Raw emotions energized the moment as an ample number of shared memories synergized the atmosphere in reflecting on a 39-year military career and 43 years since arriving at the U.S. Military Academy. In honoring an exceptional and genuine person and a unique professional experience, the Corps of Cadets bid farewell and celebrated the Dean of the Academic Board Brig. Gen. Cindy Jebb with a Corps Farewell Banquet April 15 at the Cadet Mess Hall.
The evening was a retrospect of an expansive legacy that began in 1978 as a member of the third class of women accepted to West Point. Her story expounded on a career that included field research in Africa, working at the National Security Agency, study projects in Afghanistan and Iraq, serving as a senior advisor to the Chief of the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, the head of the Department of Social Sciences to becoming the first female and 14th Dean of the Academic Board at USMA in June 2016.
After Jebb retires from the military next month, she will become the fifth president of Ramapo College of New Jersey, not too far from her childhood home of New City, New York, in Rockland County.
However, before she moves onto her next venture in life, Jebb received several acknowledgements and had a chance to remember and give many thanks to everyone who helped shape her into the academic stalwart she is today during the farewell banquet.
Before Jebb’s speech, a handful of speakers set the stage beginning with the Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. Curtis A. Buzzard.
Buzzard, who is the third commandant to work with Jebb since she became dean, first met her about eight years ago when she was the SOSH Department head and he attended a Senior Leaders Conference at West Point, which was a conference to discuss national security challenges.
About a year or two later, Buzzard deployed to Iraq as a brigade commander and one of Jebb’s SOSH faculty members reached out to join him for a few months to tackle some political issues.
Buzzard raved about the officer and requested him to join the brigade after he was done teaching at USMA, and that officer will soon take battalion command.
“He is a tremendous reflection of Brig. Gen. Jebb, her leadership and her intellect,” Buzzard said. “On that same deployment, then Col. Jebb was in Baghdad for two months during the summer supporting the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq at the U.S. Embassy. I worked with her on some … challenges with the Iraqi Army and, of course, she made a difference because that is what Brig. Gen. Jebb does.
“She makes those around her better and does it within the framework of being a great team player,” he added.
Buzzard would years later become commandant and have good familiarity and an impeccable rapport with the dean, which he said, “A key lesson for all of you to remember is personal relationships matter.”
While there tends to be conflict and natural tension between the two jobs at West Point, Jebb and Buzzard, with guidance from Superintendent Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, worked seamlessly together for the benefit of the staff and faculty, but mainly the cadets.
“We always work through issues together, continuously looking at the alignment of our pillars, management and time, and then make recommendations to the superintendent to ensure that we are producing the absolute best officers for our nation and Army,” Buzzard said.
Obviously, there are hurdles they would normally face within their jobs, but the complexity, adversity and uncertainty that COVID-19 challenged them with the past year took it to another level. But through it all, Buzzard appreciated Jebb’s passion, her emphasis on teamwork and being an inclusive leader.
“Your dedication to this institution, not just the five years as the dean, but your almost 16 years at West Point, it reflects your tireless investment and commitment to developing leaders of character,” Buzzard said to Jebb. “Thanks for being a great dean, but also a great partner in this endeavor and a great friend.”
After Buzzard’s speech, a parade of cadets came to the podium to speak about their experiences with the dean. Class of 2022 Cadet Stephanie Dolehide and Class of 2021 Cadets Denton Knight, Stravos Pappas and Maxwell Myers each gave uplifting speeches to commemorate a very important person in their cadet experience.
Dolehide spoke about how much she learned from Jebb over the past three years, including going into each human interaction with empathy.
“With (your) words and putting them into practice yourself by leading us with kindness and empathy, you have instilled vulnerability, strength and courage into the Corps of Cadets,” Dolehide said.
Dolehide spoke about Jebb being at the forefront of advancements at West Point as she went from one of the original cadet classes with women to a faculty member, department head, to dean, while promoting inclusivity, diversity and strengthening West Point teams.
