Gen. Joe Dunford’s remarks at the U.S. Military Academy 2018 Graduation Ceremony

Gen. Joe Dunford’s remarks at the U.S. Military Academy 2018 Graduation Ceremony

October 16, 2019 6 By Stanley Isaacs


Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It’s
an honor to be with you as we recognize the accomplishments of the class of 2018
and we witness the commissioning of our newest Army leaders.
Congressman Womack, thank you for your leadership here at the academy, but more
importantly thanks for all you do for our men and women in uniform.
Secretary Esper, General Milley–thank you both to your leadership and I know the soldiers
in the crowd would agree with me that the Army of the United States could not
be in better hands. General Caslen, thanks for the introduction but more importantly, Supe,
thanks for your leadership at West Point the last five years and throughout your
distinguished career. As you prepare to retire, know that you’ve left behind an
extraordinary legacy–the most important legacy a leader can leave behind–and
that’s a legion of men and women that are proud to call themselves Caslen-trained and Mrs. Caslen, Shelley, I know you’re out there somewhere, I want
to thank you for the what you’ve done for the countless cadets, their families, and
our Army families through over four decades of service and cadets, the
Supe asked you a minute ago to recognize your parents, I’m gonna ask you to please
stand up and recognize your superintendent. He would not want me to
do that but I got to tell you after 43 years of active duty and all he has done
to help shape and mold you for the future, I’d ask you to join me in
recognizing the impact he’s had on you. And most importantly, to the class of 2018:
congratulations. I know today caps what’s been a busy week of events to recognize
your accomplishments and I’m sure you’re feeling pretty good at this point, and you
should. Four years ago you accepted the challenge to join the Long Gray Line. You
could have chosen an easier path, but you didn’t. As General Caslen said, you
faced that cadet in the red sash on “R- day” and, according to legend, there were
torrential rains on that day. You survived Beast Barracks, plebe boxing,
Camp Buckner and you were scrambled not once, but twice, and I understand that you
were actually the last class to be scrambled. It wasn’t easy, in fact I was
told by the president of your class, it was so tough you posted the lowest plebe grades
of any class in recent history. and your class president told me that
with some source of pride but looking at you now, whether you’re the honor grad or
“the goat,” you made it. And among you are scholarship recipients, world-class
athletes, inventors and published authors. And, as General Caslen said, we can’t
forget it was while you were here that the tide was finally turned in the
Army-Navy game. You know, I thought that you would
probably get excited about that, but I want to tell you, I’ve been the chairman
now for three Army-Navy games. I’m two for three. And Army has actually scored
more points when I have sat on the Army side, then when I sat on the Navy side so
the coaches, the twelfth man and the team may get some credit, but I’m taking
a little bit of credit myself for what happened those two years. On a more
serious note, I want to personally thank you for answering the call to serve
during a very challenging time. You chose, you chose to join an Army at war and to
that point, today there’s more than 178,000 soldiers actively supporting
missions around the world. Many are in harm’s way and they’re joined by
thousands more sailors, airmen and Marines and as we celebrate today I’d
ask you to keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers. This is
also Memorial Day weekend and I’d ask you to be particularly mindful of those that
have made the ultimate sacrifice and our Gold Star families. While those of you graduating today should be proud of what you’ve
accomplished, I know that you recognize you didn’t get here by yourself. And
appropriately enough the superintendent recognized the families as we began the
program and I would tell you those of us sitting in the dais have the best
seats in the house because we have the chance to look out at the faces of the
parents, the grandparents, the siblings and the friends and their faces are beaming with pride and they should be. They played an important part in you sitting here today.
But I’d also ask you to recognize the faculty and staff here at the Academy.
You couldn’t have the premier leadership experience in the world were it not for
their efforts. And perhaps more importantly they have, over the last four
years, shown you what right looks like and they have every reason to be proud
of you today and I’d ask you to please recognize the contribution that the
faculty and staff at the premier leadership institution in the world has
had on you. Class of 2018 you might find it hard to
imagine but I’ve been in your shoes. And although it’s been 41 years ago this week, I can clearly recall my own graduation and commissioning and how
anxious I was to get on with the next phase of my life. I wasn’t particularly
interested in what the graduation speaker had to say you, and I’m going to
make a bold assumption: I’m going to assume that many of you share the same
sentiment that I had on my graduation day about the graduation speaker. So with
that in mind I’m not going to go on long, but as you prepare for the challenges of
Army leadership in the next chapter of your lives, I just want to leave you with a
few thoughts. First point I’d make is that the profession of arms is dynamic
and to be successful, you have to anticipate and embrace the constant changes in the
character war. Here at West Point, you’ve studied military history and you recall
the price paid in the 20th century by armies that were slow to adapt. One
hundred years ago, leaders on both sides of World War I were slow to grasp the
significance of emerging technologies and the changing character of war.
The price for that delay was high–ten million in uniform were killed–a
figure that’s unfathomable today. To some extent, you can say the same thing about
the eve of World War II. For example while a blitzkrieg reflected
the Germans appreciation for the potential of armor supported by close-
air, major Western armies continued to view the tank as merely an infantry
support weapon and frankly, if we look back at change over the past
