Gen. Joseph Votel attended the United States Military Academy and was commissioned in 1980 as an infantry officer. His initial assignments were to the 3d Infantry Division in Germany where he served as a rifle platoon leader, executive officer, battalion adjutant and rifle company commander. Following this he served as a small group tactics instructor at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia before being assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment as a plans / liaison officer where he participated in Operation JUST CAUSE. He was next posted to the 1st Ranger Battalion where he served as the battalion liaison officer, operations officer and executive officer.
Following this he was assigned to Headquarters, Allied Forces Southern Europe, in Naples, Italy and the NATO Peace Implementation Force (IFOR) in Sarajevo. He commanded the 2d Battalion, 22d Infantry (Light) at Fort Drum, New York and was subsequently selected to command the 1st Ranger Battalion at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia. Following attendance at the Army War College Gen. Votel commanded the 75th Ranger Regiment and participated in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, Afghanistan and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, Iraq.
As a general officer he served in the Pentagon as the director of the Army and Joint IED Defeat Task Force and subsequently as the deputy director of the Joint IED Defeat Organization established under the deputy secretary of defense. He served as the deputy commanding general (operations), 82d Airborne Division / CJTF-82, Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, Afghanistan and was subsequently assigned as the deputy commanding general then commanding general of the Joint Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Before taking command of US Central Command, he served as the commanding general of US Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.