“You have broadened West Point’s curriculum, including additions like the counterterrorism program, and you have supported cadets by creating study days that we all need and love,” Dolehide said. “Know that you are not entirely leaving West Point and the Army … your legacy of being a tremendous mentor, educator, mother, colleague and leader will continue as you go on to lead Ramapo College as their fifth president.”
Knight, the cadet trust captain, described Jebb’s defining feature as having faith in a liberal arts education.
“She has shaped a curriculum that prepares us with not only the skills it takes to be officers or succeed in our majors but leads us to drink from that well of lifelong learning,” Knight said.
As many cadets mentioned, Knight appreciated her uplifting messages to them during the quarantine and the past semester. He also expressed his gratitude to Jebb for her support of the trust program. His final words to her were from a T.S. Eliot poem, “The Dry Salvages,” that just because she is leaving doesn’t mean she is gone from their hearts or they will not meet again.
“Ma’am, not fare well, but fare forward,” Knight said.
Pappas, the cadet MWR officer, spoke to how much of a phenomenal person she is and while mentioning the same things the other cadets did, he also talked about how she plays motivating Rocky Balboa or Will Smith videos before giving speeches. He articulated how much she cares and is driven to help an institution and its people despite how women were treated during the years she was a cadet in the late-‘70s and early-‘80s.
“Some people get to the end of their careers and wonder if they made a difference and, ma’am, you don’t have to wonder,” Pappas said. “It takes a lot of courage to dedicate yourself to an institution that at the time you graduated was not so accepting of women. But with your dedication, you’ve made this place better. You highlight the best that humanity has to offer — humility, empathy, love for others — which is something that doesn’t go unnoticed and we all should strive to emulate.”
Myers, the brigade academics officer, has spent much time with Jebb over the past year, but it was advice she gave him in passing during his yearling (sophomore) year in Jefferson Library that still rings true for him today, which is to, “Slow down and enjoy the moment you are in.”
Myers praised her for the energy she brings that helps invigorate others to do their best work, no matter who they are, from the staff and faculty to the cadets.
“Their excitement is a testament to the impact that you have on us at the academy,” Myers said. “I could not have thought of a better mentor to be paired with in my final year here. I’ve learned so much from you, whether it’s learning to lead with a genuine spirit, a kind heart and the vigor to impact those around you.”
An emotional Myers declared how the Corps was better off under her leadership and guidance, including how Jebb personally made him a better cadet and, in turn, a better future officer.
“From a personal perspective, thank you for taking the time to challenge me intellectually, believing in me and my abilities when I didn’t in myself, providing support for me at my lowest and inspiring me with your leadership and humility,” said Myers, who needed a couple of pauses to express his full thoughts. “I found a gem in the midst of all the gray at West Point with you as a mentor. Thank you for all you have done and all you will do in this world.”
Before Jebb took the stage, the Cadet Glee Club sang one of her favorite songs, “Mansions of the Lord,” and also finished the evening singing the “Alma Mater.”
Then Jebb took the stage honored and humbled, although reminding everyone that while the dinner is about saying goodbye, for her it was about, “‘Til we meet again.”
While reminiscing, Jebb began with her parents, which brought out emotions as her dad passed away in the last year.
“They always instilled in my siblings and me the importance of love, strength, confidence, humility and curiosity and set the role of parents to provide roots and wings for their children,” Jebb, a 1982 USMA graduate, said.
She then talked about her husband, Dr. Joel Jebb, who is now the director of English at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School, and his 23 years of teaching cadets at the academy and cadet candidates at USMAPS. But, their journey together started as classmates when they met as plebes at the academy.
“We were from very different backgrounds and we fell in love,” Jebb said. “We were married three days after graduation, 39 years ago next month.”
