Saturday, December 14, 2019

Officer Commissioning Speech - University of Missouri

In September 2019, my wife and I visited the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri where I received my undergraduate degree in 1983. While there, I stopped by Crowder Hall where the Navy ROTC program is administered. During the visit, I met the Marine Officer Instructor and his assistant and after a while, he asked if I would be willing to return to the University in December as the guest speaker for the December Navy and Marine Corps officer commissioning ceremony. I told him that I'd be honored to. This is the speech I delivered during the commissioning ceremony at the Memorial Union.


*****

by Major Robert Doss, USMC (Retired)
Saturday, December 14, 2019

[TRANSITION FROM INTRODUCTION]

Again, I want to thank Captain Dry for the introduction, and I want to thank Captain LaLonde for inviting me to be here today. I also want to thank all of the family members and friends of our new officers here today for being here and sharing this important day.

I also want to recognize the staff members of the Mizzou NROTC unit – military and civilian – whove poured their knowledge and energy into ensuring our new officers are ready for this day and the days that lay ahead. You will soon see that their labor has put you in a great position to meet the rigors of service to your country.

Let me also thank the remarkable men and women who we’re here to honor today for joining a long line of citizens who’ve raised their right hand and have sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Ladies and gentlemen, these men and women are here today, young and full of life, vigor, and opportunity ahead of them, and today they’ll take an oath to defend this nation against all enemies while not knowing exactly what their country will ask of them. They’ve decided to serve in a very complex and dynamic world as part of the most powerful military force the world has ever known. Theyll soon be part of the reason it’s that way.  

Let that sink in for a moment. These young officers aren’t merely serving in the military, they haven’t merely joined the military; they will each soon be part of the reason the United States military is the most potent military force on earth, a force that keeps our Nation – and many other nations around the world – safe and free of tyranny.

Now let me address our new officers. When you report for your next assignment, you’ll be thrust into an environment where sailors and Marines who are younger and less experienced than you and sailors and Marines who are much older and more experienced than you need your leadership.

With that in mind, let me leave you with three points – certainly not the only important points on the subject – about what will be your most important responsibility as a commissioned officer, whether in war or at peace: leading our sailors and Marines.

FIRST, recognize that the entirety of your work as a commissioned officer exists for one purposepreparing yourself and those whom you lead for war.

As you consider that preparation, also recognize that war is inherently fluid and uncertain and that because of that, the Naval service requires competent leaders at all levels who will exercise the boldness and initiative necessary to accomplish the mission under those rapidly changing conditions.

At any moment, a 19-year old seaman might need to rise to the occasion with little or no guidance during a shipboard catastrophe as we saw a few years ago aboard the USS Cole where many senior enlisted leaders were incapacitated in a terrorist attack, or a young lance corporal might need to act decisively during an ambush in the streets of some village far from here as we’ve seen many times in recent years.

It’s vital, then, that you ensure that as you supervise your sailors and Marines, you don’t let them become accustomed to being over-supervised because micromanagement absolutely destroys the boldness, initiative, and creativity that are essential to battlefield decision-making.

Also, it’s important that you develop the confidence to force decision-making and idea formulation down to the lowest practical level, and not reserve it all at the top. Your goal should be to condition your subordinate leaders to thrive on acting and leading spontaneously.

SECOND, and in conjunction with the point we just discussed, remember that your credibility and success as a leader will lean heavily on your professional competence and the competence and skill of those whom you lead. You have to know what you’re doing – and know what you’re doing at an extraordinarily high level – and the people you lead have to as well.

As part of that, it’s important to set an example of teachability by being willing to listen and learn yourself, especially when it comes to your petty officers, NCOs, chief petty officers, and staff NCOs.  Remember, however, that as you’re being teachable, when it’s time to make a decision, make it confidently and decisively.

