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Change of command

Mixon talks about new job, reflects on memories as Fort Carson's commander



Maj. Gen. Robert W. Mixon, who has commanded Fort Carson for two years, is ready to move on.

After he retires Oct. 1, he will become president of W.A. Krapf Inc., parent company of Magnatag Visible Systems in Macedon, N.Y, outside Rochester. The company manufactures dry-erase boards and accompanying products.

Mixon says that day "is closer than I'd like to believe." He'll end 33 years of service in the Army, which began when he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1974.

He has served in Texas, Germany and South Korea. He's been at the pinnacle of military power as an executive assistant to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, when Powell was an Army general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Along the way, Mixon scooped up a master's degree in history from Rice University and took some top military honors including the Defense Superior Service Medal, whose title is self-explanatory.

The war in Iraq, which began in 2003, has taken its toll on Fort Carson, according to Mixon.

Many have lost their lives.

And hundreds of the post's troops have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a congressional investigation addresses the claims of soldiers who say they were punished by commanders rather than treated for their condition.

The post and region are also grappling with the accomodating growth in coming years. Part of that equation is a proposal to expand the post's 235,000-acre Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeast Colorado to some 650,000 acres. That has sparked controversy, particularly among entrenched ranchers who refuse to sell their land.

As of mid-September, Brig. Gen. Mark Graham will replace Mixon. Mixon said he hopes to resolve such issues before Graham takes charge.

Reaching the general is typically difficult and the last two weeks were no exception, as the Independent found after learning of Mixon's new job and simply trying to confirm the fact with the man himself. Eventually, the general found time to answer a handful of questions in a brief e-mail exchange.

Indy: What will you bring to Magnatag?

Mixon: I bring leadership and organization to the company. It's a relatively small company at this point. (They were) looking for someone to organize the company's methods and procedures, and ultimate grow its capabilities beyond its current framework. I think what I bring to the company is decades worth of leadership and organization experience. I've built teams and I think I can make a difference. I have 33 years of military experience (as of June 2007).

Indy: How will you adjust to civilian life? You've been in the military since graduating from West Point. Are you looking forward to civilian life?

Mixon: I certainly believe I'll adjust well because I want to. I'm looking forward to doing something in the corporate world that's very different from what I've done in the Army for three decades ... but also has some similarities to it. I really believe that organizations function well when people feel valued, whether a military or civilian organization. On the other hand, the business world is very different, and I've got a lot to learn.

Indy: Will you miss Colorado Springs?

Mixon: Very much. Ruth, my wife, and I love it here. It's the only place we've been assigned to twice in our military career. I was a deputy commander here from 1998-2000. There's a lot of goodness here that we'll miss very much ... the warmth of the community, the variety of things to do, the accessibility to a lot of great places for recreation, a college environment. We will miss a lot about Colorado Springs, without question.

Indy: What was the high point/low point of your career?

Mixon: I've had a lot more high points than low points. My high points have been the opportunities to command soldiers, at a lot of different levels. Without sounding egotistical, I believe I'm cut out to be a commander; it's just my niche. The Army's given me the opportunity to do that ... and it's a great privilege to command soldiers.

The low points really have been those times when I wasn't commanding soldiers and it seemed like a long time till I was going to be able to again.

When you're younger, time has a different context. As a younger officer, I can remember occasions when I thought it would be several years until I thought I'd be able to compete for command again and I think those were low points.. not deep low points ... and I realize I've been far more fortunate than many soldiers, without a doubt.

Indy: Lots of issues are unresolved right now, including growth at Fort Carson, the fate of Pion Canyon and the investigation of post-traumatic stress disorder. Do you have any thoughts regarding these issues?

Mixon: The unresolved issues that Fort Carson faces are, in many ways, not surprising. I did not expect to have all the major issues that the installation faces off the table by the time my successor shows up. We are an Army and a nation at war ... and an Army in the midst of enormous change.

The transformation of the Army is a significant event, above and beyond the significance of the war. We have fundamentally changed the Army in the last three years. To do that alone would have been an enormous challenge. The Base Realignment and Closure decisions as well as those of global re-stationing were at least partial outcomes of that transformation effort across the Department of Defense and the Army.

I think we've accomplished some remarkable things ... all while fighting a war. Fighting it very well, all thanks to the heroism of our young soldiers.

Fort Carson has never had less than 4,000 soldiers deployed, in combat, during my tenure. At times, it's been as high as 11,000 soldiers deployed. When you think of the impact of those numbers and include the families and people in addition to those soldiers, a tremendous amount of turbulence has been part of our lives because of the war.

The operational plan for expanding our training areas, the challenges of our soldiers' repeated deployments and the mental stresses they face, the demands of growing from 14,000 to 26,000 soldiers in a matter of two years, all those elements seem to be part of our life as a major military installation. Transforming at war. We've set the conditions for a lot of good things to happen. I think when September comes I'll be able to say that Ruth and I have been a part of something that has done a lot more good than negative.

We don't have it all fixed and it's not all working perfectly, I don't want to send that signal. We've made mistakes, and we've had trials. We've lost some great soldiers. Soldiers I admire and respect and always will. I'll never forget one of those soldiers or their families ... not for a day. But in the aggregate, I think Fort Carson is a better place today and I think it'll be a better place tomorrow.

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