Citadel to Pentagon: Caloosa Cougar paves path
With nearly three decades of service invested in the U.S. Army, a former Caloosa Elementary School student was recently assigned to the Pentagon at the Department of Defense.
Lt. Col. Byron Christopher Pateras, who was enrolled at the school until fifth grade when his family moved to Maryland, took over the new position in October. Pateras is a senior ranking officer in the Army G-3/5/7, Headquarters, Department of the Army, and is preparing to make colonel one day.
“I’m responsible for the policy, planning and strategy for the Western Hemisphere, which is Latin America,” he said. “I have influence, and I have direct communication – it’s a huge responsibility.”
The father of three teens, Pateras enlisted in the Army when he was only 17 himself.
“I told myself I’d do 20 years and get out,” he said.
“I always like giving back to the country,” Pateras noted of why he has stayed.
He first became involved with the military after joining the JROTC program at his high school. At the time, Pateras was the first in his family to follow a military career path and he is still the only one.
Pateras served for four years and then entered The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1997, he was named a battalion commander at the age of 24. It made him a top-ranking cadet and one of four battalion commanders to hold the second highest senior rank of lieutenant colonel in Corps of Cadets.
At The Citadel, he became friends with another solider with Cape roots – Daniel W. Eggers.
“We went to The Citadel together and we were neighbors at Fort Bragg,” Pateras said.
“He was just a great guy. He was unbelievable, just a super guy,” he added. “We lost a truly great officer (with his passing), a huge loss.”
U.S. Army Capt. Daniel W. Eggers, 28, died May 29, 2004, near Kandahar, Afghanistan, when the vehicle he was riding in hit an IED. Three other personnel with him – Spc. Joseph A. Jeffries, Sgt. 1st Class Robert J. Morgensen and Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Brian J. Ouellette – were also killed.
In 1998, Pateras graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
He re-entered the Army Special Forces, becoming a platoon leader and a Green Beret. Pateras was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, the 75th Ranger Regiment and the 7th Special Forces Group.
Pateras focused on being a foreign area officer, with a concentration in Latin America.
“I have been in just about every country in Latin America, minus two or three of them,” he said.
“I’m fluent in Spanish, Portuguese,” Pateras added.
He also served a year in Afghanistan.
Pateras later was assigned to the U.S. Army Southern Command in Miami under a four-star general.
“I worked on his staff in planning and operations,” he said, adding that he was also a general’s executive officer. “It was really interesting. It gave me a chance to see how general officers operate and think, how they got to be where they’re at – how the Army runs at the executive level.”
Pateras then became head of personnel at Fort Knox in Kentucky. He explained that he oversaw the assigning of officers in Latin America, Africa and part of Asia, before heading out to Colombia.
“I was working in Bogota, Colombia, for a little over two years,” Pateras said of his most recent assignment prior to the Pentagon position. “I worked with the ministry and the government of Colombia and basically assisted and advised them in security cooperation.”
In charge of the Army programs set up in Colombia, which consisted of approximately $160 million, Pateras oversaw about 40 U.S. personnel and worked directly with the head of the Colombia army.
“That was the first time I’ve ever done something like that,” he said. “He’s the equivalent of a four-star general.”
Pateras also got to work with the Colombia forces, like taking part in high altitude low opening or HALO parachute jumps.
“I got to train with them,” he said.
Asked what kept him going beyond the 20-year mark, Pateras cited a couple reasons.
“Just the people, the environment. Everybody looks out for everybody,” he said. “I like working for the Department of Defense because it’s a very mission-focused team-orientated type of work. It’s a very high-operational tempo kind of environment.”
Pateras added that there is flexibility, like becoming a pilot, doctor or such.
“The upside of the military is you can do anything you really want to do,” he said.
The downside – one may not always end up in a location where they want.
“The Department of Defense may tell you where you have to go, but no matter where you end up, you’ll always be around good people,” Pateras said.
Pateras is the son of Byron and Alice Pateras, who relocated back to the Cape upon retiring.