By By Steve Arel, U.S. Army Cadet CommandAugust 23, 2012
Col. Peggy Combs knew from the outset -- because the Army told her -- her tenure with U.S. Army Cadet Command would be brief, maybe a year at best, before being promoted to brigadier general and heading to her next assignment. She eked out 13 months before the time for transition came Thursday.
Combs, Cadet Command's first female deputy commanding general, turned over her responsibilities as the organization's second-in-command to Col. Erik Peterson in a combination departure/welcoming ceremony at Cadet Park. He joins the command after serving as chief of staff for the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y.
Peterson, a 1986 ROTC commissionee from the University of Idaho, welcomed the chance to return to the organization -- and the post -- where his career began. He is no stranger to Fort Knox, having graduated from Basic Camp, the predecessor to the Leader's Training Course, in 1984.
"It was that formative experience, with the professional example of the Basic Camp training cadre and the example of the leaders of my University of Idaho ROTC battalion that enticed me to commit to something bigger than self and begin an Army career," Peterson said. "I look forward to continuing the journey with the Cadet Command team."
Combs will become the commandant of the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. She will be promoted to brigadier general just before the Sept. 7 change of command ceremony, which will be streamed live to the American Legion in her hometown of Oriskany, N.Y., where many of the town's 1,400 residents are expected to gather.
Besides the fact that she will be the first female general officer to hail from the upstate New York community, excitement among citizens also stems from the fact she will be the first general with ties to Oriskany since Gen. Nicholas Herkimer, who led local militia during the famed battle of Oriskany during the Revolutionary War.
Though Combs' time with Cadet Command was brief, she made a significant difference, said Maj. Gen. Jefforey Smith, Cadet Command's commanding general. He hailed Combs, who was known for her passion and energetic demeanor, as a "great officer, a great leader and a genuinely good person," saying she was an asset to him and the command, performing at a high level, exhibiting solid expertise and demonstrating an ability to effectively communicate with people at all levels -- from junior Cadets, to senior leaders of the Army to community influencers.
"About the time you come in and make a mark, the Army decides it has something bigger and better for you and they move you on," Smith said. "It's hard to make an impact in such a short period of time, but I can tell you wherever I go and whoever I talk to, the people Col. Combs has touched and the organizations she has been around have been better because she has been a part of them and better because of her leadership."
When Combs learned a little more than a year ago she would be promoted, she looked at it as Christmas. When the Syracuse University commissionee learned she would become the deputy commanding general for Cadet Command, she looked at the opportunity as the biggest gift under the tree on Christmas morning.
In that gift were blessings that proved inspirational, she said, in the form of support from family, friends and colleagues. There also was a crystal ball, which offered a look at the future leaders of America -- the high school and college students who comprise the Junior and Senior ROTC programs.
"America's wealth is not measured by what is in our checkbook," she said. "America's wealth is measured, I believe, in the potential of her youth. When you see those Junior ROTC Cadets, it is incredibly inspiring and motivating for me as an American because I know our country is in great hands.
"When I see the eyes of our Senior Cadets … I wish I was half the Cadet when I went through ROTC that these guys are now. They are committed, they have character, they have focus. But most of all, they have passion for service."
Combs said she's also blessed with a great successor, who will continue to further what she called Cadet Command's legacy of excellence.
"I told Erik one thing: This job is what you make it," she said. "If you don't get inspired, then you don't have a heart.
"I take a lot of great blessings with me. This Christmas gift couldn't have been any better or any more enduring."