FORT KNOX, Kentucky -- When Brig. Gen. Robert Bennett, the 61st The Adjutant General of the U.S. Army, was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1985, he originally intended to serve four years and get out. Thirty five years later, after having reached the pinnacle assignment for a human resources officer, Bennett proudly passed on the responsibility of being the Army TAG to Brig. Gen. Hope Rampy during a ceremony here, at Waybur Theater, July 7.
“I never thought I would stay in 35 years or even make the rank of colonel. I exceeded above and beyond what I thought I was going to do,” Bennett said.
Bennett said he was inspired to make the Army a career by the many great mentors who crossed his path along the way. They include a number of officers and NCOs and his parents who instilled in him a strong faith, the morals and values between right and wrong and who always steered him in the right direction.
I just love the comradery, the people, the mission and just love what I’m doing, which is supporting our Soldiers, veterans and retirees. I would stay longer if I could,” Bennett said. “But fortunately, when most people my age are empty nesters, I have a 10-year-old son and I [want] to spend time with him and my wife.”
Over the past three and a half decades Bennett’s been deployed four times, assigned to Korea twice, Germany once, and held a number G1 command level assignments, including as Deputy Commanding General, U.S. Army Cadet Command, Fort Knox, Kentucky; Deputy Director, Military Personnel Management, Army G1, Washington, D.C.; Director, G1, Army Materiel Command, Fort Belvoir, VA; G1, V Corps, Germany; CJ1, Combined Security Transition Command, Afghanistan; C1, Multi-National Forces – Northwest, Iraq; and G1, 2d Infantry Division, Korea.
In September 2017 he took over the reins as the Army TAG; and the roles of Executive Director, Military Postal Service Agency; and Commanding General, U.S. Army Physical Disability Agency.
As the TAG, Bennett was responsible for the procedures affecting the preservation of all Army personnel records, military awards and decorations, casualty operations, and transition services for all Soldiers, veterans and retirees. In addition, he provided oversight of promotions, centrally selected boards, education, training and credentialing.
As Postal Executive Director for the MPSA he oversaw the process, transportation and distribution of personal and official mail within the Department of Defense.
In the role of Commanding General for the PDA, Bennett oversaw the agency that determines a Soldier's physical fitness for continued military service when his or her career is interrupted by a physical disability.
Bennett said it’s all been about taking care of Soldiers - his passion. His travels have taken him all over the world talking to Soldiers and HR professionals whose work supports Soldiers families, civilian, and former Soldiers.
“It’s just such a great feeling,” Bennett said. “Not a day goes by where we’re not reaching out doing something for a Soldier, veteran or retiree and that makes me proud. What a way to go out of a job as the Adjutant General of the Army.”
As Bennett exits the Army, he leaves behind some advice.
For Soldiers deploying, Bennett advises them to get their paperwork in order, give the information to someone you trust, organize your finances, prepare your loved ones, spend quality time together and be flexible to change.
He advises new platoon leaders assigned to their first leadership job to gain the trust of their subordinates by ensuring the Soldiers and their families that they will be taken care of.
“It’s called being a team. You’ve got to work together as a team,” Bennett said. “If you instill upon your Soldiers the basics that ‘I’m going to be taken care of, he cares about me, he knows my wife’s name, children’s names, we work together as a team,’ then you have gained their trust, and they will do the world for you.”
Having earned two master’s degrees, Bennett encourages all Soldiers to never pass up an opportunity to further their education.
“I truly believe that Soldiers must be thought how to think, not what to think and education will help get you there,” Bennett said. “Education also ensures a better Soldier for the Army. So it’s not only for yourself, it’s [also] for us the U.S. Army.
“A commitment to completing a degree, in my mind, illustrates strong character and dedication. I truly believe that an educated Soldier is the Army’s best asset.”
For those considering joining the Army, Bennett said the Army provides the best leadership education one could ever receive.
“Corporations seek out people with these types of leadership skills.” Bennett said. “When I travel, people see me in my uniform, they give me their cards and say to me, ‘I want to hire Soldiers, how do I do that?’ They tell me it’s because [Soldiers are] disciplined, don’t do drugs, know how to come in on time and have structure [in their lives].”
Lastly, Bennett shared with his successor, Brig. Gen. Rampy, the same guidance his predecessor, Brig. Gen. James Iacocca, shared with him in 2017 when he became the TAG.
“Remember what got you to this position today, remember to be the same person and do not change, be yourself,” Bennett said. “[And take care of yourself.] When you come in in the morning you’ve got to be at your absolute best, because the demands are tough.
Bennett added, “Don’t be tripped up by the title “the TAG” of the Army. The job is all about people. Don’t lose sight of your team and make sure you listen to them - just point them in the right direction and they’ll take the reins and run with it. I call it mission command.”
Though he’s from Birmingham, Alabama, Bennett is retiring to Lexington, South Carolina. His plans for the first six months are to rest and relax, buy a boat and spend time with his family.
After that Bennett said, “I just want to give back. I want to be involved with the church. I’ve already contacted the Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army and said ‘here’s who I am, I want to help you and the Army, what can I do for you.’”
Bennett would also like to serve on the board for the Adjutant General School house located at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
“It’s all about giving back now.” Bennett said.