Tattoo of MG Mark A. Graham
US Army, Retired

2021

 

Saint Louis Blues March

Mark Graham was born in St. Louis, the only child of Russel and Pat Graham.  Russel was a self-educated truck driver who switched to the real estate business, and quickly found success selling condominiums.  Pat was a stay at home wife and mother until Russel passed away unexpectedly at the age of 33.  Pat was responsible for raising an eleven-year-old Mark, by herself.  She took a job at a factory that supplied parts to Westinghouse and spent long hours painstakingly winding copper wire onto spools for its washing machines and dryers.  Mark watched his mother put Vaseline on her chafed and cut up fingers every night.  Mom was an inspiration for Mark.  They did not have much money- Mark remembered watching his mother count change to ensure they had enough money to make it through the month.

Let’s Fight Murray

Pat and Russel’s dream was for their son to go to college.  Mark fulfilled that dream by enrolling in Murray State University.  Although Mark lived in Illinois, it was cheaper to go to school out of state in Kentucky.   Mark worked three jobs while attending college full time.  Mom saved for and paid tuition primarily due to a life insurance plan his father had, but Mark was responsible for all other expenses and established a hard work ethic in his formative years. 

While at Murray State, Mark was enamored with a thin brunette with a radiant smile. He was introduced to Carol, by his best friend Jeff during his sophomore year.  They dated for twelve months prior to Mark asking for her hand in marriage and they married eight months after graduation.  At first, Carol’s parents were not all that thrilled about Mark.  Mark wore t-shirts, jeans, and had long hair; the opposite of Carol’s father. They eventually grew to adore Mark and treat him like the son they never had, but it took time.

The Army Song

Mark joined the ARMY ROTC program at Murray State University and earned a scholarship to pay for his senior year.  With the receipt of a scholarship, Mark was determined to serve in a combat arms branch and selected Field Artillery as his number one branch of choice.  This was primarily due to his Air Defense branched PMS who informed him that the Field Artillery branch had a bright future and had a variety of assignments.

Mark graduated Murray State in January 1977 with a Political Science degree and a commission as a 2LT in the Field Artillery.  He reported to Fort Sill, OK for the Officer Basic Course where he remembers his gunnery instructor, T.R. Manning,  who was as ‘tough as woodpecker lips’.  He worked diligently to ensure Mark made it through the course.  Mark was surprised to see him again, one year later as his Battalion Fire Direction NCO in Baumholder, Germany.  Mark had a great first impression of the NCO Corps, due to his experiences at the basic course.

Hands Across the Sea March

In Baumholder, Germany, 2LT Graham joined 1st-2nd Field Artillery Battalion.  He was initially assigned as a Company FSO.  He will never forget reporting into the battalion headquarters and meeting SSG Tony Honea.  SSG Honea was on leave at the time, but reported in to receive LT Graham and ensure he was taken care of.  SSG Honea was LT Graham’s FIST chief.  13F was a new MOS at the time, and he did not have any 13Fs on his FIST team.  In fact, he had no 13 series soldiers, only infantrymen, all 11C’s - mortarmen, including SSG Honea, who set the standard for all future NCOs and truly took LT Graham under his wing. 

While serving in 1st-2nd Field Artillery, Mark served as the Fire Direction Officer of a firing battery, XO of Service Battery with additional duties as the  battalion special weapons officer, and ammunition officer. Early on, you could glean that the most difficult assignments seem to follow Mark.  While assigned with 1st-2nd FA, their first child Jeffrey was born in Landstuhl, Germany.

You Raise Me Up

Mark’s initial plan, which he had communicated to Carol, was to spend four years in the Army and then depart for law school.  After his initial tour in Germany, Soldiers had changed his mind; he was going to make a career of the Army.  Soldier ingenuity and creativity was inspiring to him.  There was never a problem that they could not solve together.  He wanted nothing more than to serve and lead Soldiers and made the decision to attend the advanced course.

While standing in line at the advanced course for in-processing, he learned he had been promoted to Captain.  Promotion to Captain was not the only significant event that occurred at the advanced course, their second son Kevin was born.  When students were researching and petitioning for their assignments during the advanced course, Mark learned he had been selected to command a staff and faculty battery at the Field Artillery School.   He had petitioned to be assigned to Fort Campbell, KY and be a part of the 101st DIV. Carol’s family resided in KY and he had gone to school not far from there.  He always wanted to attend the air assault course.  He had a good friend who had orders he could not fill, so he attempted three times to get Branch to accept that assignment; however, branch leadership was steadfast in keeping Mark at Fort Sill. 

