Character and Intellect: Colonel Lance Betros and the Changing Culture of Leadership at USMA (Part 1)

Lance Betros
Title
  • 0:00:01
  • Interviewer
  • All right, today is March 2, 2012. We’re in the studios of the West Point Center for Oral History with Colonel Lance Betros, the soon-to-retire head of the History Department here at West Point. Welcome, Colonel Betros.

  • 0:00:13
  • Lance Betros
  • Thanks, Todd.

  • 0:00:14
  • Interviewer
  • Colonel Betros has also played an important and critical role—perhaps the most critical role—in the establishment of the Center for Oral History, so we’re very grateful to have him here today. Colonel Betros, you come from a military family?

  • 0:00:27
  • Lance Betros
  • Not at all, except that my dad was in World War II. He was in the Army Air Corps and rose to the exalted rank of PFC, which he always liked to kid me about that. So no, I was not in a military family beyond that, and therefore, even though I grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York, I never knew that West Point existed, didn’t know what it was. Didn’t realize it was only 30 miles away from my house.

  • 0:00:51
  • Interviewer
  • So how is it that you ended up here as a Plebe, then?

  • 0:00:54
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, ironic to what we’ll talk about later, I’m sure, I played football in high school, and I was actually pretty good. So one day in my, in the fall of my senior year, the football coach from high school came into my classroom, asked the teacher if I could step out for a couple minutes, and I met Coach Bud Neswiacheny, class of ’68 from West Point, who was a football coach here at West Point. And we chatted just for a couple of minutes, and he gave me some papers that I took home.

  • 0:01:28
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, I had no intention of going into the military or didn’t even know what West Point was at that point, but my father did. So my father looked at the papers that I had received and heard what had happened that day, and strongly encouraged me to fill out the papers.

  • 0:01:41
  • Interviewer
  • Where had you been thinking about going to college before that?

  • 0:01:44
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, I had always wanted to go to medical school, so I had applied to Cornell, Brown, NYU, and as it turned out, I would get accepted to all of them; but I also turned out to get accepted to West Point. And I figured that if I went to one of the other schools, the civilian schools, I would never know if West Point was a place that I really want to go. Whereas if I went to West Point first and didn’t like it, I could always leave West Point and continue on with my—with the other routes.

  • 0:02:12
  • Interviewer
  • Were you going to be playing football at the other schools, too, or was this the only one—

  • 0:02:15
  • Lance Betros
  • Yes.

  • 0:02:16
  • Interviewer
  • It was all of them.

  • 0:02:17
  • Lance Betros
  • Yes.

  • 0:02:18
  • Interviewer
  • You were recruited for football for all those schools.

  • 0:02:19
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, for Cornell and Brown—NYU didn’t have a team, so.

  • 0:02:24
  • Interviewer
  • And what was your position?

  • 0:02:25
  • Lance Betros
  • I was a linebacker, and I also played on the offensive line. But I was recruited to be a linebacker.

  • 0:02:31
  • Interviewer
  • And so you joined here, you came here as a Plebe in the summer of?

  • 0:02:36
  • Lance Betros
  • ’73.

  • 0:02:37
  • Interviewer
  • ’73.

  • 0:02:38
  • Lance Betros
  • Right.

  • 0:02:39
  • Interviewer
  • And what was it like here then?

  • 0:02:41
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, it was during the days when leadership meant a lot of yelling and screaming. We had to be transitioned from civilian to military, and the idea was that you—you break somebody down and you treat them harshly, and you make them know that they’re in a new environment. And from that point, once they’ve accepted their lowly status, then you can build them up somehow. I didn’t—

  • 0:03:08
  • Interviewer
  • You speak about this with a little certain disdain, I can tell.

  • 0:03:10
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, I didn’t buy it then, and I have never bought it. And thoughtful people in the Army and at West Point also realized that this was not a healthy form of leadership.

  • 0:03:21
  • Interviewer
  • But this had been the approach—am I right? We’ll get to the history of West Point—

  • 0:03:25
  • Lance Betros
  • Uh-huh.

  • 0:03:26
  • Interviewer
  • In a succeeding interview. But this had been the approach for 150 years at that point.

  • 0:03:31
  • Lance Betros
  • Sure, sure. It was very traditional. The assumption was that it was an attritional academy, where you had to—when you came to West Point, it was like going through a gauntlet. And if you made it through the gauntlet, then you were—you were considered to be an able officer—somebody who could adapt to anything.

  • 0:03:48
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, that really doesn’t fly in the face of reason. People don’t like to be treated in a demeaning way, no matter who you are or where you are. And I can remember during basic training—they called it Beast Barracks—wondering, “Why is everybody yelling at me? Why don’t you just tell me what you’d like [me] to do and I’ll be happy to do it for you?” But instead, I was rarely spoken to in a calm, deliberate manner. Usually it was yelling, and always rushing around, and you could never do anything well enough, and there was a lot of sarcasm and cynicism and demeaning verbiage.

  • 0:04:30
  • Lance Betros
  • So, I didn’t know any better, but just intuitively I said, “This is not how I would want to treat my own subordinates,” and—

  • 0:04:39
  • Interviewer
  • Did you have a thought, then, that this wasn’t for you—that you wanted out?

  • 0:04:42
  • Lance Betros
  • The first year at West Point wasn’t happy for me. Again, I was from a basically civilian background—didn’t really know if I wanted to be in the military—thought that I didn’t, actually, at the beginning. Football helped me to get through a lot of that, because it was fun and it was a wholesome diversion from everything else. But it really was difficult for me, that first year, because I thought I was recruited to play football, and yet there was this other thing called “getting ready to be an officer” that was sort of important, too.

  • 0:05:16
  • Lance Betros
  • So I was in conflict the whole year; and also I was feeling sorry for myself. It was hard. It was lonely, even being only 30 miles from home. It was still… I might as well have been on the other side of the moon. So yeah, there was a lot of stress. This is West Point?

  • 0:05:32
  • Interviewer
  • You told me once about a story about driving here for the first time, I guess on your way here—to the Academy.

  • 0:05:39
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah.

  • 0:05:40
  • Interviewer
  • Tell me that again.

  • 0:05:42
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, like I said, I didn’t even know West Point existed. And we were—Poughkeepsie’s on the east side of the river, West Point’s on the west side of the river; so for my first trip down here, it was a recruiting trip sponsored by the Director of Intercollegiate Athletics. I was in my dad’s car, driving south. I got it all the way to Newburgh on 9W, Route 9W, so far, so good. I got to Cornwall, and I knew that I’m getting reasonably close to West Point, and all of a sudden on the right-hand side of the road, there was a sign that said, “Military Academy.”

  • 0:06:15
  • Lance Betros
  • So I pulled off real quick, and in a minute or two I came up on a ramshackle old dog-eared place with a green rusty fence, and I just looked at that and said, “This is West Point?” you know, and—well, it wasn’t West Point. It was New York Military Academy. It was a private high school, basically. So I figured it out pretty quickly, and then went 10 more miles down the road, and when I finally got to West Point, you could imagine, having just seen the New York Military Academy, that West Point looked pretty good.

  • 0:06:51
  • Interviewer
  • Yeah. So you were impressed by it the first time you saw it.

  • 0:06:53
  • Lance Betros
  • Yes, I was. It was everything to be impressed about, yeah.

  • 0:06:56
  • Interviewer
  • Who did you meet here when you came for that recruiting call?

  • 0:06:59
  • Lance Betros
  • Well my—the fellow who recruited me was—I think I mentioned his name already—Bud Neswiacheny. And he was a football player from—he graduated in the class of ’68, and seemed to be a fine mentor, terrific football player, and a great officer. So he’s the one that helped me when I would come down to West Point for those trips.

  • 0:07:23
  • Interviewer
  • Who was the head coach at that time?

  • 0:07:25
  • Lance Betros
  • His name was Tom Cahill, and he was going to have a rough season in 1973. That was the year that the varsity went 0 in 10. It was the worst season West Point had ever, ever suffered through, and as a result it cost him his job.

  • 0:07:41
  • Interviewer
  • Okay.

  • 0:07:42
  • Lance Betros
  • Now, I played on the plebe team that year, so—well, you know, bad things go downhill, and even though we won a couple of games, it was still not a whole lot of fun playing in the shadow of a very unsuccessful season.

  • 0:07:57
  • Interviewer
  • Who was the plebe coach at the time?

  • 0:08:00
  • Lance Betros
  • His name was—I forget his first name, but his last name was Stork, Mr. Stork—Coach Stork.

  • 0:08:04
  • Interviewer
  • What do you remember about him?

  • 0:08:06
  • Lance Betros
  • A fine fellow, and tried very hard to not only have a winning football team, but he really embraced the idea of West Point as a developmental institution.

  • 0:08:16
  • Interviewer
  • It must’ve been exciting for you, though, as a Poughkeepsie High School boy to come play football, here, under a real national spotlight—

  • 0:08:27
  • Lance Betros
  • Right.

