Austin graduated from Thomasville High School in 1971, received an appointment to West Point Military Academy, and went on to lead troops at the 1, 2, 3, and 4 star levels during his 41 years of service in the United States Army. After serving as the last Commanding General of U.S. Forces- Iraq and as the Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, Austin’s most prestigious assignment was his appointment and confirmation as commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in 2013 where he designed the operational plans while overseeing the U.S. efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in a vast region that covers the Middle East, from Egypt to Kazakhstan.
During his recent visit to speak at the graveside of military leader Henry O. Flipper, he took the time to visit THS AFJROTC teachers, Lt. Col. Stann McLeod and MSgt. Chad Smith, and answer questions from an audience of high schoolers who listened with rapt attention to the humble and admirable hometown hero.
Cadet Kieran Jones asked, “What has it been like traveling around the world?”
Austin told the students that while he completed four combat tours, he loved learning about new cultures and emphasized the service aspect of his job.
“While I had the privilege of serving in the greatest profession there is, I knew that it was about service while I still got to meet new people and do new and different things,” said Austin.
Cadet Jones also asked, “What’s your take on service before self?”
Austin said that it means everything, that you put your personal interests aside for the benefit of your team.
“I’ve seen people give their lives for their team. It is what the military is all about,” said Austin.
Cadet Spear Celaya asked, “What was PT (physical training) like at West Point?
Austin recalled that when he finished high school, he was in pretty good shape and was a jumper on the track team.
“PT was hard, and part of going to college is meeting really talented people. Meeting those others helped raise the bar for me. It challenged me mentally and physically,” said Austin.
Cadet Thomas Butler asked, “What has been your greatest experience?”
Austin relayed that his greatest experience has been the ability to lead troops.
“It’s extraordinary how much people will do for each other, how much they will do for their team,” said Austin.
Corps Commander Peyton Miller asked, “Since ROTC is a leadership laboratory, what quality do you esteem the most in a leader?”
“Selflessness,” said Austin matter-of-factly. “If it’s someone I’m working for or if someone is working for me, the leader should think about the people he is leading above himself and they will follow their leader anywhere.”
Cadet Jarrett Daniel asked, “When you’ve experienced fear or doubt, how did you overcome it?”
Austin assured the audience that everyone has fears, and those who claim that they don’t are misleading.
“Hearing the voice of your leader and the training that you can fall back on in times of stress and fear can give you the confidence to get through the anxiety,” added Austin.
Cadet Kareem Daniels asked, “At what age did you decide to pursue the military and what kept you motivated through the hard work?”
Austin reiterated his earlier comments about the importance of service to others and urged the students to find a way to serve their country even if it’s not in the military.
“I’ve wanted to do this since I was a kid. I wanted to be a guy who served my country,” said Austin.
One of Austin’s closing remarks commended his classmates from THS.
“The message I bring is that you ought to be willing to do things for each other,” said Austin. “My friends from the THS Class of 1971 have met up with me all over the country to support me throughout my career.”