2nd Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. George A. Higgins is the son of a World War II veteran, and his own son is about to begin his second tour in Iraq.

2nd Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. George A. Higgins is the son of a World War II veteran, and his own son is about to begin his second tour in Iraq. (Seth Robson / S&S)

CAMP RED CLOUD, SOUTH KOREA — When 2nd Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. George A. Higgins speaks of his concern for U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq, the words come from his heart.

The 32-year veteran has two sons in the Army, one preparing for a second tour to Iraq after eight months in the desert with the 101st Airborne Division.

Higgins, who took command of the 2nd ID late last year, has served in command and staff positions throughout the Army in the United States and overseas including a tour to South Korea from 1991 to 1992. He is now overseeing, as he calls it, a “paradigm shift” in how the 2nd ID is organized and completes its missions.

He carries on a military tradition started by his father, who served as a platoon leader with the 6th Infantry Division in the Pacific in World War II. The division was on the island of Luzon fighting the Japanese when Higgins’ father joined it in 1945, he said.

“In the aftermath of the surrender of Japan, 6th ID was directed to come to participate in the surrender of Japanese forces (in South Korea),” Higgins said.

The elder Higgins served on the peninsula, first as a young first lieutenant dealing with the Japanese surrender in the south, and then as a lieutenant colonel provost marshal with the 19th Theater Support Command from 1960 to 1961.

“My dad was a soldier for 28 years so I grew up on Army posts,” explained Higgins, who was born in Frankfurt, Germany, and lived in Panama and on various Army posts in the United States as a youngster.

His older brother’s decision to join the Army in 1965 and serve as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam inspired Higgins to join.

“As a senior in high school, I asked my dad about the best way to become an officer. He said the best way if you want to make it a career, is to go to West Point. My dad and brother are OCS (Officer Candidate School) graduates,” he said.

Immediately after high school, Higgins attended the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School at Fort Belvoir, Va., before earning a competitive appointment to West Point as an enlisted soldier and joining the class of 1972.

“The English department wanted me to come back. I thought they wanted me to teach literature, but they wanted me to teach philosophy,” recalled Higgins, who earned a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Virginia before returning to West Point to teach the subject along with English composition and language.

The three years spent teaching at West Point were a chance to start a family for Higgins and his wife, Marilyn.

Today their sons, Jeff, 26, and Steve, 24, have followed in their father and grandfather’s footsteps, he said.

“Steve will graduate from West Point next year. Jeff graduated from West Point in 2002 and became an infantry officer in 2003. He joined the 101st in the desert and served there for eight months,” he said.

As a father, it was difficult to watch his son go to war. Pride is mixed with worry about the danger faced by his soldier sons, Higgins said.

“The fact that they elected to join the profession of arms is a source of pride but there is another part of me that worries. Those eight months while Jeff was in Iraq … Marilyn and I prayed every single day that he was there.

“This coming year when his brigade goes back will be a difficult year for Marilyn and me. It is very dangerous. I don’t have any idea what the division’s mission will be in Iraq, but I expect it is going to be a very difficult year,” he said.

Soldiering is not the sole focus of Higgins’ life. In his spare time he collects rare coins and stamps. His prized possessions include a Morgan silver dollar from the Carson City mint and a block of four 1936 six-cent airmail stamps. He also enjoys sports such as running, golf, tennis and outdoor pursuits such as hunting and fishing.

“In golf, the pleasure is first mastering yourself and secondly the social opportunity you get to spend with other people. I like to hunt but not necessarily big game. I like to be out in nature; I would thoroughly enjoy just hiking around the area around here," he said.

The philosophical viewpoint extends to his perception of his own role in the military.

“What I try to do is try to shine a light into some dark corners for some people so they can see the way. I am not the light. I’m a mirror that reflects it,” he explains when asked about his leadership philosophy.

“In part, that is living up to my potential. I suspect I have probably met my potential right here. There are only 10 active divisions in the Army and I am enormously proud to still be serving on active duty and for the opportunity and privilege to command 2nd ID.”

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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