WASHINGTON -- Col. Jeth Rey was briefly lost for words as he stood on the main stage of the Northern Virginia Urban League scholarship dinner, overlooking a large group of high school students and teachers in May.

As the director of operations, G-3, with Army Cyber Command, he looked down at his prepared speech resting in front of him. In his mind, he was transported back to moments in his youth and key milestones throughout his career.

"I saw myself in them," Rey said of the students. "I drifted away from my speech. I just wanted them to understand that I have been in their shoes. The outcome is very bright at the other end."

Since joining the Army in 1983, Rey has been committed to one core philosophy: "The Army's most important resource is its people," he said.

Through it all, he recognizes the real value in helping others, as he continually looks for opportunities to interact with others -- especially today's youth. For it was the people in Rey's life -- his Family, friends, and mentors -- that led to his successful career.

These students, regardless of their upbringing, will grow up to become the undisputed leaders of tomorrow, Rey said, as he addressed the crowded hall during the scholarship dinner.

"So, on behalf of your U.S. Army, I stand here tonight to let you know that when it comes to the next generation of leaders, I am a believer --- and I believe in you," he told the students.

HUMBLE BEGINNING

The youngest of eight siblings, Rey was born in Anguilla, a small island in the British West Indies, and raised in Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands. As a single parent, Rey's mother worked three jobs to keep her eight kids in private school.

Once Rey was eligible for high school, his mother was forced to make a hard decision. Seeking more opportunity for her youngest son, she lovingly put him on a plane and sent him to live with his older sister to attend high school in Virginia Beach.

As a new student of Princess Anne High School, Rey met retired Navy Capt. Frank Hamrick, who quickly introduced him to the school's Navy JROTC program. At the time, Rey had an unlikely reason for joining the JROTC program.

"I joined ROTC … because I needed additional clothes to wear to school," he said. "We wore a uniform twice a week, and it gave me an opportunity to have extra clothes -- that was important to me."

Rey quickly excelled as a JROTC cadet. He joined both the drill and rifle teams, and later went on to win the regional championships in each category. During his senior year, he was honored to be selected for command.

"[Hamrick] got me focused on being a good person and understanding what life was all about," he said. "JROTC shaped my life."

The high school years passed quickly and an uncertain future suddenly burdened Rey shortly after graduation.

"I knew my mom couldn't send me to college because we didn't have the money and I didn't have the grades to get into one of the academies," he said.

With little to no options, Rey didn't hesitate to walk into a local recruiting office. His clear first choice was to enlist into the Navy, he said.

"I went to the Navy, and they couldn't send me out right away. So, I went to the Marine Corps, and they said it would take three to four weeks," he said. "I ended up going to the Army. They could ship me out the next day to the Military Entrance Processing Station."

"Somebody had to sign for me to join because I wasn't old enough," Rey recalled. "I called my mom -- she cried. She was a little worried, but she supported me."

Two days after his mother granted her permission and his sister signed his contract for enlistment, Pvt. Rey was on his way Fort Dix, New Jersey, to start his career as an Army Signal Soldier.

MOVING THROUGH THE RANKS

At his first duty station in South Korea, Rey exhibited strong Soldier and leadership qualities, which garnered the attention from his immediate leadership. Acknowledging his aptitude, his platoon sergeant convinced Rey to become an Airborne paratrooper, and helped him submit his package.

As a young specialist, Rey shipped off for training at Fort Benning, Georgia, for his indoctrination into the Airborne Corps. Shortly after training, he moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina and joined the 4th Psychological Operations Group.

In 1986, the Army reassigned Rey to the 112th Special Operations Signal Battalion. At the time, the 112th SOS was just returning to the active force. It was later designated an airborne unit in 1986.

"I was the fifth person assigned to that unit," he said. "It was the commander, the sergeant major, the S-3, the guidon bearer, and me as the one [battalion] Soldier."

