By Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray OdiernoApril 18, 2012
Good afternoon everyone. Thanks for allowing me to come here today. This is my first time at VMI--a beautiful place, and you have great leadership here. It's great to be here at VMI, in front of cadets from all different backgrounds. That's what the Army is about--it's about diversity, what we see here today.
This academy has produced one of the greatest leaders our Nation has ever known: General of the Army, George C. Marshall. As the 38th Chief of Staff of the Army, it is a true honor that I get to sit at the same desk in my office as all the Chiefs before me, including GEN Marshall, who was the 15th Army Chief of Staff. I get to live in the same house that every Chief of Staff has lived in since 1908. The pictures of each former Chief line the walls, so I always feel like they are watching me, and judging me on the job I am doing.
And so it's a privilege today to be among our country's strongest assets, our future leaders, who are following in his footsteps. 36 years ago, I was where you were at… a firstie -- senior year cadet -- at West Point and was also surrounded by great young people, and this was just right after Vietnam had ended. Back then, I was worried what would happen to me over the next few years, as a Lieutenant and Captain, since I wouldn't get a chance to see combat. There were 855 in my class of 1976, and 32 have gone on to became General Officers.
So as you are learning, the military provides a great opportunity for you to maximize your potential. Many of you sitting here today may go on to become general officers. When I graduated from college, I wasn't worried about becoming a general officer, but I was worried about my first assignment as a platoon leader. That's why learning is key. You are all Ambassadors this week, representing both your ROTC Departments and Universities. I want to congratulate each of you for your distinguished selection as a Marshall Award winner for your respective ROTC Battalions. The military gives you many opportunities to maximize your potential. You are about to embark on the greatest leadership experience this Nation has to offer: leading American Soldiers during a time of transition and during a time of war, and in an era of uncertainty with unforeseen challenges ahead.
GEN (Ret) Richard "Dick" Cody (Seminar Chairman), a good friend of mine. I was told this is your second year chairing this Seminar because you had so much fun doing it last year. With all the talent in the room, I can understand why you come back.
GEN (Ret) J.H.Binford "Binnie" Peay III (Superintendant, VMI since July 2003). It's always good to see a fellow Artilleryman who continues to succeed. And VMI sure looks great. Thanks for your dedication to developing our future leaders. It is encouraging today to look at these young men and women, and know that someday the country will be in their hands.
MG Jefforey Smith (CG, Cadet Command). Jeff is a quality officer, and has been in combat several times. Thanks for your leadership.
Mr. Brian Shaw (President, George C. Marshall Foundation). Thank you for your continued commitment to this Foundation as it is important to continue this great endeavor.
This is the last day of the Seminar, so I hope you've taken advantage of this opportunity to engage each other. The Army is about people, and the relationships built are critical to your profession as you move forward.
You should be familiar by now with the story of CPT George Marshall, a young, energetic staff officer, confronting GEN Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe in 1917. An incident that many would have seen as a career ender, where frankness could have been mistaken for insolence, resulted in a close friendship. After that confrontation, Pershing had Marshall come work on his staff, and from there, served as his Aide-de-camp and closest advisor. President Roosevelt selected GEN Marshall as the 15th Army Chief of Staff based largely on the recommendation from GEN Pershing, so their enduring mentorship and friendship benefitted the Army and Nation. GEN Pershing even served as the best man in GEN Marshall's wedding.
I'm not telling you this so you will challenge your senior officers in hopes they make you their Aide (laughter). Being an aide isn't such a great job, just ask mine. As leaders, you must create and foster an environment where candor from subordinates is both expected and accepted. That's the lesson to be learned here. An organization that doesn't allow for its officers to speak out with candor on difficult topics is one that will not succeed. I will say there is recognized potential with each of you. Remember that the ladder of success is best climbed through continual development and the assistance of mentors, peers as well as your subordinates. Don't forget that.
As a collective whole, your 2012 cohort is an exceptional batch of professional, well-rounded, academic leaders. Let me just talk briefly about the top ranked cadet on the order of merit list of the 5,643 Army cadets in your 2012 cohort.
Cadet Mariya Golotyuk is a 29 year old graduate student at the University of Maryland, where she is the Cadet Commander of the Terrapin Battalion. She maintains a solid 4.0 GPA, and works hard to keep her APFT score above 350. She's a single mother of two young boys, ages 4 and 6, and is also an auditor in the Maryland National Guard. And even more remarkable is that the United States is her adopted country. She was born and raised in the Ukraine, and recently earned her U.S. citizenship. Encouraged by the wide range of job opportunities open to women in the U.S. Army, she chose this route to develop her full potential because the Army is an institution of excellence, and an institution of professionalism. Cadet Golotyuk, you've proven yourself a good match for us with your demonstrated excellence, and we are so excited to have leaders like you join our ranks.
I'm sure everyone here today has a story: where you came from, how you got here, and your reasons for joining the Army and being a part of something greater than yourselves. Stories like that of Cadet Robert Heber Junior, who led a sniper team and has deployed eight times to Afghanistan and Iraq; Cadet Jonathan Broderick spent two seasons as a semi-professional baseball player and is fluent in Arabic; and Cadet Frankie Hibberd made a smart move by switching to the Army from the Marines, and he volunteers, tutors, works two jobs and holds a 3.88 GPA, and is currently ranked in the top 20 in the Mid-Atlantic region for the CrossFit games.
This is quite a cross-section that speaks accolades for the quality of young men and women joining our ranks, and we are seeing that from initial entry level to newly commissioned officers. We are truly blessed.
