Retired General Advises Students to 'Think Big'
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Feb. 20, 2004 "Think big. Feel good about yourselves. Think positive, and encourage others to do likewise," retired Army Maj. Gen. Eugene R. Cromartie advised students during the Defense Department's African- American History Month observance luncheon here at Florida A&M University.
Cromartie was commissioned through the university's ROTC program, and is the first inductee into FAMU's ROTC Hall of Fame. He is the only FAMU graduate to become a general officer. He is deputy executive director and chief of staff of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. His last military assignment was as commander of the Army's Criminal Investigation Command.
"I came to FAMU aiming low, because I didn't have that good self-concept about myself; but I found it here," Cromartie told DoD representatives, Historically Black Colleges and Universities officials, and a large gathering of middle school, high school and college students.
"My point to you is this: make no little plans. Don't think there's anybody in this world that is better than you are. Nobody is better than you are.
"Make big plans," he continued, "because if you make little plans, they have no power to stir men's blood -- and probably in themselves will never be realized. So make big plans and keep reaching for the moon keep reaching up. You may never get there, but as long as you're reaching up, it's a cinch that you're not going to end up with a handful of mud."
Cromartie said the path to success often contains setbacks. "If you're human, you're going to experience failures at some point," he told the audience. "Remember that all successes aren't final, and all failures are not necessarily fatal. Every day, we must all make decisions that determine the direction in which our lives are going to go. No one can make the right decision every time."
He advised the students not to worry about that. "What you need to do is to stay in there, keep fighting," he said, "and when you have that one step back, dust yourself off, get up and get back into the fray.
"There's no disgrace in failure," Cromartie noted. "Unless you try to blame it on someone else."
Cromartie gave the students a brief peek into what it was like trying to get an education when he was growing up under segregated conditions. He said everything the all-black high school he attended received were "hand-me-downs" from the white high school.
He said he worked in the summer for $6 per day, $30 a week, and he was making the same salary as his father, who had nine children to support. Working in the citrus groves in 100-plus-degree weather with the snakes, wasps and other things wasn't easy, the general noted.
"I said, 'I don't want this!'" Cromartie said. "There has to be a better way. That better way had to be a college education. I knew my parents couldn't send me. But I was going to go one way or the other.
"It's a lot easier for you young ladies and gentlemen now," he continued, "because (DoD representatives are) going to talk to you about scholarships that you can get so you don't have to go through that."
Cromartie said there were only two scholarships for the county he lived in, and they always went to white high school students.
He said a white woman county supervisor said that wasn't fair, and that one of the scholarships should go to the black school. The scholarship was awarded to the student who scored highest on a test. "I won the scholarship from my school," Cromartie said proudly.
"What she was doing was leveling the playing field to give us an opportunity to compete," he said. "That's all you ask for. Level the playing field and give us the opportunity to compete, and we'll do it ourselves. That's what you need to be thinking about and doing."
Cromartie told the students in the audience that one purpose of their gathering was so the DoD people present could help to level their playing field and give them the chance to compete.
"Everyone thinks 'military' when you think Department of Defense, and that's a myth that needs to be dispelled," Cromartie noted. "Because every job specialty that you have in the world of work you're going to find somewhere in the Department of Defense. And I'm not just talking military. I'm talking civilian jobs as well."
The retired general told the students that working for DoD provides more than a job. "Everyone one looks for benefits, job security, a retirement plan, opportunities for travel and seeing the world," he said. "All of this you can find with employment with the Department of Defense."