Introduction: Welcome to friends and families of this proud class, and a special welcome to our returning alumni. This is such a beautiful weekend and a magnificent evening. Your class deserves this!
I have to tell you, I did hear some concerns expressed to me by your classmates: "Sir, we don't have a class history yet." But: the history of your class is being written now! It began dramatically with your Acceptance Parade in 1997!
I had forgotten that the lightening in your crest was a reminder of that parade! Never saw a storm that intense in my "four-and-a-butt" years here. Glad I wasn't standing next to Seth Barrett or Jonte' or Joe Clark! The BTO says you owe him a 'P"rade because you sprinted off the Plain before it was over. But nothing "sprinted" across the Plain faster than BG St. Onge's hat! It was "blowin' in the wind!"
2001: I know some in this class call 2001 "The Last Class." I thought that applied to my class, the Class of 1965! But there is some merit in your claim. Consider the following: you were, for example:
The last class to have a Plebe Parent Week
I have to tell you the "rest of he story" of "socks." It involved our friend, General Abizaid, the former Com. What really happened to the socks policy is a story few know first-hand. Besides BG Abizaid, the story also involved, shall we say, a very, very, senior ranking cadet in the Class of 1998. This cadet had some trouble understanding the Com's orders like, "Everybody wears the Army uniform the same way, including socks!" The senior cadet didn't understand that. That, of course, endeared him to General Abizaid! The Com saw one morning that plebes' socks were still up, despite orders. He confronted the senior cadet and his senior staff, and asked why. What happened next you didn't see, I'm sure. You were too busy pinging. The Com said, "Why are socks still up?" The Senior cadet said, "So we can tell they are plebes." BG Abizaid then said, "I want you and every member of your staff to roll your pant legs up, above your knees now!" Senior cadet said, "Sir, may I ask a question? Why are we doing this?" Abizaid said, "So we can tell that you are members of the Brigade Staff!" The socks, and the pant legs, came down!
'Til Duty is Done.
Speaking of mottos, I know the class is concerned about the "fun in the sun" moniker.
Forget about it. (After this summer, I have to ask, "what sun?") Other classes had similar "unofficial" mottos -- they are all in the past; classes build on their experiences here.
The Class of '72 the class of your Commandant and BTO has an official motto of "Proud and True!" All of us who graduated before them, however, know that the "real" motto is "This Bud's For You!" Same with '73 General Abizaid's class. Their motto was "Proud and Free, '73." Because that class never "braced," they are known forever more as "Wrinkle Free, '73!" Finally, the Class of '89's motto is "Strengthen the Line, '89." But, because the drinking age was changed when they were cadets from 18 to 21, they are forever known as "No Beer, No Wine, We're the Class of '89." Just as an aside, however, based on their performance during the alumni review two years ago, the motto is now "Making Up for Lost Time, We're the Class of '89."
In all seriousness, though, your accomplishments this summer were stunning. You gave us the most professionally trained Plebes and Yearlings ever! I received an Email from General Franks three weeks ago; let me read an excerpt. The context? Rain (again), during Buckner summer training for the yearlings. Your classmate, a platoon leader in Viking Thrust, was concerned about platoon morale. General Franks wrote:
"Then it suddenly occurred to the firstie platoon leader that the weather was making the OPFOR equally miserable and decided to use the weather as a cover to attack. They did, and surprised the OPFOR. Same thing happened to us in VII Corps in Desert Storm. Iraqis never expected us to attack at night, in sandstorms, in rain, but our troops and battle commanders did it, and pressed the attack. Surprised the Iraqis, just as that firstie surprised the OPFOR in training. General Shinseki wants to transform the Army, to develop adaptive leaders for the new strategic environment. I saw one the other day, in that cadet platoon leader, and I saw a lot more who are ready to do the same thing."
What a great tribute, from a genuine American hero. General Franks lost his foot in Vietnam, and he knows inspirational leadership when he sees it!
Rings Bind: My central theme tonight is a simple one: Rings bind you to others, by the "grip of a far off hold." And, you to each other, in a way which deepens with each passing year.
Rings "Bind" you to those who preceded you, and to those who will follow you. Thousands of others will wear rings similar to yours, representing different walks of life. They will go their separate ways. You will not. You are bound, as words of "The Corps" remind us, by the "grip of a far off hold."
The best example of that "grip" is a recent email message from a graduate who participated in the alumni march back.
You were the first class to host alumni for the event; they were eager to return and to see you in action.
Watching them watch you was fascinating and insightful, like watching the purchaser of a new car: kicking the tires, checking under the hood, looking at new equipment, asking "Is this version as good as what I have now?"
