By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Jan. 05, 2016) -- For the first time in its history, the Army has installed a female officer as the commandant of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Brig. Gen. Diana M. Holland, herself a 1990 graduate of the school, assumed the role of commandant of cadets during a Jan. 5 ceremony there. She is the 76th officer to hold the position.
Last year, when the announcement was made that Holland would assume the role, acting Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning said the officer was well-suited for the position.
"Diana's operational and command experiences will bring a new and diverse perspective to West Point's leadership team," Fanning said. "She is absolutely the right person for this critical position."
Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., the academy's superintendent, said Holland is "immensely qualified" for the position, which has tremendous impact on the development of future Army officers.
"The commandant of cadets has such a significant role in our mission to train, educate and inspire leaders of character for service to the nation as Army officers, as they prepare to fight in America's wars," Caslen said. "The commandant is the 'M' in military in the United States Military Academy."
He said the job carries with it the burden of responsibility for the military, physical, character and social development of more than 4,400 cadets.
Caslen said he felt that Holland's past performance in the Army demonstrates her suitability for leading so many young Americans in their training and development as Army officers.
"[She] has a phenomenal reputation throughout the Army," he said. "The Corps of Cadets is getting a great commander and an outstanding leader."
In the 1990 "Howitzer," the USMA yearbook, an entry for Holland, written by one of her peers, came near to predicting her assumption of the role of commandant. Caslen read that entry to show just how close to true the prediction came.
"We knew Diana was destined for greatness when she won the drill off in Beast," Caslen read. "And now she is charge of the regimental drill. Look for her 5'1" frame in her pickup truck back at West Point in a few years as a history (professor) and many years later as the [superintendent.]"
Caslen pointed out that Holland does still drive a pickup truck, that she had returned to the school in 1999 to serve as a history instructor, and that she was now assuming the role as commandant.
"There is still some time for that Howitzer prophecy of one day becoming a superintendent -- so it may just come true," he said.
"Returning to West Point this time has been quite surreal for a number of reasons, not the least of which that's it's eerily close to fulfilling my Howitzer entry," Holland said. "That entry was written by Beth Richards, my roommate of three and half years, and very close friend. She couldn't be here today, but I can hear her right now, shouting from afar, 'I told you so.'"
Holland said accepting the position is humbling. She said she was only able to achieve what was needed for the appointment because of the support and mentorship of those she has worked with and for over the last quarter of a century. She started off by citing her classmates at the academy -- many of whom attended the ceremony -- as having had great influence on her.
"I so appreciate your demonstration of support. That sense of teamwork really started the day we came together in 1986. 'The Proud and the Mighty,' proved to be an appropriate motto," she said. "I distinctly remember challenging myself to work harder, to be as fast or as strong or as skilled or as smart as many of you. It was a healthy competition that inspired me to be better every single day. But when I wasn't as strong or skilled or smart I could always turn to one of you for help or advice. I am grateful to have served with you and most importantly, to be counted as one of you."
Holland also cited a litany of Army leaders, both officer and enlisted, who influenced and mentored her throughout her career. She also named her own father, who she said had been instrumental early on in steering her toward West Point and an Army career.
"It was my dad who first suggested to me that I consider attending one of the service academies, back when they began admitting women. I was only 8 at the time," she said. "But remarkably, I had already expressed the desire to serve in the military. His suggestion immediately took hold. And it was he who dropped me off here almost 30 years ago to become a West Point cadet. I appreciate your love and support for convincing me early on that I could achieve anything -- I just had to work hard and treat people right."
The new commandant also thanked her husband, Jim, for his continued support. "I love you very much," she said.
As the 76th commandant of cadets, Holland is responsible for the development into Army officers of more than 4,400 cadets. It's a mission she said she is ready for, and excited to take part in for several reasons.
"First, to be part of a winning team that demonstrates continuous excellence and contributes to our nation in such significant ways in times of peace and conflict," she said. "Second, the opportunity to work with incredible, talented young men and women such that you find here -- they are an inspiration, and serve as a constant reminder that the future of our Army will be in good hands. And finally, to contribute to a purpose that is so consequential for our Soldiers. Our Soldiers, who achieve amazing things, overcome incredible obstacles around the world and make great sacrifices every single day. They ask for very little in return, really only that they be well-led. It is particularly gratifying to support a mission that answers that call. For those reasons, and then some, I appreciate this portent and look forward to working with this team."
Holland was commissioned in 1990. She has served as a company, battalion and brigade commander. In her most recent assignment, she served as deputy commanding general (Support), for 10th Mountain Division (Light), Fort Drum, and in Afghanistan. She served twice in Iraq, and three times in Afghanistan.