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One Army trainee got the basic training prep of a lifetime after boarding a plane and unknowingly sitting next to the former commander of his training location. 

On a flight from Germany earlier this week, a new Army recruit heading to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for basic training sat down next to Maj. Gen. Milford Beagle Jr., commander of the 10th Mountain Division. Beagle’s previous assignment was the commander of Fort Jackson and the U.S. Army Training Center. 

“Let’s just say…this is the best prepared trainee ever ?,” Beagle tweeted, including a photo of the two of them on the plane.

Beagle told Task & Purpose on Monday that the two started chatting when the recruit, who appeared a little older than your average 18-year-old soldier-to-be, asked people around him to switch seats. He was a “pretty big guy,” Beagle said — a little bigger than Beagle’s 6-foot, 1-inch and 200-pound frame. 

He wasn’t able to find someone to switch with, but he struck up a conversation with Beagle. He was “very mannerable,” Beagle said, and he eventually asked the two-star general: “Are you in the military?”

“I said I am, and then immediately responded back and asked him if he was in the military. He said no sir … but he smiled, and his smile and the brightness on his face when he was responding to that question immediately let me know something was up,” Beagle said. “He was like, ‘No I’m not, but I’m going to be. I’m on my way to Fort Jackson for basic training.’ So my face lit up too because he was so excited about it, you could tell he was really ready to go.”

This soldier’s first Army mentor was a general sitting next to him on the way to basic training
Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) Commander, Maj. Gen. Milford H. Beagle Jr., speaks during a 9/11 observance ceremony on Sep. 10, 2021, on Fort Drum, N.Y. (Spc. Josue Patricio/U.S. Army)

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As Beagle would learn, the recruit’s father was a retired Army sergeant first class who had enjoyed his time in Germany so much that he moved his family there. They spoke for about an hour and a half total before a flight attendant offered to move the recruit to a more comfortable seat — and all the while, he didn’t seem to know who Beagle actually was, or what rank he held.

Beagle said he talked him through basic training “from start to finish” and offered some practical advice, like always drink water; take care of your feet, and pay attention to absolutely everything the drill sergeants tell you. 

The new recruit “absorbed all of that,” and Beagle even mentioned that he’d commanded Fort Jackson before, hinting at his seniority in a way that he said went right over the recruit’s head. Beagle then suggested taking a selfie for the recruit’s father. As the recruit was texting it to his dad before their plane took off, he asked Beagle’s name. 

This soldier’s first Army mentor was a general sitting next to him on the way to basic training
A drill sergeant watches over Basic Combat Training recruits at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. (Maj. Michelle Lunato/U.S. Army)

“I said, ‘Just say Gen. Beagle.’ He did a double-take and was like, ‘Gen. Beagle,’ and he spelled it out. But I don’t know if he thought that my first name was general or something,” Beagle said, laughing. “Because again it still didn’t click, and I’m just kind of watching him, watching his body language and everything else.” 

If he didn’t realize it then, he surely will later in basic training. Before the recruit was moved to another seat that would be a bit roomier for his long legs, Beagle handed him a sealed note, instructing him not to open it until he’d had a particularly bad day or a time when things just weren’t going his way.

Inside, Beagle had written three points of advice: Always quit tomorrow — as in, don’t quit in the moment, wait until the next day and then keep doing that over and over again; never fail to try; and never let anyone tell you what you can’t do.

Beagle has no doubt that the recruit, who is going into the Army Signal Corps, will be successful. 

This soldier’s first Army mentor was a general sitting next to him on the way to basic training
A drill sergeant walks next to Basic Combat Training recruits at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. (Maj. Michelle Lunato/U.S. Army)

Not only did he seem incredibly smart — “If he tested high enough to get in the Signal then he’s really sharp,” Beagle said — but he was “totally fired up.” He seemed particularly excited about following in his father’s footsteps, the general added. 

And perhaps when he finally finishes training and can officially call himself a U.S. Army soldier, he’ll see a familiar face in the crowd of spectators. Beagle said if he can, he’d love to make it down to Fort Jackson to see him graduate. “If it works,” Beagle said, “I’ll definitely get there.” 

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