Jebb spoke about two times during her career, which started as a military intelligence officer, when she was stationed away from the family for a year at a time, which includes three children — Ben, Alex and Olivia. Each time, Joel stepped up to the plate when the kids were 10 years and under in age to support them.
“He’s been my confidant, my best friend, my greatest supporter,” Jebb said. “Love you, Joel, thank you.”
She gave thanks to her children, friends from her childhood and the commandants, command sergeant majors, athletic directors and superintendents she worked with over the years as dean.
“It truly takes a village for all of us, staff and faculty, to support the Corps, and what an amazing village we have,” Jebb said.
She briefly talked about her bosses, retired Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen and Williams, and how Caslen would bring her into the fold after Army West Point football games in the locker room.
“He always made me feel included, valued and he truly mentored me, and he inspiringly led this institution,” Jebb said.
Jebb said she appreciated when Williams asked for her thoughts on issues and took the time to visit her office, and they both consoled each other this past year as her dad and his stepfather both died.
“I am grateful for you,” she said. “Thank you for your energy, your wisdom and tenacity as you lead this institution under unimaginable circumstances.”
As the flood of memories began, 43 years in total, three things came to mind for Jebb as to why working at West Point was important — its values, its people and its mission. As she looks toward her next journey, the origin of her trek began as a young Jewish woman from Rockland County who didn’t know about West Point until she read an article in a women’s sports magazine about the first Army women’s basketball team, endearingly called, “Sugar Smacks.”
“In that article, I learned about the values of West Point — service, development of the whole person, being a part of something bigger than yourself and the broad liberal arts education,” Jebb said.
She mentioned those are values that still drive her today and that “Values matter. They are not just platitudes, and they need to be revisited, modernized and reaffirmed.”
She spoke about the recent Extreme Stand Down Day at West Point and how she attended one of the groups who discussed the portion of the oath about mental reservations. She opened up about her own mental reservations she had after a Cadet Troop Leader Training experience in Germany and the tough plane ride home where she gave second thoughts about the military being a career from how she was treated on the trip and disappointed in the Army leadership.
“(As time went on), I really got to know the Soldiers and I fell professionally in love with Soldiers, and it’s always been about them,” Jebb said.
Jebb then went in-depth of her whole experience during a “I remember” portion of her speech starting with Cadet Basic Training and her roommates, her CBT squad leader and her one “Beast Barracks” roommate, Gail, where they both almost killed each other executing pugil sticks in CBT.
“I was so blessed to have awesome people as roommates,” Jebb said. “We took care of one another.”
She spoke highly of her perennial G-1 Company roommate, Lindy, and Cadet Field Training at Camp Buckner, where, “I liked the physicality of it … we had unhurried moments to get to know each other.”
Jebb talked about her experiences playing corps squad basketball, softball and ultimately, her sport, volleyball. While involved with basketball, volleyball coach Bob Bertucci asked Jebb if she wanted to try out for volleyball.
“I did not know at the time how much volleyball would mean over the years,” Jebb said.
She talked about how gracious the men were after they became a club to allow women a corps squad volleyball team. Then, she discussed the first Army-Navy competition she competed in and led to an Army victory. She also remembered coming back from an Air Force match where they were defeated, but something more important happened that evening.
“Joel (was) a little upset that I didn’t come over to see him when I came back,” Jebb reflects as she was disappointed over the loss. “I had not known he was waiting to surprise me with an engagement ring. We had come a long way since our first date as plebes playing basketball.”
The cadet audience laughed when she told the story of her and Joel driving on 9W and him saying during the car ride, “When we have kids, (I can) stop working,” and I remember thinking, “Wait, what!”
But she added, “He’s been the greatest supporter for my being able to serve all these years and being a mom.”
She mentioned how tough it was as a parent 12 years ago on R-Day when their son, Ben, became a cadet.
