Colonel Gary WALENDA

Director of Strategy, Plans, and Engagements , Special Operations Command-Africa

COL Gary A. Walenda was born at Fort Polk, Louisiana and grew up in Ellsinore, Missouri.   He was commissioned in May 1994 as a U.S. Army Officer (Infantry), from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

As an Infantry Officer, he served as a Rifle Platoon Leader with 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment and Executive Officer for the Long Range Surveillance Detachment, both part of the 2nd Infantry Division in the Republic of Korea. He later served as a Ranger Platoon Leader with 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, Georgia.

COL Walenda graduated from the Special Forces Qualification Course in 1999 and was assigned as a Special Forces Detachment Commander in the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Lewis, Washington.  He later served as Operations Officer at the Battalion and Group level, and Commander at the Company and Battalion level.  In 2015, he commanded a Combined Joint Interagency Task Force, and in 2017 he commanded Special Operations Command Forward – Yemen, both within the US Central Command Area of Responsibility.  From 2018 to 2021 he served as Chief of Staff for NATO Special Operations Forces Headquarters in SHAPE Belgium.  In August of 2021 he assumed responsibility as the Director of Strategy, Plans, and Engagements for Special Operations Command-Africa.        

COL Walenda has served in multiple geographic combatant commands and participated in Operation Enduring Freedom; Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Inherent Resolve.

COL Walenda’s military and civilian education includes the Infantry Officer Basic and Advanced Courses; Air Assault School, Airborne School, Ranger School, Pathfinder School, Special Forces Qualification Course, SERE School, Special Forces Language Training (Korean), Jumpmaster Course, Special Operations Tactics Course, Combat Diver Qualification Course, Military Freefall School, Command and General Staff College, and the US Army War College.  He earned a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the United States Military Academy and a Masters of Strategic Studies from the US Army War College.

His awards and decorations included the Defense Superior Service Medal (2nd Award), Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal (2nd Award); Defense Meritorious Service Medal (2nd Award), Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal (3rd Award), Army Commendation Medal (3rd Award), Army Achievement Medal, Meritorious Unit Citation, National Defense Service Medal (2nd Award), Iraqi Campaign Medal, (3rd Award), Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korea Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon (7th Award), Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Expert Infantryman’s Badge, Master Parachutist Badge, Military Freefall Parachutist Badge, Pathfinder Badge, Special Operations Diver Badge, Air Assault Badge, and the Ranger and Special Forces Tabs.