November 7, 2016
Cadets and Midshipmen at every Service Academy share a common core. On training day one, young future Officers begin to understand what it means to serve something greater than self. They begin to strengthen that grounding principle of leadership and character. Whether it’s “Duty, Honor, Country” (USMA); “Honor, Courage, Commitment” (USNA); “Honor, Loyalty, Obedience” (USCGA); “Integrity, Service, Excellence” (USAFA); or “Deeds not Words” (USMMA); each Service and Academy has its own set of guiding principles. Ultimately, they hold the same implication: Character. General MacArthur said it most clearly during his farewell address to the Corps in 1962: “Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be.”
I can and will only speak to my own four-year experience at the Naval Academy, but my peers from the other Academies and those who entered the fleet from other commissioning sources have corroborated these same thoughts. Our profession teaches a clear set of principles that, when embraced wholeheartedly, lead to character development and a commitment to lifelong service. Our guiding creeds embody these principles. We are taught to incorporate them in our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
My Academy experience, that initial character and leadership training, forged in me one now-obvious fact: a thirst for perspective. We lived a life of accumulated perspectives. From the histories of John Paul Jones and the Bonhomme Richard, or Admiral Farragut’s now timeless charge through Mobile Bay, to the Tin Can Sailors and the present day wisdom of our own Senior Enlisted Leaders. We were encouraged to study the traditions of Naval history, the leaders who came before, to learn and appreciate their times and tribulations. Such endeavors were a fact of life. To read and ask and wonder at our proud history. The Academy culture planted that seed within each of us - to strive for those perspectives, lessons that led to inevitable self-improvement.
The Academy provided one primary perspective above all others, that of the traditional warfare Naval Officer. Even those former-uniformed and never-uniformed members of the community espoused that same perspective. It seemed a deliberate attempt to accomplish the highly specific mission of the Naval Academy. Certainly that fact is obvious and necessary. In order to develop Midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically; to imbue in them duty, honor, and loyalty; to commit them to a career of Naval service, the primary perspective must be that of the uniformed Officer. That being said, as a young Naval Officer at the dawn of his career, I feel it necessary to broaden my own perspectives. To collect them like books on a shelf. To reference them when I have doubts or questions or conflicts. After all, that is exactly what the Academy taught me to do.
The main perspective gained from my years at the Academy probably fits best within Samuel Huntington’s framework from his 1957 work “The Soldier and the State.” In it, Huntington observed the factors of the civil-military relationship within the United States and theorized about the spectrum of civilian control of the Armed Forces. Most significantly, he characterized Officership as one of the traditional Professions alongside Law, Medicine, and the Clergy, and identified three factors common to all Professions: expertise, responsibility, and corporateness. Expertise is gained through experience and education - all Professions have deep traditional training, qualification, and learning processes. Responsibility is to the Professional’s society - a civic duty of Kantian proportions. Corporateness defines the Profession as its own unified culture with conscious and deliberate standards, often codified, and the authority to enforce them. These tenets characterize our Profession quite accurately, but not completely.
The perspective of the uniformed Officer so readily apparent at the Naval Academy is only one perspective of the principles that make Officership a Profession. Others exist. They must be included more readily and more obviously if our Profession is to realize the bright future of which it is capable. We live in a world where the traditional borders between ideologies, legal systems, Nations, cultures, religions, values, and economies have begun to fade. Huntington was keen to note the intrinsic political nature of our Armed Forces - we are inextricably linked to the political system. It is our responsibility to advise both the Executive and the Legislative powers on national security, warfare, and in many respects, diplomacy. To borrow a line from the historian Richard Kohn, we have “developed into a potent political force in American government.” Even Morris Janowitz, an outspoken critic of Huntington’s theories, agrees with Huntington’s characterization of the political nature of the Armed Forces in the United States.
I’ve witnessed many Professional Officers reel at such an accusation. I disagree with that reaction. It is a key strength and opportunity of our unique role. We have a strong tradition of leading ethically and culturally. We are by no means perfect, far from it, but our Profession has greater potential than any other. We hold the confidence of the American people as the most trusted public institution - 73% of the American public have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the Military according to Gallup’s most recent poll. Exposing the Officer Corps more purposefully to the many perspectives our global community offers can only serve to improve our principled foundations and ability to best serve the Nation’s leadership. It will give us better confidence, better credence, more trustworthiness as a “potent political force.” It will ensure we continue to lead the world to a better future.
