Colonel Kevin D. Potts is a highly decorated Army veteran whose career has been spent in service to the nation.
“Two weeks after high school graduation, I was in basic training. I joined the army right out of high school in ’87,” said Potts. “I actually enlisted in a delayed entry program, so between my junior and senior year in high school, while working at a local farm, I took a day … and joined the service. So, I knew a year in advance when I was leaving.”
Potts followed a long line of family members into military service, dating back to at least World War II. “Then there were some other uncles who served in World War II who I saw pictures of, so for me there was always an innate draw to the military for me.”
Fast forward over the past three-plus decades and you would witness an upward career trajectory that led Potts to being named garrison commander at Fort Indiantown Gap, a position he’s held since Oct. 1, 2022.
Potts, whose biography notes an enlistment into active duty as a private to be a helicopter engineer mechanic in 1987, has risen through the ranks over time to become a colonel. A portion of his first year in command has been a learning and growing experience in his new role.
“It’s been a very good experience,” he said. “When you take on a new job, here or any job, the first few weeks are trying to figure out what’s going on. … Now that I’ve been here a year, I’ve made a lot of the decisions that I can now fall back onto. I know the cycle that takes place from year to year. Some of it is a yearly cycle, planning or funding or the high points of the year for training or the muscle movements that go on here. Now, it is a more comfortable level of understanding, and still have the energy and desire to make positive change.”
Given the Gap’s role as a training center, his 34-year military career has been like a boomerang as he’s returned again and again to FTIG, especially since becoming a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard in 1994.
Potts received his commission into the Armor Corps through the Officer Candidate School Program at Fort Indiantown Gap in 1996. He also holds a bachelor of science in Business Administrative Management, and a master of art in Homeland Security.
Other Gap stints include working as a full-time employee in 2000, then as a full-time employee again at the regiment in 2009-10, and when he was assigned to the Pennsylvania National Guard Joint Forces Headquarters in 2018 to serve as both the mobilization readiness officer and state training officer until 2020.
Potts said there is “no doubt” about the Gap being an important component in the U.S. military’s mission. He noted there are two major entities at FTIG: the joint forces headquarters, which is the overall headquarters of the Pennsylvania National Guard and the Air National Guard, and the DMVA (Department of Military and Veterans Affairs), the state side of the Pennsylvania National Guard.
“As an officer coming up through the ranks, you are absolutely right, I would boomerang back and forth, into here for staff time and back out into unit for maybe deployment. And then back out to a unit, and then back onto here to get that balance as an officer in the Guard as a full-time employee,” he said. “This is one of the main hubs, this one and Harrisburg, are the two main hubs for the National Guard in the state.”
As one of only a handful of Army National Guard maneuver training installations in the nation, Potts also recognizes and values the symbiotic relationship the Gap has with the Lebanon Valley.
“I think it comes right back because we’re part of the community,” said Potts. “We could look at how they are integral to us as well. We’re a partner with them. We supply mutual aid to them and they supply mutual aid to us on the EMS level. They are just important to us as we are to them. We get a lot of workers from the local community and we have a lot of people who live in the local community. We bring jobs to the area, but they supply the people. From my perspective, it is a two-way street.”
FTIG is also a Federal Emergency Management Agency point of distribution, and it operates the Pennsylvania National Guard’s emergency operations center during state emergencies in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
In addition to deploying National Guardsmen in times of a local emergencies like the blizzard of 2018 and other natural disasters, the Gap also has a major impact on the local economy.
Data supplied to LebTown by the Gap’s public affairs office states the economic impact was more than $578 million annually as of Sept. 9, 2022. Additionally, the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce said 2018 FTIG labor income statistics — the last year when data is available — stated $344 million was generated in labor income in Lebanon and Dauphin counties. The Gap has around 2,000 full-time employees.
“When people do come here to train, they eat in the local restaurants, they stay in hotels locally,” said public affairs officer Wayne Hall. “It does bring resources to the community. The large training facility that we are and the large amount of staff we do train helps.”
It may seem like a strange comparison, but Potts equates his current job to being a customer service representative at an installation that annually supports training for 136,000 active duty, reserve, and National Guard soldiers and airmen, as well as service members from other military branches.
“I interact with those personnel, who either work for me directly or they are like a peer and I work with them throughout the month, to make things better for the transient units,” he said of the individuals who train there. “It’s all about customer service from my perspective now. Before, I was the customer. Now, I am the guy who’s in charge of customer service, so it is all about your perspective, and I think it is a very interesting perspective to have. I am very blessed and very lucky to sit in this seat today coming up through the ranks.”
Despite the enormous responsibility of being the commander at a massive military installation, his new job seems easy compared to the three deployments he’s done in his career.
He was in Iraq for Desert Shield/Desert Storm in 1990 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2008-09, and in Sinai, Egypt, from 2021-22, as part of the Multinational Forces and Observers mission.
“Deployments, whether it is a mother or father or a spouse, is probably the hardest thing you do,” said Potts. “Voluntarily separating for a year or more from your spouse and your kids is gut wrenching. It really puts your patriotism and your desire on the line. For me, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done — especially the second deployment I did in 2008-09 to Iraq. My boys were young and to leave my wife (Carol Ann) and boys to go into a conflict, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Although he’s been recognized with the Bronze Star Medal, five awards for Meritorious Service and a litany of other top military honors, he believes spouses who have never donned a uniform are just as worthy of military honors for the sacrifices they make on behalf of their country.
“My wife deserves, and I give her, a lot of credit, because she runs the house day-to-day. She runs the household because I need to concentrate on my job,” said Potts. “It has been a long career for her and she deserves as much credit as I can give her. It’s too bad there’s not an award for her.”
Potts stated that his current position at garrison commander won’t be a long one, probably two to three years before he retires. Potts said he’s going to focus on keeping the Gap as one of the top military training installations in the nation.
“My goal is to leave the Gap better than what I found it, right?” said Potts. “There’s no specific mark to put on the wall. It’s the overall environment for the transient units and the tenant units to make Fort Indiantown Gap a better place.”
When he does retire, it won’t come easy since who’s dedicated his entire life to serving his nation.
“For me, it’s a no-brainer, this is what I was kind of born to do,” said Potts. “I don’t know what else I’ll do when I grow up. As I get older and have to retire off in a few years, what will I do. I have no idea.”
- 25 years ago, Fort Indiantown Gap was on track for obsolescence; instead, the PA National Guard revitalized the base
- New access control point at Fort Indiantown Gap set to open Nov. 1
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