An Interview with the Caldwell’s

In February, GMC selected Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell IV as the 21st President of GMC, marking the beginning of a new chapter in the school’s 134-year history.  Upon his military retirement, Lieutenant General Caldwell will succeed Major General Peter J. Boylan, who recently retired after serving as GMC’s president for 21 years. 

Intelligent, forward-thinking, flexible, forthright. Those are the personal traits General Caldwell has relied on to build a long and distinguished military career.  Now, he turns his considerable “servant leadership” talents toward guiding GMC to the next exciting phase in its history.

Although they’ve never lived in Milledgeville, the Caldwells feel as though they’ve come home. “I grew up in a military family, attended military high school, then went off to college and on to a 37-year military career.  In the last 15 years alone, we’ve moved 12 times,” said General Caldwell.  “When you come and go that rapidly, you learn to assess people and situations quickly.  Even before we arrived in Milledgeville for the interview with GMC, we were impressed by the school’s sound mission and dynamic team.  After our first visit, we knew this was the right place for our family to settle and call home.  Now, we’re excited about the adventure that lies ahead.”

That adventure comes in the form of sustaining GMC’s distinguished tradition of excellence, while leading the school successfully into the future.  As an experienced and highly decorated military commander, General Caldwell is clearly qualified to meet the challenge.

On the home front, adventure lies in putting down roots and nurturing the solid foundation he’s built with wife Stephanie, a Methodist minister, and their children, Will (14), Anna (12) and Hudson (10).  The Caldwells also look forward to visits from his older children, Julie who lives in Washington with her family and Dana who just graduated from Tulane Law School and is currently studying for the bar exam.

“In General Caldwell, we have a proven leader with a broad range of experiences, someone we’re confident will continue to set the standard for excellence here at GMC,” said Randall A. New (HS’71, JC’73), search committee chairman, and Chairman of the GMC Board of Trustees.  “We’re honored to have a person of General Caldwell’s caliber, dedication and vision—and we welcome the whole Caldwell family to their new home.”

In the midst of packing their household for their move from San Antonio’s Fort Sam Houston to Milledgeville in July, General Caldwell and Stephanie took time to share their thoughts with The Cadence.

The Cadence (TC): Let’s talk about your decision to retire from the military and take your career in a new direction.  You likely explored various options; what influenced your decision?

General Caldwell (GC): I’d been in Afghanistan for two years and when I came home in 2011, Stephanie and I agreed it was time for a transition.  We took a year to reconnect as a family, then turned our attention to the future.  Many unique opportunities presented themselves, which was exciting.  But we knew the decision wasn’t going to be based strictly on location or pay—we wanted the complete family package, some place that would be the right fit for all of us.

Stephanie Caldwell (SC): When we looked at the previous jobs Bill especially enjoyed, it was those involving education.  And when he served as President of the Army Command and General Staff College, our whole family loved the interactions with other families and the military students. That’s what geared us toward education.  Plus, most families of retiring generals don’t have young kids to consider but we have three at home, so it was important to find the right community and schools for them.  And Bill and I are both originally from Columbus, Georgia, so being near family was a real bonus.

TC: What attracted you to GMC in specific?

SC: We were just blown away by the quality of the people at the school.  From the search committee to the faculty and staff—everyone we met was very impressive. It was obvious the school was run well and organized.  And having the right people on the team is a key part of being successful in any job.

GC: Very true. We had a good feeling about the school from our first interaction.  GMC has a great mission, a wonderful group of people and a positive environment.  The opportunity to be a part of that team, to continue the work General Boylan has done, to live in such a lovely community—it was very appealing.

SC: After spending a day at GMC during the interview process, what excited Bill the most was talking to students.  Being a mentor, leading by example, coaching, guiding and training future leadership…that’s what fires him up.

GC: The young people I’ve met at GMC have a real energy and enthusiasm that fuels my own excitement about what lies ahead.  It’s extremely gratifying to help get a student interested in something and then inspired to turn their education into a profession. GMC gives students the unique opportunity to put their lives on a positive track. In turn, being in a position where you can help provide the opportunity for a person to change his or her life for the better makes it rewarding to go to work each day.

TC: General Caldwell, how would you describe your leadership style?

