U.S. Army Major General Peggy Combs ’85

Lessons in Leadership

Major General Peggy Combs started her military career as a U.S. Army ROTC cadet on campus. Today, the College of Arts and Sciences graduate, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, is back with the cadets.

Formal portrait of Peggy Combs in front of an American flag

This time, she is leading them as the 11th commanding general of the U.S. Army Cadet Command and the 85th commanding general of Fort Knox, Kentucky. Combs previously served as the chief of chemical and the commandant of the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. During Operation Enduring Freedom, she was the joint nuclear, biological, and chemical operations officer at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, and also served as the chief of staff for the Iraq Training and Advisory Mission, U.S. Forces-Iraq, in Baghdad, among other assignments.

Q&A

How did the Syracuse University ROTC program prepare you to start out your military career?

ROTC teaches fundamental life skills, including self-discipline, responsibility, time management, accountability, and commitment to something bigger than yourself. Those fundamental ideals are taught throughout ROTC and then you have the opportunity to apply them to many different leadership situations.

Among your assignments and postings around the world, what are you most proud of?

The total experience is one of great pride. Every job has its beauty, its challenges, and its particularly fond memories, and the one constant throughout the jobs is the great people we serve with and the folks we meet.

What I’m most proud of is that I married another officer [Retired Lieutenant Colonel Brad Combs] and we have three great kids. We were able to serve together, and our kids served right alongside us.

What does your work entail as the commanding general of the U.S. Army Cadet Command?

I’m responsible for shaping how we’re moving forward with our education and training, as well as recruiting and assessing officers, and then also personnel, administration, and supply.

We are undergoing what we call BOLD (Basic Officer Leadership Development) Transformation. Our education curriculum model on campus and what we do in the summertime to train officers is all changing for the first time in our history.  

The new model is more challenging and rigorous, but at the same time more flexible. For instance, in addition to active duty, we train officers who will serve in our Army Reserves, and the National Guard. We’re looking at making our model flexible so if they need to do a civilian internship during one of their summers, they can do that. This sets them up to succeed in their civilian jobs and that makes them better officers.

What have you come to learn are the most important qualities of being a leader?

I tell seniors it’s what I call the triple “A” approach. They have to be “Authentic” in order to gain trust and respect of subordinates. They have to have complete “Awareness” of what’s going on around them, not only in their environment, but also with every soldier on their team.

The most important one is to have a great “Attitude.” You have to bring your positive energy to everything you do and you have to be committed to selfless service to our nation.

What do you enjoy about your work that keeps you committed to service?

There is a quote from Katharine Graham [former publisher of The Washington Post]: “To love what you do and feel that it matters‚ how could anything be more fun?” At cadet command, we shape the future leaders of our Army. How can anything be more critical than that? Seeing these young cadets and their dedication is truly an inspiration. I truly do love it because I serve alongside folks who all have this common heart and dedication to service.

Editor's note: After this was published in the print edition of the Fall/Winter 2014 issue, Combs was promoted to major general in a ceremony at the Pentagon on December 12, 2014.

Kathleen Haley

This story was first published on December 14, 2017 and last updated on . It also appeared as “Lessons in Leadership” in the Fall/Winter 2014 issue of Syracuse University Magazine.


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