  • 0:08:28
  • Interviewer
  • I mean with thousands upon thousands of people in the stands, right? I mean—

  • 0:08:30
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, it was. Now, I never played in a varsity game—I just played in the plebe level. But even still, it was fun to have my high school coach come down and watch, and my parents would come down. It was a lot of fun. And the thought of being on the varsity someday was exciting. But some things intervened.

  • 0:08:49
  • Interviewer
  • Yeah, tell me about those.

  • 0:08:51
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah. Well, first of all, when the varsity went 0 in 10, Coach Cahill was fired, and a whole new coaching staff came in. So when we went into spring training that spring—in ’74, that would’ve been—it was like starting all over again. And I remember a couple of not-so-nice experiences with the linebackers’ coach—the new one that came in; and it just wasn’t fun anymore.

  • 0:09:18
  • Interviewer
  • What were those experiences—tell me what—

  • 0:09:20
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, I remember being on the sideline—I couldn’t do anything right for this man. I won’t say his name, but I couldn’t do anything right for this man; and he would yell at me. He was like the cadre—would just yell at you all the time. And one day during practice, I was standing not five feet from him on the sideline, but he saw something wrong out on the field, and he yelled out, “Betros, get your ass in gear.”

  • 0:09:45
  • Lance Betros
  • And I knew right then if, you know, there I am on the sideline and he thinks I’m doing something wrong out there, I had no chance with this guy. So that’s just an example.

  • 0:09:56
  • Interviewer
  • He was mistaking, though, somebody out there for you.

  • 0:09:57
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah, he was mistaking somebody for me, yeah.

  • 0:09:59
  • Interviewer
  • Okay.

  • 0:10:01
  • Lance Betros
  • At any rate, by that time I had really started to change, to mature, and realize that I wasn’t there to play football. It was sinking in, finally. And it wasn’t—as a result of that, it was losing its appeal.

  • 0:10:18
  • Interviewer
  • Now, but you say you weren’t there to play football, meaning that something had drawn you to West Point that didn’t have anything to do with football, or do you mean that West Point was a place where you’re going to learn something else, and that’s what their intention was for you?

  • 0:10:32
  • Lance Betros
  • When I entered West Point, it was really as an experiment. I didn’t know what to expect. My dad was pretty encouraging—I would almost say insistent—that I went to West Point, because he said, “Go ahead and try it. You know, if you don’t like it, you know, you can always leave.” So a young guy at 18 years old who was recruited to play football—when I got there that’s really what I thought I was there for—to play football. And I mean—

  • 0:10:59
  • Interviewer
  • But had you given up your dreams of being a doctor?

  • 0:11:01
  • Lance Betros
  • Not really. I wasn’t sure. If I liked West Point, I might stay. If I didn’t, I would go pursue the other part of it. So I got there, and little by little, even playing football, I realize from just being there and absorbing it all, that the institution stood for very noble things, and the Army was a noble institution. And I started liking it, and there were a lot of—there were requirements and standards and regimentation, and there were ways to achieve, and it was—that was very appealing; so, football was losing its luster.

  • 0:11:42
  • Lance Betros
  • And then during the summertime in my rising yearling summer I went to Camp Buckner and was given a leadership position there. I was a first sergeant for one of the training companies. And boy, that’s when it really clicked. It was fun. I was in charge of things, and we were doing real training. And it was—it really was different from what I had anticipated. And from that point forward, I never looked back.

  • 0:12:12
  • Interviewer
  • What—what was it that you discovered? You say you were in charge of things. You could’ve been in charge of the stockroom at Target, but you were not, obviously—something—in charge of what? What was the distinctive thing about—

  • 0:12:25
  • Lance Betros
  • People.

  • 0:12:26
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:12:27
  • Lance Betros
  • I was in charge of people, and I was actually—I was influencing whether they would be successful or not. I was the first sergeant of the company, and I realized the—it was this growing realization that, you know, human beings really can have an influence in other people’s lives in a very positive way if people allow.

  • 0:12:49
  • Interviewer
  • How’d you see that in this first instance? What did you recognize in the men that you were leading then that gave you that impression?

  • 0:12:56
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, by being put in a leadership position, I had the opportunity to see that their success depended on me doing my job, and me also interacting with them. And in some cases, motivating them—in some cases—in some cases, disciplining them—organizing guard shifts and training—movements to training and admin support and all those things. And it was challenging, but when you did your job and you realized that that directly relates to everybody else’s ability to be successful, that’s satisfying. There are a lot of rewards to that.

  • 0:13:37
  • Lance Betros
  • So, by extension, you realize that when you graduate you’re going to be a second lieutenant with upward mobility through the ranks, and you have a greater and greater opportunity to influence in a positive way other human beings. That’s meaningful.

  • 0:13:54
  • Interviewer
  • You think your hunch was right, looking back now from the vantage point of a near-retirement?

  • 0:14:00
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah, it’s been a good career.

  • 0:14:01
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:14:02
  • Lance Betros
  • It’s been 35 years, and obviously it wouldn’t have been 35 years if I had thought any differently.

  • 0:14:07
  • Interviewer
  • What assumptions do you think you took in that moment of epiphany that perhaps were wrong? Has it been hard to lead men in ways you had not understood at that—obviously, you couldn’t have—you were just beginning to develop the skills by which to do it?

  • 0:14:24
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah.

  • 0:14:25
  • Interviewer
  • What were the kind of obstacles that you never would’ve anticipated?

  • 0:14:29
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, personally, I made a lot of mistakes, and I had a lot of growing to do. And—by temperament, I always sort of backed away from confrontation. It’s hard to get in somebody’s face and just tell them that what they’re doing is not right, or “you need to change,” or “you need to stop this,” or; I mean there are a lot of very positive things about leadership, but there are those times when you have to confront failure or problem areas. And for me, that was difficult.

  • 0:15:02
  • Interviewer
  • Do you remember any episodes in which that became crystal clear to you?

  • 0:15:06
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, yeah. I became, as a first classman, I was a company commander, first an executive officer of a company and then a company commander. And there were the usual things with classmates who weren’t keeping their room to standard, or you know, their uniforms were not in order. And you know, you can’t let that go, because if you don’t correct your own classmates then you’re setting a double standard. And you know, there were some challenges, but this is a leader development institution, and this is the place where cadets have the opportunity of practicing those things. So I did my share of practicing and learning during all of those types of experiences.

  • 0:15:48
  • Interviewer
  • You were here at West Point during a particularly turbulent time—

  • 0:15:54
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah.

  • 0:15:55
  • Interviewer
  • In the country’s history. This was the end of the Vietnam War, right?

  • 0:15:58
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah.

  • 0:15:59
  • Interviewer
  • And the resignation of Richard Nixon—

  • 0:16:00
  • Lance Betros
  • Right.

  • 0:16:01
  • Interviewer
  • And a real clash of youth culture with the establishment. As a member of the young generation, you were going the direct opposite direction of so many of those who were defining the youth of the ’70s. How do you recall all that, looking back now? What was it like to be here in 1973, 4, 5?

  • 0:16:25
  • Lance Betros
  • It was one could tell, or I could tell, even at a young age, that—what was going on at West Point was out of step with what I would be experiencing at a civilian university. I mean there was still a lot of, you know, dissent and challenging of authority going on, even by the mid-1970s, after the real wild years of the late ’60s and early ’70s. So, you know we knew that we were pursuing a route in life or a road in life that was really diverged from everybody else.

  • 0:17:08
  • Lance Betros
  • Now, what that meant for us—I mean we were pretty cloistered at West Point, so we didn’t have a lot of opportunity to go out and mix it up with our civilian counterparts, but—

  • 0:17:18
  • Interviewer
  • What did you think of them, though? Did you look with disdain upon the protest movements and the drugs and the sex and the hippies and all that that was happening during that time?

  • 0:17:27
  • Lance Betros
  • To a certain extent.

  • 0:17:29
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:17:30
  • Lance Betros
  • You know a cloistered environment where you’re very regimented, where you’re adhering to certain standards, and you look outside and you see relatively chaos out there. Yeah, you know, there is this idea nurtured in you that you’re better than they are, and that you don’t want to be out there. I mean that’s not a very—that’s not the right way to think about it, but it’s hard not to. And you know I’ll jump forward real quick, and every chance—or in many chances here, when I talk to cadets, I warn them about that—not to consider yourself better than your civilian counterparts.

  • 0:18:05
  • Lance Betros
  • You are different—you’re just different. You’re pursuing different paths, and whether you’re civilian or military, it’s okay to embrace the civilian-ness or the military-ness that you’ve chosen.

  • 0:18:18
  • Interviewer
  • Did you have an attitude about the Vietnam War when you arrived here, ’cause it was still going on? It was winding down.

  • 0:18:25
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, yeah, it was just about finished. I think my parents would not have been as eager for me to go to West Point had the war still been going on.

