An Eastern Washington University graduate will be the next commander of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, a prestigious military unit known as the “Screaming Eagles.”
Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, a Spokane native, earned legendary status among troops in 2004 for his actions in the Sadr City area within greater Baghdad, when his battalion came under attack. The infamous day was called Bloody Sunday: Eight soldiers were killed and 50 more wounded in 80 days of battle. His deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan lasted four and a half years.
“Many who know Maj. Gen. Volesky today recall his bravery in battle as a battalion commander,” said Lt. Col. Jason Pape, EWU professor of military science. Volesky received a Silver Star for his actions, the third-highest military award for valor.
The Ferris High School graduate, who has more than 30 years of military experience and numerous deployments, has been decorated multiple times with honorary medals, including a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.
Even so, Volesky said he is “humbled” by his selection to lead the 101st Airborne. “I’ve never been in that division, so it’s just a great honor that I get to serve with the ‘Screaming Eagles,’ ” he said in an interview at an ROTC event for EWU on Friday.
“The Army isn’t about individual excellence, it’s how do you play as part of a team,” Volesky said, emphasizing the importance of mentoring cadets to be prepared for leadership positions.
The assignment is fitting for Volesky, whose alma mater’s mascot is the Eagles. EWU is where he earned his bachelor’s degree in military science in 1983.
“It’s interesting. We usually don’t encourage people to get a degree in that,” Pape said. “He’s managed to do alright with it.”
Volesky’s promotion was announced by the U.S. Department of Defense on Tuesday.
He and his wife, LeAnn, along with their teenage son will be based at Fort Campbell, Ky.
The 101st Airborne is perhaps best known for its invasion of Western Europe during World War II on D-Day and the Hamburger Hill battle in Vietnam.
Volesky has commanded at all levels in various units, including the 9th Infantry and 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Lewis, Wash., and the 8th Infantry Division in Germany. He’s currently the chief of public affairs for the U.S. Army.
Despite his vast experience, Volesky is not the typical appointment to command the 101st Airborne because he’s never led an air assault military unit, Pape said. Most commanders grow up in the unit.
Before taking command, Volesky will have to go to air assault school, where he’ll be one of the oldest students in its history, he said.
“But the bottom line is he’s really, really, really good,” Pape said.