By Steve Arel, U.S. Army Cadet CommandApril 6, 2012
FORT KNOX, Ky. (April 6, 2012) -- Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald's tenure might have only been 16 months, the shortest stint of any Cadet Command commanding general. But what his time lacked in length it proved extensive in historical significance.
McDonald, the organization's first two-star commander to serve at Fort Knox, bid adieu Friday in a change-of-command ceremony on Brooks Field as Maj. Gen. Jefforey Smith became Cadet Command's 10th senior leader.
"The timing isn't exactly what we would have liked to have had," McDonald said. "The opportunity to command this installation is too short, and I'm sad to be leaving. But it's time, as I've got my orders. I'm so proud to have had the opportunity to spend some time with you and help make this place a little better."
Smith's transfer entails little movement. He had spent the last six months as director for U.S. Army Accessions Command Discontinuance Task Force. In that role, he was charged with bringing the recently discontinued Accessions Command at Fort Knox to its demise, which is scheduled for September.
Now, the Ohio State University Army ROTC alum will lead the organization where he got his military start.
That's a challenge Smith relishes.
"This is a unique opportunity," said Smith, who was promoted to major general shortly before assuming command. "I want to make a difference."
McDonald, a field artillery officer, moves on to become commander of the U.S. Army Fires Center of Excellence and at Fort Sill, Okla.
He is no stranger to the post. McDonald previously served there as a assistant commandant of the Field Artillery School and as the post's deputy commanding general.
After Cadet Command cased its colors in fall 2010 and moved to Fort Knox from Fort Monroe, Va., as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Base Closure Commission mandate, McDonald became the command's first commander to be based in Kentucky, taking over in November 2010.
Under his leadership, the command surpassed its fiscal year 2011 mission of 5,350 by commissioning 5,451 new lieutenants into the officer corps. It was the first time since 2009 that Cadet Command made its mission, and that tally represented the highest total commissions by the command in more than two decades.
With the deactivation of Accessions Command and retirement of Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, Cadet Command was designated Fort Knox's senior command in January. As its chief, McDonald assumed the additional role of post commander.
In those two months, McDonald extensively promoted the post -- its activities and its people -- reaching out to those throughout the community. He conducted a weekly radio call-in with the area's largest station, touting everything from tax services to movies.
He and his wife, Connie, even held an open house -- believed to be a first-of-its-kind event -- to give residents a rare look inside the historic residence that has been home to post commanders since 1939. They also held family forums at varied events throughout the year.
"The community partners here have a greater love of Fort Knox and their Soldiers than any post I have ever seen," Maj. Gen. McDonald said. "You all give over-the-top support and have been extremely flexible because we have changed the face of this installation over the last few years."
Smith, an Elizabethtown, Ky., native, is a 29-year veteran infantry officer. He has held a variety of leadership positions throughout his career.
Smith deployed to the Middle East during both Iraq wars. He led a rifle company during Operations Desert Shield/Storm and directed a brigade combat team during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
During the conflict in Afghanistan, he worked with NATO as the assistant commanding general for police development.
In his new position, he said he wants to build upon the foundation laid by his predecessors.
"What could be more exciting and fulfilling and more important than producing the best military officers in the world, motivating young people to be better citizens and providing Soldiers, civilians and their families a quality of life commiserate with the quality of their service?" Smith said.
Though Friday's ceremony was hailed largely as a post change of command, Brooks Field portrayed a distinctive Cadet Command feel.
Friday's hour-long event spotlighted Cadet Command's pageantry, with colors from each of its eight brigades and all 273 host Army ROTC programs fluttering in the breeze as they were held by a line of Soldiers.
Lt. Gen. John Sterling Jr., deputy commanding general/chief of staff of the Training and Doctrine Command and the change of command's presiding officer, applauded McDonald's success at Cadet Command. At the same time, he heralded Smith as a leader who will continue to move the organization and Fort Knox forward.
"The Army sends us another commander just as capable," Sterling said. "With your outstanding record of service you certainly have all the experience and background that ensures continued outstanding development of young officers that will lead our Army in the future."