SPEECH | April 18, 2018

Adm. Tidd Opening Remarks: U.S. Merchant Marine Academy

Commander of U.S. Southern Command, Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd | April 13, 2018 | U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, New York

Thank you for the invitation to join you here in Kings Point. I’m delighted to be with you all on this beautiful evening.

Your role as a service academy is well-known in both the maritime industry and defense realms. Kings Points graduates are serving all over the world, commanding naval ships, Coast Guard cutters, serving in space or as one of Uncle Sam's misguided children, and working as merchant vessel masters, harbor pilots and the like.

The uniqueness of your experience at Kings Point lies within this variety of leadership roles that you're being prepared to assume. I envy you, and the opportunities and options that will be available to you... Not to mention your 'sea year' that many of you will soon undertake.

Enjoy every minute of your time here... It really is something special. .. Especially when you deny the Coast Guard Academy another Secretary's Cup!

Tonight 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 U.S. 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 U.S. Military, to our partners in Latin America and to every modern military in the world.

I believe they also apply to your time here at Kings Point, your future endeavors, and to you personally. Whether you leave here 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. At Kings Point you've been 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 just as you learned here in the crucible of "indoctrination," and you will relearn in your first real leadership challenge out there... Doing the right thing is 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 day to day decisions you make, not the big ones.

The way you behave when you're on your own, when no one's looking-that's when it really counts. When you're confronted by terrible things-by racism or sexism or discrimination... When you see cruelty or selfishness ... 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 and more about what might be in yours. So always... 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 U.S. 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.

The security challenges we face in today's complex world can't be solved alone. In today's world, we succeed through partnerships.

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, in actions, and in 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; become one of those leaders.

Life hack #3: Take care of and rely on your team. In the military, and frankly any organization, one of the most important things you can do as a leader is to develop those that come after you. As General Tony Thomas, a friend and the SOCOM commander, has said, "make it your mission to make them more successful than they are already going to be."

In life, your family, your friends, and co-workers are your team. So it should be easy to take good care of them. Give them what they need-encouragement, help, advice. But the same goes for your future team mates; people you have yet to know, but whose commitment has already been proven. So learn to listen to them. Believe in them. Trust them. Help them when they need it, cheer them on and give them credit 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. Empower them. 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.  Some of you are 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 by law from serving in combat. Now they're driving tanks, loading artillery, and raiding terrorist hideouts. Fully integrating women has made our military stronger and more effective.

More broadly, there is a compelling body of research outside the military that demonstrates 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 these teammates; be one of these leaders.

Ultimately, in uniform and in life, being part of a team means we treat each other with respect and hold each other accountable. Anything else falls short...

Anything less is unacceptable.

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?

So when you see or hear someone say something demeaning or degrading to a fellow teammate, remember life hack #1: Do what's right. How we treat our teammates is about always doing what's right... Even on the most personal and human level.

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 standing orders:

  • Do the right thing
  • Cross boundaries
  • Take care of and rely on your team
  • Respect yourself and your teammates

I’ll add one final one, that's for everyone in the audience, not just our midshipman. And that's to find a way to serve, and to become part of what I call the 'good guys network.'

Our nation faces a variety of challenges, here at home and around the world.

For SOUTHCOM, we're dealing with the very complex problem of criminal and other illicit networks, who traffic in violence, drugs, and corruption, undermining the stability of our neighborhood and the security of our homeland. We're working hard with our U.S. government and regional partners, but this challenge is much larger than one of us.

This is a security problem, a diplomatic problem, and an economic problem. I’m sure many of you have heard of a 'whole of government' approach.

What we really need is a 'whole of society' approach to dealing with these kinds of complex challenges ... Folks in the private sector, academia, NGOs... Everyone has role to play, contributions to make, expertise and insights to share.

So take a good look around this room tonight-this is more than just a group of midshipman and Kings Point alumni, friends, and family. Welcome to the good guys network ... Earn your place on this team every single day. We've got a lot of work to do!

Thank you.