"Be Vigilant" with Scott Spellmeyer, '90, and Col. Justin Sapp, '94

Recorded February 18, 2022

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[Episode Transcript]

Be Vigilant with Scott Spellmeyer, '90 and Col. Justin Sapp, '94

COL. JUSTIN SAPP: “No one anticipated… well, very few people anticipated 9/11. I mean, that was… I remember when it happened. I was at dive school, and I was a little more savvy 'cause I had been to Central Asia, but most people were like, you know, this was very unexpected. Nowadays, you, you just don't know, and I think one of the things is you, if you don't have that fire in you anymore, then you got a problem and in the military is not the right place for you.”

MAJ. CATHERINE ROY, COMMUNICATIONS AND MARKETING SPECIALIST: Thank you for listening to this episode of the VMI Leader Journey titled ‘Be Vigilant.’ I am your host Maj. Catherine Roy of the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics. My guests are Scott Spellmeyer, VMI Class of 1990, and Col. Justin Sapp, VMI Class of 1994, who participated in a panel discussion as part of our Courageous Leadership Speakers’ series held on February 18th earlier this year.

Both Spellmeyer and Sapp were part of Team Alpha, the first U.S. Mission behind enemy lines in Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Other panelists included Dave Tyson, linguist and CIA agent for the mission, and Toby Harndon, author of First Casualty which detailed the historic account.

Find a link to the panel discussion on our YouTube channel below [when accessing the episode on Podbean]

During the panel discussions Sapp said to the audience, ‘I was just six or seven years out of VMI graduation and I was faced with this mission assigned to Team Alpha.’ He told the cadets, ‘Be vigilant. You guys are the vanguards of the United States.’

Let’s get into today’s episode!

ROY: Welcome to Scott Spellmeyer, class of 1990 and Colonel Justin Sapp, class of 1994, both of you were part of Team Alpha, the first U.S. mission into Afghanistan right after 9/11 (terrorist attacks). We've just concluded the panel discussion so I hope our audience will check that out. I'll have a link in the description of the podcast so that people can check that out and hear, hear that great talk and you'll be able to see all the images, the PowerPoint slides, that you guys provided which was great to help visualize the context and, and what you all were dealing with and some of the characters, too, that you had to engage with. So, we won't rehash necessarily what you went over in the panel discussion. For the VMI leader journey podcast, what we like to do is bring you guys, the alumni, back to post and talk to, specifically, our cadets about your leadership journey starting with your cadetship and on through your career.

Our leadership theme for this year is citizen leaders and so both of you are just ideal candidates to be talking on the subject about your leadership journey. So, Scott why don't you go first and just tell us a little bit about you know what brought you to VMI, what kind of things you did here, and then how that served you, maybe, going forward in your career?

SCOTT SPELLMEYER, VMI CLASS OF 1990: Sure. So, I as I mentioned earlier I, I came from Upstate New York from the Albany area. Since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I wanted to be a commando in the army, and I had a teacher in high school who recommended I look at VMI. He had been a former Army Ranger in Vietnam and so I applied to VMI and, and I called VMI. I was so excited. I got this great, you know, book.

ROY: A look-book.

SPELLMEYER: Yeah. It was, it was this fantastic. They had me hook, line, and sinker. And I never saw this place until matriculation day. So, I did four years. I was not an academic, although I tried. I graduated with a history degree. I think it was a 2.69. I studied really hard for that 2.69 and I took statistics I think twice or three times. Chemistry twice or three times and, and, but I had a great experience. Army ROTC…

ROY: and you connected with your… with the faculty

SPELLMEYER: Absolutely. Yeah. Sergeant Major Kent. So, I had, I had a great run. I was in the VMI running club. We actually started the running club during my time.

ROY: Oh, nice! 

