LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Seventeen of the Army's newest second lieutenants left the University of Louisville Friday -- some perhaps for the last time -- determined to lead America's Soldiers and armed with a recipe for success.

Leave Louisville. Listen. Learn. Lead.

In serving up the mix at the ROTC unit's spring commissioning, Lt. Gen. Vincent Brooks said bringing it all together wouldn't be without challenges.

Start with "Leave Louisville," where they have spent the last few years building an educational foundation. Doing so is the first step in their Army careers.

"You're going to leave Louisville shortly. I want you to never forget what you just experienced," said Brooks, commanding general of Third Army/U.S. Army Central and the ceremony's featured speaker. "Don't forget the people who were with you. Don't forget the great moments of triumph and the moments of sadness. Don't forget what it showed you about yourself and about others."

Brooks, who will receive a fourth star next month and assume command of U.S. Army Pacific, urged the lieutenants to listen, particularly to their Soldiers and non-commissioned officers. He also encouraged them to continually seek opportunities to learn something new every day.

To the latter, Brooks has gone up to Soldiers -- of varying ranks -- and told them, "Teach me something."

"I like to meet them while they're doing their work. 'Teach me something,' and I let them," he said. "They're saying, 'I'm not so sure what I'm going to teach this general,' but they have something I need to learn. Even now."

Leading, the last ingredient, is perhaps most significant. The time has come for the lieutenants to take the skills they have developed and put them to use.

"That's what we just commissioned you to do," Brooks said. "We didn't commission you to watch. You are not an apprentice. Your apprenticeship is over, as of the time you dropped that right hand. Now, we want you to lead. If you do, leading, on top of that foundation of not forgetting where you came from, of listing to your non-commissioned officers and learning every day, you will lead very, very well. You're the kind of leaders we need."

More than 150 people attended the Cardinal Battalion's commissioning in Strickler Hall. Among them were U.S. Rep. John Yarmouth, D-Ky., and Maj. Gen. David Puster, commanding general for the 84th Training Command, a Reserve unit based at Fort Knox.

The commissionees were a mix of prior service students and those who had not yet served in uniform. Meeting alone with Brooks for an hour prior to the ceremony, they expressed considerable excitement as the careers of some resume and others begin.

"I'm ready to get back to the fight," said 2nd Lt. John Whitlock, a combat veteran who rose to the rank of sergeant first class before joining ROTC. He branched medical services.

The road ahead is paved with challenges and opportunities for the new Army leaders.
Second Lt. Preston Vance will spend the next several months preparing himself physically and professionally before he heads to the Basic Officer Leadership Course. He plans to speak with peers who have attended for advice and guidance, workout regularly and study Army doctrine.

Second Lt. Justin Meredith will remain at the University of Louisville as a gold bar recruiter, helping sell prospects on opportunities to serve through ROTC, until his class date next winter. He'll then become a member of the U.S. Army Reserve and go to work for the FBI.

Second Lt. Carly Townsend is fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming an Army nurse. She got a chance to work in Germany over the summer through a Cadet training program and said she relished the autonomy of the military profession and the cohesion that exists between doctors and nurses.

Second Lt. Scott Stafford sees his commissioning as a way to make a greater difference in the Army. Enlisting at 17 and serving initially as a medic, he lost some fellow Soldiers and saw some severely wounded along the way, like 1st Lt. Josh Pitcher, who lost his left foot in an IED blast a year ago and presented Stafford his certificate of commissioning.

He has goals he wants to accomplish as a commissioned leader. But none are higher than what he considers his ultimate duty.

"All I want to do is lead Soldiers," said Stafford, who branched field artillery and leaves in 10 days for training at Fort Sill, Okla. "They deserve the world, and I'll do my best to be the best leader for them."