RICHMOND, Va. –
Leadership of the Virginia Army National Guard transferred from Brig. Gen. Walter L. Mercer to Brig. Gen. Lapthe C. Flora during a ceremony presided over by Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, July 14, 2018, at Defense Supply Center Richmond in Chesterfield County, Virginia. Mercer will retire after more than 35 years of military service, but he will continue to serve in a civilian position as the Chief Operating Officer for the Virginia Department of Military Affairs.
Williams reflected on the myriad of challenges the Virginia Army National Guard faced during Mercer’s tenure, and he credited Mercer’s “superb leadership” for how well the organization met those challenges. He detailed how, in the last three years, the Virginia National Guard deployed the second largest number of personnel on federal active duty to support the warfight since 2001 as well as kicking off the realignment of units under the 29th Infantry Division as some of the key accomplishments during Mercer’s tour as AAG-A.
“We have accomplished much, and thanks for what you have done,” Williams said to Mercer.
As the Assistant Adjutant General – Army, Flora leads the Virignia Army National Guard and provides mission readiness guidance in the areas of training, personnel management, command logistics, facilities and maintenance to support more 7,000 Army National Guard Citizen-Soldiers. He serves as the Assistant Adjutant General – Army in a traditional National Guard status, and he will also be dual-hatted and serve as the new Deputy Commanding General for the U.S. Army Africa Headquarters in Vicenza, Italy. He will split his time between the two assignments.
“You represent so much of where we’ve been and where we are going,” Williams told Flora. “I am excited and pleased we have this opportunity to bring you in and have you lead us to new heights.”
Mercer and Flora both recognized the critical role their families played in their careers and thanked them for years of service and sacrifice.
Mercer expressed “thankfulness” for more than three decades of military service and the opportunity to serve for nearly four years as the AAG-A, and he said it was an honor to lead such a great team.
“Thanks to the Soldiers and their families for what they do,” Mercer said. “You are the reason I have done this for 35 years. I have had the opportunity to serve with the best officers, warrant officers, NCOs and Soldiers in the military for many years. They supported me, mentored me, taught me what right looks like and allowed me to really hone my own leadership stye. There is no doubt that all the success in the roles I have had has clearly been because I was surrounded by great people who made me look good.”
Mercer explained that military service has shaped who he is, and that he would always be a warrior and a Soldier at heart. He shared three key points on leadership: Put people first, stay humble and be 100 percent professional. He stressed the importance of listening to those around you, and never taking the easy way out when making a decision.
“I really feel good about handing the leadership over to Lapthe Flora,” Mercer said. “He is a good man. A solid humble leader, and he will do right by this team.”
Mercer said no words could explain the excitement and jumble of emotions he felt at leaving something he loved for 35 years.
“It has been a great ride and an honor to serve,” Mercer said. “You National Guard Soldiers are special Americans. You live by a code of service and honor in our culture that few understand.”
Flora thanked Williams for entrusting him with the tremendous responsibility of leading the Virginia Army National Guard,
“I am very grateful for the opportunity to continue serving our great nation,” Flora said. “I will do my utmost best to do both assignments with honor and humility.”
Flora thanked Mercer for his years of friendship and for leaving a “rock solid organization” that is headed in the right strategic direction with competent commanders, staffs, NCOs, Soldiers and civilians that are the finest in the Army.
“I am profoundly grateful and humbled for this once in a lifetime opportunity to serve,” Flora said. “Together we can provide the best-trained and equipped Soldiers for our commonwealth and nation. All of us know that readiness is our number one priority, and our number one mission. With teamwork and perseverance, we will prevail.”
Flora was promoted to brigadier general in June 2016. A native of Saigon, he is the first Vietnamese boat person to be promoted to general officer in the United States Army and the second of Vietnamese descent. Following the Communist capture of Saigon in 1975, Flora and his brothers fled the city to avoid being drafted into the North Vietnamese military. He spent more than three years in the jungle, then fled by boat to Indonesia where he spent a year living in three separate refugee camps. When he arrived in the U.S., he quickly learned English and finished his high school education in only three years. After high school, Flora attended the Virginia Military Institute where he earned a bachelor’s degree and commission in the U. S. Army Reserve in 1987. He has served in a variety of leadership positions in the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and 29th Infantry Division and commanded at the company, battalion and brigade level. He has successfully completed three overseas deployments to Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. In his civilian capacity, Flora is the Senior Applications Engineer with Night Vision business of Harris Corporation in Roanoke, and holds six patent awards related to the AN/PVS-14 and AN/AVS-9 night vision goggles.
Mercer began his career as an infantryman in 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment in 1982, before being commissioned from Virginia Tech in 1985 as a Distinguished Military Graduate and Regular Army Artillery Officer. His many assignments include platoon leader, company commander, assistant operations officer, OCS commandant, deputy information operations officer and commander of the 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute. He was selected to be the first commander of the newly formed 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment and led the unit during a deployment to Iraq and Kuwait from 2007 to 2008. Mercer also commanded the 91st Troop Command prior to his assignment as the operations officer for the 29th Infantry Division. His assignments include Germany, Bosnia, Iraq, Kuwait as well as numerous locations throughout the Virginia Army National Guard.