SPELLMEYER: And, and that really helped. You know, running marathons helps you to be a better commando later by being able to go the distance. And, and so, so did running club, Army ROTC, finished up as the battalion XO (executive officer). Was commissioned infantry, thankfully. I encourage all the cadets that if they're gonna go in the army or the Marine Corps or whatever they choose to do if it's, if it's uniformed services, do something hard. It’s where the best leaders are. It's where the best leadership training is and if you just do four years or you stay for 20 or longer, [my advice] is do something hard. So, entered the infantry. [I] did, did the standard pipeline: officer basic course, Ranger School, Pathfinder, and some other courses. And then, you know, went to my first battalion commander was with the 101st - Lieutenant Colonel Dave Petraeus who ‘course became General Petraeus and, and then, you know, I went to actually 3rd Ranger Battalion, First Calvary Division command, and then Ranger Regiment. Then, I applied for the agency and fortunately, the agency, I didn't think they'd hire me, and I was glad to this day they, they gave me a pass and hired me.

ROY: Now, what age were you when you entered the agency?

SPELLMEYER: I was like I think around 30, 31. 31. So, I was sorta like a senior captain at that point. So, what did VMI do for me? It's a great question. An important one. There are… for any success I may have had to date in my life, it's because of two reasons: one is my parents and two, the Virginia Military Institute. VMI absolutely has set me up for success. And it, it taught me all the key leadership traits: integrity, character, physical and mental toughness, you know, the, the, the ability to take the pain and to push through.

ROY: Yeah. The cadets like to call it ‘embrace the suck.’

SPELLMEYER: Embrace the suck is exactly right. How to work as a team. How to be a follower. How to be a leader. And so, just a quick story. When I showed up to my first unit in the 101st, I had a platoon sergeant, Sergeant First-Class Hayes who was promoted to master sergeant like six months later. So, he was a very senior noncommissioned officer. And it was very formal that first day. ‘Sir, good to meet you. My name is Sergeant First-Class Hayes. This is our platoon command post. This is your desk. This is my desk.’ There was a lot of quiet times when we were both in the office and I was like, in my head I was like, oh, this doesn't appear to be going so well, and on the first day. And so it was.  Anyways, kept quiet. Kept doing my thing and at the end of the day, he looked at me and he said, ‘Sir, where did you go to school?’ I said ‘VMI.’ There was a pause. He said, ‘We're gonna get along just fine.’ And that really epitomizes my career because VMI is a known quantity and VMI officers are respected as leaders and that counts. So, I'm grateful.

ROY: Oh, excellent! How about you?

SAPP: So, my story with VMI starts, I think, my junior year of high school. So, I went to high school in Marietta, Ga, Hope High School. I went to a college seminar at Oglethorpe University, I think. I remember passing a desk display, case kind of desk and there was an individual from VMI there handing out brochures. I was like wow, this sounds really cool. I was very interested in military and, and so this really appealed to me. Then, I went to a, I guess it was a VMI alumni event, within a month or two after that and I remember there was an officer there, VMI alum who was a special forces officer and we were talking about that. And I thought, wow, you know, that's what I want to do. Like Scott, I, I, I got to be candid with you, I had no other ambitions other than to be in the military. It was either going to be army or in the Marine Corps, period. That was it. I knew that from a very early age. So, it was just a matter of which propaganda I was gonna buy off on. And, and so I applied to VMI and you know I was delighted to be accepted. I think I applied to The Citadel, too. I didn’t apply to very many schools. I was very much like, you know, interested in a military career. And so, I came and, and it was tough. Rat year was tough as everybody, as it should be. And I think that really the, the camaraderie bit, the loyalty, and the ethos that you sacrifice for your brother rats was the biggest take away because as much as you say you're, you're, you learn that kind of ethos in high school through team sports, there's no way to replicate what VMI does. So, that was probably the most important value I took out of it. That if all else fails, you can count on the bonds that you built with these people through which you’ve endured this challenge. And so I really, I really value that and unto this very day, that is probably the, other than my education, of course, the most important thing I've taken away.

