People and Community

ROTC instructor sets—and models—a high bar for cadets

University of Miami military science assistant professor Brian Geil strives to instill the highest qualities of leadership and integrity in student cadets by embodying those attributes in his instruction and guidance.
Geil and associates
ROTC seniors received their commissions as second lieutenants at a ceremony earlier this month. From left: Master Sgt. Travis Knudsen, a senior non-commissioned officer at the University of Miami Army ROTC; 2nd Lt. Dillon Fields; 2nd Lt. Jillian Murphy; 2nd. Lt. Rory Loftus; and Captain Brian Geil. Photo: Courtesy of Brian Geil

Army Capt. Brian Geil knows that many of the Reserve Officer's Training Corps (ROTC) cadets he instructs and trains at the University will one day become military leaders who may well be asked to risk their lives—and those of the soldiers under their command—in combat.

Tasked with that responsibility, Geil sets a high bar for excellence, integrity, and service-oriented leadership, not only in the instruction he provides in the classroom but, more importantly, in the leadership qualities he models for the young cadets.

“As leaders, we strive to be the example by which our cadets can follow,” said Geil, who teaches the first two levels of ROTC leadership courses and military history online to cadets from across the South Florida area. “I’ve had my fair share of leaders who didn't do what they preached and that’s one of the quickest ways to lose the respect of your soldiers. Leadership 101 tells you to do what you expect your subordinates to do—that’s the golden rule.

“One of the biggest things I stress is holding yourself accountable and maintaining your integrity in all situations. Another one would be pushing yourself,” he added. “If you’re meeting the standard, but it’s obvious that you’re not trying as hard as your soldiers, then you need to do more and better.”

The Southern Strike Army ROTC Battalion, which includes the University of Miami, is one of the largest ROTC battalions in the United States with more than 250 participating student cadets across South Florida.

Lt. Col. Heath Papkov, professor of military science, oversees the battalion and manages the training schedule, recruitment, and retention for South Florida. Geil is the officer in charge at the University, responsible for training, recruitment, and administration.

Geil spent the first half of his life in Texas, the second in Georgia. Both his grandfathers, his uncle, and a cousin served in the armed forces, but it was his older brother—who joined the ROTC at Kennesaw State University—that inspired him to make soldiering a career.

“I always wanted to challenge myself physically and serve a larger purpose to make sure that my career had a larger impact than just trying to attain financial security,” he said. “There are a lot of ways you can go about that—teaching, community work—but I felt like the military met all those boxes.” 

As a sophomore at the same Georgia college as his brother, Geil joined ROTC, earned a scholarship—and that “kickstarted everything.” 

He has been active in the military for nearly 10 years with two duty assignments at Fort Gregg-Adams, formerly Fort Lee, in Virginia, where he completed lieutenant and captain leadership courses; Eglin Air Force Base in Florida where he trained as an explosive ordnance disposal specialist; then Fort Drum in New York and Fort Campbell in Kentucky.

The intensive leadership instruction instilled proper instructing techniques—how to gain your audience’s attention so they learn better; how to inspire your students; and things to avoid, like asking leading questions or forcing people to get involved. 

Geil is nearing the end of the second year of a three-year assignment as an ROTC instructor at the University. His first graduating class was last year, and his second was commissioned this past May 14.

An avid learner himself, Geil teaches a military history class that analyzes the conflict and tactics of major battles since World War II, and he plans to soon include more focus on Revolutionary and Civil War battles.

“Because we’re really trying to develop leaders, we mostly highlight command control and effective communication,” he explained. Reviewing case studies of specific generals or other officers, students discuss how these leaders motivated or failed to motivate their soldiers and explore how proper planning and communication affect a battle.

This Memorial Day weekend, as we prepare to honor and mourn service men and women who died while in service to the country, Geil is keenly aware that the trauma and toil of military service sometimes exact a fatal cost.

“I would say most Americans have the misfortune of knowing someone who took their own life,” he said. “The military can place you in a high level of stress for both personal reasons and family life. For me, one of the biggest things I’ll reflect on for Memorial Day are the mental health issues that affect veterans.”

That said, Geil emphasized that the military is taking “amazing steps” toward combatting those issues by making sure that those who have served and are serving—and their family members—get the care they need.  

Cadets are away from campus for the summer. So, Geil took advantage of the short downtime and traveled to Mexico City for an intensive Spanish language program. He reports later this summer to Fort Knox to participate in the annual training event there for thousands of cadets and civilians. He’ll be working 18-hour days for a month and a half as part of the massive training exercise.

Geil said he’s “blown away” by the level of support, respect, and admiration that members of the military receive from the public, and he reports that support on campus is “phenomenal.”

If he’s in uniform and out and about in Miami, it’s not unusual for strangers to approach him and express their support in English and Spanish.

For Memorial Day, he’ll reflect on those who gave their lives in service.

“My job in explosive ordnance disposal taught me that everything we know was learned by people who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Geil said. “So, I want to pay homage to those who made the ultimate sacrifice to give us the knowledge, the capabilities, and ultimately the freedoms that we have now.”