General Raymond T. Odierno
Chief of Staff of the Army
USMA Class of 2013
November 2, 2012

General Odierno: It is strange to be up here today and have the opportunity to talk to you. I started out the morning in New York City and flying over the coast of New Jersey. There is a lot of work we have to do. We have about 10,000 Soldiers, mostly in the National Guard from New York and New Jersey, but also the Army Corps of Engineers and other Active Components supporting the recovery in New York. It is fairly sobering. The Army Corps of Engineers are in the process of pumping 600 million gallons of water out of the tunnel systems in New York City. As I was down there today, the water level was probably at 12 feet inside of the tunnel. As you fly down the Jersey shore, you see incredible destruction that has occurred. This is a time for our Nation to pull together. This is the time the Army responds when needed, whether it is here at home or abroad. That is who we are. We will talk about that today.

General Huntoon, I want to thank you for that kind introduction. I appreciate it very much. It is always a pleasure to come up here. I can say that now as a Four Star General. I always say it is a pleasure, though I still get that queasy feeling as I get closer to West Point. (Laughter). It has to do with having grown up in New Jersey. When I was home on leave, that hour and a half drive up here was always a tough one on a Sunday afternoon. I still remember that. I still feel that as I drive up here. But I know that things have changed, and as they say, it is much easier today then when I was a Cadet.

I am looking forward to being with you tomorrow on the field. I am confident that tomorrow we are going to beat Air Force. It is time for us to reclaim the Commander-in-Chief's title. I know that your spirit and your support will play a major role in that tomorrow. I am looking forward to it. I will be out here cheering very loud with you.

I remember 37 years ago in the fall of 1975, I was sitting right here in what was then called South Auditorium. We were getting ready to go to branch night. At that time what we did was sit there and start with the number one person and go through 842 people, and you would stand up and pick your branch and sit back down. And we started to think about what it means to your career.

I know some of you are sitting here now and just concerned with getting to graduation on May 25th. I had some of those concerns back then. Some of you will be focused on the free weekend you have for Veterans Day. Some of you may be thinking about branch night in 27 days. Some of you may be strategizing about what you are going to do on your holiday break in the next month or so.

But really what I am here today for is that I want you to set that aside and listen. I want to talk to you about a few things today, why you are here, what is out there for you after graduation. I want to talk to you about the Army that you will be joining and what I expect from you as leaders when you raise your right hand and take that solemn oath that will set you in motion to serve this storied profession of ours, the Profession of Arms. I would like to start by showing a short video.

(Video plays)

I wanted to show that for number of reasons. This highlights the Army you are getting ready to join and lead. Everyone you see in this video is a Soldier, a Soldier who is committed to his unit and just wants to be part of something that is greater than himself, to accomplish something that maybe he never thought he could accomplish and be part of the team, to be part of our family. Every day I have the opportunity to witness the quality and talent that we have throughout our ranks, and you too will add to that incredible talent within our Force.

Before I go any further, I am often asked by young leaders for advice. I learned a few things over the years that I want to share -- things that you should be wary of, based on conversations you might have had as leaders. There are a couple of things that I would be concerned about: when a Private says to me, "I learned this in basic…" that is a little concerning. When a Sergeant says, "Trust me, sir," I worry about that. You probably need to check it out. When a Warrant Officer says, "Watch this, sir," I would probably run for cover. And finally when a Second Lieutenant says, "Based on my experience" I tend to worry about that as well. I am just kidding, but watch out for those things. But there are a few things I want you to remember.

The mission of this great institution is to produce leaders of character, committed to the values of duty, honor, country. I know you hear those words a lot from the time you arrived here, but they mean something. As you get older and as you get out in the Army, you will realize how important those three words are: duty, honor, country. Frankly, it does not matter if you are serving in the Army or not. Those are three words to live by and three words not to forget. We need to you to lead our Soldiers with professional excellence. I trust when you reach graduation, you will be ready. Recognize that responsibility comes with graduating from West Point. People across our country, and indeed across the globe, recognize the legacy of West Point. They recognize it as the world's preeminent institution of leadership. That is your legacy. That is our legacy. It is important you carry that out as you progress through the ranks and throughout your life.

Our Army is entering its 12th consecutive year of war. Approximately 1.5 million Soldiers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a large majority of our leaders have served multiple tours. The young men and women whom you will soon lead have earned nearly 16,000 medals of valor, to include six Medals of Honor, 26 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 660 Silver Stars. They represent what we are about: courage, mental and physical toughness, but most importantly, team. I can't imagine a more important profession. America will entrust her most precious assets, her sons and daughters, to your care. We put them in your hands, their safety, our security, and the future of our Nation. Thinking back when I was sitting in your seat in 1975, I was worried about a couple of things. I was worried about my first assignment and the fact that I wouldn't get to see combat because the Vietnam War had just ended. Military priorities had diminished, resources were going down, the economy was recovering. Does that sound familiar? Does that sound familiar to you today?

