Superintendent’s Remarks at Commissioning
15 May 2010
Good morning. On behalf of Mr. Slater and the VMI Board of Visitors, General Bissell and Mary Baldwin College, and the entire VMI community, I thank all of you for attending this important ceremony in the life of the Institute and in the lives of those about to be graduated. It gives me great pleasure to welcome the proud families and friends of those who are about to receive commissions and the symbols of their new rank, and to welcome the members of the faculty and staff and members of the Corps of Cadets here present.
This commissioning ceremony marks the transition of young men and women from the life of a cadet and student to that of an officer in the Armed Forces of the United States of America. It is the fulfillment of one of the central and historic purposes of the Virginia Military Institute: the preparation of Citizen-Soldiers.
We are most fortunate to have with us today, as commissioning officers, four outstanding officers whose service to the nation stands as an inspiration to all of us, and especially to the young men and women who will follow in their paths from this day forward. It is my honor to welcome General Norton A. Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy with 37 years of service; General Peter W. Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army, a graduate of Seattle University with nearly 40 years of service; Vice Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr., Commander of the U.S. 6th Fleet and the Striking and Support Forces of NATO, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with 32 years of service; and Lieutenant General John M. Paxton, Jr., Director of Strategic Plans and Policy, U.S. Marine Corps, a graduate of Cornell University with 36 years of service.
As we welcome these distinguished officers, it is important to underscore the “commonalties” that bind them together. All four are highly educated. All four are seasoned officers who have served at the highest echelons of our national command structure as well as having extensive experience in leading soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines at the cutting edge of our business. All four have had extensive service, living, and traveling abroad, and working with allies and other cultures. And, all four are known as “people persons”… “caring leaders” with splendid leadership skills. We are honored by their presence today.
In a few moments, you will take the oath of commissioning and will hear from these officers. I encourage you to make note of what they say… etch their words on your commissioning day into your memory. Take your commission, frame it, display it on your office wall or at home… and read it with regularity.
Before continuing, I invite our professors of military science and their staffs to stand and receive our expression of thanks for the inspiring work they have accomplished in teaching and mentoring the young men and women who will be commissioned this morning… And, now, I ask that all of the veterans in the audience stand … cadets, staff, faculty, and other guests here today… to receive our heartfelt thanks.
Officership is a serious responsibility, and it is a responsibility for which VMI has been preparing you for the past four years. We have stressed that a cadet must be at his or her best at all times… This lesson carries over to active service. An officer, too, must be at his or her best at all times – always on duty – always on parade – always a guide, mentor, and example to others. The lives of your soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guardsmen will depend on your professionalism, your sense of duty, your knowledge, and your courage. You have been a student for four years. You will continue to be a student – all of your life. But, now you will also become a teacher. In the service to our country you will do a lot of teaching.
Forty-eight years ago, I sat in J. M. Hall with my classmates and, just like you, was sworn-in as a Second Lieutenant, United States Army. I was a young, frankly very green Second Lieutenant. My life was soon filled with exacting missions, tough training, rapidly changing responsibilities, assignments around the world, attendance at outstanding professional military schools, and service under remarkable leaders. Above all, I became part of a great team of soldiers and families. You, too, will have these same experiences. I wish I could start over in your place today.
Soldiering is a special profession. It is demanding. It can be dangerous … in peace and war… but it is also “immensely” rewarding, and it is (also) an adventure. Tomorrow, you will become VMI graduates, and with that foundation you can be confident that you are prepared for the adventure that now begins.
I congratulate you on the attainment of a commission. I and the Institute could not be more proud. Your families are proud of you. And you can take just pride…, yourself, in your accomplishments. Our country is fortunate with your decision to serve…and to lead. Good luck to each of you in the years ahead.