East Huntingdon native takes command of brigade
U.S. Army Col. William Chlebowski said there is a verse in the Bible which he finds himself reflecting upon more and more in step with the onward march of his military career.
The scripture — Luke 12:48 — reads: “To whomever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.”
Leading up to Independence Day, Chlebowski recently said those words proffer a fitting summary for the service which he and his fellow enlisted men and women have rendered to America, and that which they will continue to devote both at home and abroad in the future.
“We're given a huge responsibility — taking care of the sons and daughters of this nation and keeping them safe,” said Chlebowski, 44, an East Huntingdon native and a 1987 Southmoreland graduate. “We take that responsibility very seriously.”
The military recently saw fit to further enhance Chlebowski's role as he was appointed the new commanding officer of the 177th Armored Brigade — First Army Division East — at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Miss.
The mission of Chlebowski's brigade is to mobilize and train National Guard and reserve units before their deployments then, when they return, prepare them for demobilization and reentry into civilian life.
He said the National Guard and Army Reserve units fall under his command as soon as they are activated under Title 10.
“In reviewing the recent history of this fine outfit, I found an organization that is in a constant state of change and an organization that knows how to adapt and accomplish the missions assigned to it,” said Chlebowski during a ceremony held June 12 at Camp Shelby.
The event — hosted by Maj. Gen. Kevin R. Wendel, Commanding General of the First Army Division East — was highlighted by the passing of the brigade colors to Chlebowski from the brigade's outgoing commander — Col. Dale Kuehl — who will take over as the operations director at the First Army's Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois.
“My intent was to establish a learning organization where officers and noncommissioned officers value their experience here, built upon their past experience and trained to eventually leave here a better soldier,” Kuehl said.
In attendance were Chlebowski's wife, Leslie, and the couple's 12-year-old son, Cole, along with soldiers representing the brigade's battalions and civilian officials.
In addressing them, Chlebowski noted that, with the military reduction of forces in Afghanistan and the budgetary challenges that face the Army, “a few curve balls” will likely await during the minimum of two years in which he has been assigned to serve as the brigade's commander.
“I am looking forward to together facing the challenges that an evolving environment can bring,” he said. “Together we will write the next chapter of this great brigade's history.”
Early influences shape a soldier's fate
Chlebowski was born in 1969, the son of Ed and Virginia Chlebowski.
He was raised in the family home on Reservoir Road in East Huntingdon not far from Mt. Pleasant Borough — a municipality well-known for its ardent appreciation for and dedication to preserving and honoring members of the military.
Chlebowski's father, who is 89, is a veteran of World War II who served with the U.S. Second Army in Europe.
Growing up in the area helped prepare Chlebowski for the life of an Army officer, he said.
“I envision Southwestern Pennsylvania as a small blue-collar area with a great work ethic,” he said. “It certainly was what I learned growing up.”
Among the things that have helped him are the “field skills” — living outdoors — he learned growing up in the Mt. Pleasant area.
“(I got) used to being out in the woods,” he said.
Chlebowski attended Transfiguration School in Mt. Pleasant through the eighth grade before going to Southmoreland.
From there, he went to Valley Forge Military Academy for two years, graduating in 1989 and earning a commission as an Army officer.
He was active in the National Guard, serving with the 110th Infantry in Greensburg.
He completed his college degree at the University of Pittsburgh in Johnstown in 1991 and then went on active duty.
“Since I got my commission, I've been all over the planet — Korea, Ft. Bragg (in North Carolina), Ft. Hood (in Texas), Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. He also served at Ft. Polk in Louisiana.
A strategist in training, a proven tactician
In preparation for his role as commander of the 177th Armored Brigade, Chlebowski joined 27 others from the Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and federal agencies in taking one year of schooling in national military strategy at the Marine Corps War College in Quantico, Va.
“The Armed Services have made sure, in the past 10 years, to instill an interagency flavor not only in operations, but in education, as well,” he said.
The program was divided into five fields of study — economics, war history, national policy and, most notably, leadership and ethics, he said.
“That aspect of my studies is probably the most applicable to what I'm going to do in command,” said Chlebowski, who earned a Master of Strategic Studies (MSS) degree.
As an elective, Chlebowski said he chose to delve even deeper into national and international economics.
“If you really look at history, wars are won and lost on an economic basis,” he said. “You lose when you run out of money.”
Prior to his promotion to colonel in spring of 2012, Chlebowski served as a lieutenant colonel for five years.
In 2009, he commanded the 5-25th Field Artillery Battalion, 4th IBCT 10th Mountain Division at Ft. Polk.
While serving in Afghanistan in March 2011, Chlebowski experienced the effects of war's ultimate toll with the combat-related death of the late Staff Sgt. Travis M. Tompkins, one of 500 soldiers under his command in Task Force Thunder.
“That's why they put people like me in this position. All of us really had that experience, and it helps when we know what war is like on the other side,” he said.
A leader's call to duty begets sacrifice
Chlebowski said the only difficult part of the profession he has chosen is the separation from his family.
“That's hard. I love the Army,” he said. “For my wife, it's harder than for me.”
And also for Chlebowski's parents, who said they understand that it will be difficult for him to make what previously were semi-monthly visits home to see them.
“He said, ‘The higher up you get, the less time you get to spend at home,'” said Virginia Chlebowski, 84. “He's been a good son. With all his commitments, he's been very good to us.”
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-626-3538.