Cat’s in the Cradle

After commanding the staff and faculty battery with distinction, CPT Graham was selected to command an eight-inch firing battery, A/2nd -18th FA, within the 75th FA Brigade.  During his tenure as a battery commander, their daughter, Melanie, was born.  The trend of excellence continued, and CPT Graham was identified as the ideal candidate to serve as the Battalion’s Operations Officer.  As a non-promotable CPT, the only way he could serve as the S3 was to attend the combined arms services staff school for nine weeks in Kansas and leave all three kids under the age of four years old with Carol.   Mark served as the Battalion S-3 as a CPT for an entire year.  During his tenure as the S-3, he was sent to the National Training Center to serve as the first reinforcing Battalion HQ TOC to deploy to Fort Irwin and support 1st-5th FA out of 1st ID. 

Following NTC, while training at Fort Hood, TX, Mark learned of his next assignment.  However, he did not learn of this job through traditional channels.   He received notification that his wife needed him to contact her from the field.  She wanted to let him know that the family was moving to Washington, DC.  FA Branch had called and informed him that he was going to work at PERSCOM.  No one had asked him about his thoughts on this assignment; Carol informed him that it was a done deal.  Mark piloted a new concept.  FA was the first branch to consolidate enlisted and officer management under one office.  Mark balanced out requisitions between officer and enlisted MOSs to increase readiness. Upon conclusion of this pilot test he moved back over to serve as the branch assignment officer for branch qualified CPTs.  During his tenure he was identified as one of the brightest young officers in the branch and selected below the zone for promotion to Major.

Wind Beneath my Wings

Following his tour at PERSCOM, MAJ Graham moved to Fort Leavenworth, KS to attend the Command and General Staff College.  It was a great year to connect with the family.  Tactics was not particularly enjoyable, but the rest of the course was tolerable.  Carol signed Mark up to coach all three kid’s soccer teams during tactics.  He truly relished that time with the kids.  During the course he learned that the Chief of Staff of the 7th Corps Artillery, by name requested him to return to Germany.  MAJ Graham was excited about getting out of the personnel business and back to operations.  Upon arrival to 7th Corps Artillery, he was greeted by the Chief of Staff, and notified that he would serve as the G-1, not the operations job he expected.  MAJ Graham was in the midst of moving artillerymen throughout Germany as they closed down Lance units, when he was informed they were deploying to Saudi Arabia in anticipation of a conflict with Iraq. He then had to rescind orders and get as many Artillerymen as he could to 7th Corps Artillery.  During Operation Desert Storm, MAJ Graham did amazing work for 7th Corps Artillery.  BG Creighton Abrams III, the Corps Artillery Commander, had identified MAJ Graham for having general officer potential.  

Oklahoma!

ollowing his tour as the G-1, he served as the S-3 of a Line Battalion in Baumholder, and then became a DIVARTY S-3.  Upon successful completion of those jobs, MAJ Graham moved back to Fort Sill and worked in the Field Artillery Proponent Office for a year.  During his tenure with the FAPO he was  again noticed for his outstanding performance among his peers in the branch and again selected below the zone for the rank of LTC and selected for batalion  CMD.  He commanded 1st -17th FA, Copper Heads, in the 75th FA Brigade at Fort Sill, OK.  Following command, he was hand selected to return to PERSCOM and serve as the FA Branch Chief with a follow-on assignment as a student at the National War College.

Where You Lead I Will Follow

Upon graduation from the National War College, he was assigned to the 40th Division.  He quickly counted the 10 Divisions in the active Army and realized the 40th Division was not among them.  As the branch chief, he was the first to assign an active FA LTC to command a National Guard Battalion.  He was now the first active duty COL to command a National Guard Brigade.  GEN Reimer (CSA) was friends with the TAG of CA, who aggressively petitioned for an active duty officer to command.  COL Graham had to adjust his mindset, with only four full time duty positions in his headquarters. Things were going to be different, and more challenging with limited staff and training time.  Together COL Graham, and his battle buddy CSM Gary Andrews transformed the brigade.  The unit was open to many of the ideas and initiatives the active duty guy brought.  Gary and Mark are still friends to this day.

Some Gave All

Following DIVARTY command, Mark was selected for a second command.  He was now the commander of the Battlefield Coordination Detachment at Osan Air Force Base in Korea.  The mission was great and professionally rewarding, but Mark missed his two boys. Jeff and Kevin were both stateside, studying at the University of Kentucky.  Melanie was a high school student in Korea, and it was difficult for her to transition to such a small high school from the large one she had attended previously in Los Angeles.  It was a tough move for the family.  Following BCD Command, all children were now attending the University of Kentucky and Carol and Mark were empty nesters. COL Graham was selected to remain in South Korea and serve as the Korean Theatre Combatant Commander’s XO.  At the completion of that tour, Cadet Kevin Graham lost his battle with depression and had taken his own life.  Just a few months prior, the entire family had been together when Mark had commissioned Jeff as a 2LT in the Armor Branch.  They were on the cusp of being reunited stateside.  The Grahams returned to Kentucky and COL Graham contemplated retirement.

