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News: Army general from McMurray takes command in Chicago
03/16/2015 - by Observer Reporter
By Mike Jones, Staff writer
March 12, 2015
Lewis Irwin marveled at the path his life has taken growing up a “little kid from Claysville” and rising to the rank of major general in the U.S. Army Reserve now in command of nearly 13,000 soldiers.
“Just someone coming from my background who would achieve this level says something special about what our nation is all about,” Irwin said during a phone interview Wednesday. “I don’t take these responsibilities lightly.”
The McMurray resident and Duquesne University professor was promoted Saturday to lead the 416th Theater Engineer Command based near Chicago, a post that will have him splitting time at home and traveling west of the Mississippi River to visit the 175 units now under his command.
The recent appointment to the command is another honor in a career full of them for the 1982 McGuffey grad.
Irwin, 50, a West Point graduate who has spent nearly 29 years in the Army, was a member of the 101st Airborne Division and worked as a combat engineer in the Third Armored Division during Operation Desert Storm He retired from active duty in 2000 and joined the Army Reserve. That year, he also began teaching political science, public policy and other government-related courses at Duquesne.
He returned to the battlefield in 2008, working with a multiagency effort to reform the Afghan National Police.
His new command, composed mostly of Army Reserve engineers, is charged with quickly building bridges for incoming combat troops, or “blowing them up” to stop enemy advances. The combat engineers also travel with armored infantry divisions and work to clear improvised explosive devices planted in the roadways.
“Our responsibility is to set conditions for success for all of the young troopers doing those combat missions,” Irwin said of his command’s duties.
After leaving active duty and joining the reserves, he began taking on command positions for installations in Oakdale and Butler. Those put him closer to home until he was tapped to lead the 926th Engineer Brigade in Montgomery, Ala., two years ago. Irwin traveled across the south overseeing about half the number of soldiers he’s currently leading.
The new post has new challenges from a geographic standpoint.
Irwin will frequently travel on weekends after teaching his last class of the week at Duquesne on Thursday afternoons. He’ll fly across the American West – and internationally if need be – to wherever his command’s soldiers are located.
“It’s a far-flung command. We have soldiers in harm’s way now,” Lewis said. “I constantly have troops coming and going. It’s a tremendous opportunity and challenge, but it’s a privilege.”
With more troops to oversee in this new role, Irwin thinks his experience over his military career will help him teach and mentor younger officers who oversee the units within the command.
Jim Swindal, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Duquesne, congratulated Irwin on the promotion and said it would benefit the students he teaches.
“It’s an honor to us and our students to have someone who is a professor who can bring his experiences into the classroom,” Swindal said. “On a personal level, it’s extraordinary how he can combine these two (roles). When he walks into the classroom, he’s a professor. He’s not being overshadowed one over the other. It’s an amazing thing, actually.”
Even with the added duty while working full-time at Duquesne, Irwin said he expects to be able to manage his time effectively, especially during the summer months when he’ll be performing typical research projects for the university.
“The biggest challenge is the time management. I’m hyper-organized, as my colleagues might say,” Irwin said. “To do right for the soldiers, you have to be fully invested in the success of the Army.”
Irwin and his wife, Marcia, still live in Peters Township and have three adult children.