Veteran’s Day Speech 2018

I had the honor of addressing a crowd of veterans and our community to commemorate the 100th anniversary of signing of the Armistice ending World War I. The text is printed below.

Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for coming out today to honor those men and women, past and present who have served in our Armed Forces.

This occasion is a special one, as it was a hundred years ago today that our forces in the Army Expeditionary Force serving in France heard the news that Germany had signed the Armistice. We are a long ways from the days of horse drawn artillery and biplanes, and it is hard to imagine the sacrifices our doughboys made during that terrible conflict, or the exhilaration, relief and excitement those men and women felt just a hundred years ago today.

A year later, on November 11, 1919 President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation on the first anniversary of Armistice Day, the official end to World War I. In this proclamation, President Wilson spoke about this Nation’s contribution to the conflict in Europe. “…We were able to bring the vast resources, material and moral of a great and free people to the assistance of our associates in Europe who had suffered and sacrificed without limit in the cause for which we fought. Out of this victory there arose new possibilities of political freedom and economic concert… To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with – solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory…”

That’s tough to follow

Of course, many speeches have been made on this day over the past century to honor the men and women who have served in our Armed Forces.

This is not new, of course. Even in Ancient Greece an annual event was held to honor those who had fallen in battle. The Athenian General and historian Thucydides recounted the speech made in the 5th Century BC where Pericles discounted the value of these speeches. “These men have shown themselves valiant in action, and it would be enough, I think, for their glories to be proclaimed in action… our belief in the courage and manliness of so many should not be hazarded on the goodness or badness of one man’s speech.” My hope today is that you, too will judge the actions and bravery of our veterans on their merits and not the quality of the speech you are listening to.

Pericles went on to proclaim that since it was indeed custom to have such a speech he would endeavor to do his best. We should do likewise here today.

It is proper on such an occasion to first remember our ancestors… those veterans who throughout history fought with valor, and handed to us a free nation.

  • From the pioneers, British regulars and colonial militia who fought to tame the country and keep other colonial powers at bay
  • the state militias and continental army that threw off the chains of tyranny
  • Marines who fought pirates on the coast of Tripoli freeing trade routes and protecting American interests
  • Or the US regulars repelling British invaders in 1812
  • Brave men of the Army and Navy faced the Mexican Army, and secured Texas and California for the US
  • Patriots fought and died in the civil war for what they believed in
  • Brave men fought alongside Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam
  • Our ancestors fought to establish and preserve a nation based in liberty

And then came the 20th Century

  • Small wars throughout the hemisphere in Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, Dominican Republic
  • Our forbears secured our reach, our trade and provided a buffer from the colonial powers in Europe who would dominate the west
  • Our grandfathers then joined forces with freedom-loving people in Europe against the Kaiser and began the end of the age of Empire, escorting out the German, Russian, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires
  • They went to the Pacific and returned to Europe just a generation later, ending the designs of the 3rd Reich and the Japanese imperialists
  • A Cold War ensued… with the occasional flare-ups in Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere… and brave men and women, our grandfathers and grandmothers stood side by side to defeat the threat of global communism.

And here our fathers and grandfathers added to our inheritance and handed to us, their sons and daughters, a great nation and the premier world power.

And this was mine and my brothers and sisters’ turn, our time to do honor to those who came before us and to pick up the mantle handed to us from our ancestors, those veterans who shaped our world…

I joined the Army in 1988, a 17-year-old enlisted member of a mortar platoon in B Co, 1-181st Infantry, Massachusetts Army National Guard. My father, an Army Major swore me in. He also administered my Oath 5 years later when I was commissioned as an officer.

I have seen the world change. The later part of the 20th Century saw a change in how wars were fought… smaller wars with few clear battle lines emerged, and at the dawn of the 21st Century we began to see what others have experienced through history: the scourge of terrorism, the deliberate use of violence against innocents…

I have been able to observe our men and women in uniform first hand in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Our ancestors, grandfathers and fathers have much to be proud of…

So this, the next Greatest Generation has gone forth on foreign soil to bring the battle to those who would do us harm. And they have fought bravely, and served proudly. Moreover, they volunteered to do so. The men and women who join today know full well what they are signing up for.

But where do these great volunteers come from? Fewer than 1% of Americans choose to serve in our Armed Forces, and 79% of Soldiers come from Families that have served.

And many of them have since come home, and returned to the communities where they came from. Each year we transition 120K men and women from the military… and these are today’s veterans. We have been at war for more than 17 years now, and we now have the largest population of young veterans since Vietnam.