I kinda ebbed and flowed academically. My first year did really well. I kind of did a slump in, in my third-class year and then I kind of recovered my junior and senior year. I was a little bit of a late-bloomer in terms of like leadership. I don't think I was really ambitious in terms of cadet leadership looking back on it, but I knew I was going in the army and I said, you know, hey, this will set me up for a career in the army. I learned a lot. ROTC was great. In fact, I just ran into him today. Colonel Mark Bryant who at the time was a major in ROTC played a major role and was very influential in a positive way in endearing me to the army and to a career in the military and then the results of Sergeant Major Billy Goodson who came in I think around ’91, late ’91 early ’92s, SF (special forces) sergeant major. Very influential. I said, I wanna be like those guys and so that was my, my goal at the time. I went forward. I was commissioned in armor, and, like Scott, I think that combat arms, in my view, if you're gonna join the army, that's kind of naturally where you should go. That's the core of the military. I wasn't disappointed. I had a good time in armor. I did a tour in Korea. I did a tour in 82nd when they had tanks, we don't have that anymore. That was a very good unit, 373 armor. And then from there, I transitioned I went to SF (special forces) selection. Fortunately, that worked out and then I was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group. And from there, I spent, with the exception of my time detailed at the CIA, I was pretty much in the SF career kind of pipeline command doing your command and staff positions as you go up. And I'm still in and I, I love the army. I'm probably getting close to retiring here in the next year, but I've never regretted it my time at VMI, the education, and what VMI gave to me and imbued in me, and that set me up for being a leader in the army. That is something that you don't get at any, any, most other schools, quite frankly.

ROY: So, both of you talked about how VMI set you up for success in your later careers. Is there anything that… any anecdotes that kind of strike you as something that really served you well?

SPELLMEYER:  I actually joined the army when I was 17. So, that was during the Reagan days. And I bought it hook, line, and sinker. Team America. And so, as soon as I could join the Army Reserve, I joined as a senior in high school and then was, like, a private for the year. And then when I graduated on a Friday, that Monday, I went to basic training, went to army basic training. And then from basic training, I went to a Grateful Dead show with my friends and then like two days later, showed up at VMI. And then they let me go with the Reserves 'cause back in those days you didn't have like a reserve, you know, National Guard program and so they let me go and I knew that they would let me go. So, I went because I wanted to prepare myself for VMI. After the first week, you know, cadre week, you know, I had a chance to call home to my father and, you know, to put a mildly, I was distressed when my father got on the phone. And he went into dad mode immediately, like, ‘Oh, OK. Walk out of there. Jump on a bus and come home. I'm calling Syracuse and University of Rhode Island and, and we'll get you in…’ And he's like, ‘get out of there’ and, and I said, I remember I was counseling my dad! I'm like what, 18 at the time? I said, Dad, you’re supposed to tell me to man up! And he goes, ‘No way, man! Leave there.’ And said, ‘You're out of there.’ And I said, ‘Nope, can't do it.’

ROY: Well, good for you!

SPELLMEYER: So, but that's, that's a key part of the VMI experience is some people will come here, they’ll think they’ll want the VMI experience and for whatever reason, they won't make it. And [for] some [it] will be for academic reasons, others will be, you know, 'cause of attrition, and, and frankly 'cause they quit. And if there’s one thing that VMI teaches you beyond integrity is never quit. And that is the key to success. And I don't care if it's the military. I don't care if that's civilian service in the government or working in corporate America, you're gonna be, you're gonna face hardships. And you know the question is is how do you handle it? And and quitting ain’t the answer if you're, if you're from VMI.

ROY: So how would you decide if your perspective of how you're handling hardships is the perseverance that you need to get through, how do you decide when to go through that storm and how do you decide, ‘You know what, this isn't my storm?’

SPELLMEYER: For me, I was fortunate. I always knew what I wanted to do; you know. I think…

ROY: Oh, so, you had the goal in mind.

