FRANKFORT, Ky. –
What does a Guardsman do when a four-star general asks him to command one of his active-duty divisions?
Undeniably, he takes charge.
That is exactly the response of Brig. Gen. Bryan M. Howay when ordered to serve as acting commander of First Army Division East by the commanding general of United States Army Forces Command (CG FORSCOM), Gen. Andrew P. Poppas.
“To my knowledge, Brig. Gen. Howay is the only National Guard general officer to ever serve in this capacity,” said Maj. Gen. Haldane B. Lamberton, the adjutant general for Kentucky. “His selection as the commanding general for the First Army Division East is simply a reflection of the quality of some of our senior leadership in the Kentucky National Guard.”
According to Lamberton, Howay’s service and presence drew attention and the support of both the senior Regular Army and National Guard leadership.
Becoming the acting commander of an active-duty division was no simple task.
“The FORSCOM commander said the only actors he knows are in Hollywood. So, when you are in charge, take charge,” said Howay, the Kentucky National Guard’s land component commander. “Since then, I’ve been running with it, and it has been a pretty good experience for me.”
Division East is headquartered at Fort Knox, Ky., and conducts training and mobilization oversight of mobilizing and demobilizing reserve-component units geographically located east of the Mississippi.
Since the call, the Louisville native has not only been responsible for the lives of approximately 6,500 Army Guardsmen as land component commander, but dual-hatted to command an additional five brigades of active-duty Soldiers within Division East.
Howay will maintain serving in the two-star general officer position until another leader is formally selected to replace the outgoing Division East commander, Maj. Gen. Mark H. Landes.
However unprecedented this situation is for Howay who is also nominated to possibly become the full-time commander, he speaks of his acting command in modesty.
“I plan to keep this division moving forward by planning future events and keeping the division on track until a new commander is named,” he said.
Howay’s confidence stems from his familiarity with the organization, which has grown since becoming the deputy commanding general of Division East in May of 2021.
Being the acting commander of a division-level, active-duty unit required the general officer to change his daily routine as one of Kentucky’s top leaders.
“When they named me to be the acting commander, I kind of had to work a deal with the adjutant general, so my focus would be on the division. I had to relinquish several duties, temporarily, which allows me the extra time to go back to Fort Knox most days,” Howay said.
According to Howay, his main challenge of being dual hatted has been balancing his time between multiple Army roles For more than 18 months, he served as Kentucky’s Land Component Commander and Director of the Joint Staff, as well as Deputy Commanding General of Division East.
Since December, the temporary promotion has shifted Howay’s focus to the division and required him to basically take a military furlough from his Kentucky Guard time to serve active-duty operational support orders that may last up to six months.
Howay recognizes that his experience as an infantry officer and his time deployed overseas as well as working stateside missions has prepared him for leading at the division level.
“Being a Guardsman has prepared me to work in First Army because I've been a user on the far end,” said Howay. “I've mobilized multiple times as a company grade officer, then battalion officer twice. It's provided a foundation for me to see how units prepare for mobilizations and how they do collective training. Those positions helped set the foundation for other positions, of course, like being a brigade commander. And then, being the chief of staff for Kentucky helped me get organized to run larger units and stay focused on the big picture and the strategic messaging, which again, prepared me well to move up as a division commander.”
Finding success at the height of his career, as he states, is more than just leading troops at higher and higher levels. Howay also capitalized on skills he learned while on unique missions for the Kentucky Guard.
“My time in the counterdrug organization here in Kentucky also helped me,” he said. “When you boil it down, the main essence of that job was building relations with the people I partnered with, whether those people were from community-based organizations, law enforcement agencies, or state and federal partners, everything that we did there revolved around relationships and how you partnered with others to reach a common goal.”
Despite his assignments, Howay calls the Kentucky Guard his home and is known to practice what he preaches.
“I love being a Kentucky Guardsman. There's been no better opportunity for me,” he said. “It’s a place where if you work hard and you do the right things, you will succeed. And at this point, I think I am living proof of that.”