PITTSBURGH, Pa. –
The primary purpose of a change of command ceremony is to allow Soldiers and Family members to witness the historical traditions of the military surrounding the transfer of the reins of leadership from one officer to another. The ceremony signifies a new vision for the organization, for its Soldiers, and the commander.
Most officers consider being selected for a battalion command as the pinnacle of their career and savor the opportunity to speak in front of hundreds of their Soldiers all formed up dress-right-dress on a parade field. However, in the time of COVID-19 and the pandemic across the world, newly appointed commanders like U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. William Wightman III of the 462nd Transportation Battalion have to forego some of the tightly held traditions like this and many others including passing the colors, shaking hands with each troop in the unit, and breaking bread during the reception after the ceremony.
Fortunately, for Wightman and the Soldiers of his unit, the social distancing restrictions did not completely prevent him from many of the traditions and practices enjoyed and necessary for an official change of command. In light of the situation, the group determined the best course of action would be to conduct a virtual battle assembly and a virtual change of command to protect the health and well-being of their Soldiers and Family members.
For weeks leading up to the April 5 planned ceremony, the entire unit was preparing to conduct the service at Doughboy Field at Fort Dix, New Jersey. The ceremony would have involved significant elements from each of the battalion's four companies who would travel from locations up to three hours away. The planned ceremony would have capped off a three-day battle assembly that would include a field training exercise, range time and face-to-face staff synchronization for the unit’s upcoming collective training event at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, later this summer.
“When we received the guidance to limit travel and practice social distancing, the staff immediately began to reconsider how to conduct the change of command ceremony and get all the other training done that improves readiness,” Wightman said.
Throughout the planning process, the staff considered four different methods for conducting the ceremony. They contemplated performing the full traditional ceremony, paring down the ceremony to include just one squad from each company, doing the ceremony with no audience, or organizing the ceremony with only the commanders and a narrator. They finally settled on conducting and recording the entire ceremony from the outgoing and incoming commanders’ homes using self-recorded videos of their speeches and a few still photos of their troops in a formation taken from previous events.
Wightman remarked that the Army keeps rolling along. Although he was disappointed that he was not able to share his vision and command philosophy to the formation during a virtual change of command ceremony, he was encouraged that the staff found a way to perform the key facets of the tradition, which allowed him to talk with every Soldier via social media and discover the adaptability and flexibility of the Soldiers now in his command.
The 316th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), 462nd Transportation Battalion change of command ceremony can be seen on the 316th ESC’s Facebook page.
The 316th ESC is an Army Reserve organization based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The unit is responsible for more than 8,000 Soldiers in eight states in the northeastern part of America who conduct logistics and sustainment operations in support of various missions across the world.