As a Fort Knox basic trainee, Pvt. Steven Abt wore an Army uniform for the first time in the spring of 1970.
Later that year, ROTC cadet Abt carried his uniform in a paper sack to avoid Vietnam War backlash on the Colorado State University campus.
Maj. Gen. Abt takes off the uniform for the last time June 1, ending a 38-year Army Reserve career after three years as the Deputy Commanding General for the Army Reserve, U.S. Army Accessions Command.
His primary duty was advising the commanding general of Accessions Command on the issues, needs and policies of the reserve component, Abt said, but his mission was more than that.
"What I've ended up doing with 65 percent of my time is literally being the field general. I have spent my time being the USAAC face across the nation, delivering the CG's message, shaking hands," Maj. Gen. Abt said. "I go out and try to reinforce what's coming out of Accessions Command and reinforce what U.S. Army Recruiting Command and Cadet Command are putting out. For particularly the last two years, I travel every week and I try to stop by a recruiting station and see an ROTC unit."
Starting his career during the Vietnam War, Abt knows how critical the support of the American people is to its Army.
"The ROTC Professors of Military Science and their staff and the recruiting station commanders and their staff are really our linkage to the grassroots of America," Maj. Gen. Abt said. "The programs that Accessions Command has that I think are extraordinarily important are the COIs (centers of influence) and the grassroots. I believe that if we want to have connection to Americans, that's a fantastic way to do it. COIs and grassroots boards are people who volunteer to tell the Army story."
A traditional Reservist, Abt believes he witnessed momentous change in Army Reserve history since being commissioned in 1973.
"I was part of a generation that made an impact that has changed the way America views the Army Reserve and, more importantly, that changed the way the active Army views the Army Reserve," Abt said. "The Army can't go to war and sustain without the Reserve components. You've got to have the tail to support the forward fighting edge.
"If you take the way we're organized now, a significant part of the aviation and the enablers are all Reserve and National Guard units. Seventy four percent of the engineers are reserve component. Sixty four percent of the MPs, reserve component."
A lifelong engineer after graduating Colorado State, Abt climbed the academic ladder at CSU. He was the dean in the engineering school there in 2005 when Army and academia collided.
"Academia gave me a lot of flexibility to be in the Army Reserve for about 18-19 years," Maj. Gen. Abt said. "But when you make lieutenant colonel on the military side and associate dean on the academic side you now have a problematic existence."
As the 2005-6 school year ended, then-Brig. Gen. Abt was offered the DCG-Reserve slot for the Army Corps of Engineers. Colorado State put him in the position to make a choice between academia or the Corps of Engineers assignment with a one-year tour in Iraq.
"I went into transitional retirement right before I deployed in 2006," Maj. Gen. Abt said of the choice. "I am no longer fulltime faculty; I'm now a professor emeritus."
Upon return from Iraq in 2007, he continued as the Corps of Engineers DCG-Reserve for another year until Lt. Gen. Freakley summoned him to Accessions Command.
"The move was probably the best opportunity for a challenge at the backside of my career. I had to learn something totally new," Maj. Gen. Abt said. "I did recruiting as an associate dean, recruiting engineers, but I recruited a much different segment of society. It's ended up being a wonderful tour at Accessions Command."
He spent 90-130 days a year advising and representing Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, U.S. Army Accessions Command commanding general.
"I do spend a lot of time advising him what the Reserve leadership is doing, what the Reserve stance is, here's what the attitude is," Maj. Gen. Abt said. "If I can go out and present an award to someone in the community I'll do so because most of these folks rarely see a general."
Freakley was on the board in 2008 that selected Maj. Gen. Abt for a second two-star assignment, an assignment that sent Abt to Accessions Command.
"Maj. Gen. Steve Abt has been a superb deputy commanding general; a mature, steady and thoughtful leader who has helped us grow and helped us improve in mission performance during his tenure," Lt. Gen. Freakley said. "He provided excellent counsel to me as I led the command and has been a senior mentor to all of our Reserve teammates on the Accessions Command Staff."
Freakley hosts Abt's retirement ceremony at Fort Knox, Ky., May 19.