SPELLMEYER: Yeah. And so, I was on a one-way trip to serving America and being the best commando I could be. And I remember, like, when I was getting ready to leave, when I was graduating the infantry officer basic course and was going Ranger School, I called my father again. I said, ‘OK, I'm getting ready to go to Ranger School.’ And my grandfather was pretty sick at the time and, and my dad said, ‘Well, you know, if your grandfather passes away, you know, I'll get word to the army and, you know, you can come home.’ And I said, ‘Dad, you know, with all the love for gramps,’ I said, ‘the only way I'm coming out of Ranger School is with my tab or dead. Period.’ He said, ‘Wow, that's pretty brutal.’ I said, I said, ‘you're damn right. This is business. We're not playing around.’ That's just the kind of mentality, you know. In some walks of life, you don't need that, I think, to be a dentist or something that's not really necessary,

ROY: Right.

SPELLMEYER: but…

ROY: I don't know molars can be…

SPELLMEYER: Exactly! You never know!

ROY:  [laughing] could be pretty intimidating!

SPELLMEYER:  So, that's just my experience.

ROY: Well, great! And how about… so, that kind of leads me to another question. Was there a moment then in your relationship with your dad after all this that he was, like, you know, I, I get it now and I get why you did this and…

SPELLMEYER: Oh, yeah. Several moments. Dad’s a true believer. He gets it. Yeah. So,

ROY: That's good.

SPELLMEYER: Yeah.

ROY: How about you, Justin?

SAPP: So for me, it was interesting, you know. I at a very, for lack of a better word, I mean, my azimuth was pretty much set. I knew what I wanted to do. My dad had, incidentally, been a CIA case officer. So, I grew up in that kind of environment.

ROY: and he had… sorry to interrupt you, didn't he have a relationship with the Team Alpha leader or knew J. R. Seeger?

SAPP: He had been his instructor.

ROY: Yeah.

SAPP: Of course, I didn't find that until like the very end of the whole deployment.

SPELLMEYER: Justin’s dad had a big reputation in the outfit.

SAPP: He was not the instructor to draw.

SPELLMEYER: He was a player. He was a great officer.

ROY: He was gonna put you through your paces, huh?

SAPP: He was a mean instructor. So, and every once in a while, I’ll bump into people of the right age group, the mid-80s vintage who will go, ‘Oh, yeah.’ So, but anyways, so, my dad, you know, I grew up in that kind of world. Moving around a lot, which is very analogous to the military, quite frankly. We, we had some tough ones, you know, and, and I, I like to think I was pretty resilient as a kid, but VMI added that whole other level of resilience. They’ll call it resilience now, in the army, that's what, that's what the kind of term is but that is not something to discount. And I really think the ethos of… ‘cause the military prepares you for in extremis situations, unlike civilian life. So, everything is kind of set in this in extremis framework and VMI does a very good job of preparing people for that kind of stress level. It's the stress inoculation, sometimes it's referred to, and I've been through a series of these things throughout my life. And I gotta say VMI is, was the foundation that prepared me. So, I had a benchmark. OK, this is what, you know, how tired and can become. This is how psychologically stressed you can become… and that I think prepared me well for a lot of other events as I went forward to include, you know, Ranger School, like Scott, you know, we went to Ranger School. That was tough, raw. And then, you know, all these Q-course, dive school but you could always reference that benchmark and go, ‘Well, I was able to do that, and this is not as bad as that’ or its equivalent in my, you know, I know I can make it through it. And so, you don't. Quitting was, is never really, it is never really an option. It's just a matter of how, you know, stoically you endured it and how you emerge with, with some personal honor. I think is that that's another thing here. That you have a value of including that is imbued in you, you know, is that your personal honor is… you control that and how you deal with, with adversity is your choice, you know. That's your choice. The adversity is external, but you control the internal of it. And I always felt like no matter how bad it is, ‘OK, you're not the honor graduate at Ranger school,’ whatever, whatever… your aim was you still graduated, and you still comported yourself with honor. And I felt like, you know, I always knew I could probably have done something different or maybe better, but I felt like I had gotten there with honor and that was something that VMI imparted in me.

