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‘Jim McConville Saved My Life in Baghdad:’ Milley Hands Off to New Army Chief of Staff

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U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey officially ended their tours today at a ceremony that welcomed the service’s new top officer and enlisted leader.

On a sun-drenched parade field on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Gen. James McConville and Command Sgt. Major Michael Grinston took their oaths to become the next Army chief of staff and sergeant major of the Army.

The elevation of McConville from the Army’s vice chief to the chief of staff brings with it “noteworthy and valuable firsts” for the Army, Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy told an audience at the change of responsibility ceremony.

“Gen. McConville will be the first aviator to be Army chief,” McCarthy said, adding that McConville brings “impeccable warfighting and leadership credentials to this post.”

“It’s not so well known, but then-Col. McConville and his 1st Cavalry aviators played a decisive role in the Battle of Fallujah in Iraq — flying low and slow, through withering fire and bad weather to provide support to the soldiers, Marines, and Iraqi Security Forces fighting down below.”

McCarthy said McConville later recalled that, “if they were out there, we were out there.”

McConville also is the first Army G-1 personnel officer to be elevated to chief of staff in nearly a half-century, McCarthy said.

“One of our next big leadership challenges will be people,” McCarthy said. “Starting with talent management but also dealing with the serious issues related to sexual harassment and assault, suicide, domestic violence, and more.”

McCarthy also spoke of Grinston’s qualifications to serve as the new SMA.

“Michael Grinston has the distinction of being a cannon crewman with a Ranger Tab, which he put to good use in Iraq when his field artillery unit, like many others, were turned into de-facto infantry for long stretches,” McCarthy said. “In fact, according to a 2005 Stars and Stripes account, then-Sgt. Grinston became known as a … ‘magnet for bombs and bullets,’ which led to two Bronze Stars with Valor devices.”

As the former command sergeant major for Army Forces Command, Grinston was known as a career professional, and had a reputation as “the upholder and enforcer of standards; rigorous always, ruthless when called for. As well it should be,” McCarthy said.

For his part, McConville told the audience to remember two things: “winning matters, and people are my number one priority.”

“When we send the United States Army somewhere, we don’t go to participate; we don’t go to try hard; we go to win,” McConville said. “There is no second place or honorable mention in combat.

“We win with our people, and that is why people matter. They are the Army’s greatest strength and our most important weapons system.”

Grinston said he was “truly honored” to be chosen to become the next SMA.

During his brief remarks, he thanked soldiers serving in all ranks.

“I would not be here and several people would not be here today without the hard work of the American soldier,” Grinston said.

McCarthy also made sure to honor Milley for his contributions to the Army, which have included rebuilding the force’s readiness after more than a decade of prolonged combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Milley has taken the Army from “two brigades receiving the highest readiness rating to more than 25; from units trained near exclusively for their next CENTCOM rotation to become proficient in the full spectrum of combat operations,” McCarthy said.

Milley also played a key role in launching the Army on a bold modernization effort that included identifying six modernization priorities and standing up Army Future Command to oversee the massive effort.

McCarthy also described the impression outgoing Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey made when he took over the post “distributing a list of top ten tips for sergeants major — with my favorite, “I’ve never regretted taking the distinct opportunity to keep my mouth shut.”

“Sgt. Maj. Dailey will be remembered for his instrumental role in the Army’s readiness gains – as well as his singular role launching the NCO credentialing program, which allows soldiers to gain credit that can be applied towards a college degree or job certification,” McCarthy said.

Milley, who has been confirmed to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the audience that the Army has “gotten it right” with McConville.

“It is true, not fake news, that Jim McConville saved my life in Baghdad as he rolled in in an Apache helicopter and pulled me out of a firefight,” Milley said, describing McConville as a close friend.

“McConville is one of the most courageous and thoughtful officers I have ever served with. Jim’s blend of battlefield experience — both in the Middle East and in Washington — made him the perfect officer to take over as chief.”

Milley said that Grinston epitomizes the superb talent of our NCO corps and is “an incredible addition the team as the sergeant major of the Army.”

Dailey echoed his fellow leaders by saying that there was “no finer choice” than McConville and Grinston to lead the Army.

“Our soldiers are in good hands,” Dailey told the audience.

— Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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