LTG(R) Guy Swan grew up on a lake in Wayne, New Jersey, with his parents and his sister. His father served in World War II, spending much of his deployment working in the port of Antwerp before being sent to the front as a replacement in an infantry division. After the war, he met a Flemish woman who immigrated to the States after the war, and they were married. LTG(R) Swan played a variety of sports as a boy, eventually gravitating to baseball and swimming. School trips to West Point sparked his interest in attending. As a high school senior, many of his teachers, who had received educational deferments during the Vietnam War, counseled him against attending the Academy, but he wisely ignored their advice. He recalls being scared to death on his first day at the Academy, but the bonds formed on R-Day have been some of the strongest of his life. He did well academically, and enjoyed military training during the summers particularly his first exposure to the armor force. As a plebe, he was on the swimming team, but during his yearling year, he transitioned to club volleyball and really enjoyed it. He attended West Point at a time of great transition; the Vietnam War was ending, the Class of 1977 experienced an honor scandal, and women were about to enter the corps. He remembers instructors like Wes Clark talking about their experiences in the Vietnam War, and the feeling of “what happens to us?” Upon graduation, he branched Armor, and his first assignment was in Korea with 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment, in the 2nd Infantry Division, followed by service with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Platoon Leader time afforded him the latitude he had to train his Soldiers and take charge, and his Platoon Sergeant demonstrated “what an NCO should be like.” In 3ACR, he had a combined arms platoon, with scout vehicles, a mortar track, and an infantry squad. There, he noticed the competition between the Platoon Sergeants for who had the best Platoon Leader. His time as a company commander was a turning point in his career. He met his wife at Ft. Bliss, and had a great relationship with his battalion commander. After attending the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS), he was stationed in Germany with the 1st Armored Division in 1989. His unit was part of the General Defense Plan, but that all changed in November with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the euphoria of freedom was replaced with a feeling of “what do we do now” that the Cold War is over? Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait solved that dilemma, and he soon found himself on the advanced party to Saudi Arabia, planning for the deployment and training of an Armored Division in preparation for war. He felt that SAMS had prepared him well for all of the planning requirements for offensive operations, and noted that logistical concerns were the biggest issue. After returning from the Gulf War, he took command of the 4th Battalion of the 64th Armor Regiment in the 24th Infantry Division from 1993 to 1995, and found it to be a very rewarding assignment. While in battalion command, he deployed to the National Training Center for the first time, and felt that he struggled to perform well. Following battalion command, he completed a National Security Fellowship at the Kennedy School at Harvard University. He appreciated the jointness of that environment, working with peers from the different services. He then took command of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the Opposing Forces (OPFOR) at the National Training Center in the Mojave Desert in California. In that assignment, the OPFOR portrayed a “Soviet-style” enemy conducting combined arms warfare as a means of training the rotational units in order to improve their warfighting skills. He recalls his determination that “we have to be tough so they get better.” After two years at the National Training Center, he was assigned to the Pentagon, serving as the assistant deputy directory for strategy and policy (J-5) for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Next, in September 2000, he took an assignment to Germany as the commander of the 7th Army Training Command, in charge of the Army training centers at Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels. During that period, the Army was starting to send units on training missions in Eastern Europe. When the terrorist attacks occurred on September 11, 2001, he was back in the States attending a course at Maxwell Air Force Base, and it took him days to arrange a return flight to Europe. When he arrived, he was moved to find overwhelming support from the German people, as well as a sense of unity. In August 2002, he returned to the Military District of Washington, where he became the Army’s Chief of Legislative Liaison on Capitol Hill. In that role, he observed the inner workings of the U.S. Government. He recalls a day when the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Eric Shinseki, provided his estimate of the number of troops required for the stabilization of Iraq following the war. His number was much larger than what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was willing to consider. Shinseki stood by his estimation, and he subsequently seemed to be marginalized in Washington. After his retirement, Shinseki was replaced by General Peter Schoomaker, who was recalled from retirement to serve as the Army Chief of Staff. Swan observed all of this, commenting on what he felt was a strained civil-military relationship, especially when a retired General was recalled to active duty rather than selecting one currently serving. In December 2006, he was assigned as the escort officer for First Lady Betty Ford after President Ford died. In that role, he became very close with the Ford family. He was then assigned to command U.S. Army North, responsible for homeland defense and security. After retiring from the Army in 2011, he became the Vice President for Education for the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA).
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his West Point years, and his Army experiences. He reflects on many of the leaders he served with, and all that they taught him, starting with his Platoon Sergeants. He describes many of his assignments, highlighting lessons he learned. He provides valuable insights into the civil-military relationship at the highest level of the government. He notes that he has learned more about the inner workings of the Army in his position at AUSA than he did in his entire thirty-five year career. Finally, he describes being a West Point parent (his son Ryan graduated in 2016), and reflects on what West Point means to him.