David Davenport

As the senior advisor to Fort Bliss' commanding officer, Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport has been responsible for every soldier on Fort Bliss.

Now he's taking an even bigger job in Europe.

If you've even seen Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, then you've seen Davenport at his side. He is the general's closest confidante - privy to every e-mail in and out of the general's office.

Today, Davenport leaves El Paso for Europe, where he will be responsible for the Army's soldiers in Europe as the senior enlisted advisor to Gen. Mark Hertling.

While in El Paso, Davenport has worked to open up the post and build a better relationship with the community. The first thing he did when he came to Fort Bliss in 2006 was to order that the green privacy fencing that surrounded the post be removed.

He's also known unofficially as the "oral historian" of the post and has become something a fixture of the El Paso community, in some cases literally. Although he's too embarrassed to admit it, a photo of Davenport hangs in L&J Café, his favorite restaurant.

He has volunteered with organizations all over town, but Davenport says what he enjoyed the most was establishing the Cub Scout program at Fort Bliss, which he opened up to civilians, to bring the children of soldiers and civilians together.

Davenport's wife Claudia, a two-time cancer survivor who was diagnosed with cancer in El Paso in 2009, has also been very involved in the community, volunteering with the American Cancer Society and serving as Relay For Life committee chair in El Paso.

El Paso City Council issued a proclamation this week declaring Tuesday David S. Davenport Day.

Davenport, 46, has risen quickly through the ranks during his time here.

He came to Fort Bliss five years ago as command sergeant major of the Future Forces Integration Directorate, working besides a one-star general, James Terry.

In 2009, he became command sergeant major of Fort Bliss and then the 1st Armored Division, working besides two-star Brig. Gen. Howard Bromberg, and until last week, Pittard, who wears two stars.

Now Davenport is the senior enlisted advisor to three-star general Mark Hertling, commander of U.S. Army Europe.

Davenport left for Germany today to accept the new assignment as command sergeant major of U.S. Army Europe in Heidelberg, Germany, where he will be responsible for U.S. Army soldiers in 51 countries.

And on Monday, he will be in Kosovo working with soldiers.

Davenport has an associate's degree in liberal arts, a bachelor's degree in social work, and a master's degree in business administration from Norwich University.

He was raised in Nashville, Tenn., and joined the Army two days after he turned 17.

"My father was a career Marine. When I was a young boy he would always tell these stories about his service as a Marine. I just needed to find direction in my life and joined and haven't looked back," Davenport says.

Since then, he's held every enlisted leadership position in the Army, everything from tank commander to cavalry scout. But he comes across more like a beloved grandfather than a hardened, battle-tested soldier.

On the third floor of the 1st Armored Division headquarters on Fort Bliss, in his now bare office adjacent to the commanding general's, Davenport sat down with El Paso Inc. for one final interview.

He spoke about bringing Fort Bliss and El Paso together, what the Pentagon's new strategy means for the post, why he plans to retire in El Paso, and the first time he met a young officer named Dana Pittard.

Q: You want to come back and retire here?

That's not just a "campaign promise." I am going to do it. This community has to be the greatest community I have ever served in.

The genuine love and concern for soldiers here is not fake or just a talking point, but it's shown by deeds and actions. The weather is great, the food is great and I just can't imagine retiring and being involved in a community anywhere other than this area.

Q: Why are some soldiers still concerned about being stationed at Fort Bliss? I understand that some of the more senior leaders, who have some flexibility on where they are stationed, are opting not to move here and choosing other assignments.

Because they just don't know what a great place it is and the opportunities to serve here.

As more and more people rotate through here and they see the great quality of life, they see the community relations we have, and the great training facilities we have, the word will get out. It's just going to take time to overcome that.

I don't think you will find any post with a quality of life like we have here - the housing, the Exchange and Commissary facilities and the training areas. I mean, the replica training villages we have built, the live fire ranges, the maneuver space it can't be found anywhere else in the Army.

Q: With the announced reduction of troops, what is the outlook here for soldiers who could be looking for civilian jobs in the future?

I do have concerns about it, and I've voiced my concerns to the chamber of commerce and some leaders in the community. There are some things they are trying to do.

We want to create some kind of mentorship program where we can identify some young soldiers who want to stay in the community and pair them with business professionals to help them make the transition.

