CARLSBAD — For the first time in the Army and Navy Academy’s history, a woman will lead the North County all-boys military boarding school.
Retired U.S. Army Major Gen. Peggy Combs was recently named president of the private college preparatory academy following her 33-year military career. Combs, a two-star general, officially took command on Oct. 23 in Carlsbad.
Previously, Combs oversaw the U.S. Army Cadet Command and served as chief of staff at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Before her appointment to the academy, Combs was a retiree living in Florida when she learned of the position, which she said intrigued her based on her previous experience managing thousands of ROTC students nationwide.
“It is a blessing,” Combs said. “I truly do love the whole value-based system. The folks here are a family, they make you feel welcome, and everybody here cares. That’s hard to say about many organizations.”
Combs said it’s an honor to become the school’s first woman president, but also noted her military career is filled with “first woman” achievements and professional milestones within the Army.
Combs said her focus is on her 90-day assessment, getting a clear picture of how the school operates and getting to know the staff, students and board members.
In her first several days on the job, Combs is excited about the school’s reputation and innovative approach to learning, such as allowing students to operate flight simulators as part of an aviation program.
After the 90-day assessment period, Combs said her strategy would continuously refine the school’s needs and direction. But she’s not ready to announce any significant changes, which she said could negatively impact students and staff if implemented without enough information.
“The school is in awesome shape, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve,” Combs said. “I want to be very deliberate about that. It’s about continuously reinforcing what we’re doing here: developing virtuous men who can change the world.”
Combs said she was drawn to the school based on the institution’s core values — honor, integrity, respect, responsibility, compassion, and gratitude — which are ingrained in the atmosphere at the all-boys school, which educates kids from grades 7-12.
Barry Shreiar, chairman of the academy’s board of trustees, said Combs was the ideal candidate and her approach, passion and values aligned with the school.
“There aren’t a lot of major generals, regardless of gender,” Shreiar said. “To find a major general that has a serious background, an ROTC background twice is almost impossible. It’s a bet that’s impossible to win, but we did, and we won. And that doesn’t even speak to the depth of character that this takes.”
While working at NORAD, Combs recalled her favorite assignment was fielding hundreds of calls every Christmas Eve from children tracking Santa’s journey around the world.
Sometimes, even former U.S. presidents have answered calls from kids impatiently waiting for Santa to drop off their presents, Combs said.
According to NORAD, the Santa tradition started in 1955 after a child dialed a misprinted phone number in a local newspaper advertisement, mistakenly reaching the Continental Air Defense Command, or CONAD, Operations Center in Colorado Springs. (CONAD was later disestablished in 1975, making way for the Aerospace Defense Command as the primary U.S. component of NORAD.)
Air Force Col. Harry Shoup answered the call, assuring the child he was Santa Claus, and the tradition was born. Volunteers answer up to 130,000 calls in 13 languages at the NORAD Tracks Santa event every year.
“Santa is real,” Combs said. “It is the most awesome experience a human being can have; it is a very real thing that day.”