  • 0:18:36
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:18:37
  • Lance Betros
  • I mean, they—they knew—everybody knew by then it was winding down, and that made it a little easier to go there. And also the tuition wasn’t bad, too, you know; so, that’s another reason why I was there.

  • 0:18:49
  • Interviewer
  • But you’re also arriving at an institution of the Army at a time when the Army had been marked by failure, really.

  • 0:18:58
  • Lance Betros
  • Right.

  • 0:18:59
  • Lance Betros
  • That, I would imagine, was a difficult time to be here at the Academy.

  • 0:19:05
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah. You know, in general that meant many people across America viewed the military with distrust, with, you know, anger—whatever it was during that period. But it’s still—West Point in particular still was very prestigious in the minds of many people, and my parents especially. I mean they viewed West Point as sort of like the city on the hill—Oz or whatever—a very impressive and attractive place. And for their son to go there, they were very proud of that.

  • 0:19:36
  • Interviewer
  • Well, let’s speak about your parents for a moment, because you come from an immigrant family. I guess we all come from immigrant families—

  • 0:19:40
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah, right.

  • 0:19:41
  • Interviewer
  • But yours was your parents were first-generation, am I right?

  • 0:19:44
  • Lance Betros
  • They were both born here.

  • 0:19:46
  • Interviewer
  • Right.

  • 0:19:47
  • Lance Betros
  • Their parents all were born in Lebanon.

  • 0:19:48
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:19:49
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah.

  • 0:19:50
  • Interviewer
  • And we’ve talked about this off-camera before, but tell me about your family and their role in the history of the Middle East.

  • 0:19:56
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, yeah. On my mother’s side, my maternal grandfather was actually part of the Arab independence movement during World War I. He fought with Prince Faisal then, and knew Lawrence of Arabia—you know, the British officer—pretty well, actually. My grandfather was Prince Faisal’s aide, and you know, fought through the years of the First World War; and actually, when the war was over, Faisal presented my father with a beautiful gold dagger that we still have in the family.

  • 0:20:35
  • Interviewer
  • But he also accompanied Faisal to the Treaty of Versailles or to the Paris Peace Conference after the war, and they were very hopeful that the result would be independence for the Arabs. And when that didn’t happen, he was crushed. He was so disappointed that he realized that—he decided his future wasn’t in the Middle East any more, and he immigrated to the United States.

  • 0:21:01
  • Lance Betros
  • Now, my other four—my other three grandparents immigrated for other reasons, but all of them ended up in America between the latter years, the very final years of the nineteenth century and about 1923, when my grandfather got here.

  • 0:21:15
  • Interviewer
  • All from Lebanon.

  • 0:21:16
  • Lance Betros
  • All from Lebanon.

  • 0:21:18
  • Interviewer
  • And so, in some ways you—you’re—I guess like all of us do, but you seem to have a special line to this relationship with major historical moments there.

  • 0:21:28
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah. Yeah.

  • 0:21:33
  • Interviewer
  • You must be proud of that.

  • 0:21:34
  • Lance Betros
  • Yes, I am.

  • 0:21:36
  • Interviewer
  • What was your mother’s maiden name?

  • 0:21:39
  • Lance Betros
  • My mother’s maiden name was Mandoor—I’m sorry, that’s my grandmother’s maiden name. My mother’s maiden name was NeJame, or Nejime, which is a common Arabic name—it’s sort of a “Smith” in English. And my father’s branch of the family was also Najime. But when he came over—that’s my father’s father—they decided to use one of the first names of their ancestors, and that was Peter. Now, in English—I’m sorry—in Arabic the name Peter is Boutros, so that’s where I get my last name, Betros.

  • 0:22:17
  • Interviewer
  • Do you speak Arabic?

  • 0:22:19
  • Lance Betros
  • Only enough to get me in trouble, so—

  • 0:22:22
  • Interviewer
  • Have you spent any time in Lebanon?

  • 0:22:23
  • Lance Betros
  • No.

  • 0:22:24
  • Interviewer
  • Do you have any interest in going there?

  • 0:22:26
  • Lance Betros
  • Someday, perhaps. My brother is an Arabic linguist and spent many years. He’s also a West Point graduate.

  • 0:22:32
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:22:33
  • Lance Betros
  • He spent many years in the Middle East.

  • 0:22:34
  • Interviewer
  • Did he follow on your experience here or was he older?

  • 0:22:38
  • Lance Betros
  • He was younger than me, and graduated in 1981, and ended up—I am an Infantry officer. He was a Signal Corps officer who got out after a few years, and yet he has far more years in combat than I do, so it’s just ironic.

  • 0:22:56
  • Interviewer
  • How would you rank the education you got here?

  • 0:22:59
  • Lance Betros
  • Very good. We received a lot of education. I would—I would criticize it only insofar as that we took so many courses that it was very difficult to study in depth. And of course when I was a cadet we didn’t have majors. We had concentrations, something less than a major. But there was so much to do, and we had so little free time, that we were pinging. We used to call it pinging, just back and forth from one class to the next, from one event to the next, that really the emphasis was on learning something quickly enough for the test and then forget about it, because you’ve got something else to do.

  • 0:23:47
  • Interviewer
  • And of course that’s not—pedagogically, that’s not sound. We want cadets to reflect on their education, and to have out-of-class discussions with their instructors and with fellow cadets. That’s what really solidifies an education and broadens the education. And yet somehow we did alright. I mean it was still a very—

  • 0:24:07
  • Interviewer
  • What was your concentration?

  • 0:24:09
  • Lance Betros
  • Civil engineering.

  • 0:24:10
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:24:11
  • Lance Betros
  • So.

  • 0:24:12
  • Interviewer
  • And did you have any interest in history when you were here?

  • 0:24:14
  • Lance Betros
  • I liked it. If you look at my transcript, you’ll see that my best grades are all in the humanities—humanities and social sciences. So I was a pretty mediocre engineer, but I did very well in foreign languages, history, English. So not surprising, when I came back years later to go to graduate school, I chose one of the fields in the humanities.

  • 0:24:41
  • Interviewer
  • Your class is known for some unfortunate reasons with respect to the violation of the Honor Code. Can you speak to the episode? Tell us where you were when you first heard? Tell us the story of it, how it happened from your vantage point as a cadet.

  • 0:25:01
  • Lance Betros
  • The incident you’re referring to is known as the EE 304 cheating incident. EE 304 was electrical engineering. It was the second of two semester-length courses in electrical engineering. It was a tough sequence. It was a sequence that a lot of cadets dreaded taking because it was just going to be hard. Well, we had a take-home exam, and I’ve still got my copy of it. I still have it. And it very clearly says at the bottom of the cover sheet, “No collaboration is authorized. This is individual work.”

  • 0:25:42
  • Lance Betros
  • So there was no question in anybody’s mind that they were supposed to do this on their own. And yet a large number of my classmates defied that, and they cheated—got help from one another.

  • 0:25:57
  • Interviewer
  • How did you learn about this? Were you aware of it among the ranks, that there’s whispering about this, or…?

  • 0:26:04
  • Lance Betros
  • It took me completely by surprise. I heard about it when one day in the spring of 1976—I think it was in April, I’m not exactly sure—but all of a sudden we had to go to an auditorium. And we—it was explained to us what had happened, and from that point forward, there were well over 100 cadets who were being investigated for cheating on this particular take-home exam.

  • 0:26:30
  • Interviewer
  • Tell me about the scene in the auditorium when that happened. It must’ve been—I mean this is an historic moment for the Academy—a black mark for the Academy. Who addressed you? It was the whole Corps of Cadets that was in there, is that right, or just your class?

  • 0:26:46
  • Lance Betros
  • You know, Todd, the limits of oral history here—

  • 0:26:49
  • Interviewer
  • Yeah.

  • 0:26:50
  • Lance Betros
  • I’m having a hard time remembering exactly who gave us the briefing. But I just remember being very surprised that this would happen—very surprised and angry and disappointed.

  • 0:27:01
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:27:03
  • Lance Betros
  • You know I knew that—I knew from the people that I had in my company and from others that I knew that there were some who, for them, getting over on the system was everything. You know, they’re immature, all that. But I never expected that there could be a cheating incident like this on such a large scale.

  • 0:27:22
  • Interviewer
  • How did—how was the cheating discovered?

  • 0:27:26
  • Lance Betros
  • One of my classmates, who got unauthorized help, actually wrote on his paper that “I received help from somebody else.” So that individual came forward and did a very courageous thing, even though it was against what he should’ve done—so he broke a regulation. It would’ve been a regulation problem. He didn’t commit an honor violation because he acknowledged the help.

  • 0:27:53
  • Interviewer
  • So if you break a regulation but you admit to it before it’s discovered, then that’s considered to be not a suspend-able act, is that right?

  • 0:28:04
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, there’s an ill-defined line between regulations and honor—there always has been. I mean you are—we are honorable people, and therefore we should adhere to regulations, but violating a regulation—you know, coming back after the curfew—that’s a regulatory thing and you get punished for that. But if you come back after the curfew and you say, “Well, I was here on time, when I should’ve been here,” but you really weren’t, now, that’s an honor violation.

