How Coach K Started One Of The Military's Most Important Bromances

Both went from #44 to four-star general.

HONOLULU -- This week, two four-star generals -- the highest rank in the U.S. Army -- hugged it out on a sunny lawn in Honolulu. There are only 13 active four-star generals in the 500,000-person Army, making it an elite brotherhood in its own right, but these two men have an entirely different bond.

Standing head and shoulders above the crowd and still sinewy even in their bulky uniforms, Gen. Vincent Brooks and Gen. Robert Brown greeted each other like the basketball teammates they once were.

Forty years ago, the two men met as cadets at the United States Military Academy (more commonly known as West Point), where, under the tutelage of coach Mike Krzyzewski (more commonly known as Coach K), they initiated a pattern of both winning and friendly rivalry.

Not even camouflage can hide this bromance.
Not even camouflage can hide this bromance.

On Wednesday, Brooks handed over the command of U.S. Army Pacific to Brown. The change in command, while routine, is significant in foreign policy circles since USARPAC'S area of operations spans from India to Alaska and controls the movements of more than 80,000 soldiers. It is also vital to the much-touted "rebalance to the Pacific." 

But Brooks made light of the handover, joking that it was the fourth time in his life that Brown had "displaced" him. The first such displacement, under Coach K's watch in the late 1970s, definitely seemed to sting the most.

"Bob came on the court the year after me and took my place," Brooks said. "I mean literally, down to the jersey. I wore number 44, and he wore it the next year and the next three years after that."

Brooks spoke fondly of his time with "the legendary Coach K," while Brown went on to show that he still gets lessons in humility from his old coach.

"He called me when he heard Vince and I were passing the colors," Brown told the crowd. "Coach K said, 'You know, when you played for me you never passed.'"

Bet you never noticed that West Point ring on Coach K's hand.
Bet you never noticed that West Point ring on Coach K's hand.

While it's less talked about than his legacy at Duke, Coach K's time as both a cadet and head basketball coach at West Point seem to make him just as proud.

He still wears his school ring (with a Duke stone) and returns to the campus (where he got married) at least once a year to present an award named in his honor. The award is given to athletes and coaches at the school who demonstrate "the development of noble character through athletic participation and leadership." 

He's called West Point the "best leadership school in the world" and even brought the 2014 U.S. national team to the campus for team bonding. 

"You walk around this place and you just feel, you feel good about being an American," Coach K told the AP at the time, "and you feel a little bit more proud of being a USA basketball player or coach.

As for his two former players -- arguably the most important men he's ever coached -- Coach K told The Huffington Post that he remembers them both as being very team-oriented with an uncanny ability to "put the mission first" while still keeping in mind how their actions would affect their teammates.

"Both Bob and Vince are at the top of the totem poll in what a leader should be and what we want our Army leaders to be," he said. "I'm as proud as I can be of them."

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