GC: Transparent.  I support keeping an open dialogue and entrusting the members of my team. I’m not a “zero defects” guy.  Everyone makes mistakes.  What counts is how you learn from those mistakes, what you do about them.  An ethical work environment is also important to me; I was raised that way and have carried that principle into my career.

I also love initiative and innovation…and when people realize we can all make a difference together.  “Servant Leadership,” which puts the needs of others first, is something also very important to both Stephanie and me; it’s something we try to live.  I subscribe to the philosophy that with great power comes great responsibility.  When I promote others to the next rank I always tell them that our Army is entrusting them with greater responsibility to use for the benefit of others.

SC: I’d describe his leadership style as highly energetic!

TC: Tell us about your plans for GMC, both short-term and long-term.

GC: I fully realize I’ll be in a situation that’s different from the one I’ve served for so many years.  But the principles are the same. So I plan to spend time observing, listening and asking questions.  I look forward to absorbing and learning. Then, we can focus on how to take GMC’s solid foundation to the next level.

I also appreciate the opportunity to work alongside General Boylan, whom I see as a mentor and good friend.  He is an invaluable resource and I’m blessed to have him as a sounding board, to learn from his experience and to build on what he has developed.  It’s a huge win for the school and for me personally that General Boylan has agreed to stay on as president emeritus.

TC: One of the projects in the immediate works is construction of the Kidd Center, GMC’s new health and wellness facility.  What do you see as the value of physical fitness and the addition of the Kidd Center to GMC?

GC: Strength and vitality are important, not just for their own sake, but for mental wellness—exercise is a great stress release.  For nearly 40 years in the military and at school before that, it’s been important for me to get some form of exercise each day.  Stephanie and I both enjoy being active together, so it was a huge plus for us to learn that GMC has a health and wellness center being built. It’s so important for youth to learn good habits and the benefits of staying healthy.

The Kidd Center will also support the expansion of team sports at GMC.  When students play on a team, they learn a unique way of working with others toward a common goal.  They learn how to give and take, how to encourage each other. Those are strong values to impart.

TC: On the subject of values, character building one of the cornerstones of GMC’s foundation. Your thoughts on military schools in general, and building character concurrent with intellect?

GC: I attended military schools, so I know firsthand that they offer a high quality education and learning environment.  Students learn discipline, respect, how to set goals and how to prioritize their time.  When I saw the message of “Duty, Honor, Country” across the campus and threaded throughout the curriculum, I knew it was part of who GMC is.  And I wanted to be a part of it, too.  Teaching character not only creates a desirable environment for learning, it prepares students more fully for life.

TC: Shifting gears, tell us about your family!  What’s ahead for them, now that you’re getting settled in your new home?

GC: If anyone has paid a price for my career, it’s been my family.  Those of us with military careers get to do what we love. Our families do what they do because they love us.  Stephanie and I see the move to Milledgeville as an opportunity for our whole family to grow together.

SC: We’re all really excited to be here, so close to cousins and in such a great, small Georgia town.  During each of Bill’s deployments, I’ve moved with the kids to Fort Benning, so they feel right at home in Georgia.  And we already feel a part of the Milledgeville family.  So many people have reached out and made us feel welcome. It’s clear this is a great community.  Looking ahead, I plan to take some time to help get our family settled, then maybe consider working part-time.

In terms of the kids, William, our oldest, is starting 9th grade at GMC.  He and Hudson, who’s in the 5th grade at Creekside Elementary School, love to be outdoors, enjoy sports and both want to learn to hunt.  Anna, in the 7th grade at GMC, is excited about all the extra-curricular activities at the school.    As a family, we really enjoy camping, hiking, traveling and anything that involves water.

TC: You both have exemplified servant leadership throughout your careers.  Who are your own role models?

GC: My dad, who passed away this spring, was a great role model for me…

SC:  And for me.  Like Bill, his father was a retired three-star general and the most loving, caring person.  He would focus on you and listen intently.  He was also a man of principle.  When faced with a difficult decision, he chose the “harder right,” rather than the “easier wrong.”  Those of us who watched his life up close learned a great deal about principled and moral living.

GC: He always encouraged us to do our best, no matter how small the task.  He was a motivator and a model.  I learned a great deal about duty, honor and country from my dad.  And now I’m privileged to be able to carry on that legacy at GMC.