Third Army commander offers advice to West Point class
April 11, 2012
WEST POINT, N.Y. (April 11, 2012) -- As Class of 2012 cadets look forward to their graduation next month, they are listening and talking to Soldiers and officers who have been in command of Soldiers or who have been in combat--basically those people who have been there and done that. One of those senior officers, Lt. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, Third Army commanding general, spoke to the Class of 2012 at a Senior Leader Series for the MX400 class April 4.
"I am an Army Brat, I come from a military family," he said. "My father Leo A. Brooks Sr. and my brother Leo A. Brooks Jr. are both retired major generals."
Leo Brooks Jr. also served as the 68th commandant of the Corps of Cadets.
"I was never interested in the military," Brooks said. "I wanted to be a physician and applied for an ROTC scholarship. That didn't work out, but I was accepted to medical school in California," he added. "However, the thing that changed my mind and inspired me (about the military) was when my brother Leo (Class of 1979) came home for a visit from West Point dressed in dress grays and I could see and feel a profound change in him--he was different."
It was then he decided to apply to West Point and Brooks contemplated becoming an Army doctor. But, what he really wanted to do was lead.
"I was recruited for basketball and I learned not to excel in basketball, but to excel in leading," he said.
Brooks was the first black cadet in West Point history to be named cadet brigade commander as the Corps of Cadets' top-ranking senior cadet. Brooks' experience leading at an early age while undertaking leadership training is a story Class of 2012 cadets can identify with. However, the Class of 1980 graduate said leading a group of classmates and leading Soldiers in battle is not the same thing. As a young officer, he said it was critical to learn from mentors.
"I have always looked to people who have served and have experience," Brooks told the class.
Brooks also talked about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and said these countries are beginning to change, like that of the Arab Spring when people began to speak against their country and how important it is to know the environment a Soldier is in because it can change.
"There's a new order of Islamic government moving into position and demanding change," Brooks said. "It's not just ideology that causes conflict. You can usually blame economic weakness and capitalize on it, just as you can on ideology. These types of governments are moving into position. We don't necessarily have a problem with that, but want to know how that is going to happen."
Brooks also encouraged the cadets to consider their role in the Army of the future.
"You will constantly think about it, about having the experience because you will have been tested. The test will come and you will do fine," he said.
When Brooks began talking about what it takes to be a Soldier and leader he related to the movie "Saving Private Ryan" when one of the Soldiers looked to the leader and asked, "What do we do now?"
"There are the three "L's," he said. "Lead--you have been taught to think critically and lead you must. First lead and you must lead from the beginning. Your apprenticeship is ending. Lead by setting the example. Show what teamwork is all about. For you to do that, your Soldiers will help you do that for you. The second thing is listen. You have to listen to the voices of your Soldiers and their families and the noncommissioned officers especially."
The third "L" is learn.
"Make decisions and learn. Every day is a learning experience--lead, listen and learn," he said. "When a Soldier knows something that you do not, listen and give him thanks. I often ask Soldiers to tell me something I don't know. They often look at me funny, but it's a way of learning something."
Brooks left the cadets with this message of how to become a better leader: Self study, self-awareness and knowing the business of being a professional Soldier.