For the first nine years of his career, Rey moved up through the enlisted ranks as he excelled within the special operations community. He would go on to serve in various leadership positions in several special operations units at Fort Bragg, and at the Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning.

However, Rey wanted more for his Army career.

"I wanted to become a warrant officer, so I could be a technician in my field," he said. "It was a goal of mine when I first came in."

Shortly after his promotion to sergeant first class, Rey submitted his package for Warrant Officer Candidate School. He was later selected to attend at Fort Rucker, Alabama.

Warrant Officer Candidate School is designed to be mentally and physically tough. However, Rey's instructor, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ragland, seemed to find a new level of difficulty when it came to training Rey specifically, Rey recalled.

He graduated WOCS as the honor graduate and received the leadership award. More important, Ragland shared why he was so tough on the newly-minted warrant officer, Rey said.

"'I saw one of the best leaders that passed through this school,'" Ragland explained to Rey's mother. "'[He] understood how to give guidance, focus, and direction. I didn't want him to make any mistakes.'"

Upon graduation, Rey returned to the 75th Ranger Regiment and started working for then-Maj. Stephen Townsend, and then-Lt. Col Francis H. Kearney III. Gen. Townsend is now the commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. Lt. Gen. Kearney retired in 2012.

"Townsend approached me about becoming an officer. He told me that I needed to go and finish my degree and get ready to go to Officer Candidate School."

Over the next two years, Rey allocated much of his free time to attend Upper Iowa University. Shortly after receiving his bachelor's degree and pinning on his warrant officer 2 rank, he was selected to attend OCS and commissioned into the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

"At the time, both [Townsend and Kearney] wrote on my Officer Evaluation Report that I was not only going to graduate OCS, but I was going to be the distinguished honor graduate," he said. "That put a lot of pressure on me."

They were right -- Rey went on to be the distinguished honor graduate of his OCS class, he said.

Starting his Army career again, this time as a second lieutenant, Rey would spend the next 23 years moving through the ranks until his current position at ARCYBER.

Rey pinned on the rank of brigadier general on June 3 -- making it the 16th rank he has held throughout his career.

"I am extremely humbled and excited. To be pinning on general rank to join an elite group … I just would have never thought that this would happen," he said.

While pinning on a star will begin the next chapter in his career, Rey is thankful for his mother who supported him through it all, he said. She passed in 2014.

"This profession is something that I live, sleep, and eat every day. Service to this country is important to me," he said. "I used to tell my mom that I believe in this profession so much that I'm willing to die for it. I wanted her to understand that."

Further, Rey longs to return to Princess Anne High School and pay homage to the person that helped start it all -- the late Navy Capt. Hamrick.

"I flew a flag in Iraq … that I need to take them. I want to get back there, that is one of my goals," Rey said. "I will probably tear up when I walk through the door."

"I would love to speak to them about opportunities and let them know," he said. "It is not about how you start, but how you finish."

DIVERSITY LEADS TO SUCCESS

Recognizing that people are the Army's most valuable resource, diversity continues to be a catalyst to the Army's success, Rey said.

"In order to come out with the next big idea, you have to have people from all walks of life to come out," Rey said. "Throughout my 35-year career, I have seen the benefit of having people with different life experiences generate innovative ideas … ideas that have improved the course of our military."

And while diversity helps make the Army stronger, ultimately, success starts at home, he added. During the battalion pre-command course, Rey and his wife developed pillars for the unit's command philosophy. First, Soldiers should put their Family, friends, and loved ones first, as it will be the foundation to which a Soldier stands.

Secondly, Soldiers should stay physically, mentally, and spiritually fit, and continuously look for ways to further their education.

"Equally as important, I want [Soldiers] to present well every day -- not only for your command, but for your Family and mentors," Rey said. "And at the end of the day, I want you to … give 100 percent in everything that you do."

Rey shared his personal story to the more than 400 people attending his promotion ceremony. In the end, it proves that a person can succeed through hard work and support, he said.