Dec. 27, 2011

Former state command sergeant major concludes 56 years of service to the commonwealth

By Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen 
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

FORT PICKETT, Va. — In a small conference room in the Fort Pickett headquarters, a group of Soldiers and civilians gathered Dec. 15 to wish retired Command Sgt. Maj. James Flanary well upon his retirement from civilian service to the Virginia National Guard and Fort Pickett. The following day marked the end of a career that spanned more than 56 years in combined service as an enlisted Soldier and a civilian employee.


Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., Adjutant General of Virginia, presents the Virginia Legion of Merit to James Flanary Dec. 15 during a luncheon at Fort Pickett. to celebrate Flanary's 56 years of service to the Virginia National Guard. Except for a six week break in 1997, Flanary served the Guard continuously since 1955. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Flanary uncorked his career as a private in the engineers in March 1955 and has served the commonwealth continuously ever since. Blazing through the ranks, he pinned on command sergeant major at just 35 years old, the pinnacle of an enlisted Soldier's career. In 1973, he became the first enlisted commandant of the Virginia Army National Guard Noncommissioned Officer Academy. Nine years later, he was appointed as the first full-time state command sergeant major, a position that would escalate him to the top noncommissioned officer in the state. He was the senior enlisted advisor to three Adjutants General of Virginia.

“It’s been a good ride all the way through,” said Flanary. “I never expected to become a command sergeant major, but I did and that was another highlight. I did the U.S. Army Sergeant Major Academy and I graduated from that and it’s been a real good tour.”

Flanary served the Virginia National Guard in almost every status one can serve the commonwealth. Beginning as a traditional Guardsman serving one weekend a month and two weeks a year, he later joined the Active Guard Reserve Program, and ran the gamut of statuses between the two and beyond.

“I have been in every status that you can be in,” said Flanary. “As an M-Day traditional Guardsman, and then I’ve been on orders for state duty; I’ve been a military technician; I’ve been on what they now call ADOS [Active Duty for Operational Support] for 90 days to six months, and then on AGR. After I left AGR I became a state employee, so that’s about every status you can serve.”

Following a short break from Mar. 31 to May 16, 1997, he decided that his 42 years of service as an NCO to the commonwealth were not yet over and transitioned to a state employee. While under the employ of the commonwealth, Flanary spent the next 14 years working at Fort Pickett. There he worked on staff assistance in the post headquarters.

“I took care of the support man days and took care of the budget for that,” he said. “Putting Soldiers on orders to support the Maneuver training Center was one of the things I did.”

During the retirement ceremony the current Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., presented a Virginia Legion of Merit to Flanary for his support to the state in his role as a state employee for the past 14 years. The two joked about how long they have known each other before the presentation of the medal.

“I was trying to remember, and I think I have known you for over 40 years. I was a lieutenant when I first met you,” Long said.

Flanary interrupted, noting how far Long had come in his own career over the years, “A brand new second lieutenant.”

“And I have grown up while you were here, but this has been just a tremendous career and I have watched you on and off as I have been in and out of the Guard and doing other things,” said Long. “What a great inspiration you have been to all of us. I want to thank you so much for all you’ve done for all of us.”

Also in attendance at the small ceremony was Flanary’s last boss at Fort Pickett, Post Commander Col. Thomas Wilkinson. Wilkinson, a captain when he first met Flanary, noted how Flanary was always willing to teach another Soldier regardless of their rank.

“Jim is one of those NCOs who would put his arm around you and mentor the officers,” said Wilkinson. “You don’t usually equate NCOs with mentoring officers, but Jim was the kind of sergeant major who would, and my sergeant major now mentors me all the time.”

The afternoon concluded with remarks from retired Maj. Gen. Carroll Thackston, former Adjutant General of Virginia from 1994 to 1998, on the outstanding service Flanary provided the state over his decades of service.

“I have a little saying when I welcome troops back from overseas, and this is so true in his case. 'He answered the call, he served the call-up and he fulfilled the calling,'" said Thackston. “I don’t know how you could ask anyone to do any more than 56 years devoted to the National Guard, one way or the other.

“I know you all are going to miss him up here. He is a great spokesman for the National Guard and he did a great job for us and he continues to do a great job.”

The citation on Flanary’s Virginia Legion of Merit:

“Mr. Flanary’s unwavering support to the Virginia National Guard is a testimony to his professionalism and his desire to achieve excellence. His efforts at Fort Pickett enabled the Virginia National Guard to take the installation from its infancy to a premiere regional collective capability and nothing short of outstanding. Flanary’s continued service as a civilian proved his devotion to the organization and his country. His efforts are in the finest traditions of service, and reflect great credit upon himself, the Virginia National Guard and the commonwealth of Virginia.”

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