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Resiliency and remembrance: Maj. Gen. Barker's exit interview

Army Maj. Gen. Vincent Barker, U.S. Transportation Command chief of staff

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. — Army Maj. Gen. Vincent Barker, U.S. Transportation Command chief of staff, retires on May 19 after 42 years of uniformed service. With his tenure coming to an end, Barker sat with USTRANSCOM public affairs for an exit interview to discuss his military journey, the importance of resiliency and what he'll miss most after he hangs up his uniform for the last time.


What inspired you to join the military?

Maj. Gen. Barker:

I think the thing that inspired me to join the military are the stories I've heard. My dad was an Army veteran. All four of his brothers were veterans. Two of my mom's brothers were veterans. And as I was growing up, hearing those stories, I knew right away that I wanted to be in the military. 

I have been interested in it for as long as I can remember. If I wasn't out in the woods, hunting, fishing, or playing sports, I was playing with my G.I. Joes or Army men. But it was dad and hearing his stories that inspired me to join.  


You were a Marine first before you joined the Army. Can you tell me more about that transition?

Maj. Gen. Barker:

Sure. I get that question a lot. 'Why did you transition from the Marine Corps to the Army?' So, since I was 14 years old, all I wanted to be was a Marine. And, so, that's what I did. It was a great experience, but I knew that I wanted to go to college when my enlistment was up.

I hadn't thought much about being a Marine officer at the time. And I was talking to my dad on the phone right before I was discharged [asking for advice]. I knew I was going to school at Wisconsin Stevens Point, and my dad said, 'Well, why don't you look at joining Army ROTC?' — And that's what I did.


Mind talking about your time in the Marine Corps and why you joined?

Maj. Gen. Barker:

Absolutely. I love to read about history, and when I was a kid, I got pulled in by the Marine Corps by their history, the uniform, the discipline, and all that cool stuff, and I thought that's what I wanted to do. 

My dad would have rather seen me do something else because he's an Army veteran. He wanted to see me join the Coast Guard because he thought they lived well and everything, you know? But I wanted to be a Marine. 

He said, 'Then if you go for it, do it right,' and that's what I did.


After the Marine Corps, you took some time at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. How did that prepare you for the Army?

Maj. Gen. Barker:

Like me, a lot of the cadets were prior enlisted, but ROTC prepared me to think like an officer. I learned a great deal: leading people and taking care of people. That's what I learned the most from Stevens Point.


Can you tell me about your Army career and how you ended up at TRANSCOM?

Maj. Gen. Barker:

I was commissioned in 1987 into the Wisconsin Army National Guard as a field artillery officer [and other positions since] until 2000, when I transferred to the Army Reserve. From there, I moved to transportation, or logistics, which I've been doing ever since.

Before coming to [USTRANSCOM] I was the deputy to the inspector general for the Army at the Pentagon. I just came off a deployment with Operation Inherent Resolve, and I thought I was going to a command in the Army Reserve next. But, sometime around April of 2021, Army Lt. Gen. [Leslie] Smith, now retired, walked into my office and said, 'Hey, Vince, you know you're being considered to be the chief of staff at USTRANSCOM?' 

'No sir,' I replied.

'Well, you are, and Gen. [Steven] Lyons is going to give you a call.'

So, Gen. Lyons called me, and we had a great conversation, and that's how I ended up here.


Changing directions; as you look back at your service, what challenges did your family have to overcome during your military career?

Maj. Gen. Barker:

Time together, even when I was home, I had teleconferences, courses to take, and my civilian job — I was always working. 

I tried hard not to let those extra responsibilities detract from my family time, but it's hard as you gain rank and more responsibility follows.

My family, my wife — they are the best. From the mobilizations, deployments … since 9/11, there were times when I was gone more than home. 


Would you say that resiliency is not only important to military members, but their families, too?

Maj. Gen. Barker:

Resiliency is probably one of the greatest strengths that a military person and their family members need to have. You have to be flexible and willing to accept the challenges of this profession. Things change with short notice: moves, positions, work, and mission requirements. 

It takes a special person to serve in the military and maybe more so to be a military family because they're the ones that suffer.


Do you have a send-off message you'd like to share with the USTRANSCOM team?

Maj. Gen. Barker:

I am so thankful and grateful that I get to end my career at USTRANSCOM. We are the global sustainer for the Department of Defense; nothing moves without us. I think about the events over the last two years and how they have magnified that: The withdrawal from Afghanistan, Operation Baby Formula, and support to Ukraine.

Logistics is the strength of our nation. We are the only nation in the world with the capability and capacity to conduct the global sustainment operations that we do. It has been an honor and privilege to serve with the team here. 

We're going to miss everybody here a great deal. Thank you for letting me be a part of a team with such amazing, brilliant, smart people.

Editor's note: This transcript was edited for length and clarity.

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