  • 0:28:32
  • Interviewer
  • Uh-huh.

  • 0:28:33
  • Lance Betros
  • So—

  • 0:28:34
  • Interviewer
  • Because the honor violation deals specifically with “I will not lie”—well, you tell me the honor code.

  • 0:28:39
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, it’s, “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”

  • 0:28:43
  • Interviewer
  • So once the action moves into that element of trust, then it’s a whole ’nother level of—it’s not just a regulatory—

  • 0:28:55
  • Lance Betros
  • Right.

  • 0:28:57
  • Interviewer
  • Incident.

  • 0:28:58
  • Lance Betros
  • Right.

  • 0:28:59
  • Interviewer
  • And tell me the—which we’ve discussed this before—but tell me the importance of the Honor Code. Of those principles, those values, above and beyond breaking curfew or anything else that might be a little bit smaller offense.

  • 0:29:14
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah. Character is everything to a military officer. Well, it should be everything to anyone, but for the profession of arms, the ability to lead other human beings relies fundamentally on trust. We have to be able to trust one another, so that when I order you, as one of my soldiers, to go do something, that you can trust that I’m not just sending you into an abyss. That I’m going to be there for you, and I’m going to—you can trust me to take care of you and to prepare you and give you everything you need to be set up for success.

  • 0:29:51
  • Lance Betros
  • And likewise, I can trust you that you’ll go out and do what you’re required to do without turning and running the first time I’m not looking at you. So, military leadership—leadership in general—is built on trust and integrity. So if I can’t trust you to tell the truth, or if I can’t trust you to not steal something that belongs to me, then this is not the right business for me or you. We need to go do something else.

  • 0:30:21
  • Interviewer
  • When the—when it was discovered that you say 100 members of your class—it’s 100 out of 800, is that right?

  • 0:30:29
  • Lance Betros
  • Ultimately it was 150—

  • 0:30:31
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:30:32
  • Lance Betros
  • Who left the class as a result of the honor scandal.

  • 0:30:34
  • Interviewer
  • Out of how many in the class?

  • 0:30:36
  • Lance Betros
  • We had—well, we came in at about 1,400, and there had been some attrition already; so, 150 out of what was left was a very large number. We ended up graduating about 700; so roughly 50 percent in our class graduated.

  • 0:30:55
  • Interviewer
  • But only 150 didn’t graduate because of an Honor Code violation.

  • 0:30:59
  • Lance Betros
  • That’s correct, and of those 150, about 90 of them returned to West Point the following year. There were so many cadets who were implicated that the Secretary of the Army made the decision that we would allow those cadets who were expelled to reapply for admission with the following class, and about 90 of them did and were readmitted.

  • 0:31:20
  • Interviewer
  • Who was Secretary of the Army at the time?

  • 0:31:21
  • Lance Betros
  • It was—I think [Martin Richard] Hoffman was his name.

  • 0:31:26
  • Interviewer
  • And who was Superintendent of the Academy at the time?

  • 0:31:28
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, the Superintendent in 1976 was [Lieutenant General] Sidney [Bryan] Berry, and he continued to be the Superintendent until my graduation in the summer of ’77. And then Andrew Goodpaster, General Andrew Goodpaster.

  • 0:31:41
  • Interviewer
  • And General Goodpaster, who took off a star to come here, right?

  • 0:31:45
  • Lance Betros
  • Mm-hmm, right.

  • 0:31:46
  • Interviewer
  • Was here largely because of that scandal, right?

  • 0:31:47
  • Lance Betros
  • Right.

  • 0:31:48
  • Interviewer
  • In order to restore—well, again, you tell me. What was the role of General Goodpaster, who had been a legendary figure in the Army, right?

  • 0:31:56
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, he was. He was the advisor to President Eisenhower [as Staff Secretary and Defense Liaison Officer from 1954-1961]. He had been—he was truly an august presence within the officer corps, and just retired as a four-star general, and now was back, voluntarily taking off one star to serve as a Superintendent at West Point.

  • 0:32:14
  • Lance Betros
  • But he came back because the cheating scandal just laid bare the Academy. Not only were there problems with the Honor Code and the honor—well, not the code, but the [honor] system—but there were many other problems as well that enabled that—those kinds of problems to occur in the honor system. So General Rogers, who was the Army Chief of Staff at the time—

  • 0:32:38
  • Interviewer
  • You’re talking about Bernie Rogers, mm-hmm.

  • 0:32:39
  • Lance Betros
  • Bernie Rogers, General Bernie Rogers mandated a top-to-bottom review of West Point. Now, this was a follow-on review from the one that Frank Borman, the astronaut Frank Borman, [USMA] class of 1950, had conducted in the latter half of 1976.

  • 0:32:58
  • Interviewer
  • In response directly to the cheating scandal.

  • 0:33:01
  • Lance Betros
  • Yes. And the Borman report focused specifically on the honor system, the Honor Code and the honor system. When General Rogers mandated the larger review, that was for everything; and it was the most exhaustive, the most thorough external review that West Point has ever had.

  • 0:33:19
  • Interviewer
  • Well, so sounds like what you’re saying is that while the Honor Code scandal was terrible, it was a kind of symptom of something going on more endemic—

  • 0:33:33
  • Lance Betros
  • Right.

  • 0:33:34
  • Interviewer
  • In the whole West Point—

  • 0:33:35
  • Lance Betros
  • That’s right.

  • 0:33:37
  • Interviewer
  • The whole entire Academy. What was that? How could you describe that, and when did it start?

  • 0:33:43
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, there was a malaise at the Academy. It was the post-Vietnam era. The Army was—low morale in the Army. We were just starting the volunteer Army. There was—so those—those were influences, societal and cultural issues, within the military. And then, within the civilian society, there were strains of loss of deference to authority, you know, from a whole variety of things, stemming from the, you know, the upheavals of the 1960s into Vietnam and Watergate and—

  • 0:34:24
  • Interviewer
  • Well, it’s interesting ’cause just earlier you were describing West Point as being “cloistered”—

  • 0:34:28
  • Lance Betros
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:34:29
  • Interviewer
  • Shut off from all but largely—

  • 0:34:30
  • Lance Betros
  • Right.

  • 0:34:31
  • Interviewer
  • From these social revolution—

  • 0:34:32
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah.

  • 0:34:33
  • Interviewer
  • Currents that are going throughout the society. Yet it sounds like it wasn’t. I mean it sounds like there were things happening here that were perfectly consistent with what was going on on the larger society.

  • 0:34:44
  • Lance Betros
  • There’s no doubt that West Point reflects, to a great degree, what’s going on in society. I mean we draw our cadets from every corner of American society. So there were very conservative areas of America, you know—still very patriotic and loyal and conservative. And you will find the representatives of those areas at West Point. Likewise, there are cadets who come from areas that aren’t what I just described, and that they’re there as well. But the idea of challenging authority—

  • 0:35:16
  • Interviewer
  • But this wasn’t just a liberal-conservative—let me make sure I understand, because I don’t want you to mislead viewers—

  • 0:35:21
  • Lance Betros
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:35:22
  • Interviewer
  • Into thinking that—this wasn’t just conservative politics vs. liberal politics, was it?

  • 0:35:25
  • Lance Betros
  • Correct. That is correct.

  • 0:35:26
  • Interviewer
  • How would you describe what you meant there by—I mean it was—the problems were not just a loss of respect for authority, or a liberal kind of wave of ideology moving through the society, were they?

  • 0:35:42
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, not completely, but I would say that in American society there was a trend during those years to put less—give less respect, less deference to the institutions of authority in America. I mean the church, the government, the office of the Presidency. These were—

  • 0:36:05
  • Interviewer
  • Even tradition itself, in some respects, yeah.

  • 0:36:07
  • Lance Betros
  • Marriage—The trappings of marriage—

  • 0:36:09
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:36:10
  • Lance Betros
  • All those things were under siege in terms of new social mores that were challenging them, and there was new openness. There was a glorification of the individual. So all these influences were there at West Point as well, and overlaid on an institution that was already in crisis as a result of the Vietnam War. So when you put it all together, there were some unhealthy things going on at West Point, and there was a—we call it a “cool on honor” culture that developed. Could this have been prevented? Yeah, I think so, with better foresight and better leadership; but that’s hindsight.

  • 0:36:55
  • Interviewer
  • I’m curious now that I understand this a little bit better, because the Vietnam War—how did the failure in Vietnam affect what you saw around you in terms of the education you were getting at West Point? Did it sort of throw a dark cast on the entire profession of arms, would you say, or?

  • 0:37:20
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, morale—professional morale was lower than it should’ve been; so, whereas you would ordinarily expect to get young officers who’d just come from the field and they’re proud of their uniform, and they want to wrap their arms around cadets and just, you know, give hands-on leadership and mentor them, and they want to do it in a positive way, there just was a little less of that. You know, just a little less of that, and there were many of our best officers had left the Army. So—

  • 0:37:54
  • Interviewer
  • Do you think, though, there was less of that because the feeling was that we had failed, or that the profession had failed, or that the political leadership had failed, or that the Army leadership had failed?

