Doing “Lawrence Of Arabia” Stuff: A Non-Traditional Career Leads To The USMA Department Of Foreign Languages

Greg Ebner


COL Greg Ebner grew up in a suburb outside Detroit in a General Motors family. His father was an accountant at GM Headquarters, and his mother was a homemaker who later earned a Masters Degree in elementary education before becoming a school teacher. He felt his childhood was idyllic, with summers bringing freedom to wander the neighborhood until dinnertime. His high school guidance counselor had a West Point Department of History poster hanging in his office, and that inspired him to apply to the Academy. The fact that it was a free education played into his decision, as did Cadets who attended his high school. During his Beast Summer, the mantra that kept repeating in his head was, “If I can just get through the day.” As a Cadet, he did well academically, but found the physical program intimidating. The Glee Club and the friendships he found there helped define his experience at West Point. Upon graduation, he branched Aviation and learned to fly the OH-58 Kiowa (during Desert Storm, he flew the OH-58C). He was a scout pilot, and enjoyed the challenges of flying during the Cold War, even participating in a REFORGER (Return of Forces to Germany) exercise with 2nd Armored Division. In 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army attacked Kuwait on Ebner’s birthday, and he soon found his unit mobilizing for deployment to the Persian Gulf, which was quite a feat considering that they were in the process of deactivating when they were alerted for deployment. After the Gulf War, he commanded a troop in 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and met his future wife in Colorado. After a deployment with the Helicopter Company in the Multi-National Forces and Observers mission in the Sinai, where he learned to fly the Huey, he was notified that he had been selected to be a Foreign Area Officer (FAO). After a lengthy period of schooling in which he learned Arabic and completed “in-region” training at the Kuwaiti Staff College, he attended the Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. While a student in CGSC, the terrorist attacks on September 11th occurred, and everyone understood that “our careers had just changed.” He was then assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington, eventually deploying to Iraq to search for Weapons of Mass Destruction. After returning from Iraq, he reported to West Point to teach in the Department of Foreign Languages (DFL). After his assignment as a rotating faculty member, he was faced with accepting a FAO job he did not want or retiring. He had submitted his retirement paperwork when then-COL McPeak, the Head of the Department of Foreign Languages, suggested he earn a PhD and return to the department as an Academy Professor. He chose that route, and currently is the Head of the DFL. In this interview, COL Ebner talks about his childhood, his Cadet experiences, and his service as an Aviator, Foreign Area Officer, and Professor at the Military Academy. Throughout his interview are informative vignettes and leadership lessons. He recalls the problematic history of Company B-1 (“Boys One”), and the toxic climate that existed when women had been at the Academy for less than a decade. Noting that there was discrimination in the company, he talks about efforts to change the climate, and discusses his current work with his old company to ensure that everyone is valued as an important member of the team. He describes some of the leaders who helped shape him as a young officer. He highlights his deployments, and the importance of learning how to lead Warrant Officer pilots. He discusses the Army as a family, and explains how “military folks take care of each other – always.” Finally, he reflects on his concerns about leading America’s sons and daughters well, especially now that his youngest son is a Cadet at West Point, and closes by considering what the Military Academy means to him.


name Greg Ebner
institution USMA
graduation year 1988
service Aviation / Foreign Area Officer
unit 1-3 Aviation Battalion, 2nd Armored Division; 3ACR; MNFO; Defense Intelligence Agency; USMA Department of Foreign Languages
specialty Arabic Language / Middle East FAO
service dates 1988