Black and Gold Forum cadets meet leaders in Washington
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates meets with West Point cadets and takes a question from Firstie Nadi Kassim at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., Oct. 15.

Last week, 14 cadets and two officers from the Black and Gold Leadership Forum traveled to the nation's Capitol to meet with several military and government leaders.

The mission of the forum is to build stronger leaders for the Army by providing cadets the opportunity to engage with prominent leaders and leadership thinkers from all walks of life.

The forum met with Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a 1971 West Point graduate. Reed spoke about how his experiences at West Point, Ranger school, the Army and in Congress have shaped his leadership skills and beliefs.

In addition to emphasizing the value of pursuing passions through work, Reed discussed how he balanced the competing tension between promoting himself to voters and maintaining effective relationships with peers in the Senate.

After visiting Capitol Hill, the group went to the Pentagon and spent an hour with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen. He answered a number of questions. His responses centered on the importance of focusing on helping people, because organizations focused on people ensure the success of their leaders. He also highlighted the importance of learning languages and cultures, saying these would help in their future engagements as officers.

The highlight of the visit was a meeting with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who spent an entire hour discussing everything from China and Iran to unconventional warfare and personal leadership anecdotes.

One specific practice he offered for the cadets' toolkits--he schedules time for each of his service chiefs to meet directly with the president, to help them feel heard and to improve his command climate. Members of Gates' staff commented that the USMA visit was also the highlight of the Secretary's day.

"The meeting with Secretary Gates was amazing and by far the highlight of the trip," Firstie Nadi Kassim said.

Next on the itinerary was a meeting with Director of the Joint Staff Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, a 1975 West Point graduate and former XVIII Airborne Corps commander. He spoke about the importance of motivation, strength of character, leading by example and caring for troops.

His two primary pieces of advice were to be proficient Soldiers and to lead by example. He also encouraged the cadets to never worry about promotions or future jobs as effective leaders focus on their missions and their Soldiers.

Craig Mullaney, the Pentagon's Principal Director for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, was the next leader the cadets met.

The class of 2000 graduate and Rhodes Scholar discussed the semester abroad program at West Point, emphasizing the importance of learning about foreign cultures and customs by future officers. An Afghanistan combat veteran, Mullaney also stressed the importance of mental and physical toughness.

Their final meeting was with Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Stephen Kappes. Kappes strode into his conference room for a secret briefing with the cadets and opened with the phrase, "Let me tell you how it is."

He proceeded to field questions primarily focused on leadership, the qualities of a good case officer and a good higher-level leader.

In reviewing the trip and comparing it to the Forum's mission, Maj. Chris Midberry, Behavioral Sciences and Leadership instructor and the Forum's officer-in-charge, said, "The entire trip to Washington, D.C. was a huge success and an outstanding professional and leader development opportunity for these cadets."

The final activity of the three-day trip was a tour of Langley's CIA museum.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16