Stephen J. Townsend

Stephen J. Townsend is a United States Army four-star general, who serves as Commander, United States Africa Command since July 26, 2019. He previously commanded the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command from March 2018 until June 2019 and XVIII Airborne Corps from May 2015 until January 2018.[2]

Stephen J. Townsend
Townsend in July 2019
Born1959 (age 5960)
Scheinfeld, West Germany[1]
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1982 – present
Commands heldUnited States Africa Command
United States Army Training and Doctrine Command
Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve
XVIII Airborne Corps
10th Mountain Division
3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team
Battles/warsInvasion of Grenada
Invasion of Panama
Operation Uphold Democracy
Global War on Terrorism
AwardsDefense Distinguished Service Medal w/ "C" device
Army Distinguished Service Medal (2)
Defense Superior Service Medal (2)
Legion of Merit (2)
Bronze Star Medal (5) w/ "V" device
Defense Meritorious Service Medal
Meritorious Service Medal (6)

Townsend has served with the 82nd Airborne Division, the 7th Infantry Division, the 75th Ranger Regiment, the 78th Infantry Division, and the 10th Mountain Division. He fought in Operation Urgent Fury, Operation Just Cause, and Operation Uphold Democracy. With the 10th Mountain Division, he served in the War in Afghanistan, leading a task force in Operation Anaconda. Townsend commanded the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, leading it in the Battle of Baqubah in the Iraq War, and later served in command of the 10th Mountain Division in the War in Afghanistan. He became commander of XVIII Airborne Corps in May 2015 and, in late August 2016, took command of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, until III Corps commander Lieutenant General Paul E. Funk II took over command of the operation in 2017.

Early life and education

Townsend was born in Scheinfeld, Bavaria in 1959 to a German art student mother and an Afghan medical student father, the result of a love affair.[1] He was adopted soon after birth by an American military family in Germany. His adoptive father, James Townsend, was a staff sergeant in an armored unit.[3] Townsend grew up in Griffin, Georgia, graduating from Griffin High School in 1978. Townsend graduated from North Georgia College in 1982 with a bachelor's degree in psychology.[4] He was commissioned into the Infantry from the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps thereafter.[3] Later in life, Townsend also earned a Master of Military Arts and Sciences (MMAS) degree at the United States Army Command and General Staff College, and a Master of Strategic Studies (MSS) degree at the Army War College.[5]

Military career

After earning his commission as a second lieutenant from North Georgia College in 1982, Townsend became a platoon leader, executive officer and assistant S3 in the 2nd Battalion (Airborne) of the 82nd Airborne Division's 505th Infantry Regiment. He participated in Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada. He was transferred to the 7th Infantry Division (Light) at Fort Ord as the 4th Battalion, 21st Infantry S3. He became commander of the battalion's Alpha Company. After being transferred to Fort Benning, Townsend became S3 (Air) and assistant S3 at 75th Ranger Regiment headquarters. He participated in Operation Just Cause in Panama and later became commander of the 3rd Ranger Battalion's Charlie Company.[6]

Townsend graduated from the Command and General Staff College and returned to Fort Benning, where he was Senior Liaison Office for the Ranger Regiment headquarters and the S3 of the 3rd Ranger Battalion. He participated in Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti. Townsend was transferred to United States Pacific Command in Hawaii as J-5 Action Officer. He later became Special Assistant to the Combatant Commander. Townsend was sent to Fort Drum in New York, becoming S3 of the 78th Division (Training Support)'s 2d Brigade in 1999. In 2000, he became commander of the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry in the 10th Mountain Division (Light). Townsend became commander of Task Force Polar Bear, deployed to Afghanistan during Operation Anaconda in 2002. Townsend graduated from the United States Army War College and became Division G3 of the 10th Mountain Division (Light) in 2003. From 2004,[7] he was Director of Operations, C/J3 for Combined Joint Task Force 180 during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.[6]

Townsend was appointed commander of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Lewis. He led Task Force Arrowhead during the Iraq War. Townsend led the brigade in the Battle of Baqubah in June 2007.[8] Townsend became executive officer for the United States Central Command commander at Tampa, Florida. He then became senior commander at Fort Campbell and then was Deputy Commanding General (Operations) for the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) from 2009. Townsend served in the same position for Combined Joint Task Force 101 during Operation Enduring Freedom. He became Director of the Pakistan/Afghanistan Coordination Cell at the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On 4 December 2012, Townsend became commander of the 10th Mountain Division.[9] He also led Combined Joint Task Force 10 and Regional Command East at Bagram.[6]

