Thirty-three years in Special Forces, 27 years as a National Guard officer, and a self-proclaimed zombie enthusiast – he’s the Colorado Army National Guard’s newly anointed second officer in command.
Army Col. Donald P. Laucirica, the new Colorado Army National Guard land component commander, now directs the state’s brigade-level commands.
He now oversees 3,700 Soldiers spread over a geographic area of 100,000 square miles, and serves under Brig. Gen. Dana Capozzella, commander of the Colorado Army National Guard. But it’s not that intense, Laucirica promised.
“I’m the zombie guy,” he said.
Laucirica is widely known for using a zombie apocalypse scenario as a combat training tool with his former unit, Special Operations Detachment-Korea. He said incorporating the pop-culture phenomenon can transform lackluster training into something more engaging and interesting.
Brigade-level commanders, service members, friends and family of Laucirica attended the May 19 ceremony at the Colorado National Guard state headquarters in Centennial, Colo., to honor Laucirica and welcome him to his new position. Capozzella attended and praised her second in command’s credentials.
“Col. Laucirica is very smart and very passionate for the care and training of Soldiers,” said Capozzella. “I’m very excited for him to have this position.”
Laucirica is taking over the position from Brig. Gen. Joel E. Best, who retired from the COARNG to accept a civilian job in Dubai.
A civilian systems engineer by trade, Laucirica said he understands firsthand the challenges of maintaining balance while serving as a Citizen-Soldier. He said that balance with civilian employers and families is just as important as any service member’s military job, and he wants his Soldiers and Airmen to be well rounded and well cared for.
“If you aren’t taking care of your Soldiers, than you aren’t a leader, bottom line,” he said. “This new position will be a challenge for me, but a challenge that I am ready for.”
As the first traditional Guardsman land component commander in the COARNG, Laucirica, a husband and father of two, said he relates well to his fellow Citizen-Soldiers.
“If you want to be regular Army, be regular Army,” said Laucirica. “It becomes your full-time vocation and your passion. For us Citizen-Soldiers, it can really only be our passion. ... We’re Citizen-Soldiers. We can’t be neglecting the citizen part of our soldiering jobs. That’s all there is to it.”
Laucirica holds four college degrees: a bachelor of science in business finance from the University of Utah, and three master’s degrees: space systems operations management (acquisition) from Webster University, computer information technology (systems engineering) from Regis University, and strategic studies from the Army War College.
He enlisted as an infantryman in the Utah Army National Guard on March 10, 1980. He went directly to Airborne and Special Forces School after Basic Training. Upon graduation from the University of Utah in 1986, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Utah Army National Guard.
Laucirica moved to Colorado in 1998. A veteran of combat tours in Bosnia and Iraq, his accolades include a Bronze Star and a combat infantry badge.
He said adapting with the military is key to success and survival, and emphasizes maintaining an open mind in the ever-changing landscape of life in the service.
“(Open) homosexuals in the military and women in combat roles, specifically infantry, armor and Special Forces, aren’t something we’ve had to process before,” said Laucirica. “However, the time of ‘if and when’ these things become a reality are over. They’re here and now, and we need to be ready as a force to work well with these situations, while still maintaining proper standards needed to protect this country.”
He said he pushes enlisted Soldiers who he views as potential leaders to become officers – always working to bring more diversity into the officer ranks.
Officer Candidate Tamara Gonzalez, who is just wrapping up Phase Zero of the COARNG’s officer candidate school, was one of his chosen few.
“He definitely motivated me to become an officer,” she said. “Sometimes all a Soldier needs is someone else to say, ‘You can do it.’
“Do it and love it,” Laucirica said, stressing the importance of a happy, resilient force.
“We’ve got to enjoy life,” he said. “That will help with our resilience and balance, which will help reduce things like suicide and sexual harassment. We’ve got to make it fun and interesting while maintaining our readiness to mobilize.”
Demonstrated by his zombie apocalypse training scenario, Laucirica practices what he preaches – and Capozzella recognized his nontraditional approach.
“He has a passion for things that some people may not believe are true,” said Capozzella. “However, he utilizes them to motivate and train his Soldiers.”
Laucirica said he devised his training scenario to garner interest in personal preparedness – especially for younger Soldiers – and to build esprit de corps.
Speaking somewhat tongue in cheek, Laucirica said he’s considering implementing a new COARNG unit: TSOD-Z, or Theater Special Operations Detachment-Zombie.
“If you don’t believe the zombie apocalypse is coming, you aren’t watching the news,” he said with a mischievous grin.
However, if or when zombies do arrive, the Colorado Army National Guard will be prepared.