Then it was about the classes, taking economics, French, history on American Foreign relations, classes on the Soviet Union, nationalism, socialism and fascism that led to her exploring her discipline in comparative politics. All of which led to receiving an MA and Ph.D. from Duke University in Political Science, serving at the National Security Agency, while exploring legitimacy and state stability in Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East that led to publishing three books after the research she and her colleagues conducted.
She talked about how the upper-classmen were very nasty and mean in her first couple of years at the academy, but it taught her to “Shrug off the naysayers. At the end of the day, those people were the most insecure of all of us. I chose to only remember their insignificance other than showing me what not to be and what not to do.”
From those situations, she learned to stick up for herself and stick up for others.
“It was important to learn to value oneself, to be kind to oneself, which gives you strength, perspective and empathy for others,” Jebb said.
She learned strength doesn’t just come from one person, but it comes from the strength of the whole.
“We’re stronger as a team, whether it’s a squad, platoon or a sports team,” Jebb said.
Jebb remembers being in many situations that involved uncertainty and/or complexity from leading convoys through Nuremberg as a lieutenant or serving Gens. John Bednarek and Paul LaCamera as a senior advisor in Iraq to conducting a fireside chat with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but all of which she was able to accomplish due to West Point’s ability to teach.
“West Point taught me to critically think, love people, accomplish the mission and be kind,” Jebb said. “They are really one in the same — no matter the rank, the mission or the people.”
She told the cadets with all the experiences they encompass at the academy and then to their futures as officers that “West Point prepares us all. It’s not apparent at first glance. I certainly didn’t understand all that I learned as a cadet until much later.”
Jebb spoke more about her career, including serving in the 1st Armored Division, with a testing experimentation command at Fort Hood, Korea and Fort Meade. And while she wasn’t always happy about the jobs she was given at first when she was working with computers or on projects, she, in reflection, knows it helped her on her overall journey.
“I loved the mission and I was so grateful to have leaders take a chance on me,” Jebb said.
However, even with her branch implying that coming back to West Point was a risk to her career, eventually, all roads the last 16 years led to back to West Point and becoming the first female dean. But her inspiration was always the Corps of Cadets.
“I have long been inspired by the West Point mission and its values, but it’s been you, the Corps of Cadets,” Jebb said. “Just as I fell in love with Soldiers years ago, I fell in love with the Corps. I can tell you it is harder now than it’s ever been no matter what an old grad is trying to tell you.”
She talked about the changes in the age of social media and while she was at the academy, she wasn’t distracted by cellphones and computers because they did not exist at a personal level at that time. However, Jebb extended the thought about how she has been in awe at how the cadets handled the past year from storms, a public reckoning on race relations, a politically-divisive election, the Fort Hood report, a violent riot at the Capitol and as she said to the audience, “And, yes, I’m looking out and seeing you all in masks — a pandemic.”
“Any one event would have been huge by itself,” she said.
She added that despite all the difficulties, the things in the small spaces is what she will always remember to include the conversations standing in line at Grant Hall, watching football games together, deciding with the cadet chain of command different academic policies, practicing the ACFT, learning to powerlift or playing volleyball. And, most of all, giving advice to the cadets.
“I want you to know it is OK to be uncertain at times about the Army. Study, question, discuss, explore to hope you continuously solidify your commitment as it will not always be steady,” Jebb said. “Lead with character, but also with empathy. You will make mistakes. The development of your identity will be a series of small steps you take each day, some forward and some backward, but hold high expectations for yourself, but allow yourself and others some grace.
“None of us are perfect, but each day presents an opportunity to try again … (so), draw upon the lessons learned here at West Point and move forward with humility, empathy, strength and courage as we continue to learn, grow and contribute,” Jebb concluded. “I love you all and make no mistake, you are our future. That gives me great optimism and confidence.”
After a standing ovation, Cadet First Captain Reilly McGinnis, on behalf of the Corps, presented Jebb with a scrapbook filled with pictures of her time at West Point and messages submitted by current and former members of the Corps of Cadets.