One of Washington’s native sons returned home Monday to take charge of one of the nation’s “go-to” military commands.
Lt. Gen. Gary Volesky was installed as commander of I Corps during a ceremony laden with tradition on the parade grounds at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Volesky, 55, grew up in Spokane and graduated from Eastern Washington University, where he met his wife, LeAnn, when they were ROTC cadets.
“It’s like winning the lottery,” Volesky said in remarks to hundreds of troops, guests and dignitaries who assembled for the ceremony. “It is great to be home.”
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The newly minted three-star general might not have much time to renew acquaintances.
He inherits I Corps at a time when 3,500 of its troops are deployed at various hot spots around the world and tensions on the Korean Peninsula, which falls under his command’s area of operations, are rising.
Volesky told reporters after the change-of-command ceremony that I Corps is well-prepared to respond to wherever the nation needs it. He credited his predecessors, including outgoing commander Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza, for maintaining the corps’ readiness.
“We are ready to fight tonight,” he said.
Volesky said his top priorities are to build upon that readiness and continue to solicit community support for JBLM and its troops, a task for which Lanza received high marks during his three-year tenure as I Corps commander.
Lanza’s efforts were reflected in Monday’s guest list, which included the mayors of many towns near JBLM, local business leaders and representatives from the University of Washington Tacoma.
Volesky is a longtime infantry officer whose last command was the historic 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. In that role, he served last year as the operational commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq and was instrumental in helping to train and advise the Iraqi military, which is fighting to retake the northern city of Mosul.
Volesky also served in the first Gulf War, as well as during the Iraq War, and in Afghanistan, and has been awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart, among other awards and decorations.
I Corps is comprised of several active-duty and Reserve units, with a troop strength of about 40,000.
Several hundred of them stood in formation on the vast expanse of the JBLM parade grounds for Monday’s ceremony and then marched past the reviewing stand in an impressive display.
Cannons were fired. The 56th Army Band played, and Lanza formally handed over the I Corps colors to Volesky and his staff.
Gen. Robert Abrams, the commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, flew from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to preside over the change of command.
Abrams called I Corps the “go-to headquarters of choice for U.S. Pacific Command” and credited Lanza with helping to make it so.
Lanza has been a “selfless, committed” soldier whose innovative training techniques and relationship-building with foreign partners and local leaders have turned I Corps into the nation’s “premier power projection platform,” Abrams said.
He then called Volesky one of the Army’s “most respected war fighters and trainers.”
For his part, Lanza expressed thanks to his family for supporting his military career and to the greater Puget Sound region for supporting JBLM and its soldiers.
“I have served in a number of military communities,” he said. “None compare to what you have built here in the Pacific Northwest.”
That support has turned the corps into an unparalleled fighting force, said Lanza, who is to retire June 1. He also praised his troops for their work and commitment to the nation.
“Today, I Corps stands ready to deploy, fight and win,” he said.