ROY: So, talk about that for just a minute because we have talked over the past couple of years, from time to time we've touched on that topic through our annual leadership theme about honorable behavior and that's part of the new superintendent’s… his five outcomes. One of them is character and honorable behavior. What we talk about here at the Center (for Leadership and Ethics) is really [about how] our role is to help influence character development and so we can only hope at best to influence those things. And of course, as you guys have the experiential learning that happens here on post, then you have an opportunity to exercise them. But what does honorable behavior mean to you and how, specifically, maybe, that was challenged here at VMI?

SPELLMEYER: So, there's, there's a host of facets to that question, of course. I would say that one component of it is the self… selflessness. Selfless dedication to your brother, your peers, right. That's a huge value that, you know, you're supposed to be utterly selfless, and they reinforce that, at least when I went through, over and over again. If one of your BRs was pulled aside and getting in trouble because his Rat Bible was stolen, you name, you name it, you all were expected to march in solidarity and help him regain whatever it was that he needed to regain. That's not something you can… I've never seen that really replicated anywhere other than in the military or at VMI, Ranger School, Q course, that kind of stuff. But it's, you know, that's something that VMI teaches you. This sort of dedication to your peers and in their welfare, in their success, and their success is equal to or superior to yours. And that's something you don't see in there in life on a regular basis. You just don't. And that is extremely important because in the military, I mean, like, not to be hyperbolic but I mean you're, you're, you're there essentially giving your life and there's honor in subordinating yourself to something greater. Whether it's the nation, your unit, your peers, your teammates, you know. If you’re commander, your command. That is more important than you as an individual and that is something that VMI does a very good job of layering. You learned that early on.

ROY: That mission-first mindset and so they start with that class system bonding.  

SAPP: That's, that's the fundamental building block of, of the military. Short of combat, the only way you build that is through shared hardship, whether it's through physical events or stressful events, like trying to, you know, regain your class’s honor or something like that vis-à-vis the upperclassmen, all those are exercises in how to build that cohesion and that solidarity. And you can't really replicate that very easily. VMI does a good job of it though.

SPELLMEYER: You know, step one of leadership is set the example for others to follow. And that, that is integrity. That is, you know, honor. That is character. And whether you're a first-line supervisor in a U.S. corporation or a first lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, you are on parade. Every day. 24/7. And so if you're going to set the tone in your unit or your office, the tone begins with you and how you conduct yourself.

ROY: Yes. So, the quote that I was referencing is from you Justin that you were ‘just six or seven years out of VMI graduation and you were faced with this mission assigned to Team Alpha.’ And so, you, you told the cadets, ‘Be vigilant. You guys are the vanguards of the United States.’ So, I think that does speak to that honor.

SPELLMEYER: Yeah, that's a good quote.

ROY: [laughing] It’s pretty good.

SAPP: I just… I, I think the key is that it's easy to get lackadaisical because you gotta remember when I came in the army, and Scott too, you know, you came in right as a Cold War was ending. I came in the Cold War is over and we were doing things that, you know, were not the same as the mentality, say, of the mid, mid-80s, right? And, and, and so it, it, it was kind of easy… you know, there was Somalia and stuff like that, that would, but those were outliers and only a select few experienced that. But it was very easy to go, ‘Well, you know, the world is kind of at peace and, and, and you're never gonna have to do your job.’ And now that I've been around a while and I've seen foreign militaries, I realized that one of the unique things about the US is that you're in a leadership position in the military, you realize that one day you may be called upon to do your job for real. For real. And that kind of drives you. And you need to keep that fire lit inside of you because you never know what's gonna happen. No one anticipated… well, very few people anticipated 9/11. I mean, that was… I remember when it happened. I was at dive school, and I was a little more savvy 'cause I had been to Central Asia, but most people were like, you know, this was very unexpected. Nowadays, you, you just don't know, and I think one of the things is you, if you don't have that fire in you anymore, then you got a problem and in the military is not the right place for you. You gotta keep that fire going. I'll give you a last example. You know you gotta also know the time and, and, and read the zeitgeist, or whatever you wanna call it, of the time. And I give you example. When we were there in Karshi-Khanabad [Uzbekistan], I don’t know if Scott remembers this, but we're busy we're doing our thing, getting ready and there was a briefing to, to the 5th Group commander by one of the SFODAs (special forces operational detachment alpha). They were going to be the first ODAs on the ground in Afghanistan. That trail was illuminated for them. And they went in there and they communicated to the commander, who was under a tremendous amount of stress all way up from Rumsfeld [Secretary of Defense at the time] was calling him directly, that they were not confident in XY&Z, and they started asking questions that the only answer at that time was, ‘Sir, we're ready complete this mission.’ And they were fired on the spot. And quite frankly…

ROY: Wow!

