General Joe Votel

General Joe Votel

“Veterans, you are worth it. This country is worth it and our experiment in democracy is worth it,” said four-star general Joe Votel to a packed house saluting the WWII generation just days after Veteran’s Day.

The Polk County Historical Society held their Annual fundraising event, this year entitled, “WWII, A Salute to the Greatest Generation.”

During the program all veterans were celebrated, and three living Polk County WWII veteran residents were honored, including Osceola’s William Patten Jr. (103 years young), Amery’s Milton Johnson (95 years young) and Centuria’s Robert Clark (94 years young).

The guest of honor was Votel, a decorated military veteran, residing in Lake Elmo Minnesota. “I loved every day of being in uniform. There were rough days no doubt, but I loved the camaraderie, I loved the mission, I loved the sense of urgency in the things we were doing, and I loved being a physical representative for our nation,” Votel shared with attendees of the event. 

Born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Votel attended the United States Military Academy and was commissioned in 1980 as an Army Infantry officer. 

Votel’s initial assignments were to the 3rd Infantry Division in Germany, where he served as a rifle platoon leader, executive officer, battalion adjutant, and rifle company commander. Following this tour, he was assigned to Headquarters, Allied Forces Southern Europe – Naples, Italy, and the NATO Peace Implementation Force (IFOR) in Sarajevo. He commanded the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry (Light) at Fort Drum, New York, and afterward, he commanded the 1st Ranger Battalion. Later he commanded the 75th Ranger Regiment, during Operation Enduring Freedom

As a general officer, Votel served in the Pentagon as the Director of the Army and Joint Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Defeat Task Force and subsequently as the Deputy Director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization established under the Deputy Secretary of Defense. He also served as the Deputy Commanding General (Operations), 82nd Airborne Division / CJTF-82, Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan, and was subsequently assigned as the Deputy Commanding General of the Joint Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg. He next served as the Commanding General of the Joint Special Operations Command. 

On June 24, 2014, Votel was nominated by former President Barack Obama to succeed Admiral William H. McRaven as the 10th Commander of United States Special Operations Command. 

Votel became the commander of United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) March 30, 2016. 

As CENTCOM commander, Votel oversaw the United States’ continued War on Terrorism in the Middle East, particularly the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve’s fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant terror organization, which rose to prominence in 2014. The fight against the group saw CENTCOM become more involved in the Syrian civil war and Iraqi Civil War.

After nearly 40 years of military service, Votel officially retired March 28, 2019, five days after the decisive Battle of Baghuz Fawqani, which saw the territorial collapse of the Islamic State in Syria.

Speaking of the WWII generation, Votel said culturally this generation has been extraordinarily influential. He said these veterans had three characteristics which stood out to him. First, Votel said they overcame significant hardships. “Remember all of these people also survived the Great Depression and they knew hardship,” said Votel.

Second, he said the generation stood up for, “Universal happiness, emphasizing the value of life and the values we hold prominent in our country.”

Thirdly, Votel said the veterans promoted progress. “It was the greatest generation that went to Europe, that went to Japan and made them our allies and help build those economies, bringing them back into the world market,” he said.

Votel said to some extent all of our generations have had moments of greatest. Votel said, “In America we have always had generations that have risen to the occasion. But certainly, our WWII veterans have earned the moniker of greatest generation in spades. After all, they did nothing less than create the conditions that largely drove the greatest level of prosperity, the highest technical social achievements, and the longest period of general peace between the nations of our world. This is what was accomplished by the greatest generation.” 

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