Not only is Maj. Gen. Leslie “Les” Smith (’85) Army Strong, he also has a Red, White and True Blue spirit that he has carried proudly since his time as a student at Georgia Southern University.
As a student, Smith was actively involved in the ROTC and was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. He received his commission in 1983 as a Field Artillery Officer, and in 1985 was selected as a distinguished military graduate and branched as a Chemical Officer.
“The entire Georgia Southern experience helped me to see something broader than myself,” Smith said. “Being from Atlanta, I think the courtesies, customs and traditions that we learned at home were reinforced in college and still used today. I learned how to build coalitions with people I did not know, understand cultures and traditions that I had no appreciation for and basically spread my wings and fly.”
Smith is now the commanding general for the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., that trains between 80,000 and 90,000 soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen in in Engineer, Military Police and Chemical military occupational specialties. In addition, the Army base also trains the largest contingent of motor transport operators from across all military services, has the largest noncommissioned officer training academy and is home to the Army’s only live chemical agent training facility.
Smith also met his wife of 25 years, Vanedra, at Georgia Southern. The first time he saw her in the student center before a Kappa Alpha Psi party is perhaps one of his favorite memories during his time as a student, he said. But Smith is also thankful for the preparation he gained for his future at the University.
“I think that everything you do prepares you for what you will do next, even if you do not know what that next step is yet. For example, we had ROTC instructors who helped prepare us for an Army that we were not yet part of, but they knew what we were going to face in the future,” Smith said. “GSU played a significant role in the life that Vanedra and I have today. It helped us find our way and set us on a path to the blessings we enjoy today, and has no doubt prepared us for those we cannot see in the future.”
The major general said it is important for him to try to visit Georgia Southern each year to talk with the ROTC students and leadership of the University.
“Basically, we have to take the time to invest in those who took the time to invest in us. If you step back and look at the blessings that you receive, you must know that we have the same responsibility to bless others,” Smith said.
While Smith began his journey as an Eagle when the University was home to only about 7,000 students, he still believes Georgia Southern is an ideal place to get an education. “If you are looking for a complete education with a small-town feel pick Southern,” he said. “There is something about learning how to treat others with dignity and respect, dealing with people who think differently than you to accomplish a stated goal and yet still have lots of fun.”
And despite future growth, Smith said it is important not to forget the University’s beginnings.
“It is important that people understand and appreciate what they have in Georgia Southern. It is not every day that you have a large university with a small-town family feel,” he said. “It is critical, regardless of how large we grow, that we do not forget that. Southern Pride and Southern Style are more than words, it is a way of life. EAGLES SOAR not squawk on the ground!”