ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - When describing the traits of a good Soldier and a good athlete, you inevitably will get many of the same attributes - disciplined, resilient, talented, teamwork, commitment, physically fit, and leadership. Therefore, it is not surprising that the coaching staff of the Penn State Nittany Lions Baseball team asked Brig. Gen. James Bonner, commander of the 20th Chemical, Biological, Nuclear, Radiological, Explosives (CBRNE) Command, to speak on leadership during the team's visit to Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Md., Feb. 10.
"I believe it is important to give back," explained Bonner when asked about speaking to the Penn State baseball team. "Not only do I get to help shape our youth by discussing leadership and public virtue, I also get to hang out with self-motivated young adults that know the importance of hard work, it actually re-energizes me."
Rob Cooper, the head coach for the Penn State baseball team, shared why it was important to have Bonner speak to his team.
"I believe that it is essential to have our players learn about leadership, team-building, and culture from people outside the sports world," shared Cooper, who grew up in Sacramento, Calif. "I think it really helps demonstrate that successful people and organizations share so many of the same traits.
"I was put in touch with Brig. Gen. Bonner and was impressed by his experience as a leader, but more importantly, his journey to become a leader."
Bonner shared background on his military career, gave an overview of the 20th CBRNE Command, discussed Ranger School, the impact Adm. James Stockdale has had on leadership in the military, and the player development system used by the St. Louis Cardinals - known as the Cardinal Way.
"The most important leadership trait is to lead by example," said Bonner, a self-proclaimed Cardinal fan from Anna, Ill. "In my opinion, someone who is a quiet professional and leads by example is the perfect leader."
The Penn State players were engaged throughout the presentation but seemed to be most impressed when Bonner and his aide-de-camp, 1st Lt. Andy Harvey, who is from Lafayette, Colo. and a former college baseball player at Southern Utah University, talked about their time in Ranger School. Harvey also competed in the 2017 Best Ranger Competition where his team finished sixth overall.
"Leadership is also about being a good teammate and being able to follow others," shared Bonner.
Connor Klemann, the third baseman for the Nittany Lions and a native of Royersford, Pa., asked how the two officers dealt with the lack of sleep and meals during Ranger School.
"For me, the biggest thing they talked about is doing what you need to do when the stress level is high," said Klemann. "Instilling this, as a good leader, you need to focus on your job and ensure you are being a good teammate."
Cooper, who was born at the Air Force Academy and has a father who served in the Vietnam War, has a deep admiration for those who fight for our freedom.
"I just believe that there is so much people can learn from our military," shared Cooper. "Sacrifice, honor, selflessness - these are the ideals that are the backbone of our nation's military and I feel it is lost nowadays in today's society."
He felt that Bonner's presentation would have a lasting impact on his team and talked about what he wanted his players to take from Bonner's discussion and what he felt was most important for him personally.
"I hope they [the players] would see that leadership is more than giving orders. It is collaboration and relationship-based. I also think that seeing his enthusiasm and energy was very impactful as to how it can rub off on those around him on a daily basis.
"For me, it was when he spoke about how essential it is for individuals that are below him in rank, [how they] must be able to give honest assessments to him," continued Cooper. "He [Bonner] wants and encourages this type of feedback."
Bonner emphasized that a good leader has a positive approach and builds a culture where teammates hold each other accountable, but are not afraid to make mistakes. Good leaders also understand the importance of public virtue and seek opportunities to serve a greater good, which could be playing baseball for Penn State.
"Serving something larger than yourself - such as coaching, teaching, or serving in the military - is the bedrock of our democracy," said Bonner.