Lt. General Steve Gilland’s military career has taken him from Africa to Afghanistan, the 101st Airborne Division to Army Special Operations Command. He’s gone from cadet to Commandant of Cadets to the 61st Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point. But for this Rock Island born soldier, it all started in a guidance counselor’s office in Sherrard, IL in 1985.

Major Gen. Steven W. Gilland

“I had just begun my senior year of high school and we were looking around at the opportunities available for after graduating from high school. Of course, in the mid-1980s you didn’t have the internet so it wasn’t like you could go and click and find a bunch of different information. It was three by five cards, like postcards, that you sent off to different colleges that were inside your high school counselor’s office and then you’d get a giant envelope with information from the respective colleges. I was in my high school counselor’s office and there was a postcard that was for the United States Military Academy, and I had no idea what the Military Academy was about.”

His counselor knew of a couple of students from another school who had attended West Point and two students from Sherrard had attended the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO a few years earlier. At the time, he didn’t quite understand everything that came with attending West Point. “I had no idea that it really meant going to the Army and serving for a five-year commitment in the Army after graduation. What was very attractive about the opportunity was that it was free and essentially, I looked at it as a full ride scholarship.”

After requesting and receiving the information packet, Gilland took the next step, which was to receive a nomination from the late Congressman Lane Evans. Being nominated wasn’t enough to ensure acceptance. “You have to be accepted here then you also have to respectively pass all the physical and medical requirements, which I was fortunate to be able to do.”

Did Gilland ever picture himself coming back to West Point as an administrator during his cadet years? “Absolutely not! There was no way that the Military Academy or the Army was going to ever offer me the opportunity to come back here, given how well or maybe not so well of a cadet I was.”

“When I was going through the Military Academy as a cadet, I knew that at the conclusion of it, I had a five-year active-duty commitment in our Army and at that point in time I really didn’t even look beyond that commitment of five years. When we graduated and then went out in the Army, I had an opportunity to have some pretty awesome experiences, which in turn led me to another assignment past my five years and then another assignment and the next thing I know I’m in for 20 years! At that point, I could retire at 20 years as a fairly senior Lieutenant Colonel but decided that we wanted to continue serving if the Army wanted to give us the opportunity. My wife is also a graduate of the United States Military Academy, we are classmates. We are a team on this journey as we have been married for almost 32 years.”

Gilland previously served at West Point as the Commandant of Cadets from 2017 to 2019 and says it’s rare for the Army to ask a Commandant to return to West Point as the Superintendent.

“I was fortunate that the Army asked us to come back to serve as a Superintendent after we left in 2019. Quite often in the Army, there isn’t a training path that or an education path that guides you to being the Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, because it’s multiple hats and various responsibilities in one. You’re president of a university as well as the United States Military Academy which is a four-year undergraduate institution where all our graduates will receive a Bachelor of Science degree when they are complete and a commission into the United States Army. You also wear the hat of the commanding general of West Point, the military reservation, and are responsible for all our staff, faculty and the workers who run this installation and their families. We’ve got an elementary school and a middle school on our installation, we have a shopping exchange and so forth. That is outside of the core of cadets which is 4400 plus young men and women from across our nation who have come to the United States Military Academy for an education, to receive military training, physical training and most importantly, to be developed as leaders of character. When they graduate from the United States Military Academy, they’re going into the Army and they are the next generation of future leaders.”

Like most colleges, the fall semester has just ended, and it seems to have been a positive experience for Gilland. “The cadets came in from the summer with a lot of energy, motivation and enthusiasm. They’ve continued with that on into the academic semester as they are tackling all the various subjects that they study here.” He takes pride in the academic offerings provided to the cadets. “Our team here just really delivers every single day with some incredible opportunities for our cadets, for our staff and faculty around, around the country and in many cases, overseas. We’ve got exchange cadets who are in various countries around the world for a semester abroad. We want them to look at West Point as a center of intellectual capital that they can draw upon to help them with solving those problems or at least coming with solution sets for the most difficult challenges that exist out there.”

Even though he leads a major military academy today, Gilland remains a small-town boy from Sherrard, deep down. “If I may, just a shout out to my hometown high school the Sherard Tigers, go Tigers! I’ve got plenty of friends that are in the local area and some who have remained in close association with Sherrard High School. They’re teachers out there and administrators and such. I just congratulate Sherrard High School and I appreciate all the work that the teachers do out there, that all of our teachers around our nation do but a special shout out to my friends who are working at Sherrard.”