SAPP: [continues] well, that was deserved because at that time…

SPELLMEYER: I remember it.

SAPP: What you need are vigilant people.

ROY: YEAH, no time to hem or haw.

SAPP: It's never going to be a perfect textbook solution. You're never gonna get, you know, 90-days’ notice. Hey, you gotta get ready, get ready, get ready. It's just gonna happen and you're either ready or you aren’t.

SPELLMEYER: So, can I just touch on that?

ROY: Yeah, sure, go ahead.

SPELLMEYER: And we touched on this in the in the earlier session, but that exact situation, I remember it distinctly, is that's what I referred to as ‘put up or shut up time.’

ROY: Oh, right.

SPELLMEYER: And, and when that ODA commander and that team sergeant and their guys were on the X in front of their commander, they, they weft. And, and so, that's for, for any cadets that may be listening and anyone that's going into national security operational field. That could be with, with military. That could be with the agency or other three letter organizations. It’s one thing, you know, your time is coming, you know, your Bastogne, your Fallujah, your 1-0, you know. Your day is coming. And uniform or civilian and the question is, is you gotta ask yourself is, you know, when the chips are down, how do you want to be remembered? I refer to that as, as, 'cause I'm a Ranger Regiment, you know, alum and so that's my, that's my crew. And from the military, we call it the 6, 6-stanza time. And the 6th stanza of the Ranger Creed is, you probably remember, “Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission, though I be the lone survivor.”  And that, that is everything. That means when you get on an aircraft and rotors are turning and if it goes South, it goes South. When you get in that vehicle and you're gonna go down that, that road that's been inundated with IEDs every day, multiple times a day. And, you know, you know it could be your last run and then you get in and you do the mission 'cause that's, that's your job. And that's it. So, put up or shut up time.

ROY: Yeah, that was another quote that, yeah, that I got from you and actually tweeted that out.

SPELLMEYER: Oop. [laughing] Oh, tweet! Yeah, I'm not… I, I don't have Twitter. The cadets are laughing now.

ROY: I did try to tag you, but, yeah, your name did not come up.

SPELLMEYER: I choked out on LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn…

ROY: There you go!

SPELLMEYER: …but I haven't got a Twitter.

ROY: If I get time, I'll be able to repurpose that content over on the other platform 

SPELLMEYER: That's funny. 

ROY: But that's another question that I have from having read the book. It's interesting to me that what you talked about, the unconventional warfare, and being in this new terrain basically.  I mean we've been to Iraq. We've been to the Middle East but was this a different environment from those environments? And thinking forward, is there a way, I mean, is each new terrain [where] action happens, is that a new learning process for military organizations? And what kind of leadership skills, you know, can keep you fairly resilient to being able to adapt quickly?

