NEWS | April 5, 2018

Epperly to succeed Ortner as commander of 29th Infantry Division

By Cotton Puryear Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

Brig. Gen. John M. Epperly will succeed Maj. Gen. Blake C. Ortner as the commander of the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division, according to an announcement made April 5, 2018, by Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia. The assignment was effective April 5.

“Please join me in congratulating this exceptional officer on his new assignment,” Williams wrote in the announcement. “Brig. Gen. Epperly has a track record of excellence and a wealth of command experience. We look forward to the 29th Infantry Division’s continued success under his command.”

Williams announced March 21, 2018, that Ortner has been selected to serve as the Military Executive for the Reserve Forces Policy Board in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. A formal change of command ceremony is scheduled for May 5, 2018, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Known as the Blue and Gray Division, the 29th Infantry Division is an Army National Guard operational-level headquarters located at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, which consists of Soldiers primarily from Maryland and 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 CENTOM area of operations.

The 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment and the 29th Infantry Band are under administrative control of the 29th. The division currently has training relationships with North Carolina National Guard’s 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team and Arkansas National Guard’s 142nd Field Artillery Brigade.

Biographical summaries:

Epperly is a 1989 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point where 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.

He is a resident of Fredericksburg and is employed by Digital Management Inc., in Bethesda, Maryland, as the Executive Vice President for National Security and Defense. He is a native of Fairlawn in Pulaski County, Virginia, and is a 1985 graduate of Pulaski County High School.


Ortner is as 1983 graduate of University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minn., where he received a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations. He also holds a Masters Degree in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College Class of 2010.

He received a Regular Army commission through the Reserve Officer Training Corps as an Infantry officer and served on active duty until 1987. In 1989, Ortner joined the Virginia Army National Guard, serving in numerous assignments during more than 20 years in the 116th Infantry Regiment and 29th Infantry Division to include rifle company commander, battalion operations officer, battalion commander, brigade operations officer, brigade executive officer, brigade deputy commander, brigade commander and division operations officer. In 2001, Ortner served as the Division Chief of Operations, Multi-National Division – North as part of the 29th Infantry Division support of Operation Joint Forge in Bosnia-Herzegovinian.

Ortner commanded 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Infantry Regiment and deployed the battalion in 2004 to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom as the first Virginia National Guard infantry battalion to deploy to combat since World War II. In 2007, Ortner was assigned as the deputy commander of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and deployed to Baghdad, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom where he served as a member of the Multi-National Forces – Iraq Area Support Group and later as the chief of operations for MNF-I. He assumed command of the 116th IBCT in June 2009. In May 2011 the brigade headquarters was mobilized for combat operations in Afghanistan supporting Operation Enduring Freedom where he commanded Combined Team Zabul which included active duty and NATO Romanian infantry battalions.

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