“Be Professional Even When Those Around You Are Not”: Consistent Leadership In The Army And The English Department

Les Knotts


Les Knotts grew up in a military family; his father, a career Soldier, retired as a First Sergeant. In a family with seven children, his parents were strong role models in his development. The family lived in Germany during Les’s middle school years, and he loved the freedom he experienced in Europe. At 15, he became a Christian, and began to feel a calling to go to West Point, but he resisted for a few years, earning an Associate’s Degree from Central Texas College before seeking admission to West Point. Arriving at the Military Academy in the summer of 1978, he learned to subordinate his private feelings to the need to conform to the structure of the Corps. Although he struggled in some academic classes (primarily physics), he excelled in other areas of Cadet development, and he remained focused on the goal of graduating and serving the nation as an Officer in the Army. After commissioning as an Infantry Officer, he spent much of his career in Hawaii, serving in several capacities in the 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry. Lessons he learned in the operational Army reinforced the importance of being proficient and teaching others, and always remaining professional. He served in the Department of English and Philosophy at West Point three times during his career (1991-1994, 1999-2000, and 2003-2009), teaching composition and literature. Since retiring in 2009, he has worked in the field of leadership development. In this interview, he describes his childhood, his experiences in Germany, his time at the Military Academy, and his career in the Army. He highlights an opportunity to ask his Dad about his experiences during the Korean War, a chat that changed his relationship with his father for the better. He describes a prank he played at West Point involving paint, the roof of Cullum Hall, and the Commandant. He reflects on a difficult relationship he had with a battalion commander, and what both of them learned from it. He discusses teaching in the English Department, and his friendship with the head of the department, COL Peter Stromberg. Finally, he reflects on what West Point means to him.


name Les Knotts
institution USMA
graduation year 1982
service Infantry
unit A Company, 1-14 Infantry; 25th ID, English Department
specialty English Department
service dates 1982 2009