Carney reviews state’s National Guard troops, pins fourth star on Gen. Vavala

DOVER — For the first time since 1993, Delaware’s governor has made an official review of the state’s National Guard.

The ceremony on Saturday was also used to promote now retired Gen. Frank Vavala to Delaware’s first-ever National Guard four-star general.

The review was held in the Delaware State University’s Alumni Stadium in Dover. The football field was chosen because of its central location and space needed to assemble troops in formation, said Lt. Col. Len Gratteri.

After an opening 19-gun cannon salute, Gov. John Carney expressed his appreciation of Delaware’s National Guard.

“I look out in front of me to see about 1,600 or so of the finest men and women in the whole state of Delaware,” he said. “The National Guard’s presence is a godsend to our state.

Gov. John Carney reviewing Delaware National Guard’s men and women. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

“In times of war and in times of domestic troubles you are always there, ready. You spend months at a time overseas away from your family and friends and you have an incredible sense of duty.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., Maj. Gen. Carol Timmons and Delaware State University President Dr. Harry Williams were also on hand to make remarks to the assembled troops.

Four-Star Gen. Francis Vavala being congratulated by Gov. John Carney and current Adjutant Gen. Carol Timmons after he was ceremoniously promoted Saturday. He is the first National Guard member to receive the rank in Delaware’s history.

Sen. Carper was the last governor to perform a review of the National Guard during his administration more than 23 years ago. Although the tradition saw a hiatus, it was customary in the past for governors, being the commander-in-chief of the state’s National Guard, to make a routine formal reviews.

“Reviewing the troops is a long-standing military tradition and we are proud to reinstate that aspect of our heritage,” said Maj. Gen. Timmons.

During the ceremony Gov. Carney pinned a fourth star on Gen. Vavala, officially making him the first National Guard four-star general in the state’s history. The recognition is a post-career promotion. Gen. Vavala retired Feb. 1 as commander, 18 years after starting in the position.

“The promotion is strictly honorary and just a way to thank him and honor his service,” said Lt. Col. Gratteri. “Gov. Carney can bestow the promotion under Delaware State Code, Title 20. Soldiers and airmen who retire from the Delaware National Guard can receive an honorary promotion upon retirement and service of 25 years.”

Members of Delaware’s Air National Guard salute during the ceremony at DSU Saturday.

A Wilmington-native, Gen. Vavala enlisted in the National Guard as a private in 1967. He was later commissioned a signal officer in 1970. He was appointed adjutant general by then-Gov. Carper in 1999. Each subsequent governor reappointed Gen. Vavala and Gov. Jack Markell requested an extension on his service.

Major generals are supposed to retire at 64 and state adjutant generals at 66, but Gen. Vavala received special permission from Washington, D.C., to lead the Delaware National Guard past that age due to the request.

Maj. Gen. Timmons was selected by Gov. Carney to join his Cabinet as head of the National Guard and serve as Gen. Vavala’s replacement.

Delaware National Guard Adjutant Gen. Carol Timmons with Gov. John Carney

“Gen. Vavala has been our leader for the past 20 years and in his 50 years of service,” said Gov. Carney. “He’s set the example for leadership for each of us.”

Gen. Vavala, on receiving the promotion, said “[t]his is the greatest honor I could ever receive as a native Delawarean and a member of our National Guard. I’m absolutely overwhelmed.

“In all my years of service, this is the most impressive event that I’ve witnessed because we’ve gathered the entire Delaware National Guard family together.”
Over the last few months, the General has been no stranger to honors and awards.

Gov. John Carney greets Delaware Air National Guard Maj. Mary Ellen Millman.

On Jan. 7, he accepted the Order of the First State (highest individual award in the state) and promotion to lieutenant general from former Gov. Markell. On March 28, he received the Kent County Medal for Meritorious Service — the highest honor the county can award to an individual.

Despite the fanfare, Gen. Vavala hopes there aren’t any more recognitions coming.

“You’re probably starting to wonder, how many times do we have to say goodbye to this guy,” he joked with the assembled troops. “We’re finished now. This is it. It is I who should be honoring you (the National Guard). It’s never been about me. It’s all of you who have given me my credentials.”

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