FORT BELVOIR, Va. — Maj. Gen. John M. Rhodes took command of the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division from Maj. Gen. John M. Epperly Oct. 3, 2020, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Lt. Gen. Jon A. Jensen, Director of the Army National Guard, presided over the change of command ceremony and the exchange of organizational colors signifying the transfer of command from Epperly to Rhodes.
“For both Maj. Gen. Epperly and Maj. Gen. Rhodes, being a leader comes natural,” Jensen said. “Your ability to balance both your civilian and military roles serve as a testament to the concept of the Citizen-Soldier.”
With COVID-19 health protections limiting the number of personnel attending the ceremony, Jensen recognized the brigade command teams present and thanked them for representing the thousands of Soldiers assigned to and affiliated with the 29th. He also recognized the “encouragement, support and sacrifices” made by family members, and on behalf of a grateful Guard nation, thanked them for their service and patriotism.
Jensen recognized Epperly for his 31 years as a maneuver warfare leader with successful commands at the company, battalion, brigade and division level including two combat deployments, and said his hard work, dedication, leadership and mentorship would have a lasting effect on the 29th Infantry Division and the National Guard for years to come.
“You have displayed an unparalleled ability to successfully manage multiple organizations through difficult times of uncertainty, budgetary constraints, all the while meeting crucial operational commitments,” he said. “This experience as a division commander will serve you and us in the National Guard well as you assume your next assignment as the Deputy Commanding General, Army National Guard, for Army Futures Command.”
Jensen told Epperly he was leaving the division in very capable hands with Rhodes as the new commander.
“You have our complete trust and confidence as you assume command of the 29th Infantry Division,” Jensen said to Rhodes. “I know your operational and deployment experiences will serve you well as you take this division forward.”
He also thanked all the Soldiers of the 29th on behalf of the Chief of Staff of the U. S. Army and the Chief of the National Guard Bureau for the tremendous service and sacrifice and continued support for the Army National Guard, the division and the entire nation.
Jensen presented Epperly with the Distinguished Service Medal to recognize his outstanding tour of duty as the 29th ID commander.
“In the past 30 months, the division has been involved in three corps and division level Warfighter exercises,” Epperly said. “Both our infantry brigade combat teams have completed eXportable Combat Training Capability rotations and trained for Joint Readiness Training Center rotations, and our armored brigade combat team is completing a deployment in support of Operation Spartan Shield. In a ‘Back to the Future’ moment, the 111th Field Artillery provided the division a capability thought to be lost to the sands of time: the ability to provide fire support from amphibious craft in littoral operations.”
The list of achievements goes on and on, he said.
“Over the last four years, the 29th Infantry Division has served as the vanguard of the National Guard’s eight combat divisions that represent 44 percent of the U.S. Army’s total combat power,” Epperly said. “The Blue and Gray Division was the first National Guard division to lead Operation Spartan Shield in the Arabian Gulf Region as a counterweight to malign Iranian influences in the Gulf.”
Epperly said perhaps the most significant accomplishment of the division has been the reorganization to prosecute large-scale ground combat operations against a peer adversary.
“After nearly two decades of counter-insurgency operations, the division has been re-born as the decisive echelon,” he said. “A regional consortium of eight states with support from National Guard Bureau came together to reform the 29th Infantry Division into a fully capable combat division comprised of six brigades that include the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team from Virginia and Kentucky, the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team from Florida and Alabama, the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team from North Carolina and West Virginia, the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade from Maryland and Virginia, the 226th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade from Alabama, the 113th Sustainment Brigade from North Carolina and the 142nd Fires Brigade from Arkansas. Reforming the division by re-aligning the brigades was no easy task, but today it impacts everything from how we select our leaders to how we train, equip and fight. By creating a fun division of cohesive brigades, we have created a far more lethal and survivable unit for the modern battlefield.”
Epperly credited the support of Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, when he was the director of the Army National Guard as well as the Adjutants General from the states contributing brigade formations to the division.
Rhodes served as the 29th’s deputy commander for operations for three years, and Epperly described him as “an inspirational leader of Soldiers, an outstanding tactician and true practitioner of maneuver warfare.”
He further described him as a seasoned combat leader with multiple combat tours, and said, “Having seen him in action, I am confident he will be a superb division commander, and I am proud to have served with him.”
Rhodes said the opportunity to serve as the 29th ID commander is both an honor and a privilege, and he recognized Epperly’s leadership and strategic vision set the conditions for success as the division prepares for upcoming missions.
