Meet the new thunderbolt forger

Brig. Gen. Donald Campbell is now in command Fort Knox


Tuesday, January 15, 2008 9:01 PM CST

NEAL CARDIN/The News-Enterprise

Fort Knox Commander Brig. Gen. Donald Campbell Jr. has started the transition into his office at the headquarters building on post while maintaining his duties as leader of the Armor School.

FORT KNOX — The 42nd armor chief returns here as a decorated senior officer who has served throughout the world — from Kansas and Washington to Germany and Iraq.

Outside of his career, however, Brig. Gen. Donald Campbell Jr. describes himself as an astute sports fan, an avid reader — especially of history — and an athlete who has twice blown out his knee.

Last week, Campbell, who said he is “closing in on 52,” became the first one-star general to take command of Fort Knox in more than four decades.

He spoke Monday of his past assignments and of his future one — at the post bearing the motto “Forge the Thunderbolt.”

As Campbell sat in his new office — walls still barren of awards, plaques and pictures — he talked about his career, his interests and what he expects to endure as executive forger of thunderbolts, a position he considers among his most notable achievements.

“I don’t think there’s any greater honor in the Army,” he said, “than to go back and lead your branch school.”

Campbell’s interest in anything tank-related dates back nearly as far as Campbell himself.

His dad served as a career-long armor officer, and his father-in-law was an artillery commander. He met his wife, Ann, in 1973 while their fathers served at Fort Riley, Kan.

Soon after, while attending Kansas State University, Campbell awoke to his first days of military service in the ROTC program, which led to a three-year scholarship.

“Then I was pretty much locked in,” he said.

Following graduation, he began his Army career as a lieutenant platoon leader at Fort Riley.

He went on to serve as a personnel staff officer and tank battalion officer in Germany in the mid-1980s before taking an assignment in the armor branch of the Army Military Personnel Center in Alexandria, Va., in 1987.

During time spent in the Washington, D.C., area, he began rooting for the Redskins. He also keeps close tabs on the athletic endeavors of his collegiate alma mater.

“You name it, I follow it,” he said of his passion for sports. “I have more than a passing interest in basketball.”

Campbell discussed his understanding of the tradition on the hardwood at the universities of Louisville and Kentucky and the two schools’ rivalry. He noted the switched allegiance of Rick Pitino, current coach of the former and former coach of the latter, and stressed persistence for Wildcat fans expecting immediate success from new coach Billy Gillispie.

“I would tell UK fans to be patient,” he said. “Saturday’s win (over previously undefeated Vanderbilt) is probably a better indicator of things to come.”

The incoming Armor School leader arrives as no stranger to the area. He endured training at Fort Knox in the summer of 1978 and returned in 2004 as deputy commander of Army Recruiting Command-West for a one-year stint, though he spent much of his time on the road.

“Mostly my car was parked there,” he said, “so I contributed to the local economy.”

Following enrollment in the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pa., — where his predecessor at Fort Knox, Maj. Gen. Robert Williams, now presides — he assumed command of the 4th Infantry’s 1st Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas.

The 4th Infantry Division played a leading role in the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Campbell led his brigade into Taji and Balad, Iraq, in the northern part of the country early in the war. Both areas now are considered coalition strongholds.

In addition to his current assignment, he looked back at leading the force into battle as one of his crowing achievements as a soldier.

Campbell later served as the 4th Infantry division’s chief of staff though June 2004, where he served under Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, one of his mentors and now the No. 2 commander in Iraq.

Most recently Campbell served as a deputy commanding general at Fort Lewis.

In his free time he enjoys reading about history — lately he’s turning pages about the North Africa campaign during World War II — and running.

He played baseball in high school and participated in intramural sports in college and in the Army but, after twice having his knee give out on him, he says the recovery takes longer when he gets active among fellow soldiers. Though Campbell said he still will try.

“They’ll just have to run slower,” he said.

Community leaders such as Judge-Executive Harry Berry and Radcliff Mayor Sheila Enyart will meet with Campbell throughout the week — and throughout his tenure — to discuss Fort Knox’s role in the community.

Many discussions likely will focus on upcoming base realignment plans and their impact.

In addition to discussing his past and his passions, Campbell stressed the importance of his current job — and how he wants the post to work together with its surrounding region.

“I want to ensure Fort Knox continues to be a good neighbor on my watch,” he said.

At a glance

1978: Graduated from Kansas State University; commissioned as an armor officer at Fort Riley, Kan.

1984: Assigned to Germany as a staff officer in the 8th Infantry.

1991: Graduated from Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; assigned as chief of plans officer for 1st Infantry at Fort Riley.

1996: Assumed command of an armor battalion and later as deputy brigade commander in the 2nd Infantry at Fort Lewis, Wash.

1999: Attended U.S. Army War College; after completion, assigned as deputy director of staff operations at NATO headquarters in Mons, Belgium.

2000: Assumed command of the 1st Brigade in the 4th Infantry in Fort Hood, Texas; led the “Raider Brigade” during its tour in Iraq and served as chief of staff for the 4th Infantry until June 2004.

2004: Served as deputy commanding general for Army Recruiting Command, stationed at Fort Knox, overseeing Army recruiting efforts west of the Mississippi River

2006: Served as chief of staff for V-Corps, acting as the Multi-National Corps’ chief of staff in Iraq.

2007: Appointed deputy commanding general of I Corps, the most decorated corps in the active Army and served as deputy commanding general at Fort Lewis.

2008: Named the 42nd Chief of Armor and commanding general at Fort Knox.

Joshua Coffman can be reached at 505-1740, or at

This story, written by Joshua Coffman, was provided to One Knox courtesy of The News Enterprise. Read more stories from The News Enterprise at