AND FINALLY, as you know, every great organization relies on guiding principles, vision, and values for their success. The underlying principles that shape our ethos – qualities like courage, integrity, selflessness, reliability, endurance, fairness and equity, faithfulness, and again, boldness and initiative – are indispensable when great challenges rise up to test us. Those principles and that ethos must abide in every person in the unit from the most senior officer to the most junior enlisted man or woman.

You might remember that on October 23, 1983, a terrorist in a bomb-laden truck destroyed the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 Marines. It was the worst one-day loss of Marines since World War II.

Some weeks later, the Marine Corps Commandant at the time, General P. X. Kelley, told of visiting a severely wounded young Marine in a military hospital who he described as having “more tubes going in and out of his body” than hed ever seen in a human being. The young man was in bad condition, probably fighting for his life.

General Kelley described the visit this way. He said, “He couldn’t see very well. He reached up and grabbed my four stars, just to make sure I was who I said I was. He held my hand with a firm grip. He was making signals, and we realized that he wanted to tell me something. We put a pad of paper in his hand – and he wrote two words, Semper Fi, short for Semper Fidelis, the Marine Corps motto, and it means “always faithful.”

So, in that moment, as that young Marine fought for his life, he embraced what his service and sacrifice were all about: being unswervingly faithful to his country and his commitment, even when things were at their worst. With the odds so heavily stacked against him, he returned to his foundation, his principles, his ethos.

Recognize that we can’t turn that ethos on and off. It’s not a thing we have only on duty. It’s a part of who we are and it shapes our professional and cultural core. Our principles and ethos can’t be merely event-driven; they have to be systemic – they have to be with us all the time.

We wake up with them in the morning and we go to bed with them at night. Something suddenly happens in the middle of the night that draws us into action, there they are. Something happens in the middle of the night and the next thing you know you’re in the hospital holding the hand of someone who claims to be the Commandant of the Marine Corps, there they are.

Why? Because we don’t succeed as leaders in combat without those principles and that ethos, and neither do our sailors and Marines.

Our ethos is what inspires and enables us to do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons, all the time. It’s what triggers two things that leaders MUST have in order to earn their rank and be worthy of respect: trust and confidence.

General George Washington used the words, “Reposing special Trust and Confidence in the Integrity, Diligence, and Good Conduct” in the first military officer commissions during the Revolutionary War. Your commission contains nearly identical wording: “Reposing special Trust and Confidence in the Patriotism, Valor, Fidelity and Abilities…”

I want to ask you new officers to take the time in the next day or two to study and take to heart the words thatre written on your commission: “Reposing special trust and confidence…” As you celebrate and enjoy this day, reflect on the fact that the words “trust” and “confidence” in your commission don’t refer to the past, they’re words that refer to the future.

As we all acknowledge the accomplishments that place you here at this ceremony, we also realize that this moment arrives with a tremendous and important expectation that marks the beginning of your living up to the special trust and confidence that the President and the Congress – and your sailors and Marines – have in you.

Your challenge is to become the leader that our sailors and Marines need and deserve. If you do that, you’ll realize that although your experiences as a Naval officer won’t always be perfect and pleasant, you’ll forever cherish the memories of your service, the kinship that you develop, and the difference that you’ve made in the world and in the lives of others. More than the medals and promotions that you’ll earn along the way, the memories, the kinship, and the difference that youll make as a leader will be your most enduring and important reward.

So as you go about earning the special trust and confidence that will yield that reward, remember: Train and empower your subordinate leaders at all levels. Make yourself and your unit professionally competent and knowledgeable. Set an example of “teachability and decisiveness.  Be principled and reinforce our underlying ethos in everything that you do. And do the right thing at the right time for the right reasons, all the time, especially when it’s difficult or inconvenient to do that.

Congratulations and best wishes to you, and thank you again for serving our great country. And thank you all very much for having me here today.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Intersections


I attended a ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park in Pensacola yesterday where the Pensacola Chapter of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association laid an engraved walkway brick paver in memory of my father-in-law, Si Kittler, and several other deceased alumni. Before the event, one of Si's friends told my wife - Si's daughter - and me a story about him. Although I already knew some of the story from the medal citations of those who were involved, I didn't know some of the back stories and just how the individual stories intersected.

