FORT LEE, Va. – A seasoned Ordnance Soldier joined the garrison command team June 25 at a change of responsibility ceremony in the Lee Club.
Command Sgt. Maj. James D. House, the garrison’s new CSM, comes to Fort Lee from Joint Base Lewis-McCord, Wash., where he served as the Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion CSM for I Corps.
His military career started in 1994 with basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and automotive repair (63-Whiskey) qualification at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. He has since served in multiple combat arms organizations including the 82nd Airborne Division, the 2nd and 4th Infantry Divisions, and the 1st Special Forces Group, among others. He has supported multiple operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Col. Hollie J. Martin, Fort Lee garrison commander, presented the installation’s command flag to House after retrieving it from CSM Vittorio F. DeSouza, who has held the senior enlisted position since mid-January 2017. He will continue working on post until his retirement, marking the successful completion of 30 years of military service.
In remarks after the flag-passing, Martin described the unique duties of a garrison CSM – simultaneously serving as project leaders, diplomats, town mayors, budget stewards, public communicators and more – and why she felt DeSouza was perfectly suited for the role.
“Whatever opportunity arose to exercise leadership and provide direction,” Martin said, “the CSM was there to provide perspective, sage advice and unbiased information; all of which allowed me to make important and sometimes difficult decisions, with most of them impacting safety, security or quality of life for thousands of Soldiers, civilians and family members who live and work here.”
DeSouza has been a key implementer of the garrison’s “Service Culture Campaign,” an unwavering focus on quality of service performance and measures that improve troop training and living conditions on the installation.
“Reflecting on the past year, it’s mind-boggling to consider just how many things Fort Lee has accomplished,” Martin said. “Enhancing the rigor of training is an Army-wide priority that we’ve supported through increased capacity and capabilities at the training areas we manage – not a small task.
“Securing (an) Intergovernmental Support Agreement (with) Prince George County emergency management for the shared use of a computer assisted dispatch system that will improve our emergency response times and much more, including $5.9 million cost avoidance, also is quite significant,” the colonel stated.
“We’ve seen continued progress on improving housing conditions on post, which has included establishing a direct line of communication to the command team so service members and families living here can contact us when needed,” she said.
“Whether we were attending an official ceremony or meeting local officials, CSM DeSouza has been my right arm – and sometimes the right side of my brain. He knows how I feel about taking care of the community and creating a positive environment,” Martin acknowledged. “More than anything, I’m grateful to (him) for consistently applying his detail-oriented attention to taking care of our people. … For that, I say thank you. You have been a tremendous battle buddy, and you will be missed.”
Speaking to House, Martin noted how his career resume and work ethic references already speak volumes about his unquestionable ability to serve as a garrison leader. “It’s great to get the opportunity to serve with you and your family, and I look forward to continuing our mission with your fresh perspective, leadership style and experience.”
DeSouza spent most of his time at the lectern thanking coworkers, fellow leaders and the support agencies he frequently relied on during his leadership tenure.
“When I assumed this position, I (thought I already knew) everything I needed for the job,” he pointed out. “It didn’t take me long to realize how wrong I was. (This job) is like nothing else I’ve done in my previous 29 years in the Army. Fortunately, most of the directors here are retired senior leaders and all of them have been around for a while, so they didn’t hesitate in letting me know when I was stepping on it. … I not only appreciated it, I learned a lot because of it.”
Knowing that he was the one who often had to tell people what was wrong, DeSouza said he regretted not acknowledging what was going extremely well on a more frequent basis. “I’m just so glad to have been a part of this team,” he later observed. “I’ve learned so much from everyone, and sincerely thank all of you for this great experience.”
Imparting words of advice to his replacement, DeSouza said “hang on for the ride,” noting how his 2.5 years at the helm flew by. “This has been the most rewarding assignment of my career, and I am jealous of your opportunity to take over as CSM for this incredible garrison. However, I am confident that I leave the garrison commander and Team Lee in great hands.”
House acknowledged the uniqueness of the leadership role that had been handed to him, saying he is humbled and blessed by the selection. “I look forward to taking on the task of serving as the garrison command sergeant major,” he said. “You (DeSouza) have left me with an outstanding organization, and I hope I can continue to achieve the world-class standard this garrison is known for.”