August marked the start of two important seasons for me.
The first day of the month opened the academic season for the U.S. Army War College (USAWC) Class of 2020 Resident Education Program with 376 new students on Carlisle Barracks.
The last Friday of the month featured the season’s kickoff game for the Army football team at West Point, New York. As I reflected on the month’s activities, I was drawn back to my trip to Fort Benning, Georgia made 35 years after graduating from Airborne training in August 1977.
As I expected, there were big changes on post. That became clear as I-185 South from Atlanta led to the majestic overpass with the statues of Iron Mike and Trooper of the Plains extending their greetings to the Maneuver Center of Excellence. In 2010, the Armor School at Fort Knox Kentucky collocated with the Infantry School in Georgia as part of the Army realignment effort.
As I made the drive on post and found the location for my presentation, it was evident that elements of old Fort Benning endured. In the background stood two of the original 250-foot towers that I had to experience prior to making my first of five parachute jumps (I did not fall) from an airplane. Signs on post pointed to Sand Hill and Harmony Church where I did my Ranger training in 1976. The towers and signs not only brought back memories but also invoked somewhat forgotten feelings—anxiousness, challenge, camaraderie, accomplishment, and pride — of earning Airborne Wings and Ranger Tab as a West Point cadet.
During the professional development session to the cadre of the Infantry School brigade, I spoke about artifacts of organization culture that symbolically represent the shared values of its members. Statues like Iron Mike and Trooper, unit crests and division patches with descriptions of heraldry, and posters of soldiers executing tough training, as well as operational missions were ubiquitous and tacitly illustrated what the Army expected of its members.
Once again serendipity struck and I stayed for kickoff of the post’s first annual Black and Gold scrimmage. That event ostensibly showcased the West Point cadets on the field who represent the great potential of officer leadership in the coming decades. While merely a scrimmage, it was clear that players on both teams were striving to do their very best to honor those in the stands — the new recruits in training, cadre and serving members with their family, and veterans now out of uniform.
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The words of General Douglas MacArthur were fitting. “On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days and other fields will bear the fruits of victory.”
The pre-game ceremony honored five men who risked all and sacrificed self for their men and nation. Recipients of the Medal of Honor, Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross, and Purple Heart, they are exemplars of the Army value of duty. Throughout the Army, these men are legendary in not only how they served in combat, but also what they did afterwards. The two contemporary honorees, one a double amputee and the other blind, continued to serve as Army officers in positions of responsibility.
The legacy of these professionals from Korea, Vietnam, and current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq also provide the artifacts of our Army Strong culture — things we need to embrace and hold on to — that represent our shared beliefs and values. I am certain seeing the heroes of the past and watching the leaders of the future made an impression on the students in both Armor and Infantry training units.
It is the senior leaders of our Army and the leaders in the ranks who will align our espoused values with actions to refine and strengthen the Army Culture.
Such is the expectation and obligation for the USAWC Class of 2020 members, captured in the words of the West Point Alma Mater: “Let Duty be well performed.” I am reminded of the 36th Infantry Regiment Motto, “Deeds, Not Words.”
That is the essence of duty.