Last Friday will go down as an important day in history for Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point.
While the day marked the biennial change of command—an event steeped in tradition and military pageantry—it’s also the first time a woman has reported for duty to serve as commander of the 596th Transportation Brigade.
Colonel Heather J. Carlisle assumes the post previously held by Colonel Marc A. Mueller, who will head to Germany for his next assignment.
“I can’t tell you what an honor and privilege it is to be here,” Carlisle said, addressing those who attended the ceremony held on the lawn of Fort Johnston.
She said she looked forward to joining the “incredible team of surface warriors” of the iron-clad 596th Transportation Brigade. It is her first time living in North Carolina, and she said she is thrilled with her assignment.
“Long before I ever set foot in North Carolina, I was impressed again and again by the hospitality and friendliness of everyone I came in contact with,” she said.
She added that the people of the Southport and Boiling Spring Lakes community “went far above and beyond the call of duty” to make things comfortable and welcome for her and her family. But before taking the post, she also expressed her gratitude to Mueller for his professional leadership.
“The truth is, Colonel Mark Mueller is going to be a tough act to follow,” she said.
She pointed out that Major General Stephen Farmen gave him high praise.
“And I think he was being pretty humble,” she said.
She said when one considered the many accomplishments, community engagements and the professional reputation of the 596th Transportation Brigade under Mueller’s leadership, it is clear that the unit is “something special.”
“I am thrilled with the opportunity to build on the exceptional community relations that Mark has established,” she said.
She also took time to thank her family for their support throughout her career. She credits her father, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and her family for being her inspiration to join the U.S. Army.
“It was just a very patriotic family and a very patriotic community,” she said. “I kind of grew up thinking that the military, in general, was the big glamorous thing where I could get out and have some adventure.”
Carlisle applied for ROTC scholarships, got an Army scholarship, and has been “hooked ever since.”
“It’s just been a career full of adventure,” she said. “I’ve gotten to jump out of airplanes. You know, I thought I might just do a few years and get out, but I’ve just loved it so much—everything I do—that it’s been 23 years now.”
In addition to jumping out of airplanes, Carlisle has enjoyed being stationed in Hawaii and Alaska, where she climbed mountains and kayaked. She’s done water rescue training in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and been deployed to Korea and Iraq, where she helped rebuild schools and medical facilities.
“Just seeing how thrilled the children are just to have Americans there, it’s incredibly rewarding,” she said.
But she said probably her most exciting memory was being deployed to Afghanistan, where she helped with the country’s presidential election. She and her team helped move the ballots around, ensured there were enough supplies and provided security throughout the process.
“That’s probably what I’m most proud of,” she said.
Carlisle says she really hasn’t thought much about the fact that she will be MOTSU’s first female commander.
“It didn’t really register,” she said. “A couple of people kind of mentioned that, but wow, what an honor and a privilege.”
She credits all the commanders before her for laying the groundwork, and she hopes her legacy will be more than just being the first female.
“I just want to be the best leader I possibly can,” she said. “That’s what I’d like to be known for.”
She did note that MOTSU’s sergeant major is also the first female sergeant major, and she’s excited for the opportunity to work alongside her. She also looks forward to getting out in the community and seeing more of the Southport area.
“I just feel like I’ve won the lottery as far as assignments,” she said. “This is kind of a hidden gem. A lot of people don’t even know it’s here. They always think of Fort Bragg, and this is a little off the beaten path, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. This was my number-one choice of all the things that were open, and you never get your number-one. This is a ‘dream sheet’, they call it. I just feel like I’ve won the lottery.”