I believe that the next ten years will be times of great opportunity for our Army and great opportunities for our leaders in our Army. You need to be the ones who help us take advantage of these opportunities to develop our future Army. There are only a few times in the history of our Army when our leaders have had this time of opportunity to truly shape the future path of what we want to do with our military. How we want to shape the military art of the future, you will have the opportunity to do that. Every morning I get briefed on what we call the hot spots. The staff lays out the hot spots all round the world on a large map. I will tell you these hot spots have dominated the globe. What does that mean? It reinforces that we have great challenges ahead of us. It reinforces that we have great uncertainty that we will face. So trust me when I tell you that you will have your opportunity to influence world events. It is important that you are prepared to do so.

Our top priority is to ensure that the Army stands ready to fight and win our Nation's wars. However, the operational environment of today demands that we must be capable of doing much more. We must be able to prevent conflict. We must be able to shape the operational environment. Therefore we must organize our deployable forces to be more agile and responsive to the needs of our regional Combatant Commanders. In the future our Forces must be tailored to local requirements, rapidly deployable at the lower echelons, and scalable from Squad to Corps.

Today we are a globally engaged Army in nearly 160 countries around the world on 6 of 7 continents, with over 80,000 Soldiers deployed, and almost 93,000 Soldiers forward stationed in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. Most of you will deploy within a year or two of graduation. All of you will be asked to serve your Nation somewhere overseas. As brand new Second Lieutenants, you are going to be entering a complex and uncertain strategic environment. The impact of global economic crises is still unknown. The Arab Spring has yet to run its course. Regional powers exert influence locally, often unconstrained by superpower influence. Strong social movements have successfully challenged long entrenched regimes. Loosely affiliated groups, united only by ideology operate in ungoverned spaces on land and in cyberspace. Technological advances have revolutionized the way people and government interact. A wide variety of non-state actors can combine primitive tactics with advanced weapons to create instability in free societies and failing states. These actors do not replace the more conventional threats posed by nations such as North Korea and Iran, but they require the military to maintain a much broader range of capabilities to respond.

The world has always been defined by uncertainty and change, but in reality the fundamental nature of war remains the same -- a struggle to influence key terrain, populations and governance. Preventing conflict is better than reacting to it, and to prevent it you must understand its causes, but understanding is best gained through presence, presence on the ground. Understanding the human dimension and human domain - that is where you the future platoon leaders come in. We must never forget that conflict in any form at its core is a human endeavor. Wars are lost and won where the people are.

Let me share with you a quote attributed to Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher living in 500 B.C. No, I didn't know him personally. He said, "Out of every 100 men, ten shouldn't even be there; eighty are just targets; nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. But one, one of them is a warrior, and he will bring the others back. " Let me say that again. One of them is the warrior, and he will bring the others back.

The most capable and discriminate weapon we have in the Army today is the American Soldier. Not much has changed since the days of the Greek phalanx. Our platoons are filled with experienced warriors. The Soldier and the Squad are and will remain the centerpiece of our Army. Soldiers across all branches serve at the forefront of today's counterinsurgency fight. From irregular warfare, to counterterrorism, to stability operations, every Soldier is essential to the success of our Force. Whether you branch combat arms, combat support, or combat service support in the next 27 days, I expect you to lead from the front. As Heraclitus would say, I expect you to be the warrior, the one who will bring the others back.

The past decade of conflict informs our thinking as we look forward. In these wars, we have built adaptive and agile formations and leaders who have adjusted tactics and missions while in contact with the enemy. The Army has been focused on the specific needs of the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those needs will change over time, and the resources available will change as well. So, too, we must fundamentally change how we do our business. As we go through this transition, it is going to be you, our young leaders, who help drive the changes necessary to retain our credibility as the premier land force in the world.

Leadership is today and will remain paramount to our profession. Being a leader is not about giving orders. It is about earning respect. It is about leading by example. It is about fostering a positive command climate helping individuals grow. It is about maximizing the resources that you have, inspiring and motivating others to do things they didn't believe they could do. It is about building teams to promote excellence. That is what leadership is. Along the way you will make honest mistakes as we all do. You will face difficult decisions and dilemmas. This is all part of learning the art of leadership. Those who learn best become the best leaders. You must internalize the Army's values, demonstrate unquestionable integrity and character, and remain truthful in word and deed.

