“We walk on the path that others have set for us” – Outgoing Picatinny Arsenal garrison commander reflects on organizational triumphs

By Eric KowalJune 10, 2024

Lt. Col. Alexander D. Burgos, U.S. Army Garrison Picatinny Arsenal Garrison Commander
Lt. Col. Alexander D. Burgos, U.S. Army Garrison Picatinny Arsenal Garrison Commander (Photo Credit: Todd Mozes) VIEW ORIGINAL

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Figuratively speaking, U.S. Army Garrison commanders must learn a new language, and operating style, absorbing multiple organizational and institutional cultures, along with the details of their subordinate organizations on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis. Their time in command is brief, just two years, and there is no official military occupational specialty that trains and prepares garrison commanders at entry level.

Garrison commanders must understand not only their local operational environment but also the senior commander’s mission and requirements. They must be cognizant of mission and support requirements from other tenant units on the garrison, as well as an understanding the local community politics and culture off the installation.

Serving as a garrison commander or command sergeant major is unlike any other leadership position in the U.S. Army. It is challenging and difficult, as few leaders arrive with significant experience with the installation management mission before accepting the colors of a U.S. Army garrison.

The incredibly daunting challenge and task of taking responsibility for what is essentially a small town, did not stop Lt. Col. Alexander D. Burgos from taking charge of U.S. Army Garrison Picatinny Arsenal.

“I did not know what to expect and did not really have any set goals to accomplish when I came into command,” Burgos said as he reflects on his tenure as the installation’s garrison commander.

Burgos will relinquish command to the incoming Lt. Col. Craig A. Bonham II during a change of command ceremony on June 12.

As garrison commander, Burgos reports to higher echelons that include the U.S. Army Installation Management Command (IMCOM) and IMCOM Sustainment Directorate (ID-S).

“My upbringing in the military was an executive officer, S-3 (training) level, with battalion formations,” Burgos said.  “It is much different then essentially becoming a city manager at a place that I did not know of,” he recalled of his initial period at Picatinny.

“I was built more on understanding transitional formations, and companies, so I did not really have any immediate goals or objectives when I arrived here. They (goals) sort of got built over time as I understood the structure and mission sets that IMCOM and ID-S had prioritized.”

Garrison commanders must build and leverage relationships with the IMCOM staff and IMCOM directorate staffs, which allows them to generate a common and comprehensive understanding among them of what support and resources their garrisons need.

“I was trying to see how the garrison fits into the model of a battalion, and it somewhat does,” Burgos said.  “You have certain functions that relate to that battalion formation. The goals and responsibilities I placed upon myself included building upon and improving upon what others have already set before me.

“We walk on the path that others have set for us,” the outgoing garrison commander said.

“Through all the previous garrison commanders, and our team, we’ve learned. We’ve had some successes, some failures, now how do we learn as an organization to improve from these lessons learned. My objectives centered on two things because I am only here for two years. The culture and climate of the organization had become my priorities. If I can set the conditions and standards, build a psychologically safe culture and climate that is conducive to a great work ethic, then we can improve upon the foundations that have been built over the years and build a healthy organization for our team. After my first 90 days in command, I could see that the team knew what they were doing, but we were coming out of the COVID environment, and I needed to set a new and effective climate and culture that would take us to the next level.”

During his tenure as garrison commander, Picatinny Arsenal was selected as the number one garrison in ID-S, and fifth overall out of 80 U.S. Army installations worldwide within IMCOM, an accomplishment the small northern New Jersey base had not previously achieved.

“I think that recognition speaks to the experience of the team,” Burgos said. “We had all the ingredients to earn ‘best garrison’’ We just had to properly explain and message what we were doing here at Picatinny Arsenal accurately and I think the team came together on that. We worked hard on that submission package and explained all the unique things that Picatinny does. I think even since submitting the award-winning package that we improved tenfold in many areas. I think we are drastically improving, even now. We take lessons learned and apply them where needed to improve upon the conditions that were already set.”

During the transition of command from Burgos to Bonham, the two U.S. Army lieutenant colonels are working closely to bridge any gaps or concerns before the outgoing commander moves on to his next assignment.

“We are going over systems and processes that we have in place and letting him know why current conditions are the way they are so that he can intelligently make informed decisions for the command,” Burgos said of his discussions with Bonham.

Burgos offered advice to his successor to “trust the organization. Some of the employees working here have been here for 15-20, some even 30 or more years. They know the installation; they know the organization. A benefit of coming here to Picatinny is that employees have pride in being here. Utilize them and understand that if something comes up, the team will come together to help you solve the puzzle because more than likely they have seen it before.”

Burgos was selected for the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which provides graduate-level instruction to senior military officers and civilians to prepare them for senior leadership assignments and responsibilities.