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NEWS | July 17, 2023

Helfrich assumes command of Normal-based 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade

In a ceremony steeped in rich military tradition, Illinois Army National Guard Col. David Helfrich, of Smithton, Illinois, assumed command of the Normal-based 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (MEB) from Col. Kevin Little, of Franklin, Illinois, in a change of command ceremony July 14 at the brigade’s headquarters on the grounds of the Heartland Community College.

Maj. Gen. Rodney Boyd, of Naperville, Illinois, Assistant Adjutant General – Army and Commander of the Illinois Army National Guard presided over the ceremony.

“Kevin, we asked a lot of you these past couple of years. You took it on and made it happen,” Boyd said. “Everything starts with Soldier care. Kevin demonstrated early on that he cared about the Soldiers in formation. When you have a commander who cares about the Soldiers in formation, it makes leading that formation easier because the Soldiers believe you have their back.”

Little enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard in 1995, serving with the 233rd Military Police Company. In 2001, he commissioned through the Officer Candidate School. Little has held numerous staff and leadership positions throughout his 28 years of military service.

From 2011 to 2012, Little deployed to Kunar Province, Afghanistan with the 1-14th Agribusiness Development Team in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Little is the director of Human Resources for the Illinois National Guard.

Boyd assured the 404th MEB Soldiers that Helfrich would continue to have their backs as well.

“Dave’s going to do what’s right for the Soldiers in formation,” he said. “We are very lucky as an organization to be saying goodbye to one great leader and saying welcome aboard to another. This organization is still in good hands. Don’t forget that.”

Boyd thanked the Little and Helfrich families for their support throughout the years.

“Jessica, thank you for all you’ve done to allow Kevin to do all we have required of him,” Boyd said. “Without family support, we can’t do what we need to do in conducting the business of being Army Soldiers. Jennie, welcome to the 404th family. You’re going to get to know the family even more now. We’re going to require a lot of Dave. We know you have his back.”

Boyd said it’s a bittersweet day when a leader relinquishes command but at the end of the day, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.

“Very few Soldiers get promoted to colonel and get the opportunity to lead a brigade-size element,” Boyd said. “That’s what we’re celebrating today. One Soldier who is relinquishing command and one coming in to do something special in his career.”

Little thanked the Soldiers of the 404th MEB for their support during his time as commander.

“There are only a few opportunities in this organization,” he said. “I became an officer to command and lead. It has been a privilege and honor to lead the 404th MEB. The 404th MEB is in a good place and is on a trajectory that Colonel Helfrich can continue the success of the team.”

Little also thanked his family for their support throughout his career.

“Jessica, I’m forever grateful to you for what you’ve done for me as well as our family and I know the Soldiers appreciated what you’ve done as well,” he said. “To all my family, you are all very special to me. We as Soldiers could not do what we do without the support of those at home. We who serve get all the attention from it, but really it’s the families who are the unrecognized heroes.”

Little offered a word of advice to Helfrich.

“I know the 404th is in better hands with you at the lead,” Little said. “My advice to you is listen. Listen to both the specialist and the major. You are all going to grow and become successful. I’m excited for you to take over and very proud of what this brigade has accomplished.”

Little was presented a Legion of Merit during the ceremony.

Helfrich, who has served in the U.S. Army and Illinois Army National Guard for 32 years, thanked Boyd for the opportunity to command the brigade and the Soldiers of the 404th MEB for their willingness to serve.

“Thank you, Major General Boyd, for this opportunity. I have wanted this command for a very long time,” Helfrich said. “To the Soldiers of the 404th MEB, thank you for the service you are carrying on, the service in the footsteps of those who have gone before us, and those who will follow us. This year marks 50 years of the All-Volunteer force and it’s an honor to serve alongside you all.”

Helfrich said he mentioned the fact because that act was a response to change within society, and a change that was needed in the Armed Forces.

“The military is no stranger to change,” he said. “Imagine the force structure changes made in the past 100 years. During World War II, General Marshall famously built the 90-division concept. Today, we have 14 Army divisions, compared to China’s 75 divisions. We must plan and train to counter a 75-division force with our 14, and we will do it through innovation, discipline, training, strategy, and focus on our best asset – our Soldiers.”

Helfrich said for innovation to be part of the military culture, change must be embraced at every level.

“The United States is an innovative society, and the military must continue to embrace innovation to allow us to stay ahead of our competition,” he said. “I recognize we must change, we must adapt, and we must be flexible enough to take on any challenge, at any time.”

Helfrich said the single most important factor to adapting to change and innovation is effective training.

“I vow to ensure training is creative, adaptive and innovative,” he said. “We will maximize joint training opportunities everywhere we can. Training with others is how we fight, and it is key to success.”

Helfrich urged the Soldiers in the 404th MEB to be strategic leaders.

“Strategic leaders focus on planning, testing new ideas, opportunities for experienced based learning, and recognition,” he said. “Strategic leaders are not afraid to try new ideas. They are not afraid to fail in peace so they can succeed in war.”

Helfrich asked the 404th MEB Soldiers to continue to trust in the All-Volunteer force.

“Continue to embody the values that make this country great, embody the values that make our military the finest in the world,” he said. “We are the torchbearers who will lead it into the future.”

Helfrich thanked his family for their support throughout his career.

“Jennie, thank you for being my copilot in this beautiful life, thank you for being my light and always giving me guidance through any storm,” he said. “Thank you for allowing me to continue within this fantastic service for I truly believe what we do is important.”

Helfrich, who was the director of Strategic Plans and Policy for the Illinois National Guard Joint Staff, is a traditional member of the Illinois National Guard and works full time as the Area Engineer for the Louisville District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office at Scott Air Force Base.

Helfrich deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 as part of forward support team 33 assisting Illinois’ Polish partners in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.