Si's friend began by telling us the story of Marine infantry Sergeant Frank Reasoner. Sergeant Reasoner attended the Naval Academy Preparatory School with Si's friend in 1957, but he couldn't get into the Naval Academy as a midshipman so he walked up to Capitol Hill to the office of Senator Henry Dvorshak of Idaho and told him that he needed an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy. The Senator must have been impressed with Sergeant Reasoner because he awarded him the appointment he wanted.

After Reasoner graduated and was commissioned as a Marine Second Lieutenant in 1962, he returned to the infantry for service as a reconnaissance officer. By July 1965, Reasoner was a First Lieutenant in command of A Company, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, Major Si Kittler, a 1953 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, was flying UH-34D helicopters out of Danang, South Vietnam as a member of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (HMM-365). His squadron had been in Vietnam since October 1964, not long after the squadron was formed.

Then on July 12, 1965, First Lieutenant Reasoner led a recon patrol deep in Viet Cong territory when the patrol was suddenly engaged by machineguns and other automatic weapons from an estimated 50 to 100 enemy soldiers. The patrol's point man, Corporal B. C. Collins immediately returned fire, killing three enemy soldiers before withdrawing to the advance party where Lieutenant Reasoner and three other Marines were.

Lieutenant Reasoner, Corporal Collins, and the other three Marines were practically isolated from the main body of the patrol due to the intensity of automatic weapons fire which prevented the main body from moving forward.  Lieutenant Reasoner repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire and provided covering fire for his team while he attempted to rescue a wounded Marine. As casualties mounted, Lieutenant Reasoner attended to his radio operator who was among the wounded. Then, when the radio operator attempted to move to a covered position, he was hit a second time so Lieutenant Reasoner ran to his aid. However, as Lieutenant Reasoner maneuvered toward him, Reasoner was struck and killed by machinegun fire.

With his commander dead, Corporal Collins took charge of the situation and silenced the enemy machinegun with an M79 grenade launcher while exposing himself to heavy fire. He bandaged one wounded Marine then laid down covering fire so the wounded Marine could crawl out of the range of enemy fire. Then, Collins carried the remaining wounded Marine to cover before personally carrying Lieutenant Reasoner's body 100 yards back to the main body, again exposing himself to enemy fire from the flanks.

When the call came in to HMM-365 that night that Lieutenant Reasoner's patrol had been ambushed, was surrounded, and needed an emergency medical evacuation and extraction, Major Kittler flew his helicopter out to get them. "The landing zone, surrounded by Viet Cong, was under a crossfire from three automatic weapons, which made it virtually untenable. In spite of heavy enemy ground fire, unknown landing zone conditions and a lack of visibility due to darkness, (he) ... landed and assisted in the evacuation of the patrol," saving eighteen lives in the process. In addition to the eighteen members of the patrol, he successfully evacuated Lieutenant Reasoner's body as well.

For their actions that day, First Lieutenant Reasoner was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, Corporal Collins was awarded the Navy Cross Medal, our nation's second highest award for valor, and my father-in-law was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross Medal for valor.

Thirteen years after his patrol was ambushed in Vietnam, Staff Sergeant B. C. Collins reported to G Company, 8th Marine Regiment (2/8) at Camp Geiger, North Carolina to be my platoon sergeant (which is a series of stories in itself). Then, five years after I served with Staff Sergeant Collins, I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant at the University of Missouri where Colonel Si Kittler was the Professor of Naval Science. After I was commissioned, I was transferred to The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia where I attended classes in Reasoner Hall named in Lieutenant Reasoner's honor, and two years later - almost exactly 20 years after the ambush of Reasoner's patrol - I was a helicopter pilot in HMM-365, the same squadron that Si Kittler served with in Vietnam.

Each man's story is extraordinary, made even more so by the fact that they are woven together forever in history. It's an honor to have served with and known two of these three great Marines.

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