Those valuable perspectives must be sought beyond our own wardrooms. We must look beyond the active duty Profession and culture. Only then may we see ourselves clearest. In June, 2016, I had the opportunity to attend the second annual Service Academies Global Summit in Singapore. Most people in our Profession have no idea that such a Summit even exists, and understandably so. The concept, though impressive and essential, is still in its infancy - only two years old. The mission is to develop one “super-community” of graduates from all five Academies. Let that idea leaven – one international community, collaborating together beyond the years in uniform, of talented and motivated human beings with broad perspectives. Human beings trained from Induction Day at their respective Academies to commit themselves to service, character, and principled leadership regardless of domain. Human beings with skills honed through years of service to ideals greater than themselves.
The Summit’s speakers and attendees are global leaders in government, business, the military, medicine, education, NGOs, and nonprofits. The Summit brings these people together to network and form new relationships, broaden themselves through professional and leadership development, share experiences, and inspire each other to make a positive impact on our world. It’s an opportunity to reaffirm our respective Academies’ commitments to lifelong service. Certainly those goals are accomplished at times, in the words of Navy’s alma mater, “when two or three shall meet and old tales be retold.” SAGS is different. More focused, less random. It provides a dedicated space, a dedicated time, and a dedicated group of participants from all Services and all domains.
It provided something that my career and training has been missing: those broader perspectives that define a Profession. The perspective that a commitment to service, and a positive impact on our world, may be accomplished far beyond the days in uniform. Perspective that the tenets of our experience, “those three hallowed words,” represent a global community of people similarly dedicated to such service. Perspective that it is our solemn duty to coordinate as one global community in mutual support. Our solemn duty as people of character to support each other and strive for a better world. Perspective that optimism is possible, and necessary, and well worth the effort. That “the opposite of a leader is a pessimist.” Finally, perspective that the Service Academies continue to succeed in their mission to train principled leaders of character. Leaders who can positively impact the course of human society. The Service Academies Global Summit, and other such opportunities, will play a significant role in cultivating that impact as we grow into the force of the future.
Consider the genesis of the Summit, the brainchild of Ray Jefferson (USMA ’88), and his enterprising mind. The first time you meet Ray, you’re struck by his charisma and outgoing nature. As he asks you questions, engaging in your life and values, you realize how genuinely this optimistic man embraces the world. With a small team of organizers, Ray created an environment during the two-day summit that involved Academy graduates from 1971 to 2016, all five Academies, every professional domain, and a variety of international communities and cultures. It was a passionate event with profound discussions about the philosophy of our Profession, the importance of values and character, the meaning of service, the facts of geopolitics, the future of business, approaches to innovation, the foundations of entrepreneurship, and the collective nature of resilience. It proved to myself, and all in attendance, one undeniable fact: By embracing our broad perspectives from diverse spheres of influence, by setting aside a dedicated time to deliberately learn from each other, by collaborating as a global community of professionals, and by committing ourselves to the responsibility of service and progress, humankind will have a bright future. It is the obligation of the Professional to seek that future.
Perspective, Development, Collaboration, and Service. These are the lessons gained from a congregation of Academy graduates, an incorporation of perspectives, and a celebration of ideals. That optimism, a foundation of principled leadership, is deeply entwined with the progress of humankind. It engenders in me excitement. A young Naval Officer standing tall and determined. A human being at the thrilling frontier of life and service. A Professional in the most dynamic and complex moment the world has ever known. That determination is credence to the value of experiences like the Summit. Such collectives must continue to grow and thrive.
Through endeavors such as the Service Academies Global Summit, we as Officers can more effectively serve in uniform and beyond. We will have greater success as a community. Let us anticipate the success that such a future brings. Let us embrace our civic nature. The emergent properties of such an organization will provide greater resources, knowledge, and networks to accomplish our lofty goals. I eagerly await the next Summit when we once again remind ourselves of the responsibility to serve the world and its people. When we join once more as a community of friends. When we sit together, young and old, salty and green, to trade stories, advice, and laughter over good food, good drink, and good discussion. The next Summit is to be held in Washington, D.C. in June, 2017, and I hope more graduates may experience and benefit from this gathering firsthand. Beyond such a formal setting, I hope my peers, as Professional Officers, will embrace the charge that this Century brings. We must recognize the opportunity that these challenges afford to prepare ourselves for the responsibilities to come.
Brandon A. Karpf (USNA ’15), USN