Academy Spirit staff
“Answering the National’s Call …Our Legacy in the Making” connected speakers, cadets from service academies, civilian colleges and Civil Air Patrol, faculty, visitors and other Academy staff to ponder the makings of a life of service during the Academy’s 16th Annual National Character and Leadership Symposium Feb. 18-21.
At various locations on the Hill, speakers and panelists from all walks of life, and all with personal views on the world, shared their perspectives, ranging from the military, academia, government, charities, business, sports, media, law enforcement and community service.
For Cadet 4th Class Julian Gluck, Cadet Squadron 31, the symposium was the highlight of his life so far on the Hill.
“I had an outstanding time,” he said. “It’s just an incredible group of people I’d never have met otherwise.”
Cadet 4th Class Daniel Henning, CS-33, was most impressed with stories and struggles of military experience and the flexibility the symposium offered.
“I like that we got to choose what to attend.”
Cadet 3rd Class Alex Anderson was especially impressed with the presentation by retired Army Lt. Col. Consuelo Kickbush, who after two decades of Army service, returned to her roots to empower Hispanic children, parents and leaders.
“She has done so much selfless service,” he said.
Speakers included an astronaut, fighter pilot, in-line skate Olympian, sports coaches, a journalist, a foreign service officer, a retired Central Intelligence Agency agent, military leaders, the father of a victim of the Columbine High School tragedy, an Academy grad now an infantry soldier, foundation leaders, the first African-American solo member of the Thunderbirds and a submarine captain.
Panelists also included educators, business professionals, a New York first responder to 9/11 and a brother/sister team of youngsters who emptied their piggy banks to send cell phones to soldiers.
Hall of Fame football coach Dr. Tom Osborne led the Nebraska Cornhuskers for 25 years and for three national titles. A veteran of three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, he returned to the University of Nebraska where he serves as athletic director.
“You need a vision of where you are and where you need to go,” he told his audience in the Arnold Hall Theater.
Dr. Osborne stressed not everyone sees things the same way.
“All of us see the world through a different lens, and we see the world through our own filter,” he said.
Of the three forms of leadership, the laissez-faire form represents the absence of leadership, the transactional with rewards for good performance and the transformational, or servant leadership, which he considers the most difficult.
Transformational leadership requires inspiration, listening skills, values, and the sacrifice of self-interest.
In his days with the Cornhuskers, he strived to employ that style, with strong emphasis on honesty, consistency and the team playing its best.
“Winning is not everything,” he said. “We hung our hat on the process [of playing], and the bottom line it will take care of itself.”
He talked of some tough Nebraska pigskin losses and how the coaches and team responded.
“Adversity is your friend,” he said.
After a major loss, players and coaches combed through tapes in attempt to discover where the weaknesses lay and what could be done to improve them.
Retired Navy Lieutenant Commander James Olson gave his audiences an inside look at his journey as a CIA spy, a life he and his wife both kept while also raising a family.
“It’s a world most Americans know little about,” he said. “It’s a dangerous profession.”
After law school at the University of Iowa, he had his heart set on practicing law in a small Iowa town but was approached, in the clandestine manner inherent in the agency, for training with the CIA.
“Service to my country and espionage got into my blood,” he explained.
He spent his entire career in clandestine operations spying in the former Soviet Union, Austria and Mexico. He has served as chief of counterintelligence at CIA headquarters and has expertise in multiple phases of intelligence. Mr. Olson is a permanent faculty member of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service in College Station, Texas.
He entertained the Arnold Hall audience with references to gadgets, techniques and the intuitiveness and training needed to be a full-fledged spy for the U.S.
Mr. Olson related one potentially very dangerous operation, now de-classified, in which he was to contact a Soviet agent wishing to defect and hand over information potentially very damaging to the Soviets.
Other such meetings with supposed Soviet agents had led to massacres of other U.S. agents.
It was, for him, a huge risk. He could lose his life but the information, if it existed and was accurate, could be a gold mine for the U.S. in terms of intelligence.
“How many of you could see yourself doing that?” he asked cadets who some day may be asked to make their own hard decisions.
Mr. Olson told cadets, “With dedication and commitment, everything is possible. All of your dreams are attainable.”
At age 38, retired Navy Commander Scott Waddle, a Naval Academy grad, was selected as Commander of the USS Greenville based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and faced low morale, unacceptable high turnover and low expectations. With his unique leadership style and value system, the submarine became regarded as the finest boat in the Pacific Fleet.
Then tragedy struck.
In 2001, the sub performed an emergency surface maneuver and collided with the fisheries training vessel Ehime Maru. The vessel sank, killing nine aboard, including teenagers.
Mr. Waddle, author of the book The Right Thing, described in great detail to symposium participants his agonizing emotional aftermath following the accident, for which he took full responsibility for his and his crew’s actions, and his need to meet with the families.
“When you wrong someone deeply, you need to atone for your actions,” he said. “It’s tough to be accountable when things are bad.”
Following legal proceedings, he and his crew were heralded for their honesty and candor.
Mr. Waddle laid out his leadership mantra in simple terms to participants: Get up, get back, get down and get dirty.
He also stressed tough times are not ends unto themselves.
“Failure is not final,” he said.