Friday, October 14, 2005

Turret: Incoming Chief of Armor brings experience, motivation

Hooray! Another magazine-format interview with a two-star. This is with the incoming Knox commander, Maj. Gen. Robert Williams.

Williams brings experience,
motivation to role as CG

By SPC. IAN BOUDREAU/Turret staff writer

Maj. Gen. Robert Williams succeeded Maj. Gen. Terry Tucker yesterday as commander of the U.S. Army Armor School and Fort Knox.

Prior to arriving at Knox, Williams served as commander of the 7th Army Training Command, and most recently as the deputy chief of staff, G-3, for the U. S. Army Europe and Seventh Army in Germany.

Williams sat for his first interview with the Turret Tuesday afternoon.

What experience do you bring to the job of commander of Fort Knox and the Army's chief of armor?

Thirty-one years of experience as a Soldier. During that time, I've had a lot of operational assignments.

I've served in the continental U.S. in multiple locations. I've served in Europe in multiple locations, and in the Middle East.

I've commanded two combat training centers -- the (Battle Command Training Program) for TRADOC in 2000 and the (Combat Maneuver Training Center) for almost two years, starting in 2002.

I've commanded armor units at every level, from platoon all the way up to brigade, and I served as an assistant division commander for the 1st Infantry Division. Additionally, I was the commander of 7th (Army Training Command in Germany).

So, with that background, I've been around for a few years. I think I'm ready to take on Fort Knox, the Armor Center, the Armor School, and the chief of armor's role.

I'm pretty excited about it, too.

As an armor officer, you've spent time at Knox before. When was your last assignment here?

My last assignment here was as a second lieutenant at the Armor Officer Basic Course, but I did not attend the Armor Officer Advanced Course. The writing was really on the wall already that we would operate as combined arms teams in the future.

As I left here as a young lieutenant, Gen. (Donn) Starry (former Fort Knox commander) was in command, and he was already sending a major message to the Army that we had to work as a combined arms team.

So I went off to the Artillery Advanced Course, which was probably a good decision in retrospect, because it prepared me for the levels of command that I had afterward. Everywhere I went, and everywhere I've been as a commander, we've worked as a combined arms team.

I have been back (to Knox) for conferences, and I've attended the pre-command course every time I've taken on a battalion or brigade, so over the years I have been back to Fort Knox, and I've seen Fort Knox evolve over the years quite a bit.

Could you tell us a little about your family?

My wife and I are second-generation military family members. We both grew up as "brats." My wife is the daughter of a retired sergeant major, and I'm the son of a retired colonel.

We've lived all over and we've enjoyed this wonderful life -- it's really the only life we've ever known.

I married Debbie in 1974 after I completed the Basic Course. We have two wonderful children. Our 16-year-old son, Travis, is attending high school at Fort Knox, and I have a 20-year-old daughter, Megan, in college in Florida.

How do you spend your free time? Do you have any hobbies?

In my last job as the desk officer at U. S. Army Europe, I had a hard time finding balance. But I love all forms of motorsports. I used to play golf -- and I intend to take the hobby back up again.

This last week, as the Patton (Museum) Foundation came in, I discovered that I'd really lost my shooting skills at the trap and skeet range, and I hope to improve those while I'm here.

As you assume command, what do you see as priority number one?

Very easy answer: Our priority here is to train Soldiers and leaders for our Army.

As we all know, we're at war, and that has to be our number one priority. We must not fail the nation in providing great tankers and great troopers for our recon units to take on the global war on terrorism.

Very close to that, my second priority, because of the war, is taking care of Soldiers' families and the civilians that are part of this great community. That means their quality of life, that means their safety.

We talked about training, which is probably number one: we must make sure our Soldiers are trained and ready to prosecute this war.

You're taking command of Fort Knox at a time of major changes. Base Realignment and Closure and the Army's Transformation are affecting Fort Knox as well. What do you think of Fort Knox's changing mission?

First off, the BRAC decision is not final, so for any comments I make regarding BRAC, we should keep that in mind.

I think it's prudent for us to plan, and we have already begun our planning effort for the numerous changes that will take place. The Army leadership has been clear: Fort Knox will take on a new role, an important role in the future.

My number one job while I'm here -- next to taking care of Soldiers, families, and civilians -- is to begin a plan to implement BRAC if it's approved.

For many years we have talked about bringing the training of our armor force and our infantry force together.

As a young second lieutenant, I remember talking in the Officers Club with my fellow lieutenants, and we questioned why we didn't train our armor and infantry together, given the new call for combined arms.

