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Soldiering is a special calling: Brig. Gen. Billy Don Farris

GO retires after three decades of service

Tara Farris (left) and her husband, Brig. Gen. Billy Don Farris (center), smile as they watch a commemorative video showing pictures showing pictures of the general spanning the nearly three decades. Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Lindsey Kibler

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JOINT BASE LEWIS MCCHORD, Wash. - "Service to the nation is an affair of the heart, a calling of noble purpose for only a very small percentage of the American people," according to Brig. Gen. Billy Don Farris.

Farris answered that calling for 30 years, serving in command and staff positions around the world, fighting and leading soldiers over six deployments in four different operations.

Surrounded by his family, closest friends and colleagues, Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division, honored the Lone Star, Texas, native's extensive military service in a ceremony that was filled with laughter and tears at French Theater on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, June 28.

"We are really here to honor and celebrate a father, a husband, a warrior, a soldier, a leader, for three decades of unparalleled service to the nation and I'm just honored to be up here...You are the elite warrior, the elite soldier, the elite family man, and all of us in here that have had the benefit, the privilege of knowing you whether it be personally or professionally know that about you," Lanza told Farris, and others in attendance.

In his last official duty position, Farris served as Lanza's deputy commanding general for operations, responsible for the development and implementation of training for a newly reactivated division with seven subordinate brigades - the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Teams; the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade; the 17th Fires Brigade; the 555th Engineer Brigade; and the 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade.

"When the chief [General Raymond Odierno, Chief of Staff of the Army] called me and said, ‘We are moving you to JBLM, Joint Base Lewis McChord to take over the 7th ID' I was obviously ecstatic at the opportunity, and the trust he placed in me to do this. Then we talked about DCG's and he said ‘What do you think about Farris?' I just smiled, and at that point that was the end of the discussion, because I had the best soldier, the best warrior, the best leader, the best trainer that I could possibly ever imagine for this division," said Lanza.

>>> Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza (center), commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division, presents Brig. Gen. Billy Don Farris with the Distinguished Service Medal, June 28, during Farris' retirement, as the Farris family looks on.

For Farris, the DCG-O opportunity was "a perfect way" to end three decades of service because, as he joked, he wanted to stay "far away from the Pentagon...and more connected to the soldiers."

Farris began his military career as a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy, where he earned a Bachelor of Science and was commissioned as a second lieutenant May 25, 1983. The son of Lt. Col. (Ret.) B. Don Farris, a transportation corps aviator who served in the Vietnam War, military service ran in the family, Farris explained. Farris' younger brothers, also, served in the Army and deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"Soldiering is a special calling," he said. "The American people view the American soldier with a sense of awe, tremendous respect and enormous trust."

Following his commission, Farris served as a rifle platoon leader in the 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and, later, as an aide-de-camp to the division's assistant commander for support, Brig. Gen. Herbert Wassom, where he first met his wife, Tara.

"My father loved Billy Don. He would bring him over to the house and parade him around, I guess in hopes of catching my attention," explained Tara. "I was always polite, and said hello, but I wouldn't pay him any mind. I would go up to my room and read instead."

When Farris' assignment as Wassom's aide ended, he attended the infantry officer advanced course before serving a tour in Korea. While Farris was in Korea, Wassom was serving as the senior Pentagon official in Pakistan when he was killed in a plane crash along with the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Arnold Raphel, and Pakistan president, Mohammed Zia ul-Haq. The crash claimed the lives of 34 others.

Farris left Korea to attend the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.

"When he came to my father's funeral, we became friends," Tara explained. "We were friends for a long while, began dating and [got] married."

Little did Farris know that he was about to find himself walking-or rather, airborne shuffling- down a path that would lead him to 25 more years of service.

The year was 1989. Farris was a captain. The operation was Just Cause, Panama. Farris was in the 504th Infantry Regiment, under the 82nd Airborne Division, and this would be his first combat tour.

Less than a year later, in September 1990, he would find himself leading a company of soldiers in the regiment in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Saudi Arabia.

