Above: Lieutenant General Julius W. Becton
A Senior Leader Remembered—Lieutenant General Julius W. Becton
Article by A170 Tom Rozman
The infantry captain received his orders to perform general officer escort duty the following week. It was the second time in the last several months that he’d drawn the duty. It was early summer 1975.
The captain had a busy schedule as the Air Operations and Assistant Plans, Operations and Training Officer (S-3 Air) of a mechanized infantry battalion at Ft. Benning, Georgia. The battalion was one of the three maneuver battalions of a separate mechanized infantry brigade that had been reorganizing and training up against a recently assigned XVIIIth Airborne Corps mission. The duty would engage the captain for a week.
This was time the captain could ill afford with the array of critical training and readiness projects being planned, coordinated and executed by the battalion’s plans, operations and training office (S-3). The captain was the office’s S-3 for Air Operations, in effect the deputy S-3, and was the project leader for many of these initiatives. Along with the captain’s family that included two young boys, and a wife who worked part time and was pursuing her undergraduate degree at Columbus College, there was little time to spare on any given day.
Nevertheless, the captain, having previously been an aide-de-camp in a forward deployed combat division, had learned that while close proximity to a general officer could have downsides, for the most part it usually added positively to a junior officer’s store of professional perspective and experience. He had interfaced with general officers as an army dependent, military academy cadet and junior officer and typically found that he gained applicable and useful insight from the exposure. After all, these officers had a significant perspective to share in time in service and the experiences they had encountered.
The general the captain would be escorting would be particularly important as an officer with perspectives of value at this time in the Army’s journey, Major General Julius W. Becton. At the time, General Becton was one of the most senior general officers of African heritage in the Army.
He was an infantry officer with a very distinguished career and his service extended back to World War II. The Army had been struggling with racial tensions, something of a Selective Service Era legacy that was beginning to fade as the Army moved forward with its transition to an all volunteer force. General Becton had negotiated the segregated Army of WW II, the Truman Administration’s desegregation of the Army and the racial tensions of the 1970s. His personal journey as an officer reflected much of the trials and initiatives of the Army to integrate the force and as much as possible create a real sense that every soldier was a soldier among comrades.
The captain determined that the escort duty would be a worthy use of time and got busy insuring all preparations were in order for General Becton’s visit to Ft. Benning to include coordinating with The Infantry Center’s support staff and inspecting the VIP quarters on main post earmarked for the general, a 20-30 minute commute from the captain’s outlying place of duty Kelley Hill Barracks, where most of his separate infantry brigade was garrisoned. He confirmed all arrangements at the protocol office and the Infantry School, the latter being the purpose of the general’s visit to review aspects of the Army’s infantry modernization effort at the time in his then current capacity on the Department of the Army staff. All preparations and arrangements were found to be as necessary.
The captain also reviewed the general’s short biography. He had served as an enlisted man in WWII. He subsequently attended and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Prairie View Agricultural and Mechanical College receiving a commission and serving combat tours in Korea and Viet Nam commanding at every level from platoon to command of the 1st Cavalry Division.
His further education included a masters degree from the University of Maryland, graduation from the U. S. Army Command and General Staff College, the Armed Forces Staff College and the National War College. He was a highly decorated officer who had earned the combat infantryman’s Badge in Korea and in Viet Nam.
The day of General Becton’s visit arrived and the captain with driver reported to the VIP quarters to rendezvous with the general. The initial meeting established the tone of the visit. The general made clear that he had no special needs and that he appreciated the captain’s and other support staff ‘s support and efforts to assist him during his visit. But it was clear that the general would do most of his own support. The staff would follow the general’s direction and address those areas of need the general would clearly need assistance with, i.e., groceries in the VIP quarters and transportation.
The general also commented, having queried the captain about his normal duties and unit, to the captain that he did not want to compromise the captain in any priority work he was doing in his unit. As an infantry officer, the general well understood the mechanics and press of business in a mechanized infantry battalion.
It became quickly apparent to the captain that the general was a people person and empathetic to soldiers. He was clearly a man who new his business and was decisive and competent but he did for himself and did not take lightly the people he led.
Escorting the general for the week went very well. All arrangements went smoothly and the general was a pleasure to serve. His hallmark was a sincere and demonstrated respect for people. As well, he shared professional perspectives with the captain that the captain retained and considered as he advanced in his own career. The general made an extremely positive impression on the captain. He was another of the general officers the captain interfaced with during his career that impressed him as being a leader to emulate. The general’s low-key, self-effacing yet assured, confident manner struck the captain as an example of how a senior officer should conduct himself.
Over the years following the escort assignment to support General Becton on his visit to Ft. Benning, the captain often reflected on the assignment. His conclusion: it was an experience well worth the time. The captain gained valuable insights on leadership, particularly on how a senior leader ought to conduct himself
General Becton would subsequently be promoted to lieutenant general and he would command again as the VII Corps commander in Germany. He would enjoy a distinguished civilian career following his army service which included Director of the Federal Emergency Relief Agency under President Reagan.