On 4 May 2015, Townsend became commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps. He was promoted to lieutenant general shortly before.[10] Townsend became commander of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve on 21 August 2016, replacing Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland.[2] In this capacity he commanded US forces as they engaged in an air war (supported by special forces and limited Marine deployments plus material and intelligence support to bolster allied ground forces) against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. U.S. airstrikes killed tens of thousands of ISIL fighters and catalyzed enormous losses in territory for them.[11] Under Townsend, the CJTF-OIR coalition together with allies from the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Libyan Government of National Accord launched simultaneous successful offensives against ISIL's capitals in Syria, Iraq, and Libya respectively: the Raqqa campaign (2016–2017), the Battle of Mosul (2016–2017), and the Battle of Sirte (2016). By the end of 2017 ISIL no longer held any territory in Iraq or Libya, held very little territory in Syria, and was down to under ten thousand fighters in total. The Iraqi Parliament declared in December 2017 that ISIL had effectively been eradicated from Iraq, though ISIL insurgent activity continued regularly.[12]

On 27 November 2017, Townsend was nominated for appointment as the next commanding general of United States Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and promotion to general.[13][14] The nomination was confirmed by the United States Senate on 20 December.[15] Townsend took command of TRADOC on 2 March 2018.

Townsend became the fifth commander of the United States Africa Command on July 26, 2019. He leads a command responsible for building defense capabilities, responding to crises, deterring and defeating transnational threats in order to advance United States national interests and promote regional security, stability, and prosperity, all in concert with interagency and international partners. Africa Command is one of six United States Department of Defense geographic combatant commands.

Awards and decorations

Townsend is the recipient of the following awards:[6]

Combat Infantryman Badge with star (denoting 2nd award)
Combat Action Badge
Expert Infantryman Badge
Master Parachutist Badge
Ranger tab
Air Assault Badge
German Parachutist badge in bronze
United States Africa Command Badge
XVIII Airborne Corps Shoulder Sleeve Insignia
75th Ranger Regiment Distinctive Unit Insignia
7 Overseas Service Bars
Defense Distinguished Service Medal with "C" (Combat) device
Army Distinguished Service Medal with one bronze oak leaf cluster
Defense Superior Service Medal with oak leaf cluster
Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster
Bronze Star Medal with "V" device and four oak leaf clusters
Defense Meritorious Service Medal
Meritorious Service Medal with silver oak leaf cluster
Army Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters
Joint Service Achievement Medal
Army Achievement Medal with four oak leaf clusters
Joint Meritorious Unit Award with two oak leaf clusters
Valorous Unit Award
Meritorious Unit Commendation with two oak leaf clusters
National Defense Service Medal with one bronze service star
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal with two service stars
Afghanistan Campaign Medal with three campaign stars
Iraq Campaign Medal with two campaign stars
Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal with campaign star
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
Humanitarian Service Medal with service star
Army Service Ribbon
Army Overseas Service Ribbon with bronze award numeral 6
NATO Medal for Service with ISAF


  1. "Battle Brings Soldier Closer to His Ethnic Roots". Washington Post. Thomas E. Ricks. 18 March 2002. Retrieved 5 April 2017.
  2. "New Operation Inherent Resolve commander continues fight against ISIL". United States Army. 22 August 2016. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  3. Kim, Kap (26 March 2015). "Departing commander reflects on three tours at his 'favorite' installation". DVIDS. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  4. Rogers, Eddie (3 August 2016). "UNG alumnus Gen. Townsend to lead fight against ISIL". University of North Georgia. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  5. Stephen J. Townsend. Association of the United States Army.
  6. "Lieutenant General Stephen J. Townsend". United States Army Fort Bragg. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  7. Block, Gordon (7 September 2014). "Q&A: Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of Fort Drum". Watertown Daily Times. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  8. Partlow, Joshua (26 June 2007). "Troops Take Embattled Baqubah Bit by Bit, U.S. Commander Says". Washington Post. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  9. Block, Gordon (4 December 2012). "Fort Drum welcomes new 10th Mountain Division commander at ceremony". Watertown Daily Times. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  10. Tan, Michelle (4 May 2015). "XVIII Airborne Corps welcomes new commander". Army Times. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  11. "Once promised paradise, ISIS fighters end up in mass graves". The Straits Times. 15 October 2017. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  12. Ahmed Aboulenein (10 December 2017). "Iraq holds victory parade after defeating Islamic State". Reuters. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  13. Townsend expected to be new US Army TRADOC commander
  14. "PN1264 — Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend — Army". U.S. Congress. 27 November 2017. Retrieved 28 November 2017.
  15. "PN1264 — Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend — Army". U.S. Congress. 20 December 2017. Retrieved 21 December 2017.
Military offices
Preceded by
Joseph Anderson
Commander, XVIII Airborne Corps
Succeeded by
Paul LaCamera
Preceded by
Sean MacFarland
Commanding General, Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve
Succeeded by
Paul E. Funk II
Preceded by
David G. Perkins
Commanding General, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command
Preceded by
Thomas D. Waldhauser
Commander, United States Africa Command
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