Clemson grads and lifelong friends reach rarified air in the military 

Rear Adm. George Bresnihan and Brig. Gen. Louis Mitchell were a couple of 9-year-old rascals when they first crossed paths on the suburban streets of the West Ashley area in Charleston, South Carolina, in the late 1970s. It was a time when parents of young boys bursting with energy could release them out into the community without fear, and it was almost inevitable that the two would bump into each other.

What wasn’t assured was a friendship that would endure over 45 years and carry them to the highest echelons of military service.

“Most people who knew us back then will tell  you if they saw one of us, they saw the other,” Bresnihan says. 

The two young men kept each other moving forward and excelled in school. They applied to Clemson University and started their journey as Tigers in 1987.

Mitchell graduated with a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering in 1991 and was commissioned into the Army Reserve. Bresnihan earned a Bachelor of Science in management in 1992 and received his commission into the Navy two years later.

For the next 30 years, the men steadily climbed the ladder of their respective services. They always leaned on each other through the hard times, including multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan for each. 

When challenges presented themselves, each man knew his counterpart was just a phone call away.

“There was never any competition, only encouragement,” Mitchell says. “When we misstepped, we would correct each other’s azimuth as colleagues and friends.” 

Today, both men wear stars on their shoulders: Bresnihan as a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy and Mitchell as a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve.

“There are only 13 African American flag officers in the entire Navy,” says Bresnihan,  currently the director of logistics for United States Africa Command.

“There are about the same number of African American generals in the Army Reserve,” he adds.  “That’s improbable in and of itself, but if you take two little Black kids from the same neighborhood in Charleston and fast forward 30 years, I just don’t know what those crazy odds are that we would both become one-stars. There are so many things that could have gone wrong.”

Mitchell says that as both climbed the ranks, the one thing the pair had in their favor was their longtime friendship, rooted in a shared ambition  and work ethic.

“I know I can call Louis if I need something and vice versa,” says Mitchell, currently the deputy commanding general for operations, 416th Theater Engineer Command in Darion, Illinois. “If Louis is spending time in Charleston and my parents need anything, he’s there, and I don’t find out until afterward.”

When it came time to pin on the ranks of general and admiral, each man acted as master of ceremonies for the other’s promotion.

“In many ways, what motivated us was never wanting to disappoint each other,” Bresnihan says. “You never want to let your boy down. That translated directly to pride in each other’s accomplishments. When he made one star, that was it for me. I was fine if I didn’t get it because we’d already made it.”

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