ROCK ISLAND, Ill. - Maj. Terry Saul of First Army spoke about the commitment of African American veterans and their families at a luncheon hosted by the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center on Feb. 13.

"Blacks serve in the Army at a higher proportion than their representation in the general U.S. population, and that's because of you," Saul said to the audience of mostly veterans and their families. "As I look around this room, I think of where I am today and the high cost you veterans paid for me. I am able to do the things I do, and my family is able to do the things they do, because of your sacrifice. Your sacrifice gave me the opportunity to do more than this little old country boy ever imagined." Saul is a native of West Point, Miss.

He touched on some of the main ideas he has learned during his quarter century of service. First, he said, "Don't let your environment and circumstances take your motivation and joy. Be the best you can be no matter what your circumstances."

He also spoke about leadership, with his best lesson ironically coming from a poor example. When he was in the Reserve as a specialist, his squad leader told him, "You are an outstanding young Soldier. But I am rating you as three out of five because if I give you the five, I will have to add comments, and I don't want to do that."

That experience prompted Saul to apply to Officer Candidate School, which he graduated from in 1998. The squad leader had inadvertently inspired Saul. "He taught me some very important lessons. First, do not let others control your life or career. If you want to succeed, don't depend on your leadership. No one will take care of you and your career better than you," Saul said.

While the squad leader set a poor example, it demonstrated the difference leaders can make, and that encouraged Saul to pursue leadership opportunities.

"As a leader, you should do all in you power and influence to set the conditions for your subordinates to succeed," he said.

As an officer, Saul remains committed to that principle.

"There is no greater responsibility than to have someone's life in your hands," he said. "The decisions I make as a leader has causes and effects. So I have to do my best to make certain I'm prepared and trained to ensure the Soldiers under my leadership are able to their jobs and return to their family. All you can do as a leader is to prepare your Soldiers to perform to the best of their ability."