By Andricka Thomas and Bob DiMichele (CECOM)February 8, 2012
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- After 34 years of service, Maj. Gen. 'Randy' Strong's career has run the gamut of success, achieving every major goal of a Signal Officer.
He commanded signal units at both the battalion and brigade levels eventually reaching the position of the Army's 33rd Chief of Signal. Strong served as the Chief Information Officer/J6 for the Pacific Command, the largest regional combatant command in the Department of Defense. He also commanded two installations, Fort Gordon, Ga., and Fort Monmouth, N.J. Strong served as the G-6's Director of Architecture, Operations, Networks and Space in the Pentagon and, as a culmination to his career, he became the commanding general of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command.
But, according to Strong, that success didn't necessarily come from specific career plan. He explained, "I never, ever, thought I would be here someday. I have thoroughly enjoyed the Army, but I wasn't one of those guys in high school going, 'I'm going to be an Army officer.' I came from a small, rural town in Northern California, and I didn't really know the difference between an officer and an enlisted Soldier. I was clueless. (laughter) It was a real culture shock for me."
He said, "I always thought I would stay in the Army until I reached the next milestone." Entering West Point in 1974, he said that his initial plan was to leave the academy after his second year and go on to a different college. It was an experience during the summer after his second year as a cadet that launched his Army career, and Strong credits then-Lt. Rick Zapka, his sponsor when he arrived in Ansbach Germany in 1976 for his summer orientation program. "I had a great Army experience that summer, and the ride hasn't stopped yet." Strong was commissioned two years later in 1978.
Then, two years turned into five years…and five years turned into an Army career he would never regret.
"My hope was to have a battalion command and then make colonel. I did, and I got selected for brigade command. So I said, I'll do brigade command and retire as a colonel. But then, I was told, 'hey, we want to make you a general officer, and send you back to Hawaii again.' And I was like, wow, you know, twist my arm!"
In looking back on his career, Strong remarked, "My experience has exceeded all my expectations."
He said that clearly considers CECOM one of his top three career opportunities. "In terms of scope and size, it will be the highlight of my career and accomplishments. But, there was a couple of other neat little things I did. As the 33rd Chief of Signal, I was the commanding general of the Signal School and the Signal branch chief. To be the chief of your branch is always something that's really special, and to have commanded the Signal Center, and been the Chief of Signal is something that I'll always remember as a significant career accomplishment."
He also cited a little known role the U.S. Army played in a peace-keeping mission in the Pacific Theater back in 1999 to 2000. He explained, "And, one other (highlight) was a little operation I commanded in East Timor when I was the commander of U.S. Forces there. You know, just a unique thing that I got to do...as a Signal guy to command a task force in a peace enforcement operation in a little country called East Timor." U.S. forces were part of a multinational peace-keeping effort that restored order in East Timor following a referendum on independence from Indonesia in 1999.
To his current workforce and the APG community, however, Strong is best known for his role in successfully moving the former Fort Monmouth workforce to APG following the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure decision.
"I've got to say that I'm immensely proud of CECOM for the way we executed this BRAC transition. If you're among the community of folks in the Department of the Army that were responsible for BRAC, they will tell you that CECOM really led the way whether it was in the databases we had that kept track of our people, the way we did the transfer of function letters, or the way we did the logistics move contract with the 800 plus vans." Strong explained.
However, it wasn't the success of the BRAC move that Strong considers to be his greatest accomplishment as commander of CECOM. "I would say the most significant accomplishment under my command was the undisrupted support to the Warfighter even though we were BRAC-ing," he said. "So, moving the headquarters wasn't the most significant accomplishment. The most significant accomplishment was supporting the Warfighter without a hiccup, without missing a blink, while we were making that move. And you've got to realize that was during a time of not only the surge in Iraq, and drawdown, but also the surge in Afghanistan. So these were very pressing times, demanding times, for the Warfighter. And I think we really, really did that well."
He attributes that success to his focus in moving four key elements of his global two-star command: its people, equipment, processes and procedures, and heritage. He said many people forget to take care of the workforce and moving an organizational culture and heritage is part of the glue that holds the organization together.
He said that while BRAC was painful for the workforce in the short term it was the right thing for the long-term future of the command. CECOM's relocation to APG created a collaborative environment called the C4ISR Center of Excellence, comprised of C4ISR and Army testing community members in one place designed to create efficiencies and synergy to further the network modernization effort. "CECOM really gained by this decision," said Strong. "This is a world-class facility that we did not have at Fort Monmouth. This relocation really postures the command well for the future in order to be responsive to the Army's needs and to be relevant to the Army of tomorrow."
And, Strong sees a positive future for the command and its expertise even in resource-constrained environment. "We can't do less with less; we will have to do better with less," said Strong in reference to making the necessary adjustments to create a leaner and cost-efficient organization.
He explained that the Army is doing more than modernizing the network. It's expanding the network, providing more capability via the network. He said, "CECOM will have a larger sustainment mission which means more work for the LRC (Logistics and Readiness Center), more work for Tobyhanna (Army Depot). It also means though that there's more applications and software development, because the network is not just the communications pipe, the network includes the applications you use on the computers to do the mission, the databases. That's work for the Software Engineering Center. So, what I see for CECOM is continued growth for its mission".
He predicts the Army will move in a direction of executing smaller counter-terrorism operations, which he expects to tremendously increase the demand for C4ISR systems and sustainment support. To meet the Army's future C4SIR requirements, he advises the CECOM workforce to look toward the future and take advantage of professional development opportunities to remain trained, ready, relevant and competitive in the workforce.
As Strong prepares for the next phase in life, he remembers the lessons he learned during his career as a Soldier. "While in command, I made my decisions based on my own personal values of integrity, honesty, fairness, loyalty, many of which are part of the Army's values. I have always sought balance and the value in taking care of people," said Strong. "That's what I'd like to be remembered for, being a good person who always tried to do the right thing for the organization, now and in the long-term."
His only regret…that it went too fast.
"Every assignment was wonderful, but there was so much more I wanted to do," Strong said. "Whether it's working in the White House Communications Agency; working at National Security Agency; or being part of the 82nd Airborne, there are lots of things I wish I had been able to do."
As he retires, Strong plans to take a few months off to travel with his wife and daughter in search of her future college. "My daughter is a senior in high school and I want to spend some time at home before she heads off to college," said Strong. "We're going to visit colleges for the next three months."
Strong hasn't announced his future career goals, but retirement will only last a few months. "I'd go crazy if I retired for good," he said with a smile. "I'll probably get a job in industry, I'm not sure yet, but we will see."
As Strong retires, he is confident that CECOM will be in great hands. This is a truly a world-class organization and the CECOM workforce is comprised of very dedicated people, and I saw that everyplace I went. I'm in awe of the tremendous workforce," said Strong.
So, when Strong summarized a long career of integrity, accomplishment, and dedication to the nation, he simply stated, "I wouldn't change a thing."