At the 223″‘ birthday of the United States Marine Corps I attended our fall meeting of a national retired officers association where our Guest of Honor was Lieutenant General Martin R. Steele, USMC, Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans, Policies and Operations for Headquarters, USMC. Like many speeches given at this Marine Birthday/Veterans Day time of year, considerable credit was given to those of us who served our country over the years. But this speech was different, far more moving and meaningful than most others that I had ever heard. As a recent addition to the rolls of retired of naval officers, I guess I had never really thought what my purpose was in our American society as a former military professional. I had figured that I was just supposed to fade away, marvel at the accomplishments of those that I had trained, attend those military events that I could to relish a little of the life that I had left, and be proud of the service that I had the honor of performing. General Steels made me think differently-I have a greater responsibility.
In the middle of his speech, the General reported that the Marines’ vision for recruit training is to assemble a group of men and women of character and tum them into Marines. He raised the question of how to assimilate men and women of character.
He then recalled three recent events in his life that had had a profound effect on him as both a Marine and a human. The first event: While visiting his oldest daughter, a teacher, he had opportunity to play golf at a local course with one of her colleagues. Since they were only a twosome, the starter paired them up with another duo. The others were young, successful businessmen, forcefully showing the wealth they had earned. The General introduced himself to one of the individuals saying that he was a Marine. That individual quickly offered that he thought that there was no more need for a military force in our country, and the money we spent on defense could be better spent on much more worthy projects. He said it in the rude, surly manner of an individual sure of his beliefs and unwilling to listen. The General reported that he then made it his mission for the next four hours to enlighten this individual as to what the service of the military men and woman past and present, had meant and continues to mean to this great nation. The General said the right words. After the end of the round, that individual humbly approached the General and apologized. He had never thought or believed military people could have meant so much. He asked the General what he could do. The General responded that he should forget the past, and become sort of a disciple of military professionals and their cause.
The second event: As an Arkansas native, he was asked to be part of a career day presentation to a group of more than 3500 Arkansas high school juniors. He asked to go last. During the other presentations, he quickly noted that the students were behaving typically-fidgeting, talking to their friends, not paying attention. And then he spoke. He chose his words carefully. The students listened; they paid attention. They learned about what military service and defense of our country was all about. They were fascinated and bombarded him with questions after the presentation. They had never heard anything like that before. His description of service was not in the history books. In fact, the text they were using only devoted two pages to World War II. While in the corridor following the presentation, a lady approached the General crying heavily, in great distress. He reached out to her and asked her if she was all right. She said no. She reported that she had served as a high school guidance counselor for the past 22 years. During that entire time, she had never recommended that a student join the military. She considered military people pawns of the government and saw no reason for young people to risk their lives. She was married to a Vietnam draft dodger. She now wanted to confess her sins. She promised the General that she would never make another disparaging remark about military service again.
The third event: During his previous assignment on the USPACOM staff, the general had opportunity to travel the Western Pacific extensively. He and his wife had become close friends with the President of the University of Canberra, a sociologist. This scholar believed that western civilization as we know it would succumb to today’s regional frailties unless a value based society is preserved. He firmly believed that there were not enough Americans in uniform to make this preservation possible.
So what do these events have to do with responsibility? With our military service? With our duties as Americans, retired from the military? To build these men and women of character for our military service, the General called on us to be a part of the construction of this character-to tell our story of service to our young people and others that will listen. Our youth needs to be exposed to our heroes of the past, especially those who served in World War II, whose numbers and therefore experiences are all too quickly passing away; the people that guaranteed our present day freedom and peace. I was taught long ago by some wise commanding officer that our only legacy as a military person serving in peacetime was those people that we trained and left behind. I now realize that training of others about the meaning of service to our country can never cease. For if it does, that sociologist may be right-our current military cadre may not be sufficient to save our democracy. I have a responsibility.
ADMIRAL ARLEIGH BURKE LEADERSHIP FOUNDATION
For diverse reasons, many of today’s youth reach physical maturity without learning or embracing the core values of accountability, commitment, initiative, integrity, or responsibility. Positive role models are scarce, but the need for them has never been greater. Instead, our daily lives are bombarded by negative messages. One can’t pick up a newspaper or news magazine, or tum on a radio or television set without witnessing examples of unnatural disasters-road rage altercations, robberies, embezzlement in the workplace, hit lists in elementary schools, young people resorting to violence as an acceptable way of dealing with their problems, and countless more.
Against that backdrop, a small group of senior naval officers and businessmen formed the Arleigh Burke Leadership Foundation to produce instructional leadership materials consistent with Admiral Burke’s ideals of integrity, leadership, and service. Using the life experiences of Admiral Burke and other national and international leaders as examples, the Foundation will produce a series of multimedia videos and classroom instructional materials designed to attract, inspire and motivate today’s youth on the intrinsic value of possessing these traits.
The Chairman is VADM Joseph Metcalf III, USN(Ret.) and will operate as a 50l(c)(3), non·profit, educational corporation.
The Foundation is currently seeking significant underwriting support. Address your inquiries to the Arleigh Burke Leadership Foundation, c/o U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Assn., 247 King George St., Annapolis, MD 21402-5068, (410) 2634448, ext. 105