From the Chairman

Joint Force Quarterly, July 2011 | Go to article overview

From the Chairman


I recently spoke at the graduation for the West Point Class of 2011, and while my remarks were mostly directed to the next generation of Army leadership, there is a broader message for all of us. What follows is the crux of those remarks:

Over the last 4 years, one of the greatest privileges of this position has been getting to know the men and women of the United States Army. Days like today remind us why our Army has played such a singular and essential role in our nation's history. In many ways, the story of the United States Army is the story of America--from our founding through the Civil War, a tumultuous 20th century, and right up until today.

I was thinking about a figure so prominent in that story, someone with whom I can in many ways relate: George Armstrong Custer. His story as a Cadet isn't too far from my own as a Midshipman, and, no, Custer and I did not know each other personally. I went to school in the '60s, but not the 1860s.

Just as my performance at that "other" Academy was, shall we say, less than ideal, Custer's record at West Point left something to be desired as well. A review of conduct records at the time--and they do keep track of those things--suggests he had marginal study habits and a proclivity for petty offenses, scoring demerits for "being late to formation," "hair out of regs," and my personal favorite, "throwing snowballs," for which he logged three demerits.

I have to admit, I beat Custer in this department, having racked up 115 demerits in a single day during my last year. What happened back then remains highly classified, but let's just say that my offense was a little bit more serious than throwing snowballs. So, yes, I have "walked the Area" a few times. There were times when I owned the Area. I could have built condos.

Custer graduated last in his class, known as "the goat," which I note is the same name as Navy's mascot. I also finished near the bottom. I just hope our stories end differently.

If my record in school said anything, it was, "Mullen, you are really going to have to work hard in the Navy"--and I did, and the opportunities this life of service has provided far exceeded anything I ever expected. I've quite simply had the chance to work with some of the best people in the world, gaining friends and mentors who have supported and enriched me.

Indeed, none of us get to where we are on our own. There's always someone who helped make it happen. So you ought to remember those who got you here: your moms, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and other family members.

Families, thank you for raising these fine women and men in small towns and large cities all over this country, indeed, all over the world. You instilled in your kids a desire to serve, a willingness to sacrifice and to suffer--and I'm not just talking about mechanical engineering class.

Four years ago, you drove them through the Stony Lonesome Gate, and you handed them over. You said, "Here, take my child in this time of war, teach them how to lead and how to fight, teach them how to be good public stewards and good leaders to good Soldiers."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It was a brave thing you did, and difficult. But it was probably more difficult driving away. As the parents of two Naval Academy graduates, my wife, Deborah, and I know that feeling all too well--the pride, the fear, the incredible elation of returning home and knowing you won't have to pick up dirty socks off the bathroom floor anymore or scrape pizza cheese off the inside of the microwave or jump in the family car only to find the gas on "E."

Today, of course, is really all about the Class of 2011. When this country was attacked on 9/11, most of you were just 11 or 12 years old, getting your braces off and getting yelled at for leaving dirty socks on the bathroom floor.

We have been at war nearly half your young lives. …

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