  • 0:38:08
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, I would say yes.

  • 0:38:10
  • Interviewer
  • To all of them.

  • 0:38:11
  • Lance Betros
  • To all of those things. They were all influential.

  • 0:38:13
  • Interviewer
  • So they felt less respect for their own—the institution they had joined.

  • 0:38:17
  • Lance Betros
  • I would say to a certain degree, yes. There were even military authors—some of them stationed here at West Point, who were writing books, novels, articles that were highly critical of the institution. And of course, I’m a great believer in academic freedom, but the kinds of vitriol that you would see and read in some of these things—it was really over the top. Now, I want to go back to one other thing I said earlier, and that is that not only were there cultural influences on West Point, but the culture of leadership was negative as well.

  • 0:38:59
  • Lance Betros
  • It goes back to my comments about what I experienced in basic training. The typical way to exercise leadership was not positive, but it was negative. It was a negative cast where “you do this or I’m going to punish you.” Or “don’t ask me any questions. You just do it because I told you to do it,” and if you don’t follow orders blindly, you’ll get into trouble. There were visionary leaders at West Point who were trying to get us by that—trying to reform the leadership culture at West Point. Brigadier General Howard Prince was one of them.

  • 0:39:43
  • Lance Betros
  • Now, at the time, he was a major working—and he would eventually take over the—he’d be the first head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. Another individual was Lieutenant [General]—or rather, at the time he was Brigadier General—Walter Ulmer, who was the Commandant of Cadets—very much like-minded. But they were swimming against the tide—it was very difficult—and then the honor scandal occurred and then by the way, women also came to West Point that year. So there was so much going on that they really couldn’t get a lot done in changing the leadership culture at West Point before it was too late.

  • 0:40:17
  • Interviewer
  • Was the response to the honor scandal one of feeling like they had not tightened the screws enough on their approach to discipline and leader development that had existed at the Academy for all of its history? Or was there some attitude—and I think you’re saying Ulmer had some of this, or Prince—that maybe we ought to rethink what we’re doing here and align it with some more modern realities?

  • 0:40:54
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, there were—there definitely were people here who wanted to make change. And there were tactical officers, you know, people in those positions of leadership, who also realized that we needed to change our approach to leadership. But they were outnumbered. Now, a very interesting development during the honor scandal—General Prince realized—and I call him “General” because he retired as a brigadier general; back then, he would’ve been Colonel Prince.

  • 0:41:29
  • Lance Betros
  • Colonel Prince realized in interviewing the outgoing cadets who were all—and anyone who left West Point was interviewed by his organization—he realized that those companies that had a lot of cadets separated for honor [violations] had tactical officers who were transactional in their leadership, negative in their leadership. They were aloof and concerned mostly with being that disciplined enforcer of regulations rather than somebody who would reach out and try to lead in a positive manner.

  • 0:42:03
  • Lance Betros
  • There were nine companies that had virtually no cadets separated, and he knew the tactical officers of those nine companies, because he was close to—he knew those people pretty well. And he, in an interview that—I’ve read a transcript of his interview—and he said that those nine tactical officers as a group were apart. In other words, they exercised leadership in a much more positive reinforcing way than the other twenty-seven who had problems in their units. So there—

  • 0:42:37
  • Interviewer
  • So he concluded from that what then?

  • 0:42:40
  • Lance Betros
  • That leadership had a lot to do with what happened in the 1970s. The negative leadership culture at West Point had a lot to do with the problems that we face, not only in the honor system, but across the board at West Point.

  • 0:42:57
  • Interviewer
  • When you were a cadet here, watching all this happen, did you have a similar attitude? That the leadership was in part responsible for what happened, or did you blame it all on your classmates?

  • 0:43:11
  • Lance Betros
  • I blamed it all on my classmates. I—this caught me completely by surprise. I already mentioned I was angry; I was frustrated. I believed that it—to me, it was pretty simple. The instructions said you’re not supposed to collaborate, and you collaborated, and you got caught. You’re out of here. And I had very, very little patience for those who tried to argue, “Well, it was the system that made us do this wrong.” I had very little patience for that.

  • 0:43:41
  • Interviewer
  • Did you have good friends who were caught up in it?

  • 0:43:44
  • Lance Betros
  • No. I was in one of those nine Companies that had a tactical officer that was—that exercised very positive leadership.

  • 0:43:51
  • Interviewer
  • Who was that tactical officer?

  • 0:43:52
  • Lance Betros
  • His name was Major Dave Arthur.

  • 0:43:54
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm. Where is he now?

  • 0:43:55
  • Lance Betros
  • I wish I could tell you—I don’t know.

  • 0:43:57
  • Interviewer
  • Hmm.

  • 0:43:58
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah.

  • 0:43:59
  • Lance Betros
  • But you said you knew people—any confrontation with any of them after the fact?

  • 0:44:05
  • Lance Betros
  • No, not with me personally. I was not implicated in any of it, and neither were most of—neither were anybody in my company implicated in it. But I knew a lot of people who did get kicked out, and it was—

  • 0:44:21
  • Interviewer
  • Well, what I meant, have you ever had—did you ever have any confrontation with any of them at expressing your feelings about what they had done?

  • 0:44:28
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, there was no doubt in their minds how the majority of us felt.

  • 0:44:31
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:44:32
  • Lance Betros
  • And it’s been very painful for our class. Here we are 35 years later; we’re going to do a 35th year reunion later this year, and we’re now starting to invite back those who were part of our class way back then. And—because we feel that after all those years, for those who want to just become associated with the class again, we shouldn’t deny that. But that’s how long it’s taken—many, many years to overcome those hard feelings.

  • 0:45:05
  • Interviewer
  • Because of this, was your graduation somewhat tainted? Not you personally, but I mean the class’s graduation?

  • 0:45:12
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, there was a shadow hanging over our class, sure, and that’s hard to get away from. I mean our class was the “honor scandal class.” But then again, the investigations that took place after the honor scandal made clear that ours was the class where the honor—where the issues with honor actually surfaced, but they were going on in other classes, too.

  • 0:45:37
  • Interviewer
  • So you think there were Honor Code violations throughout?

  • 0:45:41
  • Lance Betros
  • Sure, absolutely.

  • 0:45:43
  • Interviewer
  • No worse in ’76 than they were in ’56 or something.

  • 0:45:48
  • Lance Betros
  • The condition of the Honor Code, the culture of leadership at West Point, was no different in ’75 than it was in ’76, although after that it started to change quite a bit, but in the preceding two years—

  • 0:46:00
  • Interviewer
  • But you do think it’s actually part of the ’70s as opposed to having been part of West Point for time immemorial?

  • 0:46:06
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, I just think that a whole variety of things sort of aligned.

  • 0:46:12
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:46:13
  • Lance Betros
  • They were cultural influences from outside of West Point. There were morale issues from within the Army. There was a negative—a culture of negative leadership at West Point. All those things sort of aligned right in 1976, and that’s when it exploded.

  • 0:46:27
  • Interviewer
  • How ironic it would be—

  • 0:46:28
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah.

  • 0:46:29
  • Interviewer
  • The year of the Bicentennial [of the United States], too.

  • 0:46:30
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah, that’s right.

  • 0:46:33
  • Interviewer
  • Branch—you branched Infantry.

  • 0:46:37
  • Lance Betros
  • Yes.

  • 0:46:39
  • Interviewer
  • Do you recall Branch Night when you made that choice?

  • 0:46:44
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, I remember—I do remember. We were all in—at the time we called it South Auditorium; now it’s Robinson Auditorium. And we stood up and claimed our branch, and I—

  • 0:46:54
  • Interviewer
  • You do that by order of rank in the class, right?

  • 0:46:56
  • Lance Betros
  • Right—right.

  • 0:46:57
  • Interviewer
  • Where did you rank in the class?

  • 0:46:58
  • Lance Betros
  • I ranked fairly high. I was—I graduated 114 out of 700, so I was on the Dean’s list.

  • 0:47:06
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:47:07
  • Lance Betros
  • But I remember that I chose Infantry largely because of the mentorship that I received from another very fine tactical officer. His name was Herbert Lloyd, who is really legendary. The people who know West Point well remember Herb Lloyd. Not a West Point graduate, but a lot of combat experience, and just the kind of officer that you would follow anywhere. And he happened to be the tactical officer for the contingent of cadets that went to Airborne School in 1976; and I was—I happened to be the first sergeant for that contingent. So I had a leadership position and I was working for now-General Lloyd, and it was—

  • 0:47:53
  • Interviewer
  • What was so great about him?

  • 0:47:56
  • Lance Betros
  • The intangibles of positive leadership, powerful leadership. He just exuded confidence. He—there was a positive energy about him. He could do anything, and he could motivate you to do anything, and he walked the talk—you know, he was right there with you. I remember at Airborne School there was one of our cadets who decided that he just wasn’t going to jump out of the airplane the next day. He wasn’t going to go to the ramp and get on. And—

  • 0:48:24
  • Interviewer
  • Scared.

