VICENZA, Italy — U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza’s new commander was introduced as a “leader who knows that dignity and respect are a non-negotiable cornerstone of leadership,” and as soon as he took the podium he proved the point.
Col. Robert Menist looked at his guidon bearers standing at attention in the garrison gym at his assumption of command ceremony. “I know you’ve been standing at attention a long time,” he said. “Shake out your knees.”
Menist succeeds Col. David Buckingham, who was relieved of command by U.S. Army Europe Commander Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell in September.
Campbell said he’d relieved Buckingham because of a July incident in which a frustrated Buckingham publicly berated a military police officer, using a vulgarity commonly heard in the Army, and because a subsequent investigation of the incident showed that Buckingham was not an inclusive leader. Both things were unacceptable, Campbell said, as the military modernizes.
Menist took command on Friday, fresh out of the U.S. Army War College, where he earned a master’s degree in strategic studies. It is his second master’s degree.
It’s his first assignment to Europe, although the colonel has spent much of his Army career outside the U.S.: Panama, Korea on the Demilitarized Zone and Iraq.
He extended twice while in Korea and spent 20 continuous months in Iraq – as operations and executive officer in Baghdad and Camp Taji — in 2004 through 2006, when hostilities grew most intense.
He returned again to Iraq in 2009, in an area along the border with Iran, for another year to command a 1st Armored Division battalion out of Ft. Bliss, Texas, and to train Iraqi security forces.
The son and grandson of major generals, Menist, 45, has an unorthodox resume. Like his forebears, he was a distinguished military graduate of University of California, Berkeley, a school many Army officers would view as a hotbed of leftist thought.
Campbell was among the guests at the ceremony in the garrison gym.
Menist had been in Vicenza for two weeks, he said, and had no immediate plans to change anything.
“This is an amazing community,” he said.