Military man Brooks steps up to the mike
By Patrick Cooper
(CNN) -- Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks must know his audience wants to see someone else -- they have made their angst quite clear -- but Brooks has kept his cool.
At U.S. Central Command in Qatar, the soft-spoken Brooks has handled the daily press conferences and quickly become the region's most visible American military spokesman.
Reporters there have openly asked to hear instead from U.S. top commander Gen. Tommy Franks, but Brooks has continued to lead the briefings.
Although tall, broad-shouldered and typically serious in expression, he has used his demeanor to temper an imposing figure.
Faced with finding language for life-and-death war situations, Brooks' polite and precise manners at the podium have drawn good marks from at least one prominent media observer.
Dr. Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute for journalism, said he would give Brooks a "strong B" grade on his work with the media so far.
"He projects a kind of strength and calmness and confidence that appeal to me," Clark said Friday.
According to Clark, Brooks and recently rescued POW Pfc. Jessica Lynch both well represent the changing face of the American military.
Nearly all white and male until the mid-20th century, the military's ranks now provide "significant leadership in the area of diversity" in modeling how other democratic institutions should be, Clark said.
For Brooks, 44, the Central Command leadership role is the latest of many commanding positions he has held.
The military work follows in the footsteps of his father, Maj. Gen. Leo Brooks Sr. His brother, Leo Brooks Jr., would become a general officer as well and is now commandant of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Recently, Vincent Brooks led the Army's Georgia-based 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, but he first stood out at a young age.
Born in Anchorage, Alaska, Brooks attended West Point, where he was the first black brigade commander. He graduated first in his class in 1980.
His Army career after college took him around the world: Panama, Europe, Korea, the Middle East, and Kosovo.
Brooks would go on to earn a master's degree from the School of Advanced Military Studies at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and to study at Harvard University as a national security fellow.
Army Gen. Wesley Clark, now a CNN analyst, commanded the 1st Cavalry Division in the early 1990s and noticed the rising officer's work even though Brooks was only one of 80 majors in the division.
"He was there. He had a good sense of timing," said Clark, who is retired. "He is a no-nonsense leader who has studied his profession carefully, works hard and delivers."
Before coming to Qatar, Brooks served in a variety of roles surrounding U.S. military policy and affairs in the Americas, including cooperation efforts with Canada and activities in Latin America. He became a brigadier general in 2002.
Questions about the 'entire mosaic'
Brooks' current live-television work at Central Command has been "very effective," according to Wesley Clark. And despite showing "generic" videos of combat during the briefings, Poynter's Roy Peter Clark said he found the briefing quality and Brooks' manner generally impressive.
"One of the things I like about him is that he doesn't look very defensive," Poynter's Clark said. "He doesn't project himself as someone who is going to automatically or reflexively defend every act that is made under the umbrella of this military action."
But some of the media audience in Qatar have hoped for more. In the last Persian Gulf War, reporters were hearing regularly from top commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.
New York magazine Michael Wolff drew cheers from other reporters on March 27 when he questioned Brooks about "the value proposition" of the briefings.
"I mean no disrespect, but ..." Wolff began. "We're no longer being briefed by senior-most officers. To the extent that we get information, it's largely information already released by the Pentagon.
"You may know that ABC has sent its senior correspondent home. So I guess my question is: Why should we stay? What's the value to us for what we learn at this million-dollar press center?"
Brooks responded with wit to Wolff's question and a follow-up question about Franks -- "I'm sorry you feel disappointed. I probably need to get a pay raise" -- but gave serious responses as well, asserting his briefings helped get out "the entire mosaic" of war information.
"General Franks [has] already shown that he's more than willing to come and talk to you at the right time. But he's fighting a war right now. And he has me to do this for him," Brooks said.