Their answer? "It's better." The E-mail from the returning grad who marched with you said:
"Driving to West Point and back - $50
They wanted to be with you again, to reaffirm, silently and personally, the vows of selfless service. Rings bind!
Rings also bind you to each other a class to itself. When I was deployed to Vietnam in 1969, few in my class wore their rings into combat. We were reminded of the story of our classmate, Bob Arvin, whose ring was stripped from his finger when he was killed by the South Vietnamese! But one of our classmates, Bob Jones, USAF, ignored the advice and wore his ring on a mission over North Vietnam in the fall of 1968. Bob Jones lost his ring when the N. Vietnamese shot him down and took his 1965 class ring as he was beaten and tortured. The ring was returned when Bob was released in '73 -- by classmates! Bob broke down completely when that happened, and still finds it difficult to discuss today. He was introduced here, at this banquet, two years ago.
His son, Matt, by the way, was a member of the Cl of '99, Company D-3. Rings bind! Class to class, classes to each other.
Alumni parades are also a moving reaffirmation of the power of a West Point class and of the love graduates have for each other, many of whom return here for a final time to honor alma mater and country. The image they leave is unforgettable.
You see them each May -- many with walkers and in wheelchairs. They struggle to stand -- to salute, to sing, to be together again. They help each other, reaching out and encouraging. All you may see is the gray line; all you may hear is the USMA Band; what you don't hear and feel are the words, the emotion, the desire to prolong, if even for a few moments, this time together again -- together with you, and together with their classmates.
This is the "grip of a far off hold." When you look at your rings, know that you are bound with the tens of thousands who have served -- many of whom gave the supreme sacrifice. And they are bound with you, in the tradition of selfless service which your rings so beautifully symbolize.
In so many ways, on this weekend, you became part of the "Long Gray Line." That did not happen on R-Day, Acceptance Day, or Recognition Day, but today! Sooner than you realize, you will be caring and passionate about your classmates -- much more than you are now; you will be concerned whether those who follow in your footsteps are worthy; you will also be willing to help and give back -- eager to stay involved. You are in that distinguished group of "alumni" right now. Welcome!
THE FOUNDATION AND THE PASSION: Some of your may have heard Coach "K," USMA 1969, when he was here two years ago. Mike Krzyzewski just published a new book, Leading with the Heart. In this book, Mike tells a story about his West Point ring. Let me read you this short paragraph, which is so relevant for this evening, above all.
"Much of my foundation as a coach, as a leader, as a person, I learned from West Point. Before I entered the academy, I thought I knew everything. I lived in my own protected little world. My parents had instilled in me a respect for authority and the ability to learn. But West Point took me to another level. I feel that I was very lucky to go there and get a good dose of honesty, honor, and discipline. Today, I wear my West Point class ring on my left hand right next to my wedding band. When the center black stone cracked several years ago, I put the ring in a drawer and let it sit. Then, for Christmas, my wife, Mickie, took it out of the drawer and had the special Duke University royal blue gemstone placed in the center. To me this ring now represents what I want for every one of my players. West Point is the foundation the structure, the discipline, the respect for authority, the values. And inside, in the center, is the passion and the heart. Imagine if every person had such a great foundation and then the passion and heart to love what they do. They'd always love their lives. That's what I call success."
Indeed it is! You will all move on from this hall, from this school -- to futures as varied as the diversity of this class. But Coach K's advice is timeless, and I hope you never forget it!
As a side light to this story, I must tell you that, like Mike, the stone in my ring cracked. In fact, I now have the fourth stone in my ring, the last one an unforgettable gift from my lovely wife Susan three years ago.
Talk about passion? That is a gift I will treasure always, from one I love deeply.
If you can combine the foundation of this national treasure, with the heart and passion of doing what you love, with those you love, that is success!
That is another symbol that your ring represents, and to many, to me, it's the most beautiful symbol of all.
CLOSING: In many respects, I'm a 5th year member of 2001, a "turnback" from 2000. Susan and I planned to leave last year. But I couldn't get it right, so we'll stay another! Watching how you perform -- your passion and your energy -- that's inspiring. It's not the bricks and granite here that give meaning to West Point. It's the people -- like the Cl of 2001. You are the ones that inspire us to drive on, "Til Duty is Done."
One final thought on your motto: duty is never really done! I know you know that. But, when the last member of your class assembles for roll call "on the other side" -- whenever that is -- 2070, 2080, -- then your duty will truly be done. And I know that, at that point, it will be said by all who observed your class, "Well done good and faithful servants! Well done, Class of 2001!"
Thank you so much again! You so deserve this evening, and you deserve everything good that may come your way in the years ahead.
Rings Bind -- Go Army!