century, most of the changes occurred after significant failure. But there were
notable exceptions. In the years before Vietnam, a small number of Army leaders
considered how the helicopter might be employed to enhance mobility on the
battlefield. among them were men like Jim Gavin from
the West Point class of ’29 Hamilton Howze from the class of ’30 and Hal Moore
from the class of ’45. Their ideas rapidly evolved from articles and briefings to
the 1965 combat deployment of the first Calvary Division- Airmobile. These
soldiers drove innovation that combined emerging technology with operational
concepts. They fundamentally changed Army maneuver. And their ideas remain relevant
today. The moral of the story is that there’s
no substitute for taking a clear-eyed look at the threats we’ll face and asking
how our force will adapt to meet those threats. There’s no substitute for
leaders like Jim Gavin that recognized the power of new ideas, new technologies
and new concepts, and more importantly there’s no substitute for leaders like
Hal Moore with a bias for action and a drive to affect change.
For the class of 2018, I believe the need to aggressively lead
change is going to be particularly important to you. I say that because
everyone here in a Dais knows that the pace of change and the speed of war has
greatly accelerated and in many ways the environment that you’re going to lead in
is very different than the one that confronted lieutenants in 1918, in 1968,
or frankly even in 2008. So regardless of where you find yourself serving in
our Army, challenge yourself to be the kind of leader that continues to think
about, to write about, and to lead change. Bring your intellectual curiosity and
the openness to new ideas that you established here at West Point–bring
that with you forward in your days as an Army leader. Be inspired by those
soldiers who pioneered air assault and the many others who have enabled the
Army to adapt and win throughout our nation’s history.
Class of 2018, earlier I mentioned how clearly I remember my graduation day and
how disinterested I was in the speaker but there’s something else that I remember
very clearly about the day that I was commissioned. Like you, I had studied military
history and I remember finding it difficult to identify with the exploits
and the courage of those who went before me. I remember wondering how I would meet
the expectations of my future platoon. How would I respond if I was called to
lead them in harm’s way or how would I deal with those tough leadership issues
that we know we will all experience? I wondered if I’d remember anything that I
had learned in school and you may be sitting here having similar thoughts. You
may wonder how you’ll measure up to your predecessors: the Pattons the
Eisenhowers or the Bradleys. Closer to home you may wonder how you’ll measure
up to some of the leaders who have influenced you here at West Point.
Leaders like Major Nick Eslinger now teaching in Behavioral Sciences and
leadership. As a platoon leader in Iraq he courageously risked his life to
protect his fellow soldiers. Or Major Jill Rahon from the Physics Department.
Jill had the presence of mind and the courage to pull two fellow pilots from a
burning helicopter before their rockets cooked off
or Major Jake Miraldi from the Department of Military Instruction. Jake
demonstrated exceptional competence and leadership while leading a Quick
Reaction Force during some of the toughest fighting in Afghanistan.
You may also wonder if you’ll meet the challenge of leading in a period of
great change and have the leadership and the drive of Hal Moore. Well you may
wonder, you may wonder the most important question: Will you meet the expectation
of your soldiers? But I’ve got to tell you, just like General Caslen mentioned a
minute ago, when I look out at you I don’t have those concerns. Don’t get me
wrong– I’m not understating for a minute the impact that your predecessors have
had or their accomplishments. What they did was remarkable. In the end, they took
ordinary groups of young men and women and inspired them to do extraordinary
things at places like Normandy, Ia Drang and Nuristan and that’s certainly
a big deal. But if you look at how these leaders succeeded I think you’ll
recognize the method. And you remember that the fundamentals of leadership are
the most important aspect of our profession and they’re a part of our
profession that hasn’t changed since President Jefferson founded this
institution in 1802. It’s true that your predecessors like Lieutenant Eslinger,
Lieutenant Rahon and Lieutenant Miraldi attacked their profession with energy
and enthusiasm. It’s true that they were smart, they were tough, and they were
competent. And it’s true that many of them demonstrated great courage when
called to lead in harm’s way. But it’s also true that the primary
reason your predecessors were successful is that they recognize that after
West Point, it was no longer about their individual capabilities. They knew it was
about their team. They knew it was about instilling an esprit in their units and a
will to fight in their individual soldiers. They knew it was about
establishing a bond of trust between the leaders and the led. In the end they knew
that character, competence, courage and commitment– that’s all part of the
sticker price of being an Army leader. After West Point, you get no more credit
for that– it’s a given. As a lieutenant you won’t be wearing the star or the
wreath on your uniform nor will you be displaying your athletic trophies. When
you check into units, your soldiers will simply want to know that you’ll lead
from the front and you’ll put their interests ahead of your own.
To paraphrase one of your more quotable predecessors, General George Patton:
“Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men and women. It’s the spirit of
the soldiers who follow and the officers who lead that gained victory.”
Class of 2018 what I’m really reminding of this morning is something very
similar to what the superintendent said a minute ago: if you take care of your
soldiers, they’ll take care of you. If you lead, they’ll follow, and together
you’ll take the hill. Thank you, in advance, for taking care of the young men and
women who’ll proudly follow your lead. Thanks for carrying on the
traditions of the Long Gray Line. God bless you. Semper Fidelis and Army strong.