On May 23, Col. Gary Beard will retire exactly 25 years to the day after receiving his commission in the U.S. Army in 1997. Those who know Beard, who currently serves as the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command G-3, will agree this is just one tidbit in a very interesting career, which began after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy. You read that correctly. Beard became a Soldier on the day he graduated from the Naval Academy.
While not common, students at the five military service academies don’t always go on to serve in the military branch they initially planned. This is known as an “inter-service commission” and the process to switch is a complicated one. Beard began the undertaking after realizing life in the Army would be a better fit for him than life in the Navy.
“I thought I wanted to be [in the Navy]. You find out very quickly – and I've told folks this and explained it to a lot of people. It doesn't matter how bad a day I've had in the Army, and with multiple combat tours, including the invasion of Iraq, there have been some rough ones. No matter how rough that day has been, you can always find a way to turn your back on the world, and for 30 seconds, you don't have to hear, see or smell another human being. There is nowhere on a ship, even one as big as an aircraft carrier, where that's a true statement.”
That’s not to say Beard didn’t have every intention of joining the Navy when he entered the Naval Academy.
“I either wanted to be a pilot or a submarine officer but that’s really what it came down to. I like to tell everybody, and I really do believe this, I think I’m one of the smartest people in the world because I made the right choice both times. I really believe I went to the right school for me. I think I went to the better school. Make sure you tell [Maj.] Gen. Royer I said that. Honestly, I think I’ve been a far better Soldier than I ever would have been a sailor.”
Beard’s family history of Army service also played a part in his decision to become a Soldier.
“I have a huge family history in the Army. My dad was in the Army and his younger brother was a command sergeant major,” said Beard. “One of my mom’s brothers is a Vietnam veteran. I’ve had a long family history of service in the military.
“I guess that’s really what it comes down to -- the Army is a family business in a lot of ways. You don’t really see a whole lot of people who are in [the military] that can’t say their mother, their dad, their brother, their nephew, or uncle or whomever you know [served]. We all seem to have those family stories -- in addition to the Army becoming another family. When you serve, you have the family you’re related to biologically and the family you choose to be a part of.”
Being closer to family is one of the benefits of retirement Beard is looking forward to the most. He and his wife were high school sweethearts and got married the day after his graduation in the Naval Academy chapel.
“When they do those weddings, they’re scheduled like every hour on the hour all day. The wedding directly before ours was one of my Naval Academy classmates who was approved for an inter-service commission and she was marrying an Army officer. Somebody joked that after decades of not having an Army officer married at the Naval Academy chapel – euphemistically referred to as the Cathedral of the Navy – they suddenly, within a two-hour span, had three Army officers married there.”
In addition to family time, Beard wants to take some time off and finish a very important project that’s been in the works for a while.
“I want to do work on my old Mustang because, you know, it ain’t gonna fix itself,” said Beard.
Before he rides off into the sunset, however, he does have some advice to Soldiers just starting their careers.
“You need mentors. And you need mentors that cover the entire span of your career,” said Beard. “As a baby major, I was an aide for three-star … and a few years later, I ended up as XO to a two-star who introduced me to all his two- and three-star buddies. Here I was, a young major getting ready to go be an S3 XO, which they had done that 20 years ago. It really led me to think about who my mentors were, so I started actively seeking mentors across a broader spectrum, including some that were junior to me. Their advice and wisdom has been critical to my service.
“So I would tell young Soldiers that you need multiple mentors – those who can provide you guidance and insight – because everybody’s experiences and path in the Army are very different. Nobody’s career is going to look identical. And that's okay. There are multiple ways to get to whatever you define as happiness and success. Each individual has to define success and then you use your mentors to help you understand how to achieve the success you’re looking for.”
Beard has one final message for his AMCOM family, specifically AMCOM commander Maj. Gen. Todd Royar, and he was insistent on including it in this story.
“Go Navy! Beat Army!”