  • 0:48:25
  • Lance Betros
  • Scared—he was just scared. This was after two and a half weeks of training there. So we advised Major Lloyd of this, and he brought the cadet in, and the door got shut—shut the door. And about five minutes later, the cadet walked out silently, and then the next morning he and Major Lloyd are on the plane, and Major Lloyd was right behind him when they jumped out of the plane. So that’s just an example of the way he would just grip you in a very positive way and inspire you to do what needed to be done.

  • 0:49:04
  • Interviewer
  • Where is he now?

  • 0:49:05
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, he rose to the rank of brigadier general and then he retired, but he stayed within defense industries, and I think the last I heard he was in Afghanistan doing contract work there.

  • 0:49:17
  • Interviewer
  • So where were you stationed first, then?

  • 0:49:19
  • Lance Betros
  • Fort Ord, California, Seventh Infantry Division. I figured that if I was going to go Infantry that I might as well go to a place of the country that I thought would be very nice; so, Fort Ord is in Monterey, California, and it’s beautiful area, just lovely.

  • 0:49:35
  • Interviewer
  • Did you enjoy your time there?

  • 0:49:37
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah, very much.

  • 0:49:38
  • Interviewer
  • And, how long were you there?

  • 0:49:40
  • Lance Betros
  • I was there—we were there—I met my wife there—for three years, almost three years. And I was platoon leader, executive officer. I took over a company as a second lieutenant when the captain in my company was relieved, so I had that for a few months. And then I was on the battalion staff, and—so three—total of three years.

  • 0:50:06
  • Interviewer
  • Where did you meet your wife?

  • 0:50:08
  • Lance Betros
  • Met her in Monterey, California.

  • 0:50:10
  • Interviewer
  • She was civilian, living there, or she was on base, or what?

  • 0:50:16
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah. Well, her dad was a retired chief warrant officer—

  • 0:50:20
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:50:21
  • Lance Betros
  • And he had retired in Salinas, California, just a few miles away. And a bunch of my friends and I went out one night, and she was out with a bunch of her friends, and we met.

  • 0:50:31
  • Interviewer
  • And she comes from an Army family, then, too.

  • 0:50:33
  • Lance Betros
  • Yes.

  • 0:50:34
  • Interviewer
  • So three years there, and then any sense at that point that you wanted to take on a role in academia?

  • 0:50:43
  • Lance Betros
  • Not yet, but I knew that I would want to go to graduate school.

  • 0:50:46
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:50:47
  • Lance Betros
  • So I went to the advanced course at Fort Benning, and then I went to Germany and had a long two-year command there with a mechanized infantry company. That was a difficult assignment. We were—it was during the Cold War. We were—

  • 0:50:59
  • Interviewer
  • So we’re now in the early ’80s, I’m guessing.

  • 0:51:01
  • Lance Betros
  • In the very early ’80s.

  • 0:51:02
  • Interviewer
  • Yes, sure.

  • 0:51:03
  • Lance Betros
  • I got there in ’80—yeah, that’s right—in ’80. So very early ’80s, and we were gone a lot on training missions, so—but when I was home it was still a lot of fun, but it was just a very difficult assignment. My battalion commanders, both of them—would’ve been very comfortable back at West Point, you know. They were the kind—they were the screamers. They would yell at you and just—it was a very difficult environment to work in.

  • 0:51:32
  • Lance Betros
  • So at the end of that command, I was beat. And that’s when I was probably most serious about getting out of the Army, but that’s when the Army dangled graduate school in front of me, so.

  • 0:51:42
  • Interviewer
  • Now, if you’d gotten out of the Army then, what would you have done?

  • 0:51:45
  • Lance Betros
  • I don’t know.

  • 0:51:47
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm. Were you still interested in medicine, or…?

  • 0:51:50
  • Lance Betros
  • Possibly. Possibly, yeah. Probably business school or something like that. I really—at that point I was just—I knew that I was—I needed a change. I knew that. But I was so busy with command that I really hadn’t given much thought about where I might go. But, fortunately, West Point was looking for officers for the faculty, as they do every year. I came back to interview with a couple of different departments, and fortunately, history had an opening; and I had done well in my humanities courses at West Point, so—

  • 0:52:29
  • Interviewer
  • But let’s just say, if it had been electrical engineering, you would be an electrical engineering professor now, or I mean—

  • 0:52:36
  • Lance Betros
  • Possibly.

  • 0:52:37
  • Interviewer
  • It really is not the discipline that really drove you here. It was being in this environment—

  • 0:52:43
  • Lance Betros
  • That’s right.

  • 0:52:44
  • Interviewer
  • As a totality.

  • 0:52:45
  • Lance Betros
  • Right, right. I mean as I said, I wanted to go to graduate school, and frankly, I came back hoping that I’d be sent back to get an economics degree. I wanted to teach economics. But they didn’t have room, so I walked next door to the history department, and they had an opening.

  • 0:53:04
  • Interviewer
  • And you’ve spent the last, what, 20 years, really, I guess, either studying history or teaching history or heading up the history department.

  • 0:53:12
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, I got to—I went to school at [the University of] North Carolina, and then arrived at West Point in 1986. Spent three years as a rotating faculty member in the department, and I taught American history. Then I went back out into the Army for the next 11 years, and in 2000 returned, this time as a senior faculty member. Now, I had earned my PhD during the years I was here as a rotator, so I didn’t have to go back to school to get my PhD. And then since 2000, I’ve been here, and it’s 2012 now.

  • 0:53:45
  • Interviewer
  • Well, but let’s go back to the—suddenly you’re a history instructor here in a rotating, teaching American history. Had you ever taught before at all?

  • 0:53:59
  • Lance Betros
  • Not in an academic environment. But I had certainly taught soldiers, and had been around training environments. Now, it’s not the same. I wouldn’t claim that it’s the same, but it’s—I certainly was comfortable being in front of whether it’s soldiers, students, cadets, whatever it is.

  • 0:54:21
  • Interviewer
  • What did you learn about the profession of history? You suddenly were now—I mean in a sense, you had two careers—

  • 0:54:28
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah.

  • 0:54:29
  • Interviewer
  • You were both an academic and a military officer.

  • 0:54:30
  • Lance Betros
  • Right.

  • 0:54:31
  • Interviewer
  • What did you learn having now been given the opportunity to pursue an academic career in history? What did you learn about this profession?

  • 0:54:40
  • Lance Betros
  • About the military profession?

  • 0:54:42
  • Interviewer
  • No, I’m sorry, about history. What did you—you had done well, you said, in history—

  • 0:54:48
  • Lance Betros
  • Right.

  • 0:54:49
  • Interviewer
  • While you were here, but other than that, you didn’t have a well-developed—

  • 0:54:52
  • Lance Betros
  • Right.

  • 0:54:53
  • Interviewer
  • Sense of the profession.

  • 0:54:55
  • Lance Betros
  • Right. That’s right, of the profession of history.

  • 0:54:57
  • Interviewer
  • Yes.

  • 0:54:58
  • Lance Betros
  • Of the reason why history is important, especially to the military professional.

  • 0:55:01
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:55:03
  • Lance Betros
  • History provides the context for everything, you know, and in war or as a military professional, how does one train for the ultimate test of combat, of war? And we don’t go out and start wars to do that. I mean we have to use—history is the lever that we use. You know, that’s where we study. It’s our laboratory. So history is very important. Military history in particular, but I would say that all history enables the practitioner to think historically.

  • 0:55:35
  • Lance Betros
  • If there’s a problem that confronts you now, the first question that should cross your mind is how did other human beings deal with similar kinds of problems in the past? You’re not going to get the answers, because every historical event is different, but at least you get a feeling for what the right questions are to ask. And that’s really an important beginning to solving your problems. So those were the kinds of insights that I derived from studying history.

  • 0:56:12
  • Lance Betros
  • I began to be able to, you know, connect the dots and draw the pictures, and things that were happening in my day-to-day life were things that were being talked about on news programs, or the issues in political campaigns, or whatever it was—all of a sudden, I was able to see cause and effect. And of course that same cause and effect, or the ability to see cause and effect, can help you as a military officer in the military profession. So that was the revelation for me—how important historical study can be.

  • 0:56:43
  • Interviewer
  • What was your favorite or is your favorite period of history?

  • 0:56:48
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, I’m partial to the Revolutionary era, the American Revolutionary era.

  • 0:56:51
  • Interviewer
  • Why is that?

  • 0:56:53
  • Lance Betros
  • That’s the beginnings of our great experiment in democracy, and it was—you cannot divorce the military from the civilian, even though our Constitutional system requires it. But our nation was forged in the crucible of a military conflict, so it all comes together there. And the noble ideas upon which this nation was founded, it gives me goose bumps to think about it.

