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Richard Formica never thought military service would become his career, but now, 33 years after he was first commissioned, the Cheshire native has been promoted to a three-star Lieutenant General.
Formica, who was born and raised in Cheshire, was promoted to a three-star general, the second highest rank possible for the Army, on Dec. 15, 2010. Directly after his promotion, he took command of the United States Army Space and Missile Defense Command, as well as the Army Forces Strategic Command and Joint Functional Component Command-Integrated Missile Defense.
“It’s been a privilege to serve for 33 years and it’s a privilege to serve with those here at Space and Missile Defense Command,” Formica said from his base in Hunstville, Ala. “(My wife) Diane and I are absolutely honored to have this opportunity to serve soldiers and families at this level. We are thrilled to be here.”
A promotion ceremony was conducted right before he took the reins at the Command, as the job holds a three-star requirement to lead. Formica was on tour in Afghanistan from December 2008 to November 2009 training the local police and army forces. He was brought to Afghanistan by Commanding General David D. McKiernan, who resigned six months into Formica’s tour. McKiernan was then replaced by General Stanley A. McChrystal and, according to Formica, he “would build his own team” in Afghanistan. In August 2009, McChrystal told Formica that he was going back to the states, “even though I thought I’d be there for 18 months or two years.”
“I was told I was leaving and I would be promoted to the Commanding General of Space and Missile Defense Command,” Formica recalled. “I finished my tour and came home and expected to take command in January 2010.”
However, Formica had to wait for the retirement of his predecessor, Lt. Gen. Kevin Campbell, to be approved, a process that “took a while, but not for bureaucratic reasons,” he said. Formica explained that he was “literally on hold” for the entire year, but the delay turned out not to be a negative. During this time, he did standard post-deployment activities and professional development and, later, he began a transition to his new role.
“When (McChrystal) first told me about this, my first response was ‘Are you kidding me?’” Formica admitted. “I have never been in space and missile defense, but they wanted a different view and operational perspective. It’s a good fit for the Army and a good fit for me.”
Around April or May 2010, Formica said “it became clear” that Campbell’s retirement wasn’t going to be approved right away. At that time, he was assigned to be a special assistant to the Chief of Staff of the Army and also helped with missile defense. This gave him “legitimate good work to do with the Army” and also “lent itself to transitioning” to his new role.
“I was learning a lot, doing a lot and contributing a lot in the missile defense area,” Formica explained. “It prepared me for this job. I had plenty of time to think about it and prepare myself.”
The three core tasks of the United States Army Space and Missile Defense Command are to provide trained and ready space and missile defense forces, build future space and missile defense forces, and research, test, and integrate space and missile defense and other related technologies. It’s a long way from 1973 and Cheshire, when Formica decided to enroll in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program in college. After graduating in 1977, he was commissioned to the Army and began his career in the military.
At the end of last November, Formica and his wife were still living in Virginia and he received a phone call stating that Campbell’s retirement was approved and he needed to be in Huntsville, Ala. at the command center in two days. The official change of command was scheduled in a short period of time.
“I had about two weeks to move from Virginia and go to Alabama,” Formica said, noting he couldn’t have done it without his wife, Diane.
At the ceremony, which was attended by a few family members and friends, he was quickly promoted to a Lieutenant General. Then, about 20 minutes later, there was a “larger command ceremony” when he officially took control of Space and Missile Defense. At the change of command ceremony last month, Formica said he was excited to join the team and was ready to begin working. He said there was a “special relationship” with other Armed Forces, adding he was “proud to join your team.”
“I accept today, without reservation, the responsibilities inherent in command of (Space and Missile Defense). I recognize the unique and substantial role these commands have with our Army, with U.S. Strategic Command and with the Geographic Combatant Commands that we support,” Formica said on Dec. 15. “We’ll do so as selfless public servants, as integral members of a larger team, and as responsible, accountable stewards of our Nation’s resources. With units and civilians forward stationed or deployed around the globe, the sun never sets on (Space and Missile Defense). We will remain vigilant for the world.”
The program is global, Formica stated, with multiple outposts in the United States, as well as Korea, Japan, the Middle East and Europe. He admits that he is very busy as there are multiple locations demanding his time. In his first week on the job, he was in Colorado Springs at an outpost meeting with staff. The week after Christmas, he was at Fort Greely in Alaska, where soldiers “defend the homeland.” He has been back and forth to Washington, D.C. multiple times and he plans to visit other outposts as well.
“I will meet with them and with Army elements to ensure we are providing the right capabilities for the right time,” Formica said.
Formica plans to stay with Space and Missile Defense for the next three years and then retire from the Army. While he wouldn’t rule anything out, Formica thinks this will be his last assignment with the U.S. Army.
“My guess is this will be my culmination assignment and they will hire someone else,” he said. “You never say never since we don’t know what’s out in front of us, but I took this job with the expectation of serving three years.”