On the map, Smurf Village and Quarters One are blocks away, but both occupy the same special place of honor for Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo.
“When I first arrived at Carlisle Barracks in June 1997, I came here from battalion command in Europe,” the career Army officer recalled.
Part of that time overseas involved an 11-month deployment to Bosnia where he was a lieutenant colonel separated from his family for a long time.
That all changed when Cucolo got his housing assignment from barracks staff placing him in the College Arms neighborhood of ultra small cottages.
For generations of Army War College students, this cluster of housing was better known as the namesake of a village of blue-skinned characters made popular by a Saturday morning cartoon.
Somehow, Cucolo managed to shoehorn a family of five, a Great Dane and a cat into 1,500 square feet of living space. They would spend a year amid close quarters and cupboards that rattled in the winter when a strong wind blew through post.
“We had a great time,” Cucolo recalled. “My tight-knit family was made more tight knit by the size of the home. It was my wife’s favorite in the Army. It was easy for her to clean. Because it was so small, we knew where the children were in the house at all times.”
Setting the foundation
Fast forward 15 years and Cucolo now finds himself in charge as commandant of the Army War College and commanding general of Carlisle Barracks — the second oldest installation in the U.S. military.
In keeping with his title, Cucolo has a much larger place to call home.
What was once the living room, dining room and kitchen of the Smurf house could now fit into his office suite at Root Hall — the main academic building.
But it was in those memories as a student — with its family life and peer interactions — that Cucolo set the foundation for the latter half of his career in command.
Up until June 1997, his mind was focused on perfecting the tactical and operational side of Army leadership. The only exception was a brief nine-month stint in strategic level thinking at the Pentagon.
“A year at Carlisle Barracks was just what I needed to reset myself physically and mentally,” Cucolo said. “It was a wonderful time to recharge... and to rekindle family relationships.”
While less intense than an overseas deployment, his year in Carlisle was not downtime. It was instead a rigorous course of study that combined theory, history and practice into the application of land power in strategic thinking.
Cucolo took what he learned in Carlisle and applied it to every job he has had since his June 1998 graduation from the Army War College. His first assignment out the gate was as an instructor at the infantry school at Fort Benning where he taught combined arms tactics. There, he put to use lessons on joint and coalition operations.
Later, Cucolo commanded a brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division where he put into practice peer leadership skills that marshalled compromise and skillful communication into a course of action agreed upon by colleagues of similar rank.
From there, it was on to the Pentagon where Cucolo was assigned to J-5 — the strategic planning and policy branch of joint military operations. There, Cucolo served as a specialist on the Balkans, that volatile region of southeast Europe that included the former Yugoslavia.
He was at the Pentagon when hijackers crashed a jetliner into the opposite side of the building on Sept. 11, 2001. Within days of the attack, Cucolo was assigned to command a newly formed group of officers tasked with providing information to the civilian arm of the Defense Department.
“We handled the questions of the day,” Cucolo said. By doing so, this enabled other members of the joint staff to focus on preparing a national response to the 9/11 attacks. Eventually, the joint staff reorganized itself to deal with the flow of information and his group was made to stand down.
Cucolo was then reassigned back to J-5 where he monitored the situation in western Europe and the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that went from 19 member countries to 27.
From the Pentagon, Cucolo was assigned to command the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum. His stay in New York was brief as Cucolo was assigned to overseas duty in Afghanistan. There he helped to defuse a potential border conflict between an Afghani warlord and the commander of a Pakistani frontier army.
Later, Cucolo was the officer in charge of U.S. Division-North/Task Force Marne, which was responsible for all American forces operating north of Baghdad.
From October 2009 to November 2010, Task Force Marne established Arab-Kurd confidence building operations along their ethnic fault line, supported the Iraqi national election of 2010 and successfully executed a significant draw down of U.S. forces during the summer of 2010, according to the Army’s official biography on Cucolo.
Critical place, critical time
“This is an incredible honor,” Cucolo said of his appointment as commandant. “This is such a critically important place for the development of the next generation of senior leaders. It is such an incredible responsibility.”
Since taking command June 15 from Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin, Cucolo has met with senior leaders of the war college, garrison, the Army Heritage and Education Center and other directorates.
“I’ve been trying to convey to them what the expectations are of the Army War College,” Cucolo said. He has also talked with the current residence class of distance education students along with 2013 class of International Fellows — senior military officers from countries friendly to the U.S. who also study at Carlisle.
“Like most soldiers, I get my energy from being around other soldiers,” the commandant said. His first priority is to complete by mid-August a two-month assessment of the Army War College and Carlisle Barracks as ordered by the top brass at the Pentagon. That assessment could result in an internal reorganization of the post to improve efficiency, Cucolo said.
Going forward, Cucolo is determined to maintain the Army War college as an institution of quality learning that focuses on the development of critical thinkers skilled in coming up with solutions to complex problems.
Cucolo is currently working with AHEC staff on a side project designed to illustrate the staying power of the U.S. Army during periods of economic downturn and federal budget cuts.
He explained how photographs and artifacts will be put on display on the first floor of Quarters One which is reserved for official functions that include visits to the post by dignitaries.
The displays will tell the story of how a much smaller U.S. Army focused on professional development and officer education from 1866 to the start of the Spanish American War and then again from 1919 to 1940.
The goal is to show that the Army has survived past periods of austerity and shrinking ranks. While the nation grapples with rising deficits and increasing pressure to scale back the military, Cucolo has seen no loss of support among local residents.
“You can feel it in Carlisle and the entire area,” Cucolo said. “The people here value the military.”