Brigadier General Mark Spindler recalls life of service
Spindler, a 1982 graduate, said a 15-month tour in Iraq was “the most significant event” of his career.
Nov. 11, 2014
Brigadier General Mark Spindler, a 1982 graduate of MU, was inducted to the ROTC Hall of Fame in a ceremony Nov. 1. The program was what began his military career.
“The Army is the greatest team sport in the world,” said Spindler as he accepted his induction to the MU ROTC Hall of Fame. “There are none better than the team that I have right here with me.”
While delivering his comments, he gave credit to the people he has worked with throughout the course of his 30-year career.
“There’s nothing that I have done in my career that merits a Hall of Fame consideration other than the fact that I have been on extraordinary Hall of Fame teams,” Spindler said.
However, on many of those teams, Spindler has been the one in charge.
After commanding at every level in multiple countries, Spindler returned to his home state last year to serve as Commandant to the 47th Military Police Academy at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The St. Louis native credits MU as the force behind his success.
“This was the start of my professional career and personal life,” Spindler said.
He met his wife, Ellen, as a sophomore at MU. He was studying sociology while she pursued nursing.
“When we were dating, it really wasn’t cool to be an ROTC cadet,” Ellen Spindler said. “It was actually nerdy. So when he was here on Thursdays, when he wore his uniform, I didn’t want to walk with him. After 30 years, of course my view has changed. I’m just so proud of him.”
Mark Spindler joined the MU ROTC on a three-year scholarship.
After graduating from the ROTC program, Spindler was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army Military Police Corps. He only planned to spend three to four years in the military.
“I wish I could tell you it was a deliberate plan for me as a career, but that would be giving me far too much credit,” Spindler said. “(It was) more of an accidental thing, and now I don’t regret anything.”
As a sociology major with an emphasis in criminal justice, Spindler found that the Military Police offered an opportunity to use his educations in an engaging sector of the military.
“You’re always active in the military police world,” Spindler said. “Either you’re overseas in combat policing, or you’re policing the force.”
His position as Commandant of the Military Police Academy at Fort Leonard Wood gives him the opportunity to shape young cadets. Through his experience, Spindler has learned the most effective style of leadership.
“Regardless of whatever discipline you go in … if you’re going to be a leader in that organization, you have to be a visionary,” Spindler said. “You have to know your organization.”
Part of the responsibility of leading an organization is being able to predict and react to a changing environment.
“What we don’t do well is predict the future,” Spindler said. “This is what we do. We try to build an army or an organization and ask, ‘What will tomorrow’s challenges be?’”
Throughout his time at Fort Leonard Wood, Spindler has worked to restructure the mentality of military policing to be preventative instead of reactionary.
“We want to prevent the army from hurting itself,” Spindler said. “I use the analogy that I really don’t want our military police to have to catch the DUI. I want to prevent the DUI.”
Under his leadership, the Academy gears education toward civilian policing skills, working with experts to build an industry standard. Most cadets, if they transition to civilian policing, get credit and have to spend less time in police training.
Spindler continues to play an active role in shaping cadets at MU. In the year and a half he has spent at Fort Leonard Wood, Spindler has provided resources for ROTC training.
Lt. Col. Robert Boone, department chairman and professor of military science at MU, said Spindler “meets all the qualities of what we’re looking for as a Hall of Fame inductee.”
“The interest in helping me shape and form cadets is very important to him,” Boone said. “He reached out to me. He bleeds black and gold.”
Spindler said a 15-month tour in Iraq in 2007 was “the most significant event” of his career.
He commanded all of the military police forces in Iraq at the time and led a brigade of 4,800 men and women.
During his deployment, Spindler balanced all of the different sides of a conflict. He worked with everyone from soldiers in combat to policy-makers in Washington, D.C.
Col. Brian Bisacre deployed to Iraq with Spindler and now serves as the Assistant Commandant at Fort Leonard Wood.
“(Spindler) relates well with the younger soldiers all the way up to the most senior officers in the army,” Bisacre said. “He has a very unique leadership style that connects with almost everyone he comes across.”
Col. John Bogdan deployed to Iraq with Spindler in 2007 and experienced the style of visionary leadership he exercises as Commandant firsthand.
“He was the one that saw the future of the Iraqi police and what we needed to do to move them forward,” Bogdan said. “He understood where and how to attack that problem.”
The same visionary leadership Spindler exercises as the Commandant has been with him throughout his career. Working in higher ranks, he started to see the big picture.
“It seems chaotic, but once you get there you understand a little bit more about the human endeavor,” Spindler said. “Which makes better sense when we start to build policy for tomorrow.”
Although his leadership has stayed constant, his method of understanding and anticipating the problem changed for Spindler as he served abroad. Working with U.S. allies on multiple deployments into the Balkans, Syria, Kosovo and Iraq challenged his worldview.
“The responsibility of deploying … with our allies gives you a different perspective of how to see the world,” Spindler said. “Good or bad maybe isn’t seen that way by other people.
“Certainly you have to learn the military can be much more than about guns and tanks and soldiers. A lot has to do with interpersonal relationships.”
Spindler earned Army Superior and Meritorious Unit Awards for his role in Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Operation Joint Guardian (Kosovo) and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Spindlers have moved their family of six to Germany four times. Some of the other places they have lived includes St. Louis, Missouri, Washington, D.C,. and Washington state.
“It has been wonderful,” Ellen Spindler said. “I can’t imagine not doing it.”
Mark Spindler is thankful for the exposure to different cultures his four children experienced while growing up. They traveled extensively and saw “the wonders of the world.”
Mary Spindler, the youngest of Spindler’s four children, used the international experience to grow.
“I’m glad because I learned how to talk to people and interest myself in the things around me,” Mary Spindler said. “The military is one of the best things that’s happened to our family.”
Ellen Spindler echoes her love for the military lifestyle.
“I look forward to everything as an adventure and try to find the best of whatever there is at the place we end up,” Ellen Spindler said. “It’s really special, and it really isn’t a job. It’s a life.”
However, Ellen Spindler said there are drawbacks to moving every two to three years. It can be lonely, and she doesn’t keep the same job for long. She jokingly calls herself “jack of all trades, master of none.”
Military families often live far away from their extended family, so the military becomes a family. Drawn together by shared experiences, Army life creates deep bonds quickly.
“The hard part is breaking those ties every time you move,” Ellen Spindler said.
Mark Spindler also said he feels the immediacy and importance of the military family. What he expected to be four years of service turned into a 30-year career because he was drawn to the character of the army’s members.
“Regardless of the generations that are here, if you’re in uniform we know that you’re our brother or our sister,” Spindler said. “So we will take care of you, and you never leave your brother or sister. It’s always shoulder-to-shoulder.”
Inductees, ROTC cadets and friends and family squeezed into Crowder Hall for the Hall of Fame ceremony.
Three generations of family members and colleagues from his Fort Leonard Wood command team accompanied Spindler to his induction. He credited those around him with his successes.
When Spindler stepped in front of the crowd to accept his award, he addressed and thanked the audience.
“This is all a bit surreal,” Spindler said. “It’s great to be back home.”
Along with honoring the veteran inductees, the ceremony is also meant to inspire the young cadets who are going through the ROTC program today.
“It’s kind of connecting yesterday to today and to the future,” Spindler said.