Hagel Addresses U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2014
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 23, 2014 Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this morning congratulated the future Navy and Marine Corps officers of the U.S. Naval Academy’s Class of 2014, advising the graduates to connect with those they will lead, to understand different perspectives, and to stay humble.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel advises U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2014 graduates to connect with those they will lead, to understand different perspectives, and to stay humble during commencement activities in Annapolis, Md., May 23, 2014. U.S. Naval Academy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
From a sunlit stage on the grounds of the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, Hagel joined Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller in addressing the midshipmen, then shook the hand of each graduate.
“As you conclude four years of education and training on the Yard, our nation is concluding 13 years of war, the longest in our history … [and] you will soon be presented with great 21st century challenges and opportunities,” Hagel told the graduates.
The Yard is long-used name for the USNA campus, which began as the 9.9-acre Fort Severn Army post in 1845 to a 340-acre campus today.
“Meeting those challenges, seizing the opportunities, and managing through this period of uncertainty and transition will require exceptional leadership,” the secretary added, noting that helping lead America’s sailors and Marines through such a defining time is a heavy responsibility.
Toward their success, Hagel offered three suggestions.
“These are not just my ideas,” he cautioned. “They’re what enlisted sailors and Marines tell me all the time. It’s what I believed as an enlisted infantryman in 1968.”
First, Hagel told them to personally connect with people they will lead.
“When you do, you’re forging a bond that you can rely on years down the road and under different circumstances. Having built close relationships on the Yard, you will soon do so across the fleet,” the secretary said.
“With new technologies and social media making our relationships sometimes seem less relevant,” he added, “it’s more important than ever to be personally invested in your people and build relationships face-to-face. Take the time to ask them about themselves. Get to know them. Listen to them. That earns their respect.”
Second, Hagel told them, try to understand different perspectives.
“From the diverse group of people you’ll serve with to the allied and partner forces you’ll interact with, being able to see the world through their eyes, through the eyes of others, will be critically important,” he said.
“Seek out allies and partners,” Hagel added, “and opportunities to build relationships and engage in the world. Understanding the intentions and experiences of other militaries is a skill that’s vital to our national security and America’s future.”
The secretary’s third suggestion was that the future leaders be humble and stay humble.
“Humility is about respect for others. Give credit to others and remember … someone else will always have something to teach you,” said Hagel, who then shared a personal story about his own experience of leadership from his service in Vietnam.
A few months ago, after a long search, Hagel and his brother Tom who served in the Army together in Vietnam found their then-commanding officer, former Army Lt. Jerome Johnson, living in Chicago with his family and spoke with him for the first time since 1968.
Speaking to the graduates, Hagel described 1968 as the worst year for the nation during which 16,000 fallen Americans were sent home from Vietnam, and racial unrest was evident within the military’s ranks and in the populace at home.
“Our country was in trouble,” the secretary said.
That year in Hagel’s unit in Vietnam, he said, “this young African-American lieutenant out of Chicago stepped into the middle of this and brought everyone together. He said we were going to take care of each other … and the force of this one young African-American lieutenant in this white unit brought that company together like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
Hagel added, “That’s stepping up. That’s leadership.”
The secretary also used Johnson’s character to illustrate humility, describing how the lieutenant earned a Silver Star in Vietnam but never told his wife of 40 years or his children or grandchildren.
“That’s an individual who lived something pretty special,” Hagel said.
The secretary also asked the graduates to remember that the first principle of leadership is accountability.
“Once you take up your duty stations and the responsibility of leadership … at times you’ll be pressured to succeed at any cost,” he said, adding, “ … Small actions can reverberate in large ways, whether it’s sharing answers on a test, looking the other way when someone denigrates another human being, or taking advantage of the trappings of your office.”
As future officers, Hagel said, the graduates will be counted on to lead in helping eliminate sexual harassment and sexual assault of their sisters and brothers in uniform.
“You’ve seen what these crimes do to the survivors, their families, institutions and communities,” he added, “and you know how they tear people and units apart, how they destroy the bonds of confidence and trust that lie at the very core, the center, the heart of our military.”
The secretary added, “Take this knowledge and do whatever you can to make sure everyone is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. We’re all accountable, from new recruits to four-star admirals and generals, from second lieutenants to the Secretary of Defense.”
As Hagel praised the midshipmen’s accomplishments he also remembered three classmates who lost their lives earlier this year -- Will McKamey, class of 2017, Hans Loewen, class of 2016, and Max Allen, class of 2014;, and Nick Tarr, class of 2014, who passed away two years ago.
“I knew Hans Loewen and I know his wonderful family. His sister Zatha is here among you today [and she] will be commissioned today as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps,” Hagel said to cheers from the midshipmen.
“This community will always remember their enthusiasm and compassion …,” the secretary said, adding, “Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of all these midshipmen and their friends here at the Academy.”
The men and women who graduated today from the U.S. Naval Academy, Hagel said, will lead from the bottom up and will help bring about a renewed sense of the collective responsibility to take care of each other and watch out for each other.
“If you stand together and face your challenges head on, you and your fellow sailors and Marines will be a force for good throughout the world,” the secretary told them.
“So go forth, class of 2014,” he said. “Connect with people. Understand different perspectives. Stay humble. Be there for your people and their families. And may you always be officers worthy not only of the people you lead but the nation you serve.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinAFPS)