By Christi Milligan
When Maj. Gen. Francis D. Vavala retires from the Delaware National Guard on March 15, he’ll have served for 18 years as adjutant, 50 years as an enlisted member — the same number of years he’s been married.
That’s because Vavala doesn’t do anything halfway, least of all his considerable work with the Guard. But you’d have to ask someone else to find that out.
In an age where self-aggrandizement rules the day, Vavala — who was raised in Elsmere and attended Salesianum — isn’t keen on sharing his accomplishments or thoughts about his legacy.
He’d much rather talk about what’s he’s grateful for, and the people he works with — “the greatest men and women on the planet.”
“What I am gratified to see is how we have evolved,” said Vavala, of the Delaware National Guard, which includes 1,600 Army and 1,100 Air National Guard members. “We talk about in general terms [a unit that] moved from strategic reserve to operational force. No longer are we waiting for the call — we’re engaged every day,” said Vavala.
The constitutional mandate for the National Guard wasn’t largely understood until Vavala’s tenure, when he decided to educate Delaware residents and the business community about the service of their enlisted friends, neighbors, and coworkers.
“One of the things is the value of both branches of the Guard family in Delaware, the Army and the Air working together,” said Vavala. “It wasn’t always that way. Today we work every day with one another and that’s one of the force multipliers. We make the holistic Delaware National Guard better.”
A 31-year career as a marketing services supervisor at DuPont gave him the flexibility to pursue service with the guard. His marketing skills helped him advance and then deftly bring both Air and Army components together to function as one.
“In the past 18 years he has changed almost everything we do,” said Lt. Col. Len Gratteri, Delaware National Guard state public affairs officer. Gratteri said it was Vavala who took the Guard from separate entities to a cohesive unit, a complicated vision that ultimately paid off.
“His passion is for the Guard and getting us involved in everything,” said Gratteri. “He always has a plan. He’s the chess player when we’re all playing checkers.”
Vavala said he’s as surprised as anyone at his accomplishments. “I’m four ranks higher than I ever thought [I would be] or deserve,” he said. “I am the most blessed man on earth.