Gen. James McConville smiled as he reminisced of when he was chosen to lead the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), before he became its longest-serving commander.
It was the same week in 2011 he commissioned his eldest son into the Army after he graduated as an ROTC cadet from Boston College.
But perhaps the most proud was his father, a former enlisted sailor who had served in the Korean War and then spent nearly 50 years working at the Boston Gear factory.
At the ceremony, his father, Joe, was asked by a local newspaper how he felt about his family’s generations of military service.
Sixty years ago, he told the reporter, he was a junior seaman on a ship. And today, his son was about to command a famed Army division and his grandson was now a second lieutenant.
“‘What a great country this is,'” McConville recalled his father saying. “I don’t think I could have said it better.”
McConville, who was sworn in as the Army’s 40th chief of staff on Aug. 9, 2019, said he credits his father for inspiring him to join the military.
(Photo by Spc. Markus Bowling))
After high school, McConville left Quincy, a suburb of Boston, and attended the U.S. Military Academy, where he graduated in 1981. Since then his 38-year career has been marked with milestones and key assignments.
McConville has led multiple units in combat before most recently serving as the 36th vice chief of staff under Gen. Mark Milley, who will be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He also oversaw the Army’s G-1 (personnel) and legislative liaison offices.
The idea of serving the country was sparked by his father, who, now nearing 90 years old, still passionately shares stories of his time in the military.
“I was always amazed that a man who I had tremendous respect for, who had tremendous character, just really loved his time serving in the Navy,” the general said.
Currently with three children and a son-in-law in the Army, McConville and his wife, Maria, a former Army officer herself, are continuing the family business.
The sense of family for McConville, though, extends beyond bloodlines.
As a father and a leader, McConville understands the importance of taking care of every person in the Army, which he calls the country’s most respected institution.
“People are the Army,” he said of soldiers, civilians and family members. “They are our greatest strength, our most important weapon system.”
Fine-tuning that weapon system means, for instance, providing soldiers with the best leadership, training and equipment through ongoing modernization efforts.
As the vice chief, McConville and current acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy supervised the development of Army Futures Command’s cross-functional teams.
Designed to tackle modernization priorities, the CFTs revamped how the Army procures new equipment. The teams allow soldiers to work directly with acquisition and requirements experts at the start of projects, resulting in equipment being delivered faster to units.
Modernization efforts are also changing how soldiers will fight under the new concept of multi-domain operations.
“When I talk about modernization, there are some that think it is just new equipment,” he said. “But, to me, it is much more than that.”
The family of Gen. James McConville poses for a photo during a promotion ceremony in honor of his son, Capt. Ryan McConville, in his office at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., May 2, 2019.
(Photo by Spc. Dana Clarke)
He believes a new talent management system, which is still being developed, will help soldiers advance in their careers.
As the Army pivots from counterinsurgency missions to great power competition against near-peer rivals, the system could better locate and recognize soldiers with certain skillsets the service needs to win.
“If we get them in the right place at the right time,” he said, “we’ll have even a better Army than we have right now.”
The talent of Army civilians, which he says are the “institutional backbone of everything we do,” should also be managed to ensure they grow in their positions, too.
As for family members, he said they deserve good housing, health care, childcare and spousal employment opportunities.
“If we provide a good quality of life for our families, they will stay with their soldiers,” he said.
All of these efforts combine into a two-pronged goal for McConville — an Army that is ready to fight now while at the same time being modernized for the future fight.
“Winning matters,” he said. “When we send the United States Army somewhere, we don’t go to participate, we don’t go to try hard. We go to win. That is extremely important because there’s no second place or honorable mention in combat.”
Readiness, he said, is built by cohesive teams of soldiers that are highly trained, disciplined and fit and can win on the battlefield.
“We’re a contact sport,” he said. “They need to make sure that they can meet the physical and mental demands.”
To help this effort, a six-event readiness assessment, called the Army Combat Fitness Test, is set to replace the current three-event Army Physical Fitness Test, which has been around since 1980.
Gen. James McConville, the Army vice chief of staff, swears in recruits during a break in the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, Dec. 8, 2018.
(Photo by Sean Kimmons)
The new strenuous fitness test, which is gender- and age-neutral, was developed to better prepare soldiers for combat tasks and reduce injuries. It is expected to be the Army’s fitness test of record by October 2020.
Soldiers also need to sharpen their characteristic traits that make them more resilient in the face of adversity, he said.
Throughout his career, especially in combat, McConville said he learned that staying calm under pressure was the best way to handle stress and encourage others to complete the mission.
In turn, being around soldiers in times of peace or war kept McConville motivated when hectic days seem to never end.
“Every single day I get to serve in the company of heroes,” he said. “There are some people who look for their heroes at sporting events … or movie theaters, but my heroes are soldiers.
“My heroes are soldiers because I have seen them do extraordinary things in very difficult situations,” he added. “I’m just incredibly proud to serve with them.”
And given his new role overseeing the entire Army, he is now ultimately responsible for every single one of those “heroes.”
“I know having three kids who serve in the military that their parents have sent their most important possession to the United States Army,” he said, “and they expect us, in fact they demand, that we take care of them.”
This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.