UPDATE: Jan. 14, 2015
Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky – In the News – From Foreign Policy, the Global Magazine of News and Ideas
By Kandi Carper ‘05
Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky ’83 (BA military science) assumed command of one of the country’s most storied military divisions in U.S. history on June 20. He’s Eagle 6, the new Commanding General of the “Screaming Eagles,” the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. How fitting for an EWU Eagle!
At age 52, Volesky, a Spokane native and 1979 Ferris High School graduate, embraces his new assignment with the same enthusiasm and dedication he has exhibited during his distinguished 31-year military career.
Volesky comes to Fort Campbell with his wife, LeAnn, and their son, Alex, a junior at Fort Campbell High School.
“I can honestly say LeAnn and I have won the lottery,” said Volesky at the Change of Command Ceremony in June. “Not only do we get to serve with the magnificent soldiers in the only air assault division in the entire world, but we get to work alongside the best community teammates anywhere.”
In addition to his BA from EWU, Volesky earned his master’s degree in strategic studies from the Air War College and a master’s in Near Eastern studies from Princeton University.
Volesky chose Eastern because it was close to home and a great fit. At first he wasn’t sure what he wanted to study, but his junior year, he finally decided on ROTC and a military career. He said he had wonderful leaders at Eastern, including professor of military science Lt. Col. Massey, Maj. McPeak, Maj. Clyde Simmons and Maj. Springer, who got him into the program. “I got some really great role models who really helped me develop as a person and as an officer in the Army. Because it was a small university, I really enjoyed the instruction I received there.”
“I went to Princeton University to get my master’s, and I’m not busting Princeton, but I would tell you that Eastern Washington University had probably the most inclusive environment for students. It was more like a family there, and the instruction I got really set me up for success today. I couldn’t have done it on my own.”
In 2012, Volesky was awarded EWU Alumni Association’s inaugural award for Exceptional Military Service. Volesky joins five other Eastern alums to attain the rank of general.
On receiving the award, Volesky said, “The evening reinforced for me that we in the Army need to strengthen our outreach to our communities. We should support events like these, not only to strengthen our bond with the community, but to show support and say thanks to all of you who have supported us during our deployments and separations from our families. Being at Eastern with retired servicemen, university and community leaders and other professionals was an enriching experience, and made me rededicate myself to supporting the university in the future.”
Volesky made good on that committee in March, when he was the guest of honor at EWU’s 2014 Military Ball. Volesky said it was great to get a chance to visit the Spokane/Cheney area again – being able to speak to the cadets and their parents. He also got a chance to go home and visit with his dad and see his family.
“I need to come back to Eastern in a little while, said Volesky. “If I don’t make an annual trek there, someone’s going to get on my Facebook page and make a disparaging remark. I graduated from the fighting Eagles to now serving the Screaming Eagles. I’ve got to make the most of that connection.”
At EWU’s Military Ball in March, Volesky talked to the cadets about making sure they are prepared – ready to serve and to lead.
“When I came into the Army in early 1984, our Army was completely different than it is today. And if they were just as good as I was back in 1984, the Army would run over them. You’ve got to be a better captain, a better major, because our Army is that much better. I really challenged them to dig into what this Army profession really means. It’s very important to me, and I want it to be really important to them.”
Volesky himself had to prepare for his new post as Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division. That meant going through The Sabalauski Air Assault School at Fort Campbell.
“The good news was that coming out of Eastern, I learned the value of physical fitness in ROTC,” said Volesky. “I took that commitment seriously and kept myself in good condition. It was challenging – going through an obstacle course, doing a 12-mile road march with a rucksack and the rest of it. But I was OK because I kept myself physically fit. Today, in America, only one of four people we want to enlist are qualified because we have a physical fitness issue in our society. Obesity is challenging. One thing we reinforce here is that you’ve got to be both physically and mentally tough. The other piece was that I have great soldiers here, and they can motivate a 52-year-old by telling me ‘Hey old man, are you going to make it?’ They helped me along by keeping me challenged.”
As for his responsibilities as Commanding General of the 101st Airborne (Air Assault), Volesky said, “We’re coming under some really challenging times. We’re drawing down our Army at a time when the world is not at peace. I was here in the ‘90s and saw us draw down the Army after Desert Storm, but there wasn’t a near peer competitor. We were the super power, but if you look at what’s going on today, there are issues across the globe. So how do I make sure that our soldiers are trained and ready, and that they have what they need as we’re in an environment of small resources?”