  • 0:57:19
  • Interviewer
  • And of course, our first President was a military officer.

  • 0:57:21
  • Lance Betros
  • Right, right.

  • 0:57:22
  • Interviewer
  • Significance to that, you think?

  • 0:57:25
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, I mean I am not—not surprising. He was the indispensable man for the Revolution, for the United States of America. Without George Washington there would be no United States of America—at least not like we know it now.

  • 0:57:39
  • Interviewer
  • You did your PhD thesis on what? What was your subject?

  • 0:57:44
  • Lance Betros
  • It was a slice of New York colonial history, back in the 1680s. It’s not interesting.

  • 0:57:53
  • Interviewer
  • Well, it must’ve been interesting to you.

  • 0:57:55
  • Lance Betros
  • It got me my PhD.

  • 0:57:56
  • Interviewer
  • Uh-huh.

  • 0:57:58
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah. The fellow that I researched was a—he was an Irish Catholic Governor of New York.

  • 0:58:06
  • Interviewer
  • Name was?

  • 0:58:07
  • Lance Betros
  • His name was Thomas Dongan, and he was the Governor of a Protestant English colony, so it was unusual. So I kid around—kid a little bit by saying, you know, I thank Thomas Dongan for getting me my PhD, but he hasn’t really done much for me since.

  • 0:58:24
  • Interviewer
  • In that period, 11-year period between your first stint here, I guess—

  • 0:58:29
  • Lance Betros
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 0:58:30
  • Interviewer
  • And your time at UNC—

  • 0:58:31
  • Lance Betros
  • Right.

  • 0:58:32
  • Interviewer
  • And then leaping forward to when you returned, you saw some active combat.

  • 0:58:37
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, I wouldn’t call it active combat. I was deployed to Somalia, which was considered a combat zone, but I don’t want to give the impression that I was in combat. I was not.

  • 0:58:46
  • Interviewer
  • What was your—tell me about Somalia. Set the stage for the viewers of what was going on in Somalia at the time, and then why you were deployed there.

  • 0:58:55
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, it was the—there was famine in Somalia in the early 1990s, and there was international effort to help the situation. The United States got involved, I think it was in [August] 1992, actually, and it was the UNOSOM [United Nations Operation in Somalia] mission. By 1993, even though we were there supposedly as peacekeepers, as humanitarian workers and so forth, it was hard not to take sides. And one of the factions there ended up being our enemy, so to speak, and there was the “Black Hawk down” incident of October 1993.

  • 0:59:33
  • Interviewer
  • What were the factions? How would you describe them?

  • 0:59:36
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, they were tribal factions in Somalia. And the one that ended up being most antagonistic to American presence there was led by Mohamed Farrah Aidid. So his faction was the one that ended up having contact with an element of American forces.

  • 0:59:54
  • Interviewer
  • Only because he was most hostile to the American presence there, is that right?

  • 0:59:58
  • Lance Betros
  • He was hostile to the American presence and, of course, the American presence prevented his faction from assuming more control than he would’ve wanted.

  • 1:00:06
  • Interviewer
  • And you were deployed there to do what?

  • 1:00:08
  • Lance Betros
  • After the firefight that led to the death of 17 or 18 Americans [in the Black Hawk down incident of October 3-4, 1993], there was a Joint Task Force set up. It was called Joint Task Force Somalia, and Major General Ernst, Joseph Ernst, I think his name was, was the commander. And we had to flesh out the staff sections. Now, I had gone to the School for Advanced Military Studies. I was a Certified Army Strategist, and therefore, I was plucked from the Forces Command Headquarters in October of ’93 to help with the planning cell within the Joint Task Force.

  • 1:00:45
  • Interviewer
  • And so, what did that mean, when you were in-country, I’m assuming—

  • 1:00:51
  • Lance Betros
  • Right.

  • 1:00:52
  • Interviewer
  • But what—were you on a FOB [forward operating base]?

  • 1:00:56
  • Lance Betros
  • We actually occupied the burned-out [U.S.] Embassy in Mogadishu. What a broken city—I mean it was—could’ve been a beautiful city—at one point it was, but it was just destroyed by civil war and famine and everything else; so everything was ramshackle, broken, garbage everywhere. And it was just hard to imagine that this could be a place that people would actually want to live. So we operated out of the old embassy, and then we moved eventually to right by the Port of Mogadishu—that was as we were exiting.

  • 1:01:30
  • Lance Betros
  • The whole purpose of JTF Somalia was really force protection. Once the Black Hawk down incident had occurred, President Clinton decided that we would get out of Somalia. So everything from that point forward was removal of U.S. forces under the protection of Joint Task Force Somalia.

  • 1:01:55
  • Interviewer
  • How long were you there?

  • 1:01:56
  • Lance Betros
  • About four months.

  • 1:01:58
  • Interviewer
  • And did you see in Somalia any of the seeds of the Islamic radicalism we’ve seen in the past decade here in foreign affairs?

  • 1:02:09
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, my view of it was very limited. I did get out periodically with our civil affairs officers, and what I saw were just decent human beings trying to make a go of it. That’s what struck me, and so I really can’t comment on your question about the Muslim or Islamic fundamentalists.

  • 1:02:30
  • Interviewer
  • Looking back at your career, do you feel any regret that you did not have a more vivid combat experience?

  • 1:02:42
  • Lance Betros
  • If you look at my Class A uniform and see that what I wear—the medals that I wear—none of them are for combat. I don’t have a Combat Infantryman’s Badge, and yet I’m an Infantryman. Do I regret it? No. I was an Infantryman. I volunteered to go in the Infantry. I did my Airborne School. I was a Ranger. I got my Expert Infantryman’s badge. I did all the things that would be expected of me to be ready to go to war, and I commanded in tough assignments. I was ready to go, if the Army had called me. Now, in 1989, I entered—I was in the Command and General Staff College when Operation Just Cause took place. The very—

  • 1:03:31
  • Interviewer
  • Which was?

  • 1:03:32
  • Lance Betros
  • Which was the invasion of Panama in 1989. So I missed that. And then the following year I spent as a student in the School of Advanced Military Studies, for a very select group of officers, and that’s when Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm took place. And then I arrived at West Point in the summer of 2000, and a year later was 9/11. I didn’t plan it that way, and I—so no, I really don’t have any regrets. I would’ve done my duty if—I would do whatever duty the Army asked me to do.

  • 1:04:08
  • Interviewer
  • You came back to West Point, eventually became a department head here.

  • 1:04:11
  • Lance Betros
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 1:04:12
  • Interviewer
  • And wrote a book about—two books about—the history of West Point—

  • 1:04:16
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah.

  • 1:04:17
  • Interviewer
  • Which we’ll get to in our second interview. But I’m curious about the experience as a department head here in the early 2000s, I guess.

  • 1:04:25
  • Lance Betros
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 1:04:29
  • Interviewer
  • How would you characterize the West Point experience today versus the experience you had in the 1970s?

  • 1:04:41
  • Lance Betros
  • There are a lot of differences. I mean the basic mission of West Point hasn’t changed. It’s developing leaders of character to serve as commissioned officers in the Army. But how we go about doing it has changed quite a bit. Now, I was there as a cadet at the tail end of a period when the Academy was very paternalistic. You know, “We know best. We’ll create this—the gauntlet that you have to go through, and you better make it through.” So it was not only paternalistic, it was attritional as well.

  • 1:05:13
  • Lance Betros
  • “If you don’t make it through, if you do anything wrong, if you flunk any courses, we’re going to kick you out.” So it was a pretty harsh environment to get through West Point. And also I already talked about the negative leadership culture at West Point. So now fast-forward into the early 2000s, and it’s really a lot different now. It’s no longer an attritional Academy. It’s very developmental now. We really do embrace the idea that West Point is a leader development institution, and cadets make mistakes and they need to be corrected. But assuming they have the raw materials of officership, we’re going to lift them up and move them forward as much as possible, and try to get them through that gauntlet.

  • 1:06:01
  • Interviewer
  • How did that happen? How did that change happen? Was it the efforts of just the way the wind started to blow after the honor scandal of the ’70s, or was it really driven by a few select important people who came to the Academy to make that change?

  • 1:06:18
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, it was a combination of changes going on in the Army and changes going on at West Point. I reference back to the studies that were done—the West Point—it was called the West Point Study Group. It was that very intensive external look that General Rogers initiated back in 1977. That report was very critical of the leadership environment at West Point, and we put in place, here at West Point, we put in place changes that led to a more developmental approach to creating leaders.

  • 1:06:52
  • Lance Betros
  • Now at the same time—all we were really doing was mimicking or mirroring what was happening in the Army. The same types of things were happening there. So the West Point that my daughter went through as a plebe just last year is far different, in terms of leader culture, than it was for Cadet Lance Betros back in 1973, and it’s a much better environment, I might add.

  • 1:07:22
  • Interviewer
  • What does it mean to lead a department here at West Point?

