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Shalikashvili Tells Graduates About Leadership,

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 5, 1996 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told graduating Naval Academy midshipmen he celebrated their achievements and had confidence in their abilities.

Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili told the newly minted ensigns and second lieutenants "the Navy and Marine Corps you join today is the 'A-Team,' make no mistake about it."

The chairman said those who choose military service hold themselves to a higher standard of conduct than most Americans. "That is entirely proper, for America entrusts the lives of its sons and daughters into our care, and America has the right to demand a full accounting of our stewardship," he said.

Shalikashvili spoke about the criticism the academy and the service have received in the media. "Constructive criticism, when honestly and wisely sifted, will make us stronger," he said. "So learn from criticism, stay open, grow stronger, and don't fall into the trap of becoming defensive, of circling your wagons against the imaginary enemies outside."

But, he said, critics have a responsibility to be balanced, fair and objective. "While they scrutinize the problems of the few, they must also celebrate the accomplishments of the many," Shalikashvili said.

The chairman said the country needs the abilities of those graduating, because while the world is safer with the end of the Cold War, there are still contentious issues the United States must deal with. The end of the Cold War mandated a reduced military, but that force has to remain ready and potent.

"That readiness is essential, for our forces have stayed very busy these past four years and have been successful in nearly 40 operations around the globe, wherever America's interests were at stake and America's leadership was needed," he said. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps have played an integral part in these operations and played their roles superbly, he said.

"Recently Secretary [of Defense William] Perry told the Congress what all of our allies believe, what every dictator fears and what every potential aggressor knows: 'America has the best damned Navy in the world bar none,'" Shalikashvili said.

Leadership is what makes the U.S. Navy the best in the world, he said, and he gave three attributes all great leaders possess: competence, care and character.

The chairman said competence is the cornerstone of leadership. He said sailors and Marines will not follow leaders who are not competent. "The president can commission you an officer, but you must develop the competence that will make you a leader," he said.

Caring for the people of the service must be a constant, Shalikashvili said. "When your sailors or Marines have a problem, you have a problem," he said. "Their families are part of your family, and in every measure their successes or their failures will be yours as well."

He said caring does not mean coddling. "If you care for your subordinates, you will first and foremost make sure they are ready mentally, physically and spiritually for the rigors of modern combat," he said.

Character is the final aspect of leadership, the chairman said, and at the core of character is integrity. He called it "our anchor in the stormy sea of temptation, of manipulation and of moral relativism." Knowing what's right and acting on it is integrity.

The new officers' personal examples will go far in setting the tone for the integrity of their crews or units, he said, because ethics -- good and bad -- are catching. The chairman left the graduates with a question dealing with character.

"When confronted with moral questions, ask yourself: 'Would I be proud to tell my family what I did today?'" he asked. "If you can answer 'yes' to that question, you will stay on the right path."

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