Volesky said that there’s also another piece being addressed by today’s Army commanders – personal issues, including behavioral health, suicide and sexual assault.
“I’m 52 years old, and my ethical upbringing is much different than the kids today,” said Volesky. “I’ve got a 16-year-old son, and the challenges he’s facing are not the ones I faced. Technology with social media and the rest is completely different than what I had growing up. How do you meet those needs and understand how they interact inside their environment? By drawing them out and getting them to be the best professionals in the Army.”
Volesky said another challenge is that during the past 13 years the military has lost some of the core competencies it had in the past because the forces have been in an insurgency fight. It’s his responsibility to make sure that our country’s soldiers are trained and ready “to get some of the core blocking and tackling in, to face a near peer competitor.”
Volesky has personal knowledge about insurgency fighting. While serving with the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, Volesky commanded at the battalion and brigade level with multiple deployments to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
As a Task Force Commander on April 4, 2004, (some soldiers call it “Black Sunday”), then Lt. Col. Volesky personally led an ad hoc element of two tanks and 11 Bradley Fighting Vehicles to rescue a Bradley Fighting Vehicle section that was isolated and in heavy contact in a Baghdad slum, known as Sadr City. Volesky mounted his Bradley Fighting Vehicle and departed Camp War Eagle at the head of the column. While receiving small arms fire, RPGs and detonations from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) along the route, Volesky continued on and arrived at the site. He then secured the site and evacuated the wounded. For his actions, Volesky received the Silver Star.
He has also been awarded the Bronze Star Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman Badge with Star, the Master Parachutist Badge and the Ranger tab.
Prior to assuming command of the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell, Volesky served as Chief of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C.
“I had never worked in D.C. before and so when I came up to the Pentagon, the learning curve was pretty steep,” said Volesky. “What it really showed me was the challenges a big army has in getting what it needs for training and equipment to maintain our forces. I was able to see the Chief of Staff of the Army and the Secretary of the Army every day as they had to deal with these challenges on a strategic level. Everyone is really trying to do what they can for our soldiers. When I saw some of the issues that we faced up in D.C. – and as Chief of Public Affairs, every bad news story came across my desk, it enabled me to see where some of the gaps are in communicating with our soldiers. It was one of the most rewarding experiences that I’ve had – one of the most difficult jobs as well.”
Volesky’s experiences in combat, as well as his understanding of the bigger picture and strategy at the Pentagon level, make him uniquely qualified to take command of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division’s Screaming Eagles.
In 1942, when the 101st Airborne Division was activated, its first commander, Maj. Gen. William C. Lee, noted that the division had no history, but it had a “rendezvous with destiny” and would be called into action when the need was immediate and extreme.
For many people, when they think of the 101st Airborne Division, Band of Brothers, the World War II miniseries based on Stephen Ambrose’s biography of a company in this elite division, comes to mind. It’s one of TV’s most-watched series of all time.
But this is no TV drama. “This is a serious business we’re in,” said Volesky. “We make a lot of really difficult decisions, and soldiers’ lives depend on some of these decisions. In Iraq and Afghanistan, when our soldiers are out there, we’re focused like laser beams on accomplishing the mission, taking care of our soldiers and really getting after it.”
There are 38,000 soldiers, civilian professionals and multiple tenant units at Fort Campbell, all of which Volesky is responsible for as Commanding General.
In March, after a local Spokane newspaper covered his promotion and visit to the Military Ball, some of Volesky’s former classmates commented on the story. They congratulated him, thanked him for his service and remembered him as a fun, “goofy” kid. He wasn’t sure about the “goofy” part, but he said he certainly enjoys his profession.
“I love what I do,” said Volesky. “I believe that we inspire excellence through our own personal example. We say that leaders don’t get to have bad days because our soldiers deserve the best leadership that we can give them. I have fun every day. I’m passionate and I want that to resonate with every soldier, regardless if he’s been in the Army a week, or 20 years – to say this is the best profession you can be in. You’re a key member of the team for our Army, and our nation, and you should be proud of that, because I’m proud of you.”