US Army Garrison Japan welcomes ninth commander during emotional ceremony
By THERON GODBOLD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 17, 2019
CAMP ZAMA, Japan — Command of U.S. Army Garrison Japan has passed to an experienced civil affairs and command staff officer.
Col. Thomas Matelski, a native of Racine, Wisc., took over from Col. Phillip Gage on Wednesday during a ceremony at Camp Zama, not far from Tokyo in Kanagawa prefecture. In his previous assignment, Matelski directed the Commander’s Action Group for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii.
He said he looks forward to being back in command. He last commanded the 97th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) before a string of staff positions.
Holding back tears, Gage thanked his staff for their hard work and support during his two-year tenure.
“I’m going to try not to get emotional, but it’s hard,” he said during his speech. “Your contributions behind the scenes made all the difference.”
Gage, twice awarded the Legion of Merit, is a native of Diboll, Texas, and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He is returning to Texas to become the assistant chief of staff at Joint Base San Antonio.
Gage, smiling, passed the command guidon on to his successor. Army Garrison Japan encompasses 15 installations from northern Honshu, the largest island of Japan, to Okinawa. The garrison provides support services and base operations for Army operational units. It includes more than 12,000 personnel, including Japanese employees and family members.
Christine Altendorf, director of Installation Management Command-Pacific, said Gage successfully led one of the most geographically diverse commands in the Army.
Matelski started his Army career in 1991 as an administrative specialist. Working his way through the enlisted ranks, he was commissioned a chemical corps officer in 1995 through ROTC at Marquette University.
Matelski, the ninth commander of Army Garrison Japan, thanked Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, commander of U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force, for attending and said he looked forward to Schneider’s guidance and mentorship.
“U.S. Army Garrison Japan’s achievements are incredible, and I look forward to working with you all,” Matelski said in a short speech to more than 200 attendees from all U.S. service branches and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.