New commander takes charge of 29th Infantry Division

Maj. Gen. Charles W. Whittington Jr. passes the 29th Infantry Division colors to Command Sgt. Maj. Cheyenne Johnson, 29th ID command sergent major, during the change of command ceremony held Oct. 7 at Fort Belvoir. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Department of Military Affairs)

FORT BELVOIR, Va. — Maj. Gen. Frank E. Batts, outgoing commander of the 29th Infantry Division, passed the colors symbolizing the transfer of command authority to Lt. Gen. J. Michael Bednarek, Commanding General of the First United States Army, who then passed the guidon and colors to Maj. Gen. Charles W. Whittington Jr., incoming commander of the 29th Infantry Division during a change of command ceremony Oct. 7, 2012 at Fort Belvoir.

In a speech to the division, including members of the 29th Infantry Division Association, Bednarek praised the 29th.

“We have superior senior leadership in the present this afternoon;, and I want to recognize the warriors in this theater,” said Bednarek to a full house. “Since 9/11 the 29th has evolved to a battle-tested and strong unit, and I know you will not only meet, but exceed the challenge. You have a storied history that is hard to live up to, but if anyone can do it, it is you. You have the right leadership to take the organization to the next level.”

Bednarek referenced the long history of the division and specifically addressed the members of the 29th Association in attendance.

“We stand upon your shoulders,” he said.

Batts expressed his gratitude to both the unit and his family for their support over his 34-year career.

“Thank you to the 29th Division staff,” Batts said. “I have been truly blessed to command such a historical unit. It is amazing when I look back on over 34 years of service from gold bars to silver stars. I have always worked hard and tried to do my best.

“I couldn’t have done it without support. My wife didn’t take the oath in 1976 but I couldn’t have done it without her and without her saying ‘don’t worry, I‘ve got this, go do what you need to do,’ when I had to leave for drill or deployment. Her support has made all of the difference,” Batts said.

Batts continued expressing his gratitude by thanking Soldiers and officers who made a difference throughout his entire career.

“I hope I leave the 29th in a better place than when I took command,” said Batts. “I thank you all for your support of the 29th Division and may God bless you.”

Whittington began by stating, “Leadership is a privilege, not a right.”

Whittington thanked people who helped make him successful, his family, peers in his civilian and military career.

“I have been blessed with great leaders who have helped shape my direction, and I am thankful for my family and without question mindful of your sacrifices,” said Whittington. “Family is so important and I want to thank them for their continued support.”

Whittington ended his speech by shouting the Division motto “29” to which the enthusiastic crowd responded “Let’s Go.”

Prior to the change of command ceremony, Whittington was promoted to the rank of major general by Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, in a separate ceremony at the 29th Infantry Division Headquarters at Fort Belvoir.

“Thank you. I am humbled by the opportunity to continue to lead such a historic and storied unit as the 29th,” said Whittington.

Batts began his military career in 1976 and served in both the West Virginia and Tennessee Army National Guard before joining the Virginia Guard in 1985. He has served in command positions from battery to division level. MG Batts deployed to Afghanistan in 2004 and directed the deployment of two general officer level commands to Afghanistan.

Whittington began his military career in 1986 in the Army and joined the Maryland National Guard in 1993. He has served in command positions from battery to division level. He deployed to Iraq and Kuwait during Desert Storm, Iraq in 2007, and most recently as the Director of the Afghan Security Forces Growth and Development in Afghanistan.