Q: People tend to understand what a general is, that it is a high position in the Army. But command sergeants major don't get as much press, although the position is virtually the highest enlisted rank. What do you do, and how do you work with the commanding general?

First of all, let me just say about sergeants major and the press. It's good to be recognized for our effort, I am very humbled by all the events over the last week to recognize my work here, but I think to truly serve you have to be a little humble.

The role of the sergeant major and the recognition is something that will evolve over time. You know, the city is getting used to it. The sergeants major of Fort Bliss are really getting out into the community and showing that they can share the Army story no matter where they are, whether it is a civic group or an elementary school.

I try to get out with the soldiers on the ranges, in the training area and try to be where soldiers don't expect me to be. That is when you get to see what is really going on. When it's late at night and they are loading a tank with ammunition, you really get to experience the chatter and hear what is really going on.

The way that I assist the commanding general? That's kinda hard to frame. I can give you the textbook answer that I am responsible for discipline, health and welfare, individual training, and standards of all soldiers on the installation.

But with every commanding general, or with any officer for that matter, you develop a unique relationship. I thank Gen. Pittard for his trust, confidence and the true relationship we have that he has allowed me to help make a difference at Fort Bliss.

Q: Gen. Pittard has mentioned to me that he first saw you as a young private almost 30 years ago. What's the story there?

That's pretty funny. You know, as a young soldier I thought the Army, much like the world, was this big thing, but the more and more that you serve the smaller and smaller that group becomes. Back in the early ‘80s, Gen. Pittard and myself were in two competing units and we, the two units, had a little rivalry between each other.

Fast forward to when Gen. Pittard was identified to become the 1st Armored Division commander here. A former division commander, Gen. Dempsey, who is now chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, told him about me, and now some 20-something years after my days as a private, we became a team.

I also met Gen. Pittard in Iraq one time. We were jumping a very small command post and Gen. Pittard was serving as a brigade commander. I will always remember how he welcomed us to his organization.

When we got in there, we were all pretty tired and he says: "Hey, you all get some rest. My guys got it and you guys can start fresh in the morning."

Q: Having served in every enlisted leadership position in the Army, what was the most fun or interesting position?

Of course, the most interesting is always leading soldiers in combat. That is probably the greatest honor a leader can have.

But the funnest job I have ever had was when I was a brand new command sergeant major in Budingen, Germany. It was a post of about 700 soldiers - a teeny tiny Fort Bliss - and we were in the middle of a town of about 3,000 German citizens. We were the only show there, and we had such a great relationship with the community.

That experience in Budingen really helped me to build the relationship with the El Paso community when I came here.

When I first got here, I was really surprised by all the green fencing - the privacy fence, the mesh stuff that we had around the outside of the post - and I just thought we were not showcasing our soldiers. One of the first things I did was ask that all that privacy fence stuff come down.

Q: How has the relationship between the post and community changed since you got here in 2006?

Oh wow, it's grown by leaps and bounds. It was very, just routine at certain sporting events or certain social events, but now with the energy behind our partners in education, linking up units with schools, and the corporate sponsors coming in and supporting our battalions, it has really opened that up.

There is such an opportunity to engage one another that wasn't there before. Then of course there is just the growth of the post. I mean, you go from 9,000 soldiers to more than 27,000 soldiers, and naturally that means there are more military folks in the community and there are more military families serving on PTA boards.

Q: What's the good and bad of the rapid growth of Fort Bliss, starting with the good?

Easily, the answer to that question is the economic impact to this community. That's the good. The bad is we went at everything incrementally, and when you do things incrementally, it never lines up quite right - whether it is construction here on post and meeting units' needs or road construction, which adds to people's frustration.

But, overall, I think the growth has been very smooth for the community and the installation.

Q: The number of deployments and types of missions, what is the trend for this year?

Of course, we still have a mission in Afghanistan. What you are going to start to see, and Gen. Pittard has spoken to great length about, is we are going to get more dwell time - more time for our soldiers to be back here between deployments.

That's why we are making such a huge investment in quality of life and our training area to make sure that we keep their skills honed so, if they are called upon, they can go out and do the nation's bidding. Putting on my U.S. Army-Europe hat, we will be asking for brigade-sized units to come from the states, deploy them to Germany, give them some training, and then use them for NATO missions.

