Opinion Extra

Here’s what a former West Point student leader thinks of Bob Caslen

Several years ago, my then nine-year-old sister went through a phase where she loved making “friendship bracelets” out of yarn. Before the 2014 Army-Navy game, she was determined to make one in West Point’s colors for “her pal” General Caslen, who she adored. When I gave it to him, despite being in his dress uniform at the time, he was so delighted and appreciative that he immediately put it on and asked me to take a picture to send her. A week later, it was still on his wrist. That’s just the kind of man Bob Caslen is.

I first met Bob Caslen while he was serving as the superintendent (president) of West Point and had the chance to work for him as a student leader. Upon meeting him, I remember being captivated by his warmth, energy, and genuine interest in all with whom I observed him interact. Over the years, my initial impressions have never changed. His never-quit attitude, steadfast integrity, and passion for leadership have always inspired me.

Austin Welch
Austin Welch

Affectionally known as “supe-daddy” by West Point’s community, he had an incredible knack for being everywhere the Cadets were. At football games, you wouldn’t find him in the Superintendent’s Box but rather in the student section leading cheers, giving high fives, taking selfies, or firing up the crowd. He made a very obvious effort to support every area of student endeavor and was a routine presence at countless student-interest activities; from crew regattas to speech competitions, academic project presentations to tennis matches, and anything you could think of in-between. Most importantly, he encouraged students to support one another in their activities and always led by example with his presence.

A lifelong learner, the sheer breadth of his knowledge always amazed me. He routinely visited classrooms to attend lessons, taking time to interact with students and faculty alike and led lectures of his own to captivated audiences on a myriad of academic and leadership topics. His constant interaction with all of the community’s constituents and consequent awareness of the successes and challenges of West Point’s academic programs enabled him to shape meaningful change to better prepare students for the future.

I could never figure out how he managed to lead such a complex organization while still putting time spent with his students above everything else. I got my answer late one Saturday night while returning to campus. A solitary light shone in the leadership building and behind his desk sat General Caslen, working diligently. As I later learned, he routinely was the last person to leave his office, by a long shot, frequently burning the midnight oil handling administrative tasks so as to have more time with his beloved Cadets.

Perhaps, the most telling part of Bob Caslen’s devotion to his students was the frequency with which he and his wife, Shelly, would invite them into their home. It was a common occurrence to see Cadets sitting on the Caslens’ porch visiting or different student-interest groups participating in the famous “Supe ice cream socials.”

I am beyond excited for the USC community to get to know Bob Caslen and his family. I can think of no finer leader of character to inspire the next generation of Gamecock scholars, leaders, and athletes or help write the next chapter of such a special school. Believe me when I say that President-Elect Bob Caslen will bleed Garnet and Black with no equal and lead the charge to beat Clemson from the front. Go Cocks!

Austin Welch is a 2015 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he was Cadet Brigade Commander. His best friend is a University of South Carolina graduate.