"I probably realized I would stay in the Army after participating in Operation Just Cause and Operation Desert Storm while serving my tour in the 82nd," Farris explained.

Farris would, later, return to the 82nd Airborne Division, to deploy in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from January 2007 to March 2008.

"Ask any Army veteran and they'll tell you that the memories of their service are still vivid, no matter how long ago they served. They never forget. It becomes a part of you for the rest of your life. For me, my most memorable assignment has been serving as the brigade commander of 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, during the surge in Iraq," Farris explained. "Soldiers of Task Force Falcon fought in and around Sadr City and Northeast Baghdad for 15 months."

After returning from one of the toughest areas in Baghdad, as Lanza was sure to point out to those in attendance, Farris was selected for high-level staff positions with the Office of the Chief of Staff of the Army and Office of the Secretary of the Army, Washington, D.C., before being selected by Gen. Raymond Odierno, chief of staff of the Army, for his most current position within the 7th Infantry Division.

In his many assignments, Farris said he has found three things to be most admirable about the Army profession: team work, moral courage and a genuine care for fellow soldiers. Most importantly, he added, the noncommissioned officer corps is what makes the U.S. Army the greatest in the world.

"There is just something uniquely special about an NCO in the American Army compared to the other armies. Our NCOs instinctively take charge in a crisis, they challenge leaders if our values our threatened, they approach training like a professional sports program and they have never quit regardless of the circumstances," Farris said. "After six deployments, I have seen this time and time again. I hope we never lose that."

With decades of leadership experience, Farris has advice for the Army's leaders of tomorrow: don't get stuck thinking about today.

"It's very important for leaders to think about tomorrow. Setting goals, communicating why those goals are important and inspiring the team to overcome any obstacle to get there is what, I believe, is the real legacy of the American Army-leaders at every level who build teamwork, blaze a trail for others to follow and inspire their units to achieve great things," he added.

Farris said he is ready to catch up on family time and fishing at their new home in Bristow, Va. Farris is answering a new calling and, Tara said, the Farris family is more than ready to embark on new adventures.

"As an institution and a profession, we have always been at the forefront and on point for the nation for the toughest challenges that shape our destiny as a free people. That is why we are trusted and that is why we must continue to earn that trust," Farris said. "I will miss serving with soldiers, the camaraderie and the shared sense of purpose at being on point for the nation."

Farris became the deputy commanding general for support of the 7th Infantry Division in September 2012. Prior to the assignment, he served as the director of future operations, International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, Operation Enduring Freedom, Kabul, Afghanistan.

Farris' other assignments include deputy chief, legislative liaison, Office of the Secretary of the Army, Washington, D.C.; special assistant to the Undersecretary of Defense (Policy), Washington, D.C.; director, Coordination Group, Office of the Chief of Staff, Washington, D.C.; commander, 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C., and Operation Iraqi Freedom; director of Plans (G-3), XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, Multinational Corps-Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom; Operations (G-3), 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C., and Operation Iraqi Freedom; senior service fellow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.; senior observer controller, Operations Group, Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La.; commander, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N..C.; chief, Joint Exercise Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, Fort Bragg, N.C.; Operations (S-3), U.S. Army Southern European Task Force Infantry Brigade (Airborne), U.S. Army Southern European TF Vicenza, Italy; executive officer (later deputy commander), 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment, Airborne Battalion Combat Team, U.S. Army European TF Vicenza, Italy; secretary of general staff, U.S. Army Southern European TF Vicenza, Italy; student, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; battalion analyst (later assistant brigade operations controller observer), operations groups, Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La.; Assistant operations (S-3), 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.; commander, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 504th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C., and Operation Desert Shield/Storm, Saudi Arabia; Logistics (S-4), 2nd Battalion, 504th Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C., and Operation Just Cause, Panama; Assistant operations (S-3), 1st Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Korea; Student, Infantry Officer Advanced Course, U.S. Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, Ga.; Aide-de-camp to the Assistant Division Commander (Support), 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.; and rifle platoon leader, Company A, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.

