Jerry Cecil lived in a broken home as a young boy, and was eventually adopted with his younger brothers into a good home in eastern Kentucky. He attended the Hazel Green Academy, and the librarian recommended that he apply for the Air Force Academy. Unfortunately, he was number two on the list for USAFA, but his congressman recommended that he take a nomination for West Point, and Jerry entered the Military Academy with the Class of ’65. He struggled in math and was turned back, but graduated as an Infantry officer with the Class of ’66. After Airborne and Ranger School, he served at Fort Hood, Texas, where he commanded a Cavalry Troop after the previous commander was relieved. In June, 1967, he deployed to Vietnam and was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, earning a Distinguished Service Cross during the Battle of Dak To and seeing action during the Tet Offensive. Returning from Vietnam, he was an instructor at Ranger School, and sought to impart his experience to the students in his classes. After serving as an Aide-de-Camp to LTG Forsythe, he received a Masters’ Degree from Duke University and returned to West Point to serve as a Tactical Officer from 1973 to 1976. Following the Command and General Staff College, he served in Panama during the period when the Canal Zone was being returned to the Panamanians, and pushed a unit to Guyana following the Jonestown incident. He transitioned to the Army Reserve in Kentucky in 1983, and retired as a Colonel in 1996. Since leaving the military, he has taught history at Lexington Community College, and in 2004 he was appointed a Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army (CASA) for Kentucky.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his experiences at West Point, and his service in the Army. He reflects upon lessons he learned throughout his career at Fort Hood, in Vietnam, commanding a company in Korea, as a TAC at West Point, and as an instructor in Ranger School. He discusses leadership and the importance of surrounding yourself with good people, both seniors and subordinates. He highlights the lessons of Schofield’s Definition of Discipline and how that, as well as lessons from the Hazel Green Academy, helped shape the type of leader he became. Finally, he describes what West Point means to him.
“Schofield’s Definition of Discipline”
The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instruction and to give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or the other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them regard for himself, while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially his inferiors, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.
Major General John M. Schofield
Address to the Corps of Cadets
August 11, 1879