Who are our veterans? They come in all different shapes and sizes now. We are blessed to still have over 500K of the 16 Million Americans who served in World War 2, including over 5,000 right here in Arkansas. These men and women are usually easy to spot…

But don’t hesitate to thank them for their service, to ask them to tell you their stories… Sadly, we lose more and more of these great folks every day…

Today’s veterans seem to blend in a bit more. They come from every demographic you can imagine: of the 227K veterans in Arkansas they are of every age and every ethnicity, men and women. They are students and truck drivers, electricians and carpenters, lawyers and doctors, police and firefighters… and I am proud to say that 231 of them are US Army Corps of Engineers employees helping to keep our waterways open, fight floods, protect the environment, produce hydropower and maintain many of the great lakes around the state.

Our nation has come a long ways since the post-Vietnam era where veterans endured the abuse of those that opposed the war. Today, our nation seems to be proud of those that would stand up and serve… People today are able to separate their thoughts or feelings about the war and the Service members who are tasked to carry it out… rarely do I walk around in public in uniform without someone thanking me… and I always return the thanks. I am grateful for their support.

I do have to say, though, that I feel the thanks doesn’t belong directly to me… there are so many others who have sacrificed more than I have. Our military families who put their lives on hold every time their service member deploys… The parents of young troops who watch their children go into harm’s way. These are people who also need our thanks and support.

And some of our veterans who have returned from overseas have faced difficulties… suicide rates and opium addiction among veterans is far too high, as is homelessness. The Veterans Administration and the Army’s Soldier for Life programs are helping, but it is truly the communities that welcome back their veterans that makes the difference in these lives.

There is no substitute for the support of a community: veterans reconnecting with family, friends, church and community groups is the clearest path to reintegration into our communities.

For all of you involved in supporting and reintegrating our Veterans, thank you for what you do. Your service is invaluable.

I am so proud to serve this great nation, and I am proud of the communities, the men, women and children who gather at events like this to honor those who have served.  I am proud of the all-volunteer force that provides us with amazing men and women willing to stand up and be counted. I am proud of the service they provide and the freedom that service secures.

Thank you all for being here to support the veterans of the greatest military force in history. With your support, nothing can stop us.

God bless you all, God bless our troops

And God Bless America!




Following Superman: Doing it all yourself doesn’t actually help

A few years ago I succeeded Superman in a job. As you can imagine following the Man of Steel was really hard.

I took over as the chief of staff for an engineer unit, and my predecessor had done an amazing job at running the unit. He knew everything about the maintenance, logistics, personnel, and administrative systems, and he knew how to leverage those systems to keep the organization going. It was, frankly, intimidating thinking about how much I had to learn.

Fortunately, I have a staff around me that will help me figure it all out, right?

Well, sort of… there were people assigned as staff officers with responsibility for those areas. That’s not the same thing as having a fully functional staff.

One of the first meetings I got to attend in my new position was the budget meeting at our higher headquarters. I called in the budget officer and asked him to bring me the books so we could review them before the meeting.

The budget officer told me he’d be happy to come over but that he didn’t have the books. “They’re in your office. Your predecessor did the budget himself.”


The next meeting I attended at my higher headquarters was the maintenance meeting. So I called up the maintenance chief and asked what time he wanted to leave to drive over to the meeting. “Oh, I don’t go to those meetings. Your predecessor handled those himself.”


The same thing happened at the supply, admin and personnel meetings. Superman had personally taken on so many tasks that the staff was unprepared to do them.

Superman routinely worked 15+ hour days, and was the master of details. He was tireless, smart, driven, and effective. He nearly single-handily made that unit a success.

I am far too lazy to do all that. I’ve got a wife and kids I wanted to see periodically. I have a few hobbies I’d like to pursue. I don’t want to live at work. Besides, if I’m doing all the work, what are we paying all these staff officers to do?

I spent the next year helping those primary staff officers build capacity and expertise in their areas. We learned together, and established systems that didn’t require superhuman abilities to maintain.

In fairness, when Superman started the job he didn’t have a staff to delegate to. He had to recruit a team and get the staff established. In the mean time he was forced to do all the staff functions himself. The flaw, if I can call it that, is when he missed the moment when he could have let some things go.

Superman is not alone in highly capable people who do too much. Rubbermaid’s 1980s CEO Stanley Gault was by any account a tremendous talent, returning shareholder value at 25% per year. Yet the minute he walked out the door in 1991 the stock plummeted. Some folks blame his successor, but a deeper look reveals how much Gault took on himself, and how unprepared other leaders were to actually perform their duties once he was gone. Superman propped up a system that collapsed the minute he left.

Leaders have responsibilities beyond day to day operations and determining asset allocation. Leaders must develop their subordinates to act in their absence. If they truly care about the organization they want it to succeed far into the future, not just when they are there.

