By Tammie S. Moore
Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office
Brig. Gen. Garrett Yee poses for a photo with Col. Steven Hager after a Meritorious Service Medal presentation at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, in 2015. The two officers began their military career together as cadets and are retiring as major generals within months of one another after 35 years of service. (Courtesy photo)
Friends in service: From cadets to two-star officers
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. – Two U.S. Army general officers assigned to Fort Meade, who entered ROTC as cadets together, are retiring together.
Maj. Gen. Stephen Hager, who served as the deputy commander of operations for the Cyber National Mission Force, U.S. Cyber Command, before beginning terminal leave in February and Maj. Gen. Garrett Yee, the assistant to the director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, met nearly four decades ago in 1983 as freshmen at Santa Clara University in California.
They formed initial impressions based on displays of knowledge and strength. Hager recalled the first time he saw his fellow cadet Yee across the room.
“I was told by somebody ‘hey, there's this really strong guy ripping telephone books in half,’” Hager said. “I went to the dorm and that's the first time I met Garrett. He was a bodybuilder. He doesn't tell people this, but he was Mr. Northern California Under 21 as a bodybuilder.”
Yee’s first memory of Hager came from a different moment of their freshmen year.
“He was trying to explain the Doppler Effect to all of us freshmen as if that was something we wanted to hear about,” Yee said. “When I first met him that is what he was doing. Trying to impress us all with his physics knowledge.”
A legacy of family service led Yee, a Chinese-Japanese American, to the commissioning program, which allowed him to follow in the footsteps of more than a dozen family members.
“From an early age I wanted to serve because my dad served in the Army during World War II,” Yee said. “I have a number of uncles and an aunt who also served in various services. They were all positive role models for me.”
Hager, of Dutch-Indonesian descent, began his military journey due to the scholarship the ROTC program had to offer and with a dream of being stationed at Fort Hunter Liggett, California.
“I used to go hunting at a military base called Fort Hunter Liggett, and because I loved hunting so much, I thought why not join ROTC if I get a scholarship?,” Hager said. “It took me 18 years to actually be assigned there.”
After graduation, Hager enrolled in an academic delay program where the Army deferred his active duty time while he pursued a Master of Science Degree in engineering computer science. Once he earned this degree in 1989 he received his first set of orders to Fort Meade.
“I had never heard of Fort Meade, better yet, the National Security Agency,” he said.
During his time at Meade, Hager worked with a microelectronics group. He also deployed during the Gulf War to Iraq and Kuwait, then later to Somalia where he was part of a team that supported operations after the Black Hawk Down incident.
After graduating from college, Yee, who was already a husband and father, attended the Infantry Officer Basic Course at Fort Benning, Georgia.
“The Infantry school taught me to focus on leadership which I would carry with me throughout the rest of my career,” Yee said.
Yee’s path would eventually take him through the logistics functions and later as a senior leader in the Army’s Signal Regiment.
“Regardless of my later assignments, at the end of the day, my ability to provide capable leadership carried the day,” Yee said.
Over the course of 35 years, the two had intertwining careers. The first time this occurred was when then Lt. Col. Hager was a Signal Battalion commander and Col. Yee was his senior as the Signal Brigade commander. After this tour, it was not uncommon for Hager to fill roles Yee previously held or to serve as a member of his command staff, both in the US and overseas, including Afghanistan and Kuwait.
“Steve has had an incredible career serving our Nation and I always admired his ability to think through difficult problem sets,” Yee said. “It's a great sense of comfort, knowing that the person who comes behind you is someone you've known for a long time and trust, and know that they will do a great job. The times that happened I’ve felt very fortunate.”
Hager was serving in Kuwait as Yee’s chief of staff when he learned he was selected for the rank of brigadier general. He attributes part of his success in these roles to the mentorship and guidance Yee provided him.
“He was very instrumental in helping move me along in my career,” Hager said. “He would always give sage advice. He mentored me a lot. One thing he taught me, when traveling, was whenever you ever get a chance, take along other Soldiers with you. Whether it is other colonels, one of the engineers, or your aides so that they can see what's going on too. I would always try to do that based on his guidance.”
Throughout their careers both of the generals have made a point to remain connected with their ROTC program traveling back to Santa Clara University to participate in commissioning ceremonies and mentoring future leaders.
“I often talk to graduating ROTC cadets who are soon to be commissioned and tell them a couple things,” Yee said. “One that sounds kind of harsh is that, I hope you have challenges ahead of you that are really tough that you have to get through. Because, when you do get through those challenges you will be better off on the other side. You will be more resilient, you will grow, you will learn. You will be a better leader. I don’t want to wish anyone an easy path. I wish for them to have adversity. I wish for them to sometimes have sleepless nights trying to figure things out because we need strong leaders, resilient leaders in the military. So when their time comes they are ready for that challenge.”
As the sunsets on their long careers the two will be leaving Maryland and returning home to California.
“I feel grateful I have had someone like Steve Hager as a friend since 1983 when we first started out at Santa Clara University,” Yee said. “We have known each other for 39 years. We just think of each other as great longtime friends for life.”