On Memorial Day, general remembers soldiers killed under his command
FORT BLISS, Texas — Like millions of other Americans today, Brig. Gen. Stephen Twitty quietly will acknowledge the sacrifices and courage of soldiers and other service members who have given their lives for their country.
Twitty, 49, is planning his own private moment on this Memorial Day to remember 44 soldiers who were killed under his command during the Iraq surge from October 2006 to December 2007. Thirty-eight of those soldiers were from Fort Bliss and the rest were attached to his unit from other installations.
Twitty will put a wreath on what’s called the Long Knife Brigade Combat Team Memorial Rock as he and his family leave from their second tour of duty at Fort Bliss.
The memorial rock is a short walk from the Pershing House, the historic home that Twitty and his family have lived in for the past two years.
Having the rock close by is a constant reminder of the sacrifice his soldiers made in Iraq and a source of inspiration to him, Twitty said.
“I think you saw my emotions up there at the rock,” Twitty said. “What being close to that rock means, I get to see the names every day, and every last one of those soldiers you see on that rock are very special to me. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of those soldiers and families.
“I do feel sad at times,” Twitty said. “The one thing, it definitely motivates me to put 110 percent into my job, to know that when soldiers are going into harm’s way, particularly when I was deputy commanding general here, that I did everything to prepare them to assume their duties of combat.”
Those soldiers died in Iraq when Twitty was commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, nicknamed the Long Knife Brigade.
He commanded that unit from August 2005 to March 2008. It was reflagged as the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division in March 2008 and Twitty continued to lead the unit until July of that year.
Twitty fought a different sort of battle in 2006 when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He had surgery to remove it and did radiation therapy. He has been cancer-free ever since.
Twitty, a Chesnee, S.C., native, later returned to Fort Bliss for a second tour. He served as deputy commanding general for operations for Fort Bliss and the 1st Armored Division from September 2010 to March 2012.
He most recently served as deputy chief of staff for strategic communications for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. He returned to Fort Bliss, where his family continued to live, about three weeks ago.
Twitty and his family are packed and plan on leaving Fort Bliss today. His next assignment will be as deputy chief of staff for operations for Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Twitty is scheduled to get his second star and become a major general in the next three to four weeks.
Twitty said he’d love to command his own installation or division one day “if God (is) willing and the good Army selects me,” he said.
“That would be a dream of mine,” he said. “I also know that commanding a division is very competitive. I will serve wherever the Army tells me.”
Former Fort Bliss and 1st Armored Division commander Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard called Twitty a “soldier’s soldier” who would make an excellent division commander.
“Hopefully, sooner than later,” Pittard said.
Fort Bliss has had eight soldiers get killed this month in two separate incidents in Afghanistan, a country Twitty just returned from after a 14-month tour.
The United States and its allies are making “progress there,” Twitty said. “Of course, this progress is slow. We’ve been at war for going on 12 years. For people who say why are we there, let’s not forget that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon emanated from Afghanistan. The planning of that particular operation happened in Kandahar. The heartland of al-Qaeda and their training facilities were right there in Kandahar.”
Twitty said the United States needs to make sure that Afghanistan “doesn’t become a failed state or the likelihood of more attacks coming from there, in my opinion, are pretty high.”
Twitty said that the most significant progress being made in Afghanistan is with its national security forces.
“They are doing independent operations now,” he said. “They are sitting about 352,000 strong, both the Afghan army and police combined.”
They will be able to take over full leadership on military operations next year as the United States prepares to draw down its troops there and change its mission to an advisory role, Twitty said.
On another positive note, more school-age girls are now able to get an education in that country, he said.
“Back before we deployed to Afghanistan, it was unheard of for any females to be going to school there,” Twitty said. “When you go there, almost everyone is on the Internet. They are free to speak and do anything they want. My headquarters was in Kabul, and I routinely drove the streets of Kabul and saw the semblance of a democratic society blossoming.”
During his most recent deployment, Twitty went as an individual, instead of with a unit.
“I couldn’t go to my left or right and say, ‘I know this person’ and confide in them,” Twitty said.
That was particularly tough when he had a bad day and had no one to vent too, he said.
“Although I was extremely busy, it was a pretty lonely deployment when you deploy by yourself,” he said.
David Burge may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org | Follow him on Twitter @dburge1962.