I'd like to talk briefly about this strategic environment, to give you a better understanding of the challenges that you face as future Army leaders. We are a globally engaged Army in nearly 150 countries around the world, on 6 of 7 continents, with over 93,000 Soldiers deployed and 95,000 forward stationed. Our strategic environment has changed and will continue to change in unpredictable ways. Today, the world is defined by uncertainty and change. Coupled with the complex, dynamic and interconnected nature of the global environment, this calls for us to think and lead in new ways.
We still don't fully understand or know the impact of the global economic crisis and the political awakening of previously repressed populations. I would even argue that the Arab Spring has just started. So what does that mean for the Middle East? Further, what does the Arab Spring mean for regional and global security? These are important issues for us to think about.
Syrian unrest threatens to spill-over and Iran remains a destabilizing influence with their pursuit of nuclear weapons. South Asia remains a complex environment, with various extremist groups impacting security in Pakistan and India. And in the Asia-Pacific, China's approach to regional competitors -- especially over resources -- and North Korea's lack of transparency continues to cause concern. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security by the failure of the North Koreans' launch attempt. Their intent remains, so we must be prepared for what the future may bring.
It is difficult to see the current strategic environment inherently trending toward peace unless we - along with others - act to positively influence it. We must remain engaged around the world. We must also remember that conflict is a human endeavor, ultimately won or lost in the human domain. The Army operates in this human domain which is the most important factor in a complex environment, and you will all be leaders in that domain.
After ten years of sustained combat, we are now looking forward to shape the characteristics and capabilities of our Future Force. First is depth and versatility. Depth is gained by a trained and ready Army that has sufficient capacity and the ability to expand if needed. Versatility is achieved by the diverse mix of capabilities, formations, and equipment that allow us to rapidly respond to a wide array of problem sets. Next, our Army must be adaptive and innovative. Army leaders accept that there are no predetermined solutions to problems. They adapt their thinking, formations and employment techniques to the specific situation they face. We must also be flexible and agile in our responsiveness, able to dominate in any operational environment. Army forces must also be integrated and synchronized. They do not operate alone, but in a larger joint, interagency, inter-governmental, and multi-national context. Finally, it is imperative that Armies be lethal and discriminate. The capability for the lawful, discriminate, and expert application of lethal force builds the foundation of future effective operations.
Moving forward, our Army's primary purpose is steadfast and resolute: to fight and win our Nation's wars. But we all know that the Army must be able to do much more than that. And that is where each of you comes in.
The past decade of conflict informs our thinking as we look forward. Because as we have adapted to the wars we've been fighting, the Army has been focused on a specific set of needs but those needs, and the means in which they are resourced, have changed and so we must fundamentally change how we do business. As we go through this transition, it is going to be our young leaders who help drive the changes needed to retain our credibility as the premier land-force in the world. I believe we can accomplish anything if we have the right leaders.
Generally speaking, and I mean that quite literally, leadership is paramount to our profession. Being a leader is not about giving orders. It is about earning respect, leading by example, fostering a positive climate, maximizing resources, inspiring and motivating others, and building teams to promote excellence. Along the way, you will make honest mistakes. We all do and will continue to do this. You will face difficult decisions and dilemmas. This is all part of the process of learning the art of leadership. You must internalize the Army's values, demonstrate unquestionable integrity and character, and remain truthful in word and deed. Soldiers trust their leaders. Leaders must never break that trust, as trust is the bedrock of our profession.
You will be joining platoons of seasoned combat veterans, led by experienced platoon sergeants and squad leaders, so continually learn from your non-commissioned officers. You should be the moral and ethical compass that guides your platoon. Do not expect to go in and dazzle them with your tactical brilliance (laughter). Soldiers want to know their leaders are willing to make the tough decisions, establish and enforce high standards, and both inspire and demand excellence. Be firm, yet fair. Let me say that again. Be firm, yet fair.
We are held, expectedly, to a higher standard than other professions. The Army is a standards based organization -- for everything you do, know the standard, be the standard, and enforce the standard. Soldiers, like everyone else, want to be part of a high performing, successful organization. They want and expect high standards. They will look to you to inspire excellence. A good leader inspires his (or her) Soldiers to have confidence in him; a great leader inspires them to have confidence in themselves.
As platoon leaders, work to sustain these key leadership traits:
• Have a vision and lead your unit through those changes
• Empower your subordinates and underwrite risk
• Learn, think and adapt to continually improve yourself and your platoon.
As we move through this transition, it will take extraordinary leaders and mentors from the top, down to squad level, to help reinvigorate the Profession of Arms. Being a part of our Army profession is about selflessness, as you are becoming a part of something that is bigger than yourselves.
GEN Marshall had it right when he said that "Army officers are intelligent. Give them the bare tree, and let them supply the leaves." All of you have the foundational ethics, discipline, integrity and honor to serve in the most respected institution in the United States as an Army officer in our All-Volunteer Army, and that is the bare tree. Take the lessons you've learned this week. Go back to your campuses and share your notes. This is a great way to talk about all the things the Army is doing, as you have learned first-hand this week.
As I look out among the audience today, I am absolutely encouraged by the Army's future, and I see incredibly talented and capable men and women who will soon raise their right hand and swear an oath to the U.S. Constitution, joining the ranks of legends like GEN George C. Marshall.
• The strength of our Nation is our Army
• The strength of our Army is our Soldiers
• The strength of our Soldiers is our Families.
• This is what makes us Army Strong!
With that, I look forward to any questions you have. Thank you.