MacFarland seeks to continue Ft. Bliss partnership with El Paso
Story and photos by: Ricky J. Carrasco
Major General Sean MacFarland recently took over as commander of Fort Bliss from Major General Dana Pittard. Pittard was a greatly respected general who, in his three years as commander, took steps to enhance and modernize the largest Army training base in the country. On May 31, General MacFarland was formally introduced to the local media who had many questions about how the incoming commander would handle his time here in El Paso.
The press conference started with questions from national media outlets that were concerned with the current struggles in Syria and Afghanistan. MacFarland will soon be taking a trip to Jordan to participate in the current joint training with US armed forces and the Jordanian military. He stated that the soldiers and staff in place there are only a nucleus of the command and “no more soldiers are expected to go, but there are contingency plans in place if hostilities in the area increase. We are concerned of the spill over into other countries, which is why we are partnering up with Jordan to enforce and defend their borders.”
MacFarland recently spent 15 months in Afghanistan overseeing the buildup of the Afghan local police. There are currently 20000 local members and the plan is to build up the police force up to 30000 officers by 2014. He claims, “There is a high degree of trust between local police and American forces. We’ve spent a great deal of time working with local authorities, and the main ingredient of that work is a high degree of trust.”
The local media was more concerned on how MacFarland’s command strategy will differ from General Pittard’s. MacFarland is already acquainted with the area as his grandfather served on this base and he himself served at Ft. Bliss in the 80’s. He also recently served as the commander of Joint Task Force North which provided Department of Defense support to US border security forces. When asked about how that experience would influence his command, he answered, “There is much inter-agency tasking, so with my experience, if another agency needs our help in terms of border security, I will facilitate it.”
On the question of how recent sequestration budget cuts will affect the running of the base: “It’s all about combat readiness. Our mission is still to fight and win the nation’s wars. The cornerstone of that is lethality. That is what gives us our street cred in that we are the most lethal force on the planet. We try to take care of the soldier and his health and family to ensure each soldier is focused.” He explained that even with budget cuts, the most important thing he can do is foster leadership, which does not cost anything in a small scale. “I think Ft. Bliss is blessed in its location. Though the Army will reduce in its overall population, Ft. Bliss should fare will with the reductions.”
“We will not become a hollow force. We have a lot of equipment and we will be good stewards of the equipment we have.”
The commander will continue the “Easy Access” policy implemented by Pittard, meaning that many civilians and most media will have reasonable access to non-critical areas of the base, such as the Freedom Crossing shopping center. As for media access, like today’s press conference, MacFarland stated that this is “the largest army post alongside the largest civilian community together, so I would anticipate to continue to be pretty open with the media.”
MacFarland applauded Pittards innovations like the implementation of the MicroGrid that will protect Ft. Bliss against blackouts or power failures by tapping into the area’s natural resources like wind and solar energy sources. He did warn that it should not be seen that he will make Ft. Bliss into “an experimental platform.”
Short term plans for the new commander and his wife include unpacking boxes to complete the move and going to find good places to go eat in El Paso. He joked, “I have a few that I like. I won’t say where they are though.” He plans to return in mid-June to spend time with his son who will soon be deployed to Afghanistan.
MacFarland also sent out a message to the soldiers at Ft. Bliss, “It is a tremendous honor to serve as their commander, and I underline the word ‘serve’ because even as leaders, our job is to serve our troops. The best way to serve them is to make them the best trained soldiers I can possibly make them and to make sure their families are taken care of.”
To the people of El Paso, he said, “You really make this post one of the best places to be a soldier anywhere. El Paso is a hometown to us and we are very, very happy to be back home. We thank the people of El Paso for their commitment to our troops. We look to further our partnership with the city in any way we possibly can.”