Feb. 10, 2013
WEST POINT, N.Y. -
Brig. General (Ret.) Rebecca (Becky) Halstead was the guest speaker Sunday afternoon for Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and Cadet Athlete Leadership Development and Unity Program (CALD UP) at Randall Hall where she was introduced by volleyball star Ariana Mankus.
Gen. Halstead (USMA '81), the first female graduate of West Point to be promoted to General Officer, interacted with the athletes in attendance and spoke about leadership from a couple of different perspectives, mainly change.
"Change is all around us and it will always be all around you, and the most important thing to remember is how you respond to change," said Gen. Halstead.
Later in the presentation she had a slide called SHIFT happens. In her speech she focused on the shift instead of the response to the shift, using a car's windshield and rear view mirror for her explanation.
"Look at life like this. There is a reason why your vehicle has a very small rear view mirror and very large windshield. We should spend the majority of our time focused on what we are looking for and how we can influence life, but we do need a little bit of time reflecting. That is how we don't make the same mistakes twice. That is how we learn."
Gen. Halstead gave the athletes a preview into her own life and explained how she came to West Point from a small hamlet in upstate New York. Her mother was the guiding force for her daughter to attend the U.S. Military Academy. Halstead filled out the application papers to appease her mother, but felt she would never get in.
"As a junior in high school, I had my own plans to attend Ithaca College and be a physical education teacher and coach because of my coach, who was my mentor," explained the first female in U.S. history to command in combat at the strategic level.
Gen. Halstead admired her high school coach and went through a devastating time when she was tragically killed as family, friends and teachers helped her through that crisis.
"What I didn't know when that happened in 1976 was that in 2006 in Iraq when my soldier experienced the death of his buddy, how valuable it was that I understood what it felt like to lose a best friend," explained the first female Chief of Ordnance and Commanding General of Army's Ordnance Center and Schools.
"I feel I would never have known how to deal with my soldier if I had not experienced what I did. Here is what I would tell you. Every single day you are being prepared for something in the future - good or bad. Whatever change is happening today, you might not understand it, but down the road you will know that is why that person was in your life or that's why that event happened."
Gen. Halstead decision to come to West Point came when she did her interview with Senator Jacob Javitts and he realized she was from the same town where the coach was killed. He sent her the all the letters of recommendation, including one from her coach who had written it just prior to her death.
The letter from her mentor showed how much faith and confidence she had in Halstead, and how excited she was about the possibility that she might be coming to West Point for something that wasn't ever offered to her.
"She could not say enough about how I was the right person to be doing that," explained Halstead. "For her to see that potential in me got me out of that funk I was in, and that is why I carried that letter with me for the rest of my life. Sometimes you are the one encouraging people and sometimes you are the one who needs encouragement."
Gen. Halstead drew amusement from the athletes when she told them that the highest day of her life was the last day at home and how excited her family was. The worst day of her 18-year-old life was the first day at West Point (known as Beast Barracks).
"The Army was about three percent women when I came to West Point, and it is about 15 percent now. Not a huge change, but a huge change were we can serve.
"I am not out to impress someone," said Gen. Halstead explaining how she developed her leadership values. "I am only going to lead you the way that I would want to be led.
"My whole goal in life was that I left my options open so that I could make the decision that determined some of those next steps. The longer I stayed in the military, my goal was that someday I could retire and hear someone read `honorably served my country and honorably discharged as a faithful servant.'"
Upon retiring after serving 27 years in the Army, Gen Halstead founded her own leader consultancy company called STEADFAST Leadership.