Listen to audio of Lt. Col. Timothy P. Leroux:
July 14, 2009 — Lt. Col. Timothy P. Leroux, the new commander at the University of Virginia's Army ROTC program, joined the Army because he wanted an education.
He got one.
Leroux, 39, a native of Cleveland, does not come from a military tradition. Looking for a scholarship to attend college, he applied to both the Army and the Navy. At the time, he was not planning a career in the military – he was not really planning a career in anything.
The Army came through with a better deal. It proved to be a fortuitous break.
"In the summers of my freshman and sophomore years, I went to Airborne School at Fort Benning, and Air Assault School at Fort Campbell, which really turned me on to the Army," he said. "I thought jumping out of planes and helicopters was awesome and I could see myself actually serving a career in the Army. I found it challenging, rewarding and fun."
He graduated from Xavier University in May 1992 with a degree in history and started helicopter flight school in June at a spartan, remote base in the Ozarks.
"It's hard to learn to fly a helicopter," he said. "It was frustrating and I had little natural aptitude to fly a helicopter. But I got the hang of it because I was committed and not good at accepting failure."
Leroux mastered the craft and has been an attack helicopter pilot for 17 years, serving in Korea, Haiti and two tours in Iraq.
While he enjoyed the military, he was beginning to mull a civilian career – until the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"That did not seem like the time to get out," he said. "I was also looking at friends in the private sector and realizing that the grass wasn't much greener there."
In 2002, he shipped out to the Middle East with the 101st Airborne and spent three months in Kuwait and 10 months in Iraq, including time on the staff of Gen. David Petraeus, who commanded the 101st. Petraeus later led all forces in Iraq and now heads the U.S. Central Command.
Leroux enjoyed working for Petraeus and he learned many things on his staff, but that was not where his heart was.
"I wanted to fly missions with the line units," he said. "I wanted to be with the soldiers in the fight."
He was later reassigned to a line unit and served several years as a squadron executive officer and operations officer where he flew over 100 combat missions over the next several years.
In May of this year, Leroux was posted to the U.Va. ROTC program.
"I like academia," he said. "I started in ROTC and I am passionate about the program."
Leroux, a professor of military science, has master's degrees in business administration and military science. He stresses mentorship in his approach to education, in part to honor the people who helped him.
"Mentorship made me a better person," he said. "It changed my life and helped me grow in a positive direction. I want to help young people make the transition from teenager to adult because I needed just that kind of help."
He said mentoring is about providing young people with wisdom and insights that come from having been where they are. 'I've worked with young people for my entire career and I certainly feel like I can still relate to college students, he said. "I've made plenty of mistakes in my life but I've been lucky to have great mentors throughout my Army career.'
"The Army is about opportunities," Leroux said. "It is truly about being all you can be."
Leroux is entering a program that is already "in great shape. We're projected to meet all our benchmarks for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, we are redoubling our commitment to providing the Army with the best officers we can."
The U.Va. program has approximately 155 cadets, with another 108 at Liberty University, a program Leroux also administers.
He said ROTC is about recruiting, training and retaining. Applications for the program are up, in part, he said, because this generation is devoted to service.
"It is our goal to produce a higher quality lieutenant through mentorship," he said. "We recognize that the officers we produce will be charged with leading the sons and daughters of America in what may well be an era of persistent conflict. It is a tremendous responsibility and, for many, it starts right here at the U.Va. ROTC program.'