Army gets a new leader in Vicenza
VICENZA, Italy — Brig. Gen. William B. Garrett III took command of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) on Monday, less than a day after arriving from his latest assignment at the Pentagon.
He joked briefly about how happy he and his wife are to be in Italy. But much of his attention will quickly be focused elsewhere.
Indications of that were everywhere. His predecessor, Maj. Gen. Frank Helmick, is set to take command of Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, pending Senate confirmation. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of U.S. Army Europe, will soon take command of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Col. Skip Davis, SETAF chief of staff, will be a member of his staff. Both should be in country before soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team return to Italy and Germany.
Those soldiers, who make up the bulk of Garrett’s new command, are in their 12th month of a 15-month deployment, Helmick noted. And, McKiernan said, they “are foremost in our thoughts.”
“I remember every soldier who lost their lives while serving with the 173rd in Afghanistan,” Helmick said. Thirty soldiers from the 173rd have died during the rotation.
If history is any indication, the Sky Soldiers — and possibly members of the SETAF staff as well — will be headed back to Afghanistan or Iraq sometime during Garrett’s command.
McKiernan complimented Helmick’s role in preparing the brigade for its current deployment and helping it transform into a combat team in between rotations, with six battalions spread out between Vicenza and Bamberg and Schweinfurt in Germany. McKiernan also praised Helmick’s work in getting approval for the future use of the Dal Molin airfield in a “complex” political environment and providing the command element in a trial rotation of U.S. troops to Romania and Bulgaria.
He also thanked Italy for its support of SETAF and was echoed by both Garrett — most recently deputy director of operations for the National Military Command Center — and Helmick in their comments.
“There is a long history of cooperation between the United States and Italy,” Garrett said. “I look forward to continuing that relationship.”
Helmick drew laughs from Italian and English speakers alike by noting his limited Italian vocabulary. He acknowledged picking up only four phrases — the longest and most impressive requesting a specific kind of coffee.
He said he’d miss all the Italian friends he made, though, and said he was sure Garrett would enjoy his new command.
“We will be cheering from afar as SETAF continues to set the standard with you on point,” he said.
Nine American general officers — including Gen. Kip Ward, commander of the new U.S. Africa Command — attended the ceremony, along with a host of Italian dignitaries including two members of parliament.