LTG(R) Buster Hagenbeck grew up in a Navy Family in Jacksonville, Florida, but chose to attend West Point, because of the school’s reputation and his desire to do his part for the nation. He entered the Military Academy in 1967 with the Class of ’71. It was a turbulent time in our country’s history, and he observed the cultural changes that increasing anti-war sentiment caused while he was a Cadet. He played football on the 150-pound (now sprint) football team, and on a later assignment at West Point coached the scout football team. Based on positive mentorship he received from Bill Carpenter, the famed “lonesome end” who was his Tactical Officer, he surprised his classmates by selecting Infantry instead of Field Artillery. His first assignment in the Army following graduation was with the 25th Infantry Division, where he learned many valuable lessons from his Non-Commissioned Officers, who were all Vietnam Veterans. After attending graduate school at Florida State University, where he was a volunteer coach under Bobby Bowden, he returned to the Department of Physical Education to teach boxing and coach football. His next assignment was at XVIII Airborne Corps and the 82nd Airborne Division, and he participated in Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada. He commanded the 1st Battalion of the 87th Infantry Regiment in the 10th Mountain Division, focusing on achieving excellence in the fundamentals of Soldiering and small unit tactics. His next command assignment was in the 3rd Training Brigade at the Army’s Engineer Center, where he was groomed to be a General Officer. He then served at the 101st Airborne Division as the Assistant Division Commander for Operations and on the Joint Staff before being selected to return to West Point as the 57th Superintendent in 2006. While at West Point, he focused on making summer training more realistic and more relevant. Since retiring, he has focused on volunteer work, the Leadership Institute at the University of Florida, and the Elbe Group, a group of U.S. and Russian leaders who discuss international relations.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his West Point experiences, and his service in the Army. He reflects on influential leaders who mentored him through the years, including football coach Eric Tipton and other Army leaders he served with repeatedly. He analyzes his different assignments, and provides insights into different lessons he learned. He discusses his time as superintendent, highlighting some of his accomplishments. Finally, he comments on what West Point means to him.