Maj. Gen. Pittard Leaving Ft. Bliss

May 22, 2013

More than 34,000 active duty troops live at Fort Bliss in El Paso. But a lot of civilians pass through the base as well. That’s – in part – because of its commanding general, Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, who leaves his post Thursday.

Pittard has served in the military for over three decades, but coming to Fort Bliss about three years ago was coming home. His turned his personal connection into a connection for Fort Bliss.

“El Paso is Fort Bliss and Fort Bliss is El Paso. El Pasoans can mingle with soldiers and their families…it’s helped our soldiers feel less isolated.

Among the connections is a shopping center called Freedom Crossing that citizens can visit.

Pittard grew up here and first thought about joining the military as a boy when he saw a profile of Dwight Eisenhower in a 1969 National Geographic magazine.

Pittard was in rare group of the military. He was a high-ranking officer who also happens to be black. Only about six percent of general officers in the United States are African-American.

“You realize that you do what you can based on your own competence, your own drive and then let the cards fall where they may. And there’s people who will throw obstacles in front of you no matter who you are. And I see that at all levels even at this level now. So that’s why sometimes you know it’s time to move on and do something else. I think the Army in many ways is an organization that, for the most part, where you can go as far as your talents will take you,” said Pittard.

Eisenhower once said “You don't lead by hitting people over the head - that's assault, not leadership.”

Pittard says he prefers what he calls servant leadership and he says he wants to keep his ears open.

“If you ask people what they think, they’ll tell you so you’ve got to listen,” said Pittard.

He says listening will also be an important part of combatting soldier suicides as the military’s suicide rate surpassed the number of combat deaths in 2012.
A record 349 American soldiers died by suicide in 2012 — more than the 295 Americans who died fighting in Afghanistan the same year.

Pittard believes one solution is to make behavioral health treatment mandatory for those at risk.

“Out of suicides…at Fort Bliss, only one was with a soldier who was with behavioral health…the chances go up dramatically that they’ll survive.”

Major general Pittard, like other generals, has seen the horrors of war firsthand.

“I think that’s the hardest part…that the people wounded will be people that we know…as our fellow soldiers, as our friends, as people that we’ve known for years, where most American people don’t know, but we do.”

But he still speaks about his work with the optimism of a peacetime general.

“The power of creating an environment where people feel free to give their ideas and be innovative is just powerful and has been powerful here,” said Pittard.