Army man takes integrity far
Commissioned officer welcomes role of leader
By Karen McCowan
COTTAGE GROVE - Peter Gilroy isn't one to seek the spotlight. But he was in it May 17, standing in the East Room with the President of the United States, watching his parents beam as Defense Secretary Robert Gates pinned on the gold stripes signifying his commission as a U.S. Army officer.
"It was surreal," the new second lieutenant - Cottage Grove High's 2003 valedictorian - recalled back home in Oregon last week. "Even walking in, you don't really realize how momentous it is. It's kind of crazy to be standing next to the leader of the free world."
Gilroy earned the honor by distinguishing himself among this year's 5,000 Army Reserve Officer Training Corps graduates.
"He is an exceptional young man," said Lt. Col. Alan Westfield, his commanding officer in Gonzaga University's ROTC program.
Gilroy was among just 55 ROTC standouts selected from all service branches nationwide to participate in the first-ever joint commissioning ceremony at the White House. Chosen to represent Oregon at the ceremony, he was one of only 22 Army ROTC members there.
"He's not a guy who likes a lot of attention, but this is a big deal," Westfield said, ticking off a list of reasons why Gilroy rose to the top.
"He's a scholar who graduated magna cum laude in business," the commander said. "He's an exceptional athlete who led our nine-person Ranger Challenge team to a regional championship. He's an effective leader who was our command sergeant major" and in his spare time "served as a mentor for young kids in the Spokane community."
"He's got enormous character," Westfield said. "He's going to be a very fine Army officer."
Although he enlisted after fighting had begun in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Gilroy said he turned to ROTC primarily as a way to pay for school.
"My brother did Naval ROTC at Notre Dame," he explained. "The fact that we had a conflict going on didn't really sway me one way or another. I knew, regardless, that I would be in a situation where there would be danger, because there's no time in our history where we haven't been involved in something dangerous, such as a NATO peacekeeping assignments in the Balkans and Somalia."
In remarks to the new officers, the President acknowledged the role of the ROTC scholarships "that helped pay for your college education."
"The American people provide these funds willingly," he said. "In exchange, they ask one thing: When their sons and daughters are put in harm's way, they are led by officers of character and integrity."
Gilroy will be such an officer, Westfield said: "Our nation's in good hands with people like Peter Gilroy stepping forward to lead young, 18-year-old privates and soldiers and sergeants in the world's best army during a time of war."
Gilroy chose Gonzaga's ROTC program because it has a reputation for giving participants "the tools to control your destiny," he said.
As a business major, that meant opportunities to apply the "management stuff" he was learning in his business administration classes.
"I have a really good job lined up," Gilroy said, as he prepares to report for duty at Fort Lewis next month. "I'll likely be a platoon leader in charge of 30 people. Not many people get that kind of leadership experience right off the bat. And the starting salary's not bad either - a little over $40,000."
Eventually, he plans to return to college for a master's degree in business administration.
"I don't know yet if I'll make the Army my career," he said. "It depends on whether I like the job."
Meanwhile, he sees the Army as a way to help him "see the world," a top post-college goal. After training, his first duty station will be in Vilseck, Germany. He's already been to Korea. And, of course, to the White House.
The reality of that experience really sank in after the ceremony, Gilroy said, when "we kind of had free rein inside the White House. I saw all these famous rooms, with their famous paintings. I always liked that one of J.F.K. with his head bowed, so I had someone take my picture with that one."
U.S. ARMY 2ND LT. PETER GILROY
Claim to Fame: The 2003 Cottage Grove High graduate represented Oregon at a May 17 White House commission ceremony for Reserve Officer Training Corps graduates.
Family: Parents Jim and Mary Gilroy of Cottage Grove; brother Andrew of New Jersey; sister Megan of California.
Education: Bachelor's degree in business, Gonzaga University, 2007
Role Model: Grandfather William Mitchell, a retired Navy engineer and World War II veteran. "He was just a good man - very honest, with a good sense of humor. He honestly cared about the well-being of others in front of himself."
Favorite Historical Military Figure: Alexander the Great
Now Reading: "When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (a civilian's-eye view of the Vietnam War)'; "Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus."
Listens to: Red Hot Chili Peppers, alternative rock
Five-, 10- and 20-Year Goals: See the world; earn an MBA; marry and raise a family.