One of Mercer’s own stood beside former President George W. Bush during the funeral for his father, former President George H.W. Bush, earlier this month.
Maj. Gen. Michael L. Howard, who graduated from Mercer with a biology degree in 1986, is Commanding General of the Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region and the U.S. Army Military District of Washington. He was appointed to the two-year post in April 2017 and will complete his assignment in summer 2019.
The unit he oversees is responsible for the planning and implementation of national special security events such as inaugurations and state funerals, he said. Thousands of service members were involved in the observances for the 41st president in Texas and Washington, D.C., and Howard was personally responsible for escorting the next of kin, George W. Bush.
Howard’s unit provides a “defensive critical structure” in the National Capital Region, supporting and assisting the government in times of crisis. In addition to special security events, it conducts memorial affairs at Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon and the Capitol. Regular training is required so the command stays prepared and proficient in all its roles, he said.
Considering Howard’s distinguished career, it might come as a surprise that he wasn’t always set on this profession. His father finished serving in the military before he was born, so he didn’t have much exposure to it growing up.
But when he was looking for a way to pay for college, the military stepped in. He attended a community college for two years and Mercer for two years on ROTC scholarship.
“Mercer started my transition to self-sufficiency. Mercer ROTC gave me my earliest taste of leadership and leadership requirements,” he said. “Academically, the things I got out of Mercer were critical thinking and writing. The Army communicates in writing. It’s very valuable for a young college grad to be able to write well and write quickly.”
He joined the Army after college to fulfill requirements of the scholarship, and he ended up sticking with it for the long haul.
“Once I got in, I was very happy, and 30-something years later, I’m still in,” he said.
Howard’s extensive military resume includes deployments in support of Operation Desert Shield/Storm in Iraq, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Freedom Sentinel. He has held positions as a brigade commander, deputy commanding general, assistant chief of staff of division operations, executive assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander for the U.S. Army European Command and director of future operations for the International Security Assistance Force.
Before taking his current job, he was the director of force management in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7, in Washington, D.C. He holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the National War College.
“It’s just a satisfying line of work. The friendships and camaraderie are certainly a big part of that as well,” Howard said. “What I’m a part of is something that is much larger than myself and making a difference for my country and, I daresay, for the entire world.”
Some of the most challenging but rewarding aspects of his job have been leading large, complex organizations during the past decade and operating with military from other countries. He has enjoyed watching subordinates grow and succeed. The most heartbreaking part of his job has been losing soldiers, he said.
Deployments can be hard on a family, but Howard is thankful his three children (who are now grown) were able to have experiences across America and the world. They’ve made lifelong friendships through the Army.
Howard doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon, but his long-term goals include settling back in Georgia where he still has family. He looks forward to having a hometown and home church and reconnecting with Mercer in the future.