  • 1:07:29
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, it used to mean being in charge of an organization that all taught pretty much the same thing from year to year. Before we had majors and a lot of elective courses and a lot of enrichment activities, the departments really did very predictable tasks from year to year. And there was primarily—it was all military, the faculty, so when a department head wanted something done, it got done immediately, and they all got in line and did it. Much different today—now the department heads command—or are at the top of—an organization that does a lot of different things.

  • 1:08:12
  • Lance Betros
  • The curriculum is so rich today. We have majors. We have hundreds of electives across many disciplines. We have interdisciplinary programs, enrichment programs, trips all over the world. Personally, I’ve been involved in fundraising for the Center for Oral History and many other things. There are just so many different areas now that department heads have to be concerned with that—really it forces them to be focused more on their department rather than on the institution as a whole. So that’s really the big difference is the scope of duties that the department head has.

  • 1:08:51
  • Interviewer
  • What is the difference you see among the cadets, the cadet population today? How’s that compare with the cadet population of your day?

  • 1:09:00
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, in terms of quality, they’re just as good, if not better, in terms of who we bring here and the attributes they have. Now, I’m saying that in the aggregate—they’re probably better. I think you know I have concerns about certain portions of the population here, but nonetheless, it’s pretty good. Now, do they have a different set of—

  • 1:09:27
  • Interviewer
  • Let me just back up—the concerns have to do with the encouragement of sports at the expense of academics, right?

  • 1:09:34
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, I would say more generally it’s that we are accepting a lot of risk in the lower echelons of the class.

  • 1:09:41
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm—in order to get sports achievement here.

  • 1:09:45
  • Interviewer
  • Well, I would say sports is a big reason for it—

  • 1:09:48
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 1:09:49
  • Lance Betros
  • But it’s just—we would say minorities in general.

  • 1:09:54
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 1:09:55
  • Lance Betros
  • And then… What we’ve done at West Point is to try to find minorities in the athletic population. So that’s causing us to bring in a larger-than-desired number of lesser-qualified applicants.

  • 1:10:09
  • Interviewer
  • You’re talking about racial and ethnic minorities when you say that?

  • 1:10:13
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, it turns out to be that, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that.

  • 1:10:16
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

  • 1:10:17
  • Lance Betros
  • But yeah.

  • 1:10:18
  • Interviewer
  • And I interrupted you, so go ahead with—you were in the middle of a sentence—I’m sorry—when you were talking about what you regretted about some of the changes here.

  • 1:10:30
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, what I was going to say is just that there are, you know, the cadets today bring to West Point all the stuff that’s going out in American society. So is there more of a drinking problem today? Yeah, probably, and the Corps of Cadets shows that. Are there—is there more of a problem in being able to focus your intellect on the written word, because they’re so concerned about video games? Yeah, you see that here at West Point. Are there more cadets from fractured families? Yeah.

  • 1:10:55
  • Lance Betros
  • So all those things that—really what you’re asking is what’s the difference between American society back then versus now, and you’re going to see the same things in the Corps of Cadets.

  • 1:11:09
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm. You’re leaving here to go be the Dean of the Army War College.

  • 1:11:14
  • Lance Betros
  • Right.

  • 1:11:16
  • Interviewer
  • What are you anticipating about that? I mean what—it’s a great achievement, congratulations.

  • 1:11:21
  • Lance Betros
  • Thanks.

  • 1:11:22
  • Interviewer
  • But what attracts you to that? What do you hope to accomplish there? What’s the importance of that institution with respect to the Army?

  • 1:11:32
  • Lance Betros
  • Well, West Point and the Army War College are like bookends on the Army officer education program. So you’ve got—West Point has those who are entering into the profession, and the Army War College educates those that are at the far end of their career. Now, that said, they still—both institutions—put a heavy emphasis on character and intellect. And that’s previewing—I guess our next segment is going to be on the book that I’m writing.

  • 1:12:05
  • Lance Betros
  • And the thesis of my book is that the most important thing for officership is character and intellect. Here at West Point, we certainly focus on those things. At the Army War College, we also focus on them, although not as much on character, only because we assume by the time they get there that they’re men and women of great character, and by and large, they are.

  • 1:12:27
  • Interviewer
  • Well what kind of a difference do you want to make there? Are you going there to be a caretaker of what they’re already doing, or do you see yourself as initiating some change there as well?

  • 1:12:36
  • Lance Betros
  • I don’t ever want to be a caretaker; so there will certainly be ways that I would like to enhance the organization when I get there. Probably not a good idea at this point to, you know, to comment on that, because I don’t know. I have to go there, and I will do a top-to-bottom assessment, just like I did in the department of history a few years ago when I first got here.

  • 1:12:59
  • Interviewer
  • And what changes did you make here? What kind of a department did you find when you got here, and what did you do to change that?

  • 1:13:08
  • Lance Betros
  • It was a terrific department. Brigadier General Bob Doughty, then Colonel Bob Doughty, had been here for 20 years, and he had a very well-running, well-oiled machine running for him. Morale was very high, education was being—or we were delivering education at a high level. Really there were a lot of very good things. Now, that said, he was here for 20 years, so when I became the head, I immediately started a strategic review process and initiated a program of managed change from year to year, so that we would have input from across the faculty on any number of issues. So we did in fact make some changes.

  • 1:14:00
  • Lance Betros
  • The first one we made, a very significant one, was actually to change the core curriculum for our plebes, for our first-year cadets. Originally, every cadet would come in and would take either a full year of American history [or] a full year of world history. We decided that—we focused on the world history piece first. And that was very difficult to teach because it was, you know, all the major civilizations from, you know, the beginning of history forward. And not only was it difficult to learn if you’re a student, but it was difficult to teach if you’re an instructor.

  • 1:14:42
  • Lance Betros
  • So we decided instead to get rid of the world history sequence, and in its place we did a semester of Western civilization first—the idea there being you understand your own culture first, as a basis for understanding other cultures. So then in the second semester, you take a course in one of five regions of the world.

  • 1:15:03
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 1:15:04
  • Lance Betros
  • Latin America, Africa, Middle East, whatever. And then whatever historical or whatever region you study, that’s the language that you will take as a yearling, a third-year cadet. So we were leveraging history and language together. Okay, so that was the first big change. Well, just recently we’ve completed this idea by now going to the American history sequence. Starting next year, a cadet in that, who’s taking American, will take the first semester of American history, and then the second semester will take a regional history.

  • 1:15:39
  • Interviewer
  • A regional U.S. history.

  • 1:15:41
  • Lance Betros
  • No, a regional world history.

  • 1:15:43
  • Interviewer
  • I see, so doubling up on the world history.

  • 1:15:45
  • Lance Betros
  • Right, right. We think it’s so important that our cadets understand or have an appreciation for other cultures.

  • 1:15:51
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 1:15:54
  • Lance Betros
  • You know, it’s a way of thinking. They may go to a part of the world that has nothing to do with the region that they studied, but by having compared their own culture to another, they have an intellectual framework to use to appreciate and understand whatever culture they find themselves in.

  • 1:16:12
  • Interviewer
  • Is this an Army-down directive, in a sense, because of the need to acquaint ourselves with other cultures?

  • 1:16:22
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah.

  • 1:16:23
  • Interviewer
  • Do you find that is something that—did that come down through the ranks of the Army as a kind of philosophical or policy approach?

  • 1:16:30
  • Lance Betros
  • It’s actually from the Department of Defense.

  • 1:16:32
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 1:16:33
  • Lance Betros
  • We received—well, the Army received—from DoD the mandate to study—to teach more languages—and to become better at understanding foreign cultures. So the change that I just described very much is in line with that directive from DoD.

  • 1:16:50
  • Interviewer
  • Mm-hmm. Well, next time we’ll go into some on your book—

  • 1:16:55
  • Lance Betros
  • Yeah.

  • 1:16:56
  • Interviewer
  • But also our Superintendents you knew here—

  • 1:16:58
  • Lance Betros
  • Mm-hmm.

  • 1:16:59
  • Interviewer
  • And get more into the Academy’s history.

  • 1:17:00
  • Lance Betros
  • Okay.

  • 1:17:01
  • Interviewer
  • So I thank you very much.

  • 1:17:02
  • Lance Betros
  • Sure.

  • 1:17:03
  • Interviewer
  • Right.

DESCRIPTION

In this first interview (of three), Colonel Betros discusses his experiences as a cadet at West Point and an officer in the U.S. Army. The purpose is to contextualize the themes of his book, Carved from Granite: West Point since 1902, published in spring 2012. In particular, Colonel Betros’s recollections and commentary address the importance of character and intellect in the professional lives of officers. The second and third interviews focus specifically on the ideas in the book. ** If you are interested in an academic quality (formatted and without coding marks) PDF transcript of this interview, please email LTC David Siry at david.siry@usma.edu **

VIDEO DETAILS

topics USMA 1977 Honor Leadership
interviewer Todd Brewster
date 3/2/2012

BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS

name Lance Betros
institution USMA
graduation year 1977
service Army
specialty Infantry
service dates 1977 2012
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