“Maj. Gen. Epperly’s efforts and contributions have made the 29th a combat ready force, and my objective is to build on what he has established,” Rhodes said. “I thank the dedicated Soldiers, NCOs and officers and families of the 29th Infantry Division and our line brigades, both past and present. The Blue and Gray patch we proudly wear on our left shoulder tells its own story. Everyone knows the history of this proud division, and you are carrying on the tradition of those who served before us, and your service to America and the National Guard speaks for itself. I look forward to our continued service together.”
Epperly and Rhodes both thanked their families and their employers for their support throughout their careers.
The Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band provided ceremonial music for the event, and Soldiers assigned to the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 29th Infantry Division conducted a flyover.
Rhodes was commissioned a second lieutenant, Infantry in May 1987 through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Mississippi State University. Currently he serves as the Deputy Commanding General of Operations for the 29th Infantry Division. Prior to transferring to the Virginia Army National Guard in 2018, he served as Mississippi National Guard Assistant Adjutant General – Army and the commander of the 66th Troop Command. He also commanded a Joint Task Force in response to natural and man-made contingencies in support of homeland security and defense operations. From 2010-2013, he served as the commander of the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team.
His combat assignments include mortar platoon leader for the 6/6th Infantry Battalion, 1st Armored Division during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, commander of 1/155th Infantry Battalion during Operation Iraqi Freedom III in 2005, and deputy commander of 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team during Operation Iraqi Freedom 9.2 in 2009-2010.
His military awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal with two Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, the Meritorious Service Medal with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, the Army Commendation Medal with three Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Achievement Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge with one Bronze Service Star, the Expert Infantry Badge, the Parachutist Badge and the Air Assault Badge.
Rhodes earned a Bachelor of Business Education from Mississippi State University in 1987, a Masters of Business Administration, Military Management from Touro University International in 2003 and Master of Strategic Studies from the United States Army War College in 2010.
Rhodes and his wife Debbie work and reside in Corinth, Mississippi where he is the general manager of the City of Corinth Gas and Water Department.
Epperly is a 1989 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in General Engineering and International Relations. He also holds an MBA in Finance from Drexel University and is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College Class of 2010.
He received a Regular Army commission through West Point as an armor and cavalry officer and served on active duty until 1997. He joined the Virginia Army National Guard and branch transferred to infantry. Over the last 21 years, Epperly has commanded at every level in the division to include command of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
Notably, Epperly completed two battalion commands. Epperly commanded the Lynchburg-based 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment and later deployed the battalion in support of Operation Vigilant Relief to assist civil authorities in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Following the 116th’s transformation to a brigade combat team, Epperly took command of Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment and deployed the battalion for combat operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Under his command, the battalion was recognized with both the Reckord Trophy and Kerwin Award as the best National Guard battalion in the U.S. Army during training year 2007 as well as earning a Meritorious Unit Commendation.
Epperly has extensive experience in division operations having served as the 29th Division G3 operations officer on two occasions. Most recently, Epperly served as the deputy commanding general for operations for the division. He deployed to the Arabian Gulf Region with the 29th Infantry Division in 2016 and 2017 as part of Operation Spartan Shield.
Epperly’s military education includes the Airborne School, Air Assault School, Armor Officers Basic Course, Scout Platoon Leader’s Course, Infantry Mortar Leader’s Course, Armor Officers Advanced Course, CAS3, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the U.S. Army War College.
Epperly resides with his wife Kim in Fredericksburg, Virginia. In his civilian capacity he is President for IT Concepts Inc., a technology company located in northern Virginia. He is a native of Fairlawn in Pulaski County, Virginia, and is a 1985 graduate of Pulaski County High School..
About the 29th Infantry Division:
Known as the Blue and Gray Division, the 29th Infantry Division is an Army National Guard operational-level headquarters located at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Its wartime mission is to provide mission command to subordinate brigades and forces tailored for an assigned mission. It is one of eight divisions in the Army National Guard.
Its origins date back to World War I and is most known for its participation in the D-Day landings at Omaha Beach in World War II. The 29th recently mobilized Soldiers to participate in Operation Spartan Shield and Operation Inherent Resolve, both in the U.S. Central Command area of operations.
The 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, the 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment and the 29th Infantry Band are aligned under the 29th. The division currently has training relationships with the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team from Florida and Alabama, the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team from North Carolina and West Virginia, the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade from Maryland and Virginia, the 226th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade from Alabama, the 113th Sustainment Brigade from North Carolina and the 142nd Fires Brigade from Arkansas.