May 15, 2009- Georgetown University Commissioning
June 26, 2009
It's really wonderful to be here with all of you this morning. I look out there, and I see the extended families. I know that nothing brings a family together more than getting everybody up early for a big event like this. [Laughter] It's great to have you all with us.
Jack [DeGioia], thanks very much for inviting me. Thanks for your leadership here at the university.
Ambassador Bob Gallucci. I think most of you know that he'll be stepping down at the end of the month after thirteen years as the head of our Foreign Service School here at Georgetown. Thank you for your leadership in the Foreign Service School and for your leadership in government over many, many years here. Good luck. [Applause]
One of the reasons I enjoy coming back here so much is because thirty-nine years ago - when I was commissioned here in this same auditorium - I was having a very bad day. My message to you all right off the top is that there's hope for all of you. At nine o'clock - when I was supposed to be reporting in to get lined up for the ceremony - I was sitting in a barber chair in Arlington ... and not getting a haircut was not an option. I had miscalculated. Who would've thought that the barber shops didn't open until nine o'clock' So I got my haircut; leaped on my motorcycle; and went back to my apartment. The only smart thing I did that day was to set my uniform up the night before. I put on my uniform; raced back here; parked the motorcycle at the bottom of the stairs; and ran upstairs just as everybody was marching into the auditorium. This tall captain - who had obviously been looking for me all morning - grabs me by the tie. And just as he grabs my tie, the elevator opens, and my mother, grandmother, grandfather, and brothers and sisters all get off the elevator. Then, I hear my mother say, "Look at the nice man helping George." [Laughter] To this day, I'm still not sure whether he was adjusting my tie or trying to choke me. Anyway, I finally got in line and had to make my way up here to the front row. When I went across the stage to get my promotion, the colonel shook my hand and said, "I'm glad to see that you could make it today." [Laughter] So this career had some very humble beginnings. Again, there's hope for all of you.
I'd like to recognize the parents this morning ... thank you for the role that you've played in shaping your sons and daughters. The values, the ideals, the drive, and determination that you've instilled in them have made them the men and women that they are today. Your influence will serve them well as they join our ranks as the newest leaders in the Army. I'd also like to thank the faculty and the ROTC cadre that are here today. You also have helped shape these young men and women and have given them great direction. So cadets, how about getting on your feet and giving your parents, professors, and cadre a big round of applause' [Applause]
Now to all you cadets ... I know you're probably feeling pretty good today. You are terrific young scholars, athletes, and leaders. And our country needs you to be all of these. Your parents, professors, and tactical officers and noncommissioned officers have put you to the test. And you've responded with focus, intensity, and purpose. Congratulations to you.
I'd like to talk to you for a few minutes about the Army that you're joining ... and about serving and leading in a time of war.
For starters, you're joining an organization that is already the best in the world at what it does. It's an organization that has been at war for nearly eight years. It's a combat-seasoned, all-volunteer force that believes that our freedoms are worth defending. It's comprised of magnificent Soldiers who are out there every day making a difference in a very complex and difficult world. I will also tell you that you are joining a Family ... an Army Family that takes care of each other.
Like the volunteers who have built this great country ... and like the subsequent generations of citizen-soldiers who have answered the call to defend America's freedoms when our Nation needed them, you have chosen to serve. This morning, you'll raise your right hand and pledge to support and defend the Constitution of the United States ... knowing that our country is at war.
Most of you were in high school when extremists attacked us on September 11th, 2001. Now, nearly eight years later, America is still at war with a global extremist terrorist network. We're involved in a decades-long ideological struggle. I believe that the decades ahead will be ones of what I call "persistent conflict": protracted confrontation among state, non-state, and individual actors who are increasingly willing to use violence to accomplish their political and ideological objectives. Maybe my Foreign Service background is coming through a little bit, but that's what we're facing. This is our new reality. And - make no mistake about it - there is a lot at stake.
At stake is nothing less than the power of our values and our ideals. At stake is whether the authority of those who treasure the rights of free individuals will triumph over the ruthless and pitiless men who wantonly slay the defenseless. At stake is whether the future will be framed by the individual freedoms that we hold so dear or dominated by demented forms of extremism. At stake is whether we will continue to expand freedom, opportunity, and decency to all who thirst for it ... or let fall the darkness of extremism and terror. We face a complex and difficult world and complex and difficult challenges, but we will prevail. We will prevail because we have men and women like you who have answered the call and who are willing to lead.
It's all about leadership. It's about leaders of character and intellect. It's those leaders that make a difference in tough times. It's leadership like that that makes ordinary men and women do extraordinary things. That's really the story of our Army ... the story of the Army that you're joining today.
Just about a week ago, I spoke at a ceremony in the Pentagon that honored this year's MacArthur Leadership Award winners. These are the 25 or 26 best captains in the United States Army. Three or four years ago, they were sitting right where you are today. Here are just some things that these terrific young men and women have done in a few short years ... and that you'll be called on to do:
Aca,!Ac They've commanded in combat ... they've led air assaults into rugged terrain ... they've led raids against extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan ... they've coordinated hundreds of combat engagements with skill and coolness under fire.
Aca,!Ac They've built personal relationships with leaders of other services, other government agencies, indigenous forces, and village elders ... they've built and organized local security forces ... they've trained police ... and they've coordinated reconstruction projects.
Aca,!Ac They've also written books, and they've done research ... expanding their influence far beyond the men and women that they lead.
You are ready today to follow in their footsteps. In just a few minutes, you'll be our Army's newest Second Lieutenants. It will be leaders like you that will lead this country to victory in our greatest, most difficult challenge yet. I'm proud of you because you epitomize what is best about the United States of America.
Now I said earlier that you're joining an Army that is the best in the world at what it does. We're that way because of our values, because of our ethos, and because of our people. In a short time, I have no doubt you'll face tough situations. But the values instilled in you by your parents and your grandparents - and the training you'll receive - will keep you grounded. You'll do the right thing. You'll set and uphold standards while you're accomplishing your missions.
Your subordinates will render respect to you - sight unseen. That respect comes from the officers who have gone before you. And once you reach your first assignment and you realize that these terrific, combat-seasoned Soldiers depend on you, you'll vow never to let them down. You'll embody, what we call, the "Warrior Ethos": I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.
You won't fail. You'll lead.
I'd like to close with my favorite quote ... from Theodore Roosevelt. It's a quote that embodies the boldness that each of you should feel in your heart today. "It's not the critic that counts ... not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the one who is in the arena ... whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood ... who strives valiantly ... who errs ... who often comes up short again and again ... and who, at best in the end, knows the value of high achievements and great devotions ... and who, at worst, if they fail, at least fails while daring greatly ... so that their soul will never be counted among the cold and timid ones who know neither victory nor defeat."
Dare great things, young leaders. Welcome to the profession of arms. Good luck.