Lopez takes command of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Johnson

By Chuck CannonJune 21, 2023

Lopez takes command of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Johnson
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Col. CJ Lopez speaks at the garrison change of command ceremony. (Photo Credit: Chuck Cannon) VIEW ORIGINAL
Lopez takes command of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Johnson
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Col. CJ Lopez accepts the colors from Brenda Lee McCullough, director, U.S. Army Installation Management Comannd Readiness, to become Fort Johnson’s garrison commander at the garrison change of command ceremony June 15. (Photo Credit: Chuck Cannon) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT JOHNSON, La. — Col. CJ Lopez assumed command of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Johnson during a change of command ceremony June 15 at 10 a.m. on the installation’s Warrior Field.

Lopez replaced Col. Sam Smith, who is headed to Washington, D.C., for his next assignment as the senior military advisor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.

Brenda Lee McCullough, director, U.S. Army Installation Management Command Readiness, was the reviewing officer and spoke first. She acknowledged the day was bittersweet for Smith.

“Commanding a garrison is one of the highest military honors one can experience, for both the tremendous responsibility as well as the trust we place in you to lead and care for our national treasures: Soldiers, civilians and their Families,” she said.

“Although I must say we are sad to see you and your vibrant personality go, congratulations are in order on your next position.”

The Army entrusts garrison commanders to defend and secure Army installations.

“You, Sam, as the garrison commander, led in our nation’s defense of Fort Johnson with unparalleled expertise and grace,” she said. “Thank you.”

From June 2021 to June 2023, Smith led U.S. Army Garrison Fort Johnson as the nation’s premier warfighter training center.

“You led the team in continuing its nothing-but-exceptional support to the senior commander,” McCullough said. “And you did so while skillfully managing fiscal and resourcing challenges.”

McCullough likened the job of garrison command to that of the 1980 U.S. Olympic “Miracle on Ice” hockey team, who succeeded against overwhelming odds to beat the heavily favored Russian team and captured the gold medal.

“I believe in miracles; they happen everyday at the Fort Johnson installation,” she said. “To Col. Smith and the garrison staff, thank you for the daily miracles you provide to the Soldiers, civilians and Family members of Fort Johnson.”

McCullough then welcomed Lopez to the IMCOM Readiness team and Fort Johnson.

“As a proven leader, I am confident that you will invest the same passion, professionalism, pride and expertise to the Soldiers, civilians and family members of Fort Johnson. They deserve nothing less,” she said.

McCullough was followed by Smith, who began by thanking those who made his two years in command a success, including Brig. Gen. David W. Gardner, commander, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Johnson, and garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Stephen Nielsen. Smith then spoke to the Soldiers, civilians and contractors who work at Fort Johnson.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team of professionals,” Smith said. “We’ve accomplished great things here because of your can-do attitude. You time, talent and tenacity are helping to create an installation that is second to none.”

Smith then recounted the advances made in quality of life and infrastructure at Fort Johnson.

“It has been a busy two years at Fort Johnson and our team is proud of the work we’ve accomplished,” he said. “But the bottom line is that an installation cannot function without the garrison staff. It is you civilians working on Fort Johnson who provide the support and continuity that is so important to both Fort Johnson and the Army.”

Turning his attention to the relationship between Fort Johnson and local communities, Smith said it is unique among other Army installations.

“Where else can you be stationed where the communities outside the gates welcome you with open arms and work to make quality of life better for civilians, veterans, Soldiers and Families?” he asked. “And it’s not just the communities surrounding Fort Johnson — it’s cities and towns throughout the state, and community leaders and elected officials who are part of the Fort Johnson team.”

Smith welcomed Lopez to what he considered one of the best jobs in the Army — commander of the Soldiers and civilians at Fort Johnson.

“They are the finest group of people you will serve with, and they’ll do whatever is necessary to successfully complete Fort Johnson’s mission of preparing today’s Soldiers to fight our nation’s wars.”

Smith closed by thanking his husband, Hernan.

“Thanks for always being there for me,” he said. “Words are not enough to convey my love and admiration for you. The life we’ve chosen isn’t an easy one, but you’ve been there every step of the way.”

Lopez was next to take the podium and said he understands he’s joining a strong team.

“Your reputation precedes you,” he said. “We will continue to build the garrison team and prioritize providing the best services possible for our Soldiers and Families.”

After thanking his Family members and friends, Lopez thanked McCullough for the confidence from her and Lt. Gen. Omar J. Jones IV, commander, IMCOM.

“I know the workload you carry every day for our great Army and for the nation,” Lopez said. “Thanks for being here today. I want to reemphasize to you my personal commitment to lead this garrison as best I can.”

After thanking Smith for making the transition a smooth one and pledging support to local communities, Lopez turned his attention to the Soldiers on the field.

“You are the picture of strength and spirit fitting of the heroes who live at the Home of Heroes,” he said. “I am extremely proud and humbled to be here as your garrison commander, and I promise you my best efforts every day. I will likewise count on each of you to bring your best efforts every day and I know you will.”

Lopez has served in positions ranging from platoon leader to company and battalion commander, and operations.

His operational deployments include Operation Joint Forge, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Operation Iraqi Freedom; Operation Enduring Freedom; and Operation Inherent Resolve.

Lopez, who was born in Lafayette, Louisiana, is married to the former Mary Clare Thompson of Sylvan Lake, Michigan. They have one son, Kal, 18, and one daughter, Falon, 14.