Three-star general says Scouting taught him teamwork

He entered the room like a general — commandingly but with magnetic charm.

Lt. Gen. Leslie Smith, Inspector General of the U.S. Army, welcomed the Report to the Nation delegates to his conference room inside the Pentagon on Monday. Before he sat down, he circled the room, shaking each visitor’s hand and asking where they’re from.

Growing up, the three-star general was a Scout in Atlanta. His dad died when he was 5, and he had to teach himself a lot. Scouting helped fill in the gaps.

“I would say Scouting was the first thing that taught me how to work together as a team,” he said. “Being a Scout helped me learn the different things I needed to learn.”

He worked his way all the way to the rank of Life Scout. In Smith, we see living proof that you don’t have to be an Eagle Scout to have had a formative Scouting experience.

Lessons in leadership

Smith excels at talking to young people. He asked thoughtful questions, made sure to engage each participant and seemed genuinely interested in what these future leaders had to say.

Smith said he’s one of just 310 generals on active duty. Compare that to the 1.2 million people on active duty.

“That’s like the camel going through the eye of the needle,” he said.

But even if the odds of becoming a general are 0.03 percent, Smith doesn’t see himself as superior.

“Just because you achieve what you perceive as a semblance of importance in life, doesn’t make you better than that other person,” he said. “OK? It’s another one of those things you learn in Scouting: We’re all on the earth to do something.”

As the delegates left Smith’s conference room and shook his hand one more time, he asked if they wanted to see his office.

Of course they did. Bailey Thompson, a reservist who plans to join the Army full-time, was especially thrilled.

“I think all the guys in my unit are just going to be jealous,” he said.

Words of a general

These were some of my favorite Smith-isms from Monday’s meeting:

On the best leadership advice he ever got: “Listen to your parents. And treat everybody with dignity and respect.”

On paying it forward: “Somebody told you something to make you a Scout, and you have the responsibility to do the same thing.”

On teaching others: “People will come behind you and say, ‘show me what you know.'”

On lifelong education: “Today I just got an email that I’ve got to go to another class — for a whole week. And I’ve been here 32 years; I have two master’s degrees and an undergraduate degree. You’re always learning. That’s the mindset you’ve got to have. You’re always working on your expertise.”

On attitude: “Your ability to deliver has a lot to do with your attitude.”

On what he’d tell his younger self: “Be patient and be persistent.”

On his pet: “I have a dog named Booker T. Washington.” (It’s an Aussiedoodle — a mix between an Australian shepherd and poodle.)

More praise for the BSA

Smith wasn’t the only high-ranking person the delegates met at the Pentagon. Before talking with Smith, the delegates ate lunch in the Joint Chiefs’ dining room. Their host: Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, the senior enlisted advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford.

“To all you Scouts in attendance today, thank you so much for what you do every day to make yourself a better person,” Troxell said. “To the Boy Scouts of America leadership, thank you all for being here today.”

Troxell joined the BSA 48 years ago as a 6-year-old Cub Scout in Davenport, Iowa. He said his parents raised him right — he went to school, he learned to be a good person, he learned right and wrong.

“But what I learned in Scouting is I learned purpose. I learned motivation, and I learned direction,” Troxell said. “It’s kind of stayed with me throughout a 36-year military career now — what I learned as a young kid.”

Touring the Pentagon

The Report to the Nation delegates got a VIP tour of the Pentagon — the largest low-rise office building in the world.

This tour is reserved for foreign dignitaries and guests of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But the Pentagon offers public tours, too. These tours are free and open to groups like Boy Scout troops or Cub Scout packs.

Follow the Report to the Nation

Find more coverage here, and follow me on Twitter (@bryanonscouting) and Instagram (@bryanonscouting).


Photos by Michael Roytek and Randy Piland. See more photos here.