October 22, 2008

New commander takes over Virginia Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center

By Sgt. 1st Class Anne B. Burnley
Virginia Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center Public Affairs

Brig. Gen. Frank E. Batts,  deputy commander of the 29th Infantry Division (center left), passes the guidon to Col. Thomas P. Wilkinson (center right), new commander of the Virginia Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center, during the change of command ceremony on Oct. 18 at the Fort Pickett Stadium with special guests and MTC Soldiers in attendance. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Anne B. Burnley, Maneuver Training Center Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. — Col. Thomas P. Wilkinson became the 48th commander of Fort Pickett since 1942 in a change of command ceremony at the Fort Pickett Stadium Oct. 18.  Brig. Gen. Frank E. Batts, deputy commander of the 29th Infantry Division, received the colors from the outgoing commander, Col. Robert L. Sparks. Batts then passed the colors to the incoming Wilkinson in a time-honored exchange signifying “the passing of the senior tactical commander's trust and responsibility for the unit and its Soldiers.”

The event marked both the end of the Maneuver Training Center garrison command and the retirement for Sparks. With a career spanning 36 years, Sparks, an engineer, served in the U.S. Army and the Virginia Army National Guard. Sparks previously served as the personnel chief for the Virginia Guard’s 1030th Engineer Battalion in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield and as the unit’s battalion commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom in Kuwait and Iraq.

During the ceremony, Sparks was honored for his service and awarded the Legion of Merit for "exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the United States."              

Both Batts and Wilkinson acknowledged the significance of MTC and the contributions of Sparks.

“It’s not business as usual anymore here at Pickett," Wilkinson said. "Col. Sparks led this post to its premiere standing today. With pre-mobilization training, allied training, unit drills, and annual training, we are a premiere installation with virtual year-round training.”

As the new garrison commander of the MTC, Wilkinson is responsible for the operation and readiness of the post. The MTC directorates include the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, the Directorate of Logistics, the Directorate of Public Works, the Directorate of Plans, Training, and Safety, and the Directorate of Personnel and Community Activities. 

Assuming command in a stadium built by German Prisoners of War, detained on post during World War II, Wilkinson asked both Soldiers and guests to be mindful of Fort Pickett’s place in history. 

“This post has a long lineage and tradition of success. Fort Pickett came into existence in 1942 at the onset of World War II and has been going strong ever since,” Wilkinson said. 

Then challenging the soldiers assigned to the MTC directorates, Wilkinson said to the audience of Soldiers, civilians, and local officials, “Assist me in continuing the charge to make this the best MTC Heavy in the nation. Together, we will ensure our customers receive the best training opportunities and support that we can muster.”

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