By Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. OdiernoJune 16, 2015
Good evening. How is everybody this evening? I know you can be more enthusiastic than that. It is a great night for the Class of 2015. (Applause). It is such an honor for me to be here with you this evening to have the opportunity to participate in the Graduation Banquet of the Class of 2015. I really want to thank all of our distinguished guests here, some who have already been recognized, especially the Class of 1965 distinguished graduates. They all influenced me in a variety of ways through my career, and I really appreciate that, and I know that they have had a great influence on this class.
Before I begin, I want to state that the art of being a keynote speaker is to say a lot without talking a lot. I remember a story of a young school boy who had to give a speech on Julius Caesar. He said that "Julius Caesar was born a long time ago." The boy continued, "He was a great general. He won some important battles. He made a long speech. They killed him." (Laughter). So tonight I will try not to earn Julius Caesar's fate.
First, I want to recognize those who have given so much to this great institution. General Bob Caslen, who has led this great Academy for the past few years. I have known him for many, many years and watched him lead from the front. His dedication to education and leader development has not only impacted West Point, but it has impacted the Army at large. We have been fortunate to have such a leader and scholar along with his lovely wife Shelly, leading this great Academy. Thank you so much for your leadership. (Applause).
I also want to thank General Thompson and General Trainor for their leadership and vision, and for their hard work and dedication every day to ensure that they maintain the standards here at West Point for the Corps of Cadets. Command Sergeant Major Clark, I welcome you here to West Point. With all of your credentials, the Corps is fortunate to have you here. So welcome Sergeant Major. (Applause)
I want to thank the faculty and staff who invest so heavily in Cadet academic development, and the Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers who work so hard on Cadet leader development. The Academy consistently scores number one and two in the best public college category and in the top 1% of all institutions in the country.
Though that is an incredibly important accomplishment, it is really not what West Point is about. It is about developing well-educated leaders and Soldiers. As I travel around the world, I see that West Point is recognized as the premier leadership institution in the world. We are respected by every nation and especially by our adversaries. This says a great deal about the Academy and about the Officers who bring their experience and return here to help teach our leaders of the future.
To our family members and friends of the Class of 2015, you have given incredible support to your Cadets over the last four years, and for some, maybe a bit longer, but I won't mention any names. The West Point experience requires the support of many people, but especially from your families. To the families, the discipline and values you instilled in your young men and women in their formative years, and the love and support you provided, has allowed each of these men and women to grow and mature. You should be very proud of your grandson, granddaughter, son, daughter, nephew and niece, and brother and sister. They have demonstrated enduring resilience, dedication, and selflessness. We can probably agree that they are very different young men and women than those who entered the Academy on June 28, 2011.
Tomorrow the Class of 2015 will receive their diplomas. More importantly, they will raise their right hand and swear an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. They will become Commissioned Officers in the United States Army. There is no greater act of selflessness than the solemn duty to defend your country.
In 1976 I was sitting where you are, just a short 39 years ago. As I look back, I clearly underestimated the impact West Point had on me and what it would mean to me in the future. I am proud of what you have accomplished and of the future opportunities that now await you. This evening, I want to talk about the world you enter as the newest Officers in our Army and how your experience at West Point has prepared you in ways that you may yet to realize. I'd also like to impart what the West Point experience has meant to me over the years, and what the experience has meant for each of you and for this great country.
But first, just a few anecdotes. On the night before my graduation 39 years ago, we were treated to a concert by the Boss. By the way the Boss is not Donald Trump; it is Bruce Springsteen. Things have changed a lot since then. In 1976 there were no personal computers. We were just starting to get calculators. We used these things called a slide rule. In fact I found mine the other day in my basement. I still don't know how to use the darn thing. Back then a "blackberry" was a thing you ate. "Tweet" was a noise a bird made. Doing something involving Yahoo would have earned you several hours walking the area. "The cloud" was something that hovered over Thayer Hall, especially during Term-ends. "Snap-chat" was something you did between classes. And "yik yakking" during class could earn you hours … well, I guess it still could.
Speaking of Yik Yak, let me see what is trending here at West Point. Just give me a minute to look at my phone. One is, "I made it through West Point without passing out during a parade." Not bad. This next one is my favorite: "I would rather be the goat at West Point than number one in my class at the US Naval Academy." (Applause). And finally, "When Grant Hall cashiers are giving you hugs, you know where your entire Cow loan went." There are plenty more Yik Yaks, but I think that is probably enough.
As an Old Grad, I could lament and tell you how easy the Corps has it today -- able to go into Highland Falls whenever you want; access limitless information at your fingertips--telephones, music, movies, TV, and social media all readily available to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I can also say you have a world class digital library supplementing an incredibly great physical one. Being a Cadet today means you don't have to go up and down the mezzanine and narrow passageways in the library. You can avoid getting lost for days in the maze for research papers. Now I am trying to make it sound like I actually spent a lot of time in the library… Speaking of which, Cadet Leyla Baggson, can you stand up, please? I want you to know when I graduated 39 years ago I was ranked 611 in my class, just like you. (Applause). So I have high expectations of you. And by the way, congratulations on pacing yourself for four years.
What I did not know then, nor did any of my classmates understand, the challenges we would face and the times and tough jobs we would be given. However, I will tell you then, just as now, we had each other, just as each of you have each other. The relationships and friendships forged here at West Point will endure for a lifetime. For generations the Academy has prepared Officers like you, Class after Class, for the unknown tasks that lie ahead.
So although our experiences were and will continue to be different; and graduates throughout time will say "The Corps Has," there are a few things that, generation after generation, "The Corps Has Done."