Leaders must earn their Soldiers' trust, and leaders must never break that trust. Trust is the bedrock of our profession: trust between Soldiers and leaders, trust between Soldiers, leaders, their families and the Army, and trust between the Army and the American people. You have to have complete and inherent faith when a person to your right and to your left, to the front, and to your rear, because what we do is serious business. You have to be able to rely on each and every one of your Soldiers completely, and they have to be able to rely on you as a leader.

You will be joining platoons of seasoned combat veterans that are led by experienced Platoon Sergeants and Squad leaders. So continually learn from your Non-Commissioned Officers. Respect their experience, but don't be intimidated by their experience. You must be the moral and ethical compass that guides your Platoon. They will need your mentorship to help them grow from their experiences and deal with periods of personal adversity within an environment of mutual trust. I hope none of you believe that you will dazzle them your with immediate tactical brilliance because you won't. Soldiers want to know their leaders are devoted to them, their unit, the formation, and willing to make the personal sacrifices and tough decisions. Dedicate yourself to these tasks, and your tactical and technical experience will come in time.

In our new doctrine, the Army is embracing Mission Command. It is critical that you understand and lead using the philosophy of Mission Command. It is about leaders making the right decisions at the right time, which is easy to say, but hard to do. Mission Command is the process by which commanders and leaders provide vision and guidance through mission orders to empower leaders at all levels to seize and exploit the initiative to accomplish whatever mission you might have. Mission Command allows you to harness the experience of your most seasoned Soldiers and exploit the initiative of your subordinate leaders while meeting the intent of your higher headquarters.

We will empower Soldiers, Squads, and Commanders at every level so that they may rapidly respond to the demands of the incredibly complex environment in which they are asked to operate. Mission Command is about simplifying the chaos that surrounds you so that you can lead your unit to take decisive action. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said it well, "Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution everyone can understand." At its core, Mission Command is about harnessing common sense.

The most important action you can take on a daily basis is to communicate. Communicate your vision, your intent, your left and right limits to your Soldiers. Yes, and I mean this, even a Second Lieutenant needs to have a vision of what he or she wants to accomplish in whatever job they have. To execute the Mission Command philosophy effectively, you must foster a climate in which shared understanding, mutual trust, and a common sense of purpose are the standard every day. Notice that I didn't put in there being best friends with everybody. That is not what this is about. It is about leading. It is about developing a climate where people can grow. It is about building a climate, where if necessary you will punish those who do not meet our standards. It is about enforcing standards, understanding standards. That is not easy to do at times, and it is hardest for young officers. You have to have the moral courage to do the right thing when it is the most difficult time. Part of it is the confidence to hold Soldiers accountable to standards. We are held, expectedly to have higher standards than other professions. The Army is a standards based organization. In everything you do, know the standard, be the standard, enforce the standard.

Soldiers, like everyone else, want to be part of a high performing successful organization. They want and expect high standards. They look to you to inspire excellence. A good leader inspires Soldiers to do things they never thought was possible. They inspire confidence in their command and in themselves. From the beginning, establish and enforce these high standards. Inspire and demand.

As we continue to move through this transition, it will take extraordinary leaders and mentors from top down to squad level to help reinvigorate our Profession of Arms. Being part of our Army profession is about selflessness, as you are becoming part of something that is bigger than yourself.

During three plus years at the Academy, you have much to be proud of. As branch night comes and goes, and the events of the year begin to quickly pile up in succession, savor the camaraderie of your friends and celebrate the milestones. But don't lose sight of the big picture on the horizon. You are here to learn how to lead our great men and women. I am relying on you. The Army is relying on you to lead us in the decades to come. Ask yourself now, how will I lead my Soldiers? And what do I want the legacy of the Class of 2013 to be?

As I was in class in 1976, that class has produced 33 General Officers, including three 4-Stars, twelve 3-Stars, and six 2-Stars. Nobody in here knows which one of you will be a General Officer. In fact I can tell you that if there was a draft in 1976, to determine who the General Officers would be, I would have been a free agent. But it is what you do as you go forward in your career. It is what you learn. It is what you make of it. It is how you take your skills and constantly improve those skills as you move forward. You have 200-plus days left to enjoy your peers and seize every lesson you can from those around you today. I expect to see each one of you when I return on May 25th, not for your own sake but because our Soldiers need you out there.

Think about what I have said today. I am proud of what you have accomplished so far. I am proud of who you are. I am proud of the fact that you are here, that you are continuing the legacy of tomorrow and beyond. I trust that you will. As you look at the long history, you look at the leaders of our Army, and how we continue to produce leaders of character. Those leaders have developed their skills based on three words: duty, honor, country. The strength of our Nation is our Army; the strength of our Army is our Soldiers, the strength of our Soldiers is our families; and that is what makes us Army Strong. Thank you very much. (Applause). I think we have some time for questions. You can ask any kind of questions you want.

Question and Answer session follows.