Updated 4/7/2013) Two African-American generals made history this year by simultaneously taking charge of major regional commands.
President Barack Obama nominated Generals Lloyd Austin and Vincent Brooks to head U.S. Central Command and U.S. Army Pacific, respectively. Each powerful command position allows the generals to oversee operations in either the Middle East or Asia. Brooks will earn his fourth star upon assuming command, while Austin is already a four-star general.
Although the nominations highlight a first for African Americans, both generals have had a career of firsts. A year ago, Austin became the first African American to hold the Army’s second highest position, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. In 1979 Brooks became the first African-American to assume the cadet First Captain position at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, the highest position a cadet can hold.
Along with their graduations from West Point, their honorary doctorates degrees and their 6-foot, 4-inch frames, these generals also share an ability to understand, counsel and inspire others toward excellence.
“Gen. Austin …is an outstanding illustration of what a Black male can achieve in America,” said Craig Hanford, president of Hanford Consulting and Austin’s West Point classmate. “He’s a great leader, decorated warrior, and compassionate mentor.”
“Lt. Gen. Brooks is a soldier’s soldier,” said Col. Rivers Johnson Jr., public affairs officer for U.S. Cyber Command. “I’ve never worked so hard in my Army career as I did when I was his executive officer. He was the consummate mentor, teacher and dedicated leader.”
Both generals have legacies rich in military service. Austin, who hails from Thomasville, Ga., traces his military roots back to his distant relative, 2nd Lt. Henry O. Flipper, the first African American to graduate from West Point in 1877.
Brooks, born in Anchorage, Alaska, comes from a family of generals. His father, and older brother, Leo Brooks Sr. and Jr., retired as general officers. Brooks’ family service dates back to the Civil War, when his great-great grandfather, an escaped slave, joined the Union Army.
While some may see these nominations as the reasoned and strategic choices of a wise president, Foster Payne II, retired Army Col., also sees their value to others.
“In a society that searches for role models for our youth, both generals are trailblazers not only for their service to the nation but to mankind,” said Payne.
Whether defending America’s interests, developing soldiers or inspiring youth, these storied generals continue to make history.