Farris' awards include the Legion of Merit (2 Oak Leaf Clusters); Bronze Star Medal (3 Oak Leaf Clusters); Purple Heart; Meritorious Service Medal (6 Oak Leaf Clusters); Army Commendation Medal (4 Oak Leaf Clusters); Army Achievement Medal (4 Oak Leaf Clusters); Combat Infantryman Badge (with Star); Expert Infantryman Badge; Master Parachutist Badge (with Bronze Star); Air Assault Badge; Ranger Tab; and the Army Staff Identification Badge.

He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., with a master's in Advanced Military Studies, the Senior Service Fellowship. Farris is a graduate of the Senior Service College Fellowship of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and holds a bachelor's degree from the U.S. Military Academy.

Billy Don and Tara have three children: Michaela, 18, Elleora, 16, and Ryan, 14.

Departing words

"Best wishes. I hope to see you orienteering again someday" - Col. (Ret.) Mary Forbes, United States Military Academy, Class of 1983

"Thank you for being the best father. We are so glad to have you back!" - Michaela, Elleora, and Ryan

"You embody the moral courage, values, and care for soldiers that we all strive for. Good luck. We'll see you on the high ground. God bless the Farris family." - Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, commanding general, 7th Infantry Division

"Thank you for the opportunity, it has been a pleasure. Enjoy the time with your family. Best wishes, sir." - Spc. Brian Avalos, Brig. Gen. Billy Don Farris' administrative assistant

"You're a phenomenal leader. I couldn't have asked for a better role model, or communicator at any level. Most importantly, I consider you my friend. Best wishes and good luck with your future fishing!" - Command Sgt. Maj. Delbert Byers, 7th Infantry Division command sergeant major

"You are one of the best officers I've ever seen. Watch out for tank trails." - 1st. Lt. Chris Browder, Brig. Gen. Billy Don Farris' aide-de-camp

"You've been my dear friend since 1985, when we were in the 101st Airborne Division, and I was a brand new captain and obviously you were the best lieutenant in the brigade and everyone knew it. I've enjoyed serving with you so many times since then. Certainly you are living proof of the old
adage behind every successful man stands an amazed and surprised mother in law, and I know that you're entire family is proud of you. Our paths have crossed many times, whether it was for the first time at Fort Campbell and then again at Vicenza, serving with you as a forward controller at the Joint
Readiness Training Center when I was Yankee 6 and you were Charlie 6 how much I miss those evenings out in the field, after the 1600 update. Then having an MRE on the hood of our vehicles, smoking a cigar together, and then driving like crazy
to get back to base before it got dark. Then serving together in [XVIII Airborne Corps], that fantastic team. You were the engine room for the entire headquarters with what the plans shop did, and that really drove [XVIII Airborne] Corps. What an amazing performance, what an incredible teammate you were, the example you set for the capacity of work, focus, and integrity and I enjoyed that; and at midnight walking back with you to our CHU [container housing unit] have a cigar again, and being able to talk about things. I miss those days."
Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commanding general, Allied Land Command, Izmir, Turkey.

"I'm so very proud of you. It's been an honor to be by your side." Tara Farris, wife of 23 years.

"He is George Washington ... can't tell a lie ...will stand up for his beliefs ... never ... never ... stood on the back of a peer to move forward....he was an example for all even when he was a Captain. Just simply a model of what is right about our Army. Fearless in combat, courageous in training, always does what is right. His wife-even better. Selfless, positive, encouraging, helpful, always volunteering and never putting pressure on others to do it and, as a result, always gets others to volunteer. She is a tremendous person and her three kids and their achievements are indicative of her efforts." Brig. Gen. Martin P. Schweitzer.

"During the Gulf War. every morning [then] Captain Farris would blast the 82nd Airborne Division song while shaving." Anonymous, Driver, Gulf War.

LINK: Photos of Brig. Gen. Billy Don Farris's retirement ceremony

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