SAPP: I think you have to be kind of an open-minded person and you have to be someone who embraces new challenges and you seek those out because, honestly, the history of warfare is somewhat cliché, but it is true, that we're always fighting the last war. So, when I went through ROTC training, it was very much light entry paradigm that had been derived from, mainly from Vietnam and those TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures) were great and that was a way of developing leadership, but the next war is not going to be like the last war, and I think that leaders need to be open-minded and willing to learn and also be curious people. I, I think.. like one, one thing I really love about Dave Tyson… he's like an incredibly curious person. That's why he's learned so much about these cultures. And then we, think about it, we went into Afghanistan. It wasn't a new environment for the CIA, but it was one that had been put on the back-burner and all of a sudden, a new crop of people come in who weren't of that mid-80s era, for the most part with the exception of J.R. and maybe Alex, and we had to learn a new environment. We didn't have the language skills. We were not prepared. We didn't even have the maps. And, and, the only way you can overcome that is to go, ‘I accept this challenge and I'm going to do my best. But I'm not going to say no and I'm not gonna sort of believe that you can't.’ Because one thing nowadays, I, with all the modern technology, I think sometimes there's this belief that I need XY&Z to be successful and that's not necessarily the case. When we went in, I mean, if you compare what we had then with now, I mean, it's, it's, it's almost laughable. And it's more about your mentality and your, your willingness to accept new challenges and, and be a learner, you know. Learn something new and everybody on the team had that instruction. That was, that was why you were successful.

ROY: …and learn how to ride a horse. [referencing an anecdote shared during the panel discussion]

SPELLMEYER: Yeah, that's it yeah.

ROY: That, that flexibility there comes in play! 

SAPP: There’s a difference when you ride for, you know, 30 minutes at a farm and then…

ROY: or the pony ride… who was it that mentioned that? 

SPELLMEYER: Dave. Yeah, yeah.

ROY: and you mentioned too as, as one of the things cadets should look for is really to focus on languages…

SPELLMEYER: Yes.

SAPP: That’s a big weakness.

SPELLMEYER: Huge. Whether, whether corporate America, right, if you’re gonna do international work or, you know, certainly, you know, DoD like in special forces. I mean it's huge, you know, but then also in the three-letter organizations. Language is critical. And I would encourage cadets if, if, if they have a natural ability with language, then they should jump on that and get all over it because if they're interested in doing any of those three things I just mentioned, language skills are the key, especially if you want to get hired. If you want to get hired by, by the Central Intelligence Agency, you need to separate yourself significantly from everybody else.

ROY: So, is it a case where if you know one foreign language and you're good with it, you can switch to another one

SPELLMEYER: Typically.

ROY: and that's what you're looking for 'cause who knows where mission is going to be and what language you need to know, right?

SPELLMEYER: Oh, we know where the mission is gonna be.

ROY: Oh, you do?

SPELLMEYER: Yeah. It's called Mandarin Chinese.

ROY: Ah. Yeah.

SPELLMEYER: And if you get it if you get four or five level in Mandarin, then feel free to learn Russian and then Arabic would be nice and, but Mandarin Chinese is the way to go because that is the, that is the that is the most significant strategic threat facing America. And it's serious.

ROY: Yeah. All right, well, gentlemen, thank you so much for your time! Any closing thoughts that you have that you wanna give a shout-out to the cadets for helping them to persevere? You know the rats just broke out! 

SPELLMEYER: I was just gonna say congratulations to the rats 25-25-25! And we're proud of you!  And, and good luck to the firsts, first-class as they finish up here at the institute. And then, by all means, get after it! Whatever you choose to do, be the best.

ROY: Excellent! that's definitely honorable behavior and thanks again to Colonel Justin Sapp [Class of ’94] and [Mr. Scott] Spellmeyer, Class of ’90. Just thank you for your time. Thank you for your service and your perseverance that you started learning and putting into practice here at VMI and that’s served you well throughout your careers! Thank you.

SPELLMEYER: Thank you! Appreciate your time today. 

SAPP: Thank you!

ROY: On behalf of the VMI Center for Leadership & Ethics, we thank the following: Mr. Caleb Mynus, VMI Class of 2020 for the intro and backing music. Find more of his musical stylings on his Instagram page (@mynusofficial). Col. Dave Gray, Ph.D. U.S. Army (ret.), Director of the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics and, of course, as always, our podcast Guests. Find this podcast and other CLE programming information on the VMI Center for Leadership & Ethics’ website vmi.edu/cle. Follow the VMI Center for Leadership and Ethics on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram accounts. The VMI Center for Leadership & Ethics educates, engages, and inspires the VMI Corps of Cadets, VMI staff, faculty, and alumni; and listeners like you! Thanks for tuning in!

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