From Cadet to General

Norvell Coots ’76 pursued a dual path to success

Norvell V. Coots is an embodiment of the characteristics of his alma mater. A member of the Class of '76, his compassion is evident in the success of his medical career. His discipline helped push him to the lofty ranks of our military. His strength of faith resulted in his being recognized by none other than the Pope.

His experience with sacrifice was evident early in his life. Coots recalled that his father, who had been born and raised in Richmond, retired from his Oklahoma-based medical practice and moved the family back here so that his son could attend Benedictine.

His father also instilled in his son a keen interest in the military.

“My Dad was too young for WWI and too old for WWII,” Coots recalled, “but he would read me stories about Patton, Pershing and MacArthur, and would talk to me about duty, honor and country so much that I never thought of doing anything other than being in the Armed Forces. Benedictine was a stepping stone to that goal.”

At an early point in his life, Coots knew exactly what he’d be doing in the military. “As a child, I always used to depict myself in drawings wearing some type of military uniform, but always with a medical bag in one hand, or standing next to a gurney or a Red Cross flag.”

While Coots was able to realize his childhood dreams, there is little chance that he could have dreamed of the success he has earned in his profession. His ascent has been marked by challenging assignments, often far from home. Recently, he served as the Surgeon General United States Forces-Afghanistan (2012-13) and as commander of the Walter Reed Healthcare System, Washington (2008-11). In May 2014, General Coots assumed command of the U.S. Army Regional Health Command, U.S. Army Europe.

Coots is quick to point to a strong sense of values as being instrumental to his success. “I think that many of the virtues that I value are compatible with the virtues espoused by Saint Benedict,” he said, “particularly respect, dignity, hospitality, truthful living, common good and justice. Those things, along with communal living, are very closely related to the military way of life and to Army medicine.”

He wears a general’s star on his epaulet and a bushel of medals on his chest. He has been recognized by his peers for his professional excellence (as a Diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology). He has received international acclaim (including receiving France’s highest honor, the Legion of Merit). Yet, it is in the area of humanitarianism where General Coots’ life is most fascinating.

He has dedicated himself to a number of altruistic causes, including benevolent service projects on behalf of the orphans of the Republic of Moldova and in the development of healthcare programs for the Amerasian orphans of Korea.

His dedication to his fellow man resulted in his receiving a knighthood in the Pontifical Order of Saint Gregory the Great, from the Pope, himself. “I am much more religious than most people give me credit,” he said. “It was faith, or what my faith teaches, that led me to develop programs to care for orphans…Those works, coupled with the work I did in the care of the wounded, ill and injured at Walter Reed Medical Center, and my strong support for the Catholic military community throughout my career, all resulted in my nomination for the Pontifical Order. I was truly honored and surprised.”

What would lead a man to such a life? “I think it was the influence of the Benedictine values, but also the influence of my parents, who were involved in many charities and altruistic pursuits,” he answered.

General Coots was also willing to offer advice to current Benedictine students. “Never give up! Never give up on yourself; if you don’t believe in yourself, why would you ever expect anyone else to believe in you? Never give up on your dreams. Everything that you've won can be taken away from you, but no one can ever take away your dreams.” "You have an obligation to work as hard as you can to make your dreams come true.”

Article Written by Mike Forster, Communications Director, BCP