It has instilled a lifelong commitment to Duty, Honor, Country.
It has taught us that the foundation of all we do is built on trust and personal character.
It has instilled in us a commitment to become something far greater than ourselves.
It has instilled a commitment to carry on the legacy of those who have come before us.
It has instilled a commitment to never forget those who have given their lives in defense of our country.
Finally it has instilled a commitment to service whether inside or outside the Army.
As we gather here tonight, I am reminded of how your generation faces many of the same challenges that we did. Our Army was drawing down after a long war in Vietnam. Military priorities were less important, and people began to say that our country never again would enter into a sustained conflict. Some of those in the Class of 1976 felt we were coming late to the fight. Perhaps you are concerned that you will not have the same opportunities to lead Soldiers in combat. Let me tell you as a Soldier who has been involved in several conflicts during my career, I hope that it will not be necessary in your career. It would be exhilarating for me to stand up here tonight safe in the knowledge that we are entering a new era in which armed conflicts are a thing of the past. Frankly, such thinking is wishful. Conflict in all forms remains fundamentally a human endeavor -- reaffirming that it is essential for us to do our mission -- the mission you began training for four years ago.
You are entering the Army in a time when the security environment around the world is more uncertain than I have ever known. Today, the demand for Army forces continues to rise in an era of constrained resources. We face an increasing velocity of instability and a rise of hybrid state and non-state threats. Our Army is fully engaged around the world preventing conflict and shaping security environments. Today we have Soldiers serving on six continents. We are responsible for building increased partner capacity, responding to regional security challenges, reassuring our allies, providing humanitarian support and disaster relief, and disrupting transnational threat networks.
So very soon you will find yourselves literally in places like Kuwait and Jordan, Iraq, the Sinai or Afghanistan. You can be in places like Germany, Italy or South Africa, Lithuania, or Bosnia. You can find yourself in Central Africa or across the Pacific in places like Japan or Korea, Indonesia or the Philippines.
In my mind, today is an exciting time for our Army. The Army remains the foundation of the Joint Force. Right now, the Army is rapidly changing and adapting. We just published a new Army Operating Concept. The Army must evolve over the next 10 or 15 years. We will transform our force structure, our capabilities and capacity that are needed to meet these new challenges. The Army will become more flexible, regionally engaged and globally responsive.
You will help us develop new concepts fueled by changing environments and supplied by technological innovations. We may be asked to confront non-state actors, transnational threats, criminals, insurgents and conventional forces. This is the Army that you will lead. The opportunity to lead in today's strategic environment should inspire you. Within each of these challenges are etched heroics by many members of the Long Gray Line. They, like you, were Second Lieutenants reporting to their first unit, but over time they took on leadership and responsibilities of Platoons, Companies, Battalions, Brigades, Divisions, Corps, and Armies.
We need leaders who are mentally and physically tough, innovative and adaptive, able to inspire others to accomplish the unthinkable, and most importantly, leaders of great character built on a foundation of duty, honor and country. Therefore I challenge each one of you to learn from Non-Commissioned Officers and Officers every day. It is your responsibility to ensure Soldiers are trained and ready to execute every mission asked of them by our Nation. Training and leading the Army in operations and conflicts will be your responsibility. Soldiers, like everyone else, want to be part of high performing and successful organizations. They want and expect high standards. They want you to lead with conviction, passion, and confidence.
I am certain that you are all prepared for the challenges ahead. West Point has forged generations of Officers to meet our Nation's call for more than two centuries. Tomorrow you will join the Long Gray Line as its newest members. We celebrate your commitment, selfless service, and sacrifice in choosing the hard right over the easier wrong, and in never being content with a half-truth when the whole can be won.
Graduates, tonight's dinner is about you, the Class of 2015. It is a celebration of your accomplishments and of everything that was asked of you. But more importantly, it is about what you are getting ready to do. The Class of 2015 joins with the Class of 1915, the Class "the Stars fell on." The Class of 1915 was the class that had the most Generals. Despite significant losses in both World Wars, they grew stronger together, showing that a sense of family matters most. A sense of family that you will cherish as well. Tomorrow you will join a larger family in the United States Army, which is the strength of this great Nation.
Every generation has a responsibility to defend this great democracy. It is your responsibility to step forward. So it is fitting that your class motto is "For those we Lead." It speaks to the enormity of what is entrusted to you, America's most precious assets, its sons and daughters. I am certain that long after I am gone, this great class will make its mark on the Army and the history of this great Nation. I know you are prepared for the challenges ahead based on what you have done to ready yourselves here at West Point. Take the motto and live by it every day because our Nation is counting on you.
Remember each and every one of you, and all of us, are defined by our character. Your character will be tested. It will be the most important test you ever take. Remember to stand up for what is right; to lead from the front and earn the respect of every Soldier that you lead. Great leaders inspire ordinary men and women to be extraordinary and to achieve what they thought was unachievable.
I have never been prouder to be a West Point Graduate--just one link in the Long Gray Line. Tonight, reflect upon the Alma Mater; reflect upon the words and remember those who sacrificed for this great Nation. Remember those who continue to safeguard our freedoms and liberties. 200 years from now at a graduation banquet like this one, the strength of the Long Gray Line will endure through the lasting legacy that is expressed in the Alma Mater:
Let duty be well performed / Honor be e'er untarned / Country be ever armed/ West Point by thee.
The members of the Long Gray Line watch over us as we guide those next generations who will lead America's Army, still and forever the best Army in the world. The strength of our Nation is our Army. The strength of our Army is our Soldiers. The strength of our Soldiers is our families. That is what makes us Army Strong. Thank you very much.