the challenge to serve, we just need to help them hone their skills.
Q: Can you tell us how you think your time here on Fort Jackson will help you in your next career?
A: At Fort Jackson, we train Soldiers and develop leaders – it’s our core purpose. As the Commandant of the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M University, well, in many ways, I’m barely changing careers. I will be responsible for putting cadets through a very similar transformation that trainees go through, a physical and psychological journey from citizen to Soldier. In the Corps, cadets also go through an intellectual transformation to be leaders of character, presence, and intellect that can lead Soldiers, develop their people, and achieve success at home and on the battlefield.
I have learned a lot about organizing energy and resources towards training and supporting the people who make it happen. Now, I will have to turn my focus to educating and developing the next generation of leaders. I will definitely take many lessons with me to the Corps of Cadets at A&M. I’m excited to be able to expand my skills to the academic and educational world.
Q: If you were 10 years in the future and looking back on your time as the commanding general at Fort Jackson, what would you say your legacy here is?
A: First and foremost, every single person who serves at Fort Jackson has a legacy, it is the tens of thousands of Soldiers that graduate every year. The cohorts of warriors we produce are our organization’s heritage. The cadre and workforce in the companies, at the ranges, and interacting with the trainees every day should feel the impact they make by producing the next generation of the Army.
Personally, I hope I could look back and see how our lines of effort made enduring changes to the quality, culture, and climate of the installation and the Army.
From a Training and Developing Leaders perspective, we are instilling the Army identity through the Heritage Trail. It’s an investment to be able to create a more tight-knit Army where everyone knows our history, our identity, and our purpose. Building common knowledge about the Army’s key events, important dates, and influential people helps Soldiers understand their professional heritage. In ten years, hopefully the Army is an even better team because everyone has that common Soldier identity. We also instituted the Character Development program, designed to inculcate trainees to the Army Values in a personalized method that focuses on how individual actions impact teammates and the mission. In ten years, that might be woven into the DNA of initial entry training across the Army and not just here at Fort Jackson.
I think People First will still be in the strategy, but every commanding general will do it different because circumstances and challenges change. I took the direction to focus on the workforce because they are where the rubber meets the road. ‘If we take care of our people, the rest will follow,’ was the guiding principle. I hope the workforce and their Families felt a change in the culture because they really are the top priority and I trust them to get the mission done. We are probably at the frontline of this shift in command logic, and part of getting here was defining what putting ‘People First’ really means. We do it by creating and cultivating an environment in which formations and people are enabled, empowered, and protected to work to their natural best, to be the best version of themselves, with a true sense of belonging. Now it’s a matter of effectively operationalizing and refining the related objectives and resources.
In ten years, we will see many of the benefits of our investment in Quality of Life. People will be driving through a new front gate, over upgraded safety barriers, through well-maintained privatized housing, past new barracks while on their way to pick-up their personalized meal from the dining facility to make their appointment with their athletic trainer at the installation’s Soldier Performance Readiness Center. The Solomon Center and the water park, I think, will also stand the test of time. It took so much effort and work to bring those back into play and I’m glad we could help our families Beat the Heat at Palmetto Falls. Fort Jackson is already a great place to live and work, and the phrase “destination of choice” will come up a lot more at the culmination of all these investments.
What I don’t think will change is our Community Engagement. The warmth of Columbia and the Midlands is here to stay. The relationship we have with the surrounding communities and the state of South Carolina makes Fort Jackson feel like a part of the family instead of just a military installation, something that I did not see very often in my career. It was also incredible to help Fort Jackson play its part in connecting America to her Army. I made it clear that we were in direct support of the accessions mission, and our people made good on that promise to help inspire future Soldiers to join our team.
Q: Is there anything you would like to say to the Fort Jackson community before
A: Change is not as quick or as easy as I hoped it would be. Many of the initiatives we started did not have immediate impacts and some of them may not for a long time, but I appreciate the patience of the community. I really believe that between Bonnie and I, we put our heart and soul into making Fort Jackson a destination of choice and the best place for everyone. As my successor comes onboard, I think he will be just as passionate, or maybe more, about the mission and the people of Fort Jackson – actually, I’m convinced he will. Support him and help Fort Jackson become even better.
Q: Is there anything you would like to add?
A: Transitioning from the Army was one of the hardest decisions and easiest decisions I’ve ever made. It was difficult because I’m so invested in the future of Fort Jackson. I want to see some of the lines of effort objectives to their conclusion, to make sure our people are taken care of and that we continue to produce the best Soldiers on the planet.
But it is also the easiest because the team of teams that exists here is phenomenal and my successor is ready to take the baton without missing a step. I am not afraid to leave Fort Jackson, I know the people here are the hardest working in the Army, but I would be lying if I said I won’t miss witnessing the awe-inspiring transformations that occur every ten weeks as volunteers arrive at the reception battalion and then graduate on Hilton Field as disciplined, proficient Soldiers of character. Thank you to everyone for letting me be a member of your team. The longer I was here, the more I was convinced that Victory! Starts Here!