Grayslake High grad introduces his mentor, Mike Pompeo, at Veterans Day address
Mike Pompeo is known worldwide as the U.S. secretary of state, but 1986 Grayslake High School grad Eric Leafblad has another perspective.
"I knew him by a different title, and that title was simply 'Lieutenant,'" Leafblad told a full house of cadets Monday morning at The Citadel military college in South Carolina.
"He taught me it was cool to be smart, and he taught me the most valuable calling a person could have is service to your country," he said.
Leafblad, now an assistant Cook County state's attorney, was asked to introduce his former Army boss Monday at the college's Veterans Day event.
He hadn't seen Pompeo since early 1988. But after someone he had served with recently reported having bumped into Pompeo, Leafblad sent a letter outlining what had happened in his life since.
He received a call last week from Pompeo's chief of staff.
"I invited Eric -- Specialist Leafblad as I once called him -- to speak today because he set an incredible example for all of us," Pompeo said to open his talk.
"He shows us that in our time in uniform, there is more value than even that moment," Pompeo continued. "It prepares us all for a lifetime of giving back to this amazing country."
Leafblad is the son of former longtime Lake County Board member Larry Leafblad, who watched the livestream with his wife, two daughters and grandson at their Grayslake-area home.
"It's totally amazing," said the self-described proud dad.
An Army veteran, Eric Leafblad was a scout in the 2nd Armored Calvary Regiment serving in Germany. As part of a five-person crew, his job in 1987 was driving then-platoon leader Pompeo in a Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicle.
Pompeo had graduated the top of his class at West Point the year before.
"To say I was a little bit nervous would be a complete understatement," Leafblad told the cadets.
How he came to be in that spot at that time -- and what Pompeo saw in him -- also led him to an ongoing 24-year career with the Cook County state's attorney's office and onto the stage Monday in Charleston.
"He helped me see my potential. So I began to aspire to new things," Leafblad said in the introduction.
"You can serve your country in many different ways, not only in uniform, and I never forget the lesson Lt. Pompeo taught me about the importance of public service," he said.
Leafblad has held a variety of positions with the state's attorney's office, including 11 years as a homicide specialist in the gang crimes unit. He currently oversees 850 prosecutors as director of training.
Leafblad was a senior in high school when he enlisted. He told cadets he enlisted in the Army because didn't believe he was "college material" and planned to make a career in the military.
Pompeo said he recognized Leafblad was working to determine the next step in his life and observed him to be talented and bright.
"There was something really special, and I wanted to make sure to inspire him to the extent I could and motivate him," Pompeo said.
Leafblad's experience has lessons for cadets, including the capacity to focus and pursuit of excellence as a habit, value of teamwork and ripple effect of service and leadership, and the exceptional nature of this country and its values, Pompeo said.
Leafblad left active duty to attend college. After getting straight As in his first semester, he sent Pompeo a letter saying how he was applying lessons learned from mentors.
"It brought me great joy to hear of his accomplishments, but I must tell you, I wasn't surprised," Pompeo told the assembly.
"I knew that his service to America wouldn't be over (after leaving the Army) just as when you leave here."