It's been a standard banner for the United States Army to train as you fight, and so, intellectually, we've wanted to do this for as long as I've been in the Army. My task is to do that in such a way that five to 10 years from now we're going to look back, and we're going to say we not only did it right, but that it was the right thing to do.

Fort Knox also has a role in the local community. What do you identify that role as being? Also, how can Fort Knox help Radcliff and the other local communities thrive as these changes take place?

Anywhere you go in the Army, our posts are part of the community, and vice-versa. The community certainly takes aboard Soldiers, family members, and civilians who work on the post.

For my part, I'm a citizen and a part of the community as well, and I intend to engage our community leaders on a regular basis. I would encourage our Soldiers, whether they live on post or off post, to be a part of the community as well.

As Fort Knox changes, as it grows, we will have to stay close to one another, because we'll both benefit. Fort Knox will certainly benefit from our surrounding communities, particularly in the case of Radcliff and Elizabethtown. But also, they will benefit as well.

So an open dialogue on a regular basis and our very presence as community members and citizens is probably the best way that we can ensure that we grow together in a positive way.

As a leader for the Soldiers and civilians at Fort Knox, what type of manager do you consider yourself to be? What can Fort Knox personnel expect from you as their leader?

I'm neither a micro-manager, nor am I a completely hands-off type of guy. I think it's important that a leader has balance in his life, because he will bring balance to his organization if he does.

I'm capable of very detailed management, but I would like to empower my subordinates. I think that really great organizations -- what I call 'magic units' -- are characterized by leaders at all levels doing their part to get things done.

I think it's also important that you empower people in such a way that they fully understand that they're part of something much bigger than themselves. Really great units, when you look inside them, that's what's going on. Everybody wants to be on that team; everybody wants to participate. Whether it's change or whether it's some new initiatives, they all want to be a part of it.

And that's not hard to do in the United States Army. If you wear this uniform, you know that you're a part of something much bigger than yourself. You can't help but be excited about that.

Who has been the greatest inspiration for you? What do you consider to be your guiding principle?

I've been blessed with a whole host of great mentors over my lifetime.

My father, who was a Soldier for 33 years, was inspirational to me. He fought in three wars, and he lived what you and I understand are the Army Values. He was part of the "Greatest Generation," and growing up the son of a fighter pilot has an impact on you. I would say he's had the most impact on me, along with my mother.

I've already mentioned (as a guiding principle) that you empower your subordinates. Allow them to do their job so you can do yours. That's important to me in this job.

I have many constituents that I'll have to deal with and I will have many challenges in the future. The Army is dealing with a time of enormous change, and so my time has to be spent in the appropriate places. I can't squander it, and I'll need people to do their jobs so I can do mine.

From everything I've seen, I've got a great team to do that with at Fort Knox right now. General Tucker has set me up for terrific success in that regard.

What is your vision for the future of the mounted force, and how will the role and importance of armor change in the future?

As I said earler, there's enormous change taking place in the Army right now, and we are seeing that change, to a large degree, driven by wartime conditions. The M1 Abrams and the Bradley will be with us for many years.

Quite frankly, the Abrams has shown itself to be the premiere weapons system, even in an urban environment. If you want to quiet a neighborhood in Iraq, park a couple Abrams in it. It has an enormous psychological effect, and of course we know its lethality is unmatched on the battlefield today.

Having said that, I hope to make progress in the future on the (Future Combat System). I hope the Army makes progress on that. We would like to have a platform that's lighter, more agile, and more easily maintainable as a family of vehicles. And of course, we also want it to be just as safe and just as lethal as the Abrams.

That's a real technological challenge which the Army's been working on for some time, and continues to work on.

From a structure standpoint, we're going to see the armor force move from a tank-centric to a reconnaissance-centric force. A larger percentage of the force will be dedicated to what we know as the 19D (Career Management Field) in the future.

So that will bring challenges for us in terms of training n bringing those 19Ks (armor crewmen) over to the 19D (cavalry scout) side of the house, and making sure that they have the transition training necessary to ensure that they're competent and confident there.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I'd like to thank General Tucker and his wife Patti for their great leadership and all that they've done for the armor force, Fort Knox, and the Armor Center.

His contribution has been enormous over the last three years, and we'll miss him a great deal. His legacy is well-entrenched here.


Sort of softball questions, I know. But hey, I'm a specialist, he's a freaking general. And it's his paper I work for. So the playing field wasn't exactly even. Besides, we weren't out to burn the guy anyway.


UPDATE: Open Post at the Mudville Gazette.
UPDATE: Open Post at Soldier's Angel - Holly Aho.