Georgia Military College
Memorial Day Parade
May 19, 2017
Good morning. Today I will attempt one of the most difficult military maneuvers known to man. I will translate a message I give to military audiences in the US and across South America into plain English. This is going to be interesting!
Almost everywhere I go I talk about four military imperatives. These imperatives are essential to military advantage and are the foundation of the trust we share among our teammates and with the nation.
These imperatives form a mindset that help ensure the military fields the best possible teams. Competence and character are the only criteria for being on our team.
These apply to the US military, to our partners in Latin America and to every modern military in the world. I believe they also apply to the Georgia military college and to you personally. Whether you leave GMC and you serve the nation in uniform or chose another path, the mindset formed by these ideas is the foundation for a life well lived. These aren’t just useful for those of you who join the military…they’re pretty good ‘life hacks’ for all of us.
Life hack #1: Do the right thing. For those of you who join the military, you’re going to be introduced to a set of values that will guide everything you do. These values are a code. They are principles to live by.
In the military, doing the right thing means respecting human rights. It means protecting innocent civilians. It means following rules on the battlefield and never, never taking matters into your own hands. Because if we do, we break faith with those we serve. We undermine our mission. We lose legitimacy.
In life, doing the right thing should be easy, because we all know what right looks like. But it’s actually really hard. You won’t always want to do it. You’ll want to cut corners, ‘just this once.’ You’ll want to look the other way. You’ll want to keep quiet and stay seated, when you should stand up and speak out. And what you’ll find is that what matters most about who you are as a person really comes down to the little decisions, not the big ones.
The way you behave when you’re on own, when no one is looking—that’s when it really counts. When you’re confronted by terrible things—by racism or sexism or discrimination…when you see cruelty and unkindness…you have a choice. At that moment, it’s not really about the person making a racist comment, or treating someone badly. Doing the right thing depends less on what’s in their hearts than what might be in yours. Do the right thing.
Life hack #2: Cross boundaries. In the military and in life, you will find that strength and success lie in diversity. When we operate as a team, across the US coast guard, navy, army, air force, and marines, we gain the versatility we need to succeed in a variety of missions and battlefields. We learn to fight as one. We learn about different service cultures and different capabilities. We learn to trust one another, and rely on each other.
It’s the same in life. Stick with your same circle of friends, and you’ll be safe, but you won’t be great. Be willing to branch out, learn from others who aren’t like you, who don’t think like you, and your life will be richer for it. You’ll understand the world better, and appreciate the different people and perspectives in it.
At work, you’ll build stronger teams if you cast your net wide, and seek out diversity in thought, action, and beliefs. Studies have shown that diverse teams tend to be more creative and cohesive—even more so when led by leaders who value and encourage diversity of thought and experience. Be one of those team members; be one of those leaders.
Life hack #3: Take care of and rely on your team. In the military, one of the most important things you can do as a leader is to develop those that come after you. For those of US in military uniform, a professional, capable enlisted leader corps is the backbone of our force. Our non-commissioned officers uphold and enforce our standards. They ensure our people have the skills and capabilities required to excel in any situation. They instill our core values in the next generation. They are the guardians of our future.
In life, your family, friends, and co-workers are your team. Take good care of them. Give them what they need—encouragement, help, advice. Listen to them. Believe in them. Help them when they need it, cheer them on when they do it on their own. Be there for them, and they will be there for you. When you are following someone else, find ways to support and ease their load. When you are leading – depend on others. Invest in their growth and value their contributions. You can’t say ‘thank you’ enough.
Life hack #4: Respect yourself and your teammates. All your teammates. For those of you who choose to serve, you’re going to enter a military that is profoundly different from the one I joined many years ago. One of the biggest changes is the role women play in our armed forces. Just a few years ago, women were barred from serving in combat. Now they’re driving tanks, loading artillery guns, and conducting raids on terrorist hideouts.
Fully integrating women has made our military stronger and more effective. In places like Iraq and Afghanistan, teams that had integrated women were better able to build trust with local populations. They gained invaluable intelligence that saved the lives of their teammates and led to the capture of high value terrorists.
As teammates, these women demand respect, because they earned it. This is the basis of what our military is all about: that no matter where we come from, or what our last name is, we are all judged by what we accomplish, by what we offer to help defend our countries. Not our race, not our creed, not our gender. I will say it again, character and competence are the only criteria for being on our team.
And in life, respecting your teammates means respecting all your teammates, all the time. Remember what I said earlier about character counting when no one is looking? Well, some of you may have heard about the recent scandal involving US military members posting inappropriate photos of female service members on social media sites. They probably thought they had guaranteed anonymity, that they wouldn’t get caught. They thought wrong.
The breadth and scope of this problem are staggering. It was not the result of a few isolated incidents of individuals making poor decisions. It indicates a deeper problem with our collective culture and a mismatch between what we say we value, and what we actually do.
These types of activities are demeaning and degrading to women. They are destructive to morale and mission, a violation of our values, and an abuse of trust between teammates. Those who do this certainly don’t respect their teammates. But they also don’t respect themselves or hold themselves accountable to a higher standard. They didn’t ask themselves a simple question – “who do I want to be today?”
Ultimately, in uniform and in life, being part of a team means we treat each other with respect and hold each other accountable. Anything less is unacceptable.
When you see or hear someone say something that is demeaning or degrading to a fellow teammate, remember life hack #1: do what’s right. How we treat our teammates is about doing what’s right on the most personal and human level.
It’s about treating others with the dignity and respect they deserve. It’s about taking care of one another and maintaining our personal integrity.
In the military and in life, it’s about honoring the tremendous progress we have made as a nation toward ensuring that every American is valued for the content of their character and the capacities they offer, and in setting a positive example for others to follow.
So here are your orders (or earnest recommendations if you prefer):
1. Do the right thing
2. Cross boundaries
3. Take care of and rely on your team
4. Respect yourself and your teammates
It’s great to be with you. I’m here to answer your questions – what’s on your mind?