Under the warm morning rays of the El Paso sun, a small group of Iron Soldiers, family, friends, and local community members excitedly convened on the Iron Soldier Parade Field to attend the 1st Armored Division Change of Command ceremony, a military tradition rich with symbolism and heritage.
Traditionally held with troops in mass formation, attendance was kept to a minimum to protect the health and safety of the force and community. Those that attended practiced social distancing and donned face coverings, per COVID-19 protocols and regulations. Virtual attendees observed the ceremony online via live-stream video.
The ceremony honored outgoing 1AD & Fort Bliss commanding general, Brig. Gen. Matthew L. Eichburg, and formally welcomed incoming commanding general, Brig. Gen. Sean C. Bernabe.
Bernabe comes to Fort Bliss from Germany after serving as Deputy Commanding General, United States Army Europe. Eichburg resumes his role as Deputy Commanding General – Operations.
Lt. Gen. Robert P. White, III Corps and Fort Hood Commanding General, presided over the ceremony while Division Command Sergeant Major Michael C. Williams served as commander of troops.
The ceremony began as the 1AD Band played “Ruffles and Flourishes” while 17 cannon blasts thundered into the distance, creating billowy clouds of smoke.
White, Bernabe, Eichburg and Williams utilized hand sanitizer prior to commencing the Passing of the Colors, a tradition that represents the transfer of authority and responsibility for the unit from one commander to another.
After rallying the crowd with “hooahs”, White began his speech by remarking on Eichburg’s excellent leadership qualities and commended both the tenacity of his character and his dedication to the division.
“I want to recognize everything that Matt Eichburg has done for Old Ironsides…Matt knew coming in that Division Headquarters was deploying, and he knew he was going to have to step up and hold it down for [Maj.] Gen. Matlock while he was gone, and that’s no easy task in and of itself.”
Eichburg has served as Acting Commanding General at two separate times; first when Maj. Gen. Patrick E. Matlock — the commanding general at the time — was deployed in support of NATO operations in Afghanistan, and second when Matlock departed 1AD to serve as the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) J-3 director of operations.
“I gotta tell you Matt, absolutely fantastic job, you exceeded all expectations. And when the Army decided to pull Patrick [Matlock], we weren’t quite aligned yet on commanders and we asked you to step up even further and take charge, and I just don’t know anyone else in the Army that could have done better,” said White. “I want to personally and professionally thank you, I think the community and the Command owes you a debt of gratitude. Thank you very much for all your sacrifices along the way.”
Eichburg in turn thanked White for the kind words, and expressed his gratitude towards him, FORSCOM Commanding General, Gen. Michael X. Garrett, and the 1AD and Fort Bliss workforce.
“I remain grateful beyond what I can express in words for being able to be stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas and in the 1st Armored Division. I am very grateful to Gen. Garrett and Lt. Gen. White for allowing me to take command here when [Maj.] Gen. Matlock left,” Eichburg said.
“I’m also very grateful for the amazing commanders, command sergeants major, Soldiers, NCOs, our contractors, our DA civilian workforce and all the leaders here. It’s an incredible team and family and I’m a much better person and officer for being able to learn from all of you. This installation and this division is more combat-ready because of all of your work,” he added.
Eichburg concluded by offering words of praise to the incoming commanding general.
“I know [Brig.] Gen. Bernabe, I’ve served in the same theater with him, and he is exactly the division commander that the 1st Armored Division needs and deserves. I’m very grateful to be able to serve as one of his DCGs, along with Brigadier General Andy Cox, who arrived recently from the UK, and Col. Frank Stanco; together with the full complement we’ll be able to increase our combat readiness even more so.”
Bernabe closed the ceremony by taking the opportunity to share his excitement at becoming a part of the 1AD, Fort Bliss, and El Paso communities.
“When the announcement came out that I was getting the opportunity to join this great team, it was amazing how many people reached out to me and lauded the greatness of Fort Bliss and El Paso,” said Bernabe. “They talked about it as their favorite duty station ever, some even decided to retire here because it’s so great, and really made us super excited to be a part of this great team.”
Bernabe, having just flown in from Europe, will undergo a 14-day quarantine before taking his place at Division Headquarters. His promotion to rank of Maj. Gen. was made effective immediately following the Change of Command ceremony.
Traditionally the 1st Armored Division is assigned a Commander in the rank of Major General with Deputy Commanders in the rank of Brigadier General and in positions of Operations, Maneuver and Support.