I was taught as a young officer that one of my jobs is to make my job irrelevant. Not in a “I gave away all my work so I don’t have to do anything” sort of way. More in a “this place functions really well whether I am here or not” way. That means you train and empower your folks to think critically, learn constantly, and act boldly with or without your presence. That means you have to delegate meaningful work and empower your folks to succeed or fail, and then help them learn from both.

Defense Secretary James Mattis once said that you have to delegate to the point that you are uncomfortable. If you’re not nervous about how much you’ve let go of, you haven’t let go enough.

To do this, you have to learn to truly trust your people. Too often, leaders say “people are our most important asset” and then fail to show trust in them. If they are your most important asset, you should treat them as such.

Superman can do awesome things, and can achieve tremendous results. But long-term, sustainable success comes from teams of great people trained and empowered to do their best.

If you find yourself working 15 hour days and your organization can’t function without you, you may be Superman. You may also be what’s holding your team back.

Hire great people, and invest in them. Develop them to do their job well, and prepare them for their next one. Learn to trust your folks, and learn to let go.


Get the Rock out of the Road: Leading Change amidst resistance

As a brand new Lieutenant I was welcomed to my first battalion by a senior lieutenant named Ed who was getting ready to leave the unit. He had been there three years and was headed back to the states to get promoted and go to Captain School. (It wasn’t really called that, but most of my followers aren’t familiar with the Engineer Officer Advanced Course, and I though Captain School sounded cooler).

Ed was full of wisdom. And since he was older and wiser and I was (as my platoon sergeant so eloquently put it) still wet behind the ears, I listened intently.

He offered advice when I attempted to buy an extra large rucksack. “Why do you need that?” To carry more stuff in the field. “We’re a mechanized unit. You have a vehicle for that.” I know, but we may need to dismount and walk a ways. “If you walk more than 300 yards you should fire your driver.” Ed was good at pointing out the obvious stuff for me.

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Accepting the Leadership Challenge: the First-Time Supervisor

As a young lieutenant I had the privilege of serving on the operations staff in an Engineering Battalion. It was a great assignment as there were really talented people working really hard to keep the organization running. I learned a tremendous amount in the year I served on staff, and understanding how the higher headquarters ran made me a better leader when I went back down to the line.

One of the guys I got to know on staff was a Captain named John. He was one of those all-around great guys that didn’t hold his rank over us junior officers.  He essentially treated us as equals on staff and was a pleasure to be around.

And then something changed. John was selected to go to a line unit and take command.

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Bailing Water with a Cup

Three guys out fishing start taking on water. The first guy to notice it grabs the nearest thing he sees that can bail water: a tiny little cup. He starts bailing furiously, but it doesn’t seem to be doing any good. The other two haven’t noticed yet, as they are busy fishing. The first guy assumes this is a temporary problem and keeps bailing, all the while looking back at his rod in case a fish bites.

It starts getting worse.

The second guy realizes there is a problem, and he, too, starts bailing. He has a red Solo cup, so he moves more water than the first guy, but he still isn’t making a lot of headway. He doesn’t want to leave his fishing rod, either, so is pretty distracted from the bailing effort. Every once in a while he gets a bite, stops bailing, and tries to land the fish. He finds it is more difficult to net the fish when you have to rummage in the water in the bottom of the boat for the net.

The third guy is late to the party. He has been solely focused on fishing and finally catches on when he can’t get to the live well because of the water they are taking on. Something has to be done! He grabs a bucket and starts bailing, too, still with one eye on his rod.

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Animal House: Leading Change Blutowski Style

If you haven’t watched National Lampoon’s 1978 masterpiece Animal House in a while, it may be time to break out the VHS tapes and grab some popcorn. It is laced with famous scenes and features many budding actors that went on to highly successful acting careers. If you are one of those Millennials who wants to get some insight into the culture that influenced your grandparents’ generation, it’s worth figuring out how to stream this classic. If nothing else it is worth watching Blutowski’s inspiring “Germans bombed Pearl Harbor” speech.

This great film came to mind recently as I listened to a senior executive talking about the many changes he was trying to implement across his organization.  He had some great ideas about the direction his firm needed to go, and his energy and enthusiasm for the future was infectious. His audience was inspired and hopeful and the much-needed changes were long overdue.

But soon after the CEO left, the mid-level managers began evaluating the CEO’s proposals. “That will never happen, the VPs won’t implement that,” said one. “There are too many policies and too much institutional momentum for any of that to stick,” said another. “Unless you get rid of the old guard up there, none of this is going to get anywhere,” said a third. They all agreed that the CEO’s proposed changes were necessary, but none of them believed they would ever happen.

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