LT. GENERAL HAS SERVED AT THE TIP OF THE SPEAR
Lt. General Roger L. Cloutier ‘87 (BA) stood on the flight deck of the USS Midway and looked out at a group of San Diego State University Army ROTC cadets. They were being commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the U.S. Army and would soon begin a journey that Cloutier himself set out on more than three decades ago.
“Less than three-tenths of one percent wear the uniform,” says Cloutier. “The young men and women who join the Army today are as patriotic and motivated as I’ve ever seen.”
At the age of 57, Cloutier currently serves as commander of Allied Land Command, which ensures that NATO land forces remain prepared and operable to maintain the freedom and security of the alliance. He’s responsible for a half million soldiers from dozens of NATO and partner nations. His years of experience prepared him for the leadership role. “I never thought I’d be where I was today when I first came to the University of San Diego,” says Cloutier. “Between my family, my faith and the U.S. Army, I’ve grown tremendously.”
His father served in the Air Force, which caused the family to move frequently. But in 1980, Cloutier’s dad was transferred to Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado to do joint duty with the Navy. The move placed Cloutier at Hilltop High School in Chula Vista; he was subsequently recruited as a running back to USD by then-Football Coach Brian Fogarty.
“The interaction between Fogarty and I was really good,” he recalls. “Also, I was raised in the Catholic Church, so I thought going to a Catholic university would be great for me.”
He quickly discovered that his passion lay in political science. “Trying to understand the international system and how the U.S. fits into that drew me in [that] direction.”
Cloutier had a friend on the football team who also happened to be a part of the SDSU Army ROTC. “One day, my buddy was walking by in his uniform, and I thought he looked cool, and I said, ‘Hey, what’s that all about?’ He said, ‘You should come to check it out.’” That was the start of Cloutier’s lifelong career. After checking out the program, he immediately signed up. “I fell in love with it because it was exactly like being on a football team. The Army is a family. Everybody pulls together to work toward a common objective.”
Army ROTC is where Cloutier first met his wife, Diane, who was also a cadet in the program. He spotted her across a field at a training event and knew she was the one. “For me, it was [love at first sight], maybe not necessarily for her,” he jokes.
In 1988, he left for Fort Benning, Georgia, for infantry officer basic training. Shortly after, he was sent to airborne school, where soldiers learn how to jump out of airplanes and master parachute operations. He then attended Ranger School, one of the toughest training courses a soldier can volunteer for. Soldiers are taught small unit tactics under stressful conditions to practice pushing the limits of their minds and bodies.
Upon graduating, Cloutier moved back to San Diego and married Diane. The newlyweds then moved to their first duty station in Fort Ord in Monterey, California. “I often say, behind every good soldier is a great family. Without my wife’s love and support, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he reflects.
In 1989, he received his first orders to deploy in support of Operation Just Cause. The Army spearheaded an attack on the Panamanian Defense Forces of then-dictator Manuel Noriega. Though the Army was successful in its mission, it wasn’t without loss. One of the soldiers in Cloutier’s unit was killed during the operation.
“I’ve never forgotten his name. It was Douglas J. Duff and he was from Elgin, Nebraska. He was 20 years old,” says Cloutier. “I’ve never forgotten his service or sacrifice. From that day forward, the need to make sure our soldiers are trained and prepared is something that’s been seared into my heart.”
Cloutier did multiple tours in Iraq throughout the U.S. involvement in the region. Those years were particularly tough on soldiers and their families. “We were doing back-to-back deployments, but the men and women who deployed to Iraq did amazing things under difficult circumstances.”
In 2015, the chief of staff of the Army asked Cloutier to command Fort Jackson in South Carolina. He accepted and oversaw Basic Combat Training for close to 70,000 soldiers each year. “It was an opportunity to take all my experiences and lessons I learned over my years of service and inculcate that into thousands of soldiers.”
Three years later, Cloutier assumed command of U.S. Army Africa/Southern European Task Force in Vicenza, Italy. “My area of responsibility encompassed 53 out of 54 countries on the African continent. More than 1.3 billion people are living on the continent, which means there are a lot of challenges: conflict, desertification, food insecurity and more.”
Cloutier’s job was to focus on the security of the military forces that were working and operating on the continent and help them build the capacity so that in time they could help improve people’s lives. That humanitarian aspect is something he’d like to continue as he begins to think about what life will look like after leaving the Army.
“I want to continue a life of service and I want to do something that at the end of the day, I can say I made a difference and did something that mattered.” — Kelsey Grey ’15 (BA)
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