Q: For many years now, the Army has been teaching soldiers the very specific counterinsurgency skills needed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But as some wars end and others wind down, what do 1st Armored Division soldiers here need to be learning? Is the Army going back to fundamentals?

What you are going to see is full-spectrum operations. The soldiers, going back to the fundamentals as you say, they have to be a master of their weapons systems; they have to know everything about that tank or Bradley or Stryker vehicle, and they have to understand the fundamentals of maneuver and fire support. You're right, it is the fundamentals tied to full-spectrum operations, being prepared for a wide range of operations.

Q: How does the 1st Armored Division here at Fort Bliss fit into the Pentagon's new strategy for a smaller, more nimble force focused on the Pacific and the Middle East?

We have every type of brigade that the Army has right here at Fort Bliss. I understand it is the 1st Armored Division, but we have Strykers, a light infantry brigade, a fires brigade, and a heavy combat aviation brigade with Chinook, Blackhawk and Apache helicopters.

Fort Bliss is a great representation of where our Army is trying to go to, with more agile and responsive packages that you can send out to do the nation's business. You can see it all here at Fort Bliss.

Q: What are three of your greatest memories from your time here?

Wow, that's kinda tough. The first thing I think of when I look back at my time in the community is my experience with Leadership El Paso. I got a chance to go through the program hosted annually by the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce, and it was such a unique experience to be able to share what is going on at Fort Bliss with so many up and coming leaders in El Paso.

Second thing I would say, and this is going to sound funny, is the first Mariachi Festival we went to. When I was in Budingen I was in a carnival band; that is where I learned to play the guitar much like our mayor. You become used to "fests" as we called them in Germany, and, when we first got here, a good friend of ours took us to the Mariachi Fest.

The third thing is the overwhelming support that the community gave to my family personally when my wife was diagnosed with cancer - just the outpouring of genuine love and concern for us as we went through that period in our life.

Q: As a young private, did you expect to make this a career and become a division-level and now an Army-level command sergeant major?

Absolutely not. People that really, really know me will say I still think I am that young 17-year-old private, because what I always challenge people with is that, as they move up in the ranks, they have to keep that young soldier in mind.

When they write things or establish procedures they have to be understood by the youngest soldier. I originally thought that I would come in for one contract for three years. I was going to get some college money and get out.

But I got down to 30 days of my separation from the Army and I decided to reenlist. Really, I have never looked back.

Q: What things about Fort Bliss are you going to take with you to Germany?

The sense of community and partnerships and volunteering, and fitness. As you know, one of the things we have really tried to get at over the past several months is the overall fitness and health of the force with our wellness fusion campus, reverse hour physical training, and our physical readiness training course.

Our doctrine changed about a year ago, and it now requires a more holistic approach to fitness.

Q: Wellness fusion campus?

It's a very unique campus that basically evaluates the soldiers from the top of their head to the bottom of their feet. They get a behavioral health screening, we do a physical assessment and we make sure that they are within weight standards.

We have educational classes there to help identify issues and fix them, we go across all the components of overall fitness, and we even address spirituality there. So it is a very unique facility on West Bliss.

Q: What restaurant will you miss the most?

L&J Café, not only for the great food that they serve, but also the great atmosphere.

You have the cemetery right there with all the Old West history, and then this great little restaurant.

When friends and family have visited us in El Paso, that's the first place we go.

Q: Knowing the vision of Fort Bliss's commander, where do you see the post in 5 or 10 years?

That's a great question. It's going to be known for its sustainable, renewable energy - a commitment to the environment.

It's going to be known for its commitment to soldiers and their families with the quality of life and you are going to see more units from outside of Fort Bliss coming here to train because it is such a fantastic training facility.

Q: Any final thoughts as you conclude five years at Fort Bliss?

I'm very appreciative and thankful that I may have had a small piece in helping Fort Bliss to grow as it has. Fort Bliss is going to continue to grow and do great things.

We've heard the secretary of defense even say that Fort Bliss is the premier installation in our Army, and I just think it is going to continue to do great things.

E-mail El Paso Inc. reporter Robert Gray at rsgray@elpasoinc.com or call (915) 534-4422 ext. 105.