COL Graham received a call from MG Mike Maples.  He wanted COL Graham to serve as his Chief of Staff at the United States Field Artillery Center.  COL Graham was set on retirement, but MG Maples was adamant that he serve as his Chief of Staff; telling Mark to take as much time as he needed and that quarters were available whenever they arrived.  COL Graham decided to take the job, and Carol joined Mark at Fort Sill later. 

While serving as the Chief of Staff at Fort Sill, the Graham’s again learned terrible news.  MG Valcourt, the Commanding General, informed them both that 2LT Jeffrey Graham was killed in service to his country, in Khaldiyah, Iraq, a victim of an IED attack.  The Graham’s were devastated, and Mark was professionally out of gas.  This time he was set on retirement, but MG Valcourt encouraged him not to make that decision yet.  Retirement paperwork in hand, Mark and Carol made the decision to put duty to others ahead of their own grief.  They both drew on their deep faith that provided them with the inspiration to “Soldier on”.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were getting steadily bloodier.  Mark thought that he and Carol would be able to find ways of ensuring that wounded Soldiers of all kinds got the care they needed and that the families of all fallen troops were treated with the same compassion and respect they received after Jeff’s death.  Remaining in the military would give them the most and best opportunities to help.  Mark threw away his retirement paperwork and committed to completing his time as chief of staff at Fort Sill.

I Hope You Dance

Later that year, MG Valcourt notified COL Graham that he had been selected for promotion to Brigadier General and an assignment as the Deputy Commander of Fort Sill and the Assistant Commandant of the Field Artillery School.  In this assignment, BG Graham was responsible for training Soldiers in all Field Artillery specialty jobs and sending them to the units that would employ those skills in combat.

Following a successful tour at Fort Sill, BG Graham was selected to serve as the Deputy Commanding General for 5th Army.  The 5th Army had recently been assigned as the Army Component to Northern Command for Homeland Defense and Defense Support of Civil Authorities.  At BG Graham’s welcome reception, LTG Clark, the 5th Army CG, informed him that after the reception, he needed to pick a small team, go to Louisiana and assist LTG Honore in Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.  Upon arrival in Baton Rouge the next day, LTG Honore called him into a meeting with the LA Governor and stated “we should put BG Graham in charge of the evacuation of New Orleans.”  He then looked to BG Graham and stated “Evacuate New Orleans and also the greater New Orleans area”.   At the time BG Graham only had three guys.  He quickly built a small staff, started 24 hours operations and successfully evacuated the Superdome.  After four months in Louisiana, BG Graham was ordered to return to Austin, TX to be the lead officer for Hurricane Rita, which was rapidly approaching.  Following Hurricane Rita recovery efforts, LTG Clark authorized a couple of days for Mark to see Carol in KY.  While in KY, LTG Honore called him and said he needed him back in New Orleans to transition all recovery efforts to the National Guard.  While serving as the deputy CG, he stood up 10 defense coordinating offices throughout the country with the 10 FEMA agencies that still stand today.  Due to his leadership and ingenuity, he was promoted to Major General and assigned as the commander of 1st Army Division West and the senior commander of Fort Carson. 

Following his Command of 1st Army West, GEN Campbell selected him to be the G3/5/7 of FORSCOM, headquartered in Atlanta.  When GEN Thurman assumed command, he tasked MG Graham with the  transition of the headquarters to Fort Bragg during the height of both Operation’s Iraqi and Enduring Freedom; no small task.  Following completion of the HQ transition, Mark retired from the military after 35 years of Service.

Angels Among Us

Following his military retirement, Mark did not rest.  The Grahams both spoke at many events and have dedicated their lives to suicide prevention.  MG (R) Mark Graham has received numerous honors and achievements for his work in suicide prevention.  The Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, nominated MG (R) Graham for Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2009.  The Graham’s have shared the story of the loss of their two sons in the award winning book, “The Invisible Front: Loss and Love in an Era of Endless War.”  Mark currently serves as the Director of the Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care National Call Center and Vets4Warriors.  Mark strives to make a difference, day to day, one person at a time.

The Grahams currently reside in NJ where they have lived for six years, the longest place they have lived since initiating a life in the military in 1977.  They are grateful to live close by Melanie and her husband Joe, Mark’s former aide-de-camp.  Melanie and Joe have provided Mark and Carol with two beautiful grandchildren, Becket and Graham, with a third on the way.  If Mark is not on a golf course, he is looking for ways to spend quality time with his family.

Mark has always cherished his association with the Field Artillery and the US Army, a passion which persists in his life today.