LaCamera takes command of Fort Bragg, 18th Airborne Corps
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: January 20, 2018
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Lt. Gen. Paul J. LaCamera is uniquely qualified for his newest job.
After more than a year serving as the acting senior commander of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, LaCamera officially took command of both following his promotion to three-star general on Friday.
He now leads the nation’s Contingency Corps — charged with deploying anywhere in the world on short notice — and the nation’s largest military post — tasked with supporting no-notice deployments of both conventional and special operations forces.
LaCamera, a native of Westwood, Massachusetts, who was commissioned from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1985, took command during a ceremony at the Hercules Physical Fitness Center, where leaders from across Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps gathered.
Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, who had led Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps since 2015, relinquished command to LaCamera.
Townsend, a native of Griffin, Georgia, who was commissioned from North Georgia College in 1982, will next serve as the commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Eustis, Virginia.
The new job will come with a promotion for Townsend, who will soon become a four-star general. TRADOC is one of three major Army commands, along with U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg and U.S. Army Materiel Command at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.
Gen. Robert B. Abrams, the commanding general of Forces Command, the higher headquarters of the 18th Airborne Corps, oversaw Friday’s change of command.
He presented Townsend with the Distinguished Service Medal for his leadership of Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps and his efforts while deployed for more than a year leading an international coalition to defeat Islamic State.
Abrams also presented Townsend’s wife, Melissa, with the Secretary of the Army Public Service Award for her volunteer efforts in support of troops and their families over the previous two-and-a-half years.
Fort Bragg is the epicenter for some of the nation’s most capable and ready forces, Abrams said. And the 18th Airborne Corps is among them as a central element of the nation’s Global Response Force.
“When we say anytime, anywhere, that’s who we’re talking about,” he said.
Abrams said the nation counts on the 18th Airborne Corps to deploy troops rapidly, anywhere in the world, and to be ready to fight and win against any enemy.
He cited the corps' response to three major hurricanes last fall, which came amid the deployment in support of the fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
With the 18th Airborne Corps at the helm of a 73-nation coalition, Abrams said, troops helped forces in Iraq and Syria liberate vast stretches of those countries from ISIS while training more than 100,000 military, police and border guards.
Townsend led from the front during that deployment, Abrams said, while praising the outgoing general.
He said Townsend was dedicated to his profession and to high standards.
The corps includes one subordinate sustainment command, four divisions and seven separate brigades, with more than 85,000 soldiers stationed as far as Washington, but mostly congregated at Fort Bragg, Fort Drum in New York, Fort Campbell in Kentucky and Fort Stewart in Georgia.
Today, Abrams said, the corps has more than 9,500 soldiers operating and training in 26 countries.
In taking command, LaCamera will provide a continuity of focus and commitment on what is most important — readiness, Abrams said.
He praised LaCamera’s breadth and depth of operational experience, which includes deployments to Panama, Haiti, Afghanistan and Iraq, and said that the general has “deployed for more or longer periods than just about anyone currently serving.”
Townsend also praised LaCamera, calling him the right leader at the right time for Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps.
And LaCamera said he would do his best to live up to the example Townsend set.
“Everybody’s a different leader,” he said. But LaCamera said he learned a lot from Townsend since they first served together while LaCamera was a captain.
“I hope to build on the legacy that he built,” LaCamera said.
Townsend, who began his Army career as a second lieutenant at Fort Bragg roughly 35 years ago, said it was bittersweet to leave the installation behind.
As 18th Airborne Corps commanding general, Townsend was the Army’s senior paratrooper. He made his last parachute drop several days ago, jumping with the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which is part of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
That’s the same unit that Townsend began his Fort Bragg career with.
“Life just kind of fortuitously came full circle,” he said.
Despite the fond memories, Townsend said he would not miss jumping from airplanes.
“The truth is, I never really liked jumping all that much,” he said.
But paraphrasing past airborne Army leaders, Townsend said he would miss being part of the paratrooper community.
“I don’t really like jumping out of airplanes,” he said. “But I like being around the soldiers who do.”
Townsend noted that the Army’s Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia, falls under his new job at TRADOC and said he may sneak in one or two more jumps.
Townsend said he was grateful and humbled for his opportunity to serve with the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg and for the opportunity to lead paratroopers amid the 13-month deployment targeting ISIS.
“This has been a hell of a ride,” he said. “This has been a dream assignment for me.”
“It’s been a privilege of my life to stand in the phalanx alongside all of you. And I and all of America are counting on you to stand ready,” he added. “I know you will.”
Townsend said he hoped to leave LaCamera a corps that is “a little bit better” than how he received it.
And he said LaCamera would find a special kind of support among those in the Fort Bragg community.
“I have rarely served in a community that’s as supportive as the civilian community around Fort Bragg,” Townsend said. “Some soldiers may take that support for granted. Some leaders may take that support for granted. But we should never take that support for granted.”
LaCamera said that support has been “top notch” and is an important part of Fort Bragg’s mission to deploy troops around the world on behalf of the nation.
He noted that while Fort Bragg is the “nation’s largest gated community,” about 70 percent of troops and their families live off post.
“We can’t do it without them,” he said of the surrounding community.
LaCamera is no stranger to Fort Bragg. Prior to being acting senior commander and deputy commanding general of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, LaCamera served in the 82nd Airborne Division, where he began his Army career, and with the special operations community, holding leadership positions with Joint Special Operations Command and U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
LaCamera also has served with the 10th Mountain Division, earning a Silver Star while a battalion commander with that unit in Afghanistan in 2002, and previously commanded the 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson, Colorado, from 2013 to 2015.
The new commander said it was humbling to officially take command of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, and said the mission of those two entities would not change.
“It’s the same thing it’s always been. ‘America’s Contingency Corps,’ ‘Fight Tonight,’ ‘Live on amber,’ ‘Combat focused,’ you’ve heard all those,” he said. “When Washington calls 9-1-1, the phone rings here…”
“Change is the only constant, but I see no change in focus,” LaCamera added. “I see no change in what we need to do… The fundamentals will never change, the conditions might.”
Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org