Why Winning Is Critical Today In America
There was an article recently reported in the Washington Post titled "West Point is placing too much emphasis on football" which has many of us "old grads" up in arms about the importance of sports within the framework of the mission of the United States Military Academy.
The article was written by a West Point graduate and current history instructor at the academy. In a nutshell, the headline says it all regarding his position ... sports and winning are not mission critical at West Point.
This article is a bit off-topic for the Tallahassee Real Estate Blog, though in the end you will see that it too relates to a job well done, in any profession.
The Purpose Of This Post
For those readers who have been with us for a while, you know that I rarely stray too far from the Tallahassee real estate market. You also know that I get up at "o-dark" and write my daily posts each morning, often publishing before the sun comes up. At West Point, where my prowess in English classes was not highly regarded, we referred to my writing style as "rough draft = final copy" and that process will be evident today.
For me, this article is a multi-purpose opportunity; it is a confession, an apology, a rant, and a response to an epidemic of sorriness that I fear permeates far beyond the banks of the Hudson in New York.
I am a father of three children, and I have to confess that I truly fear for their future. While I am sure that most parents (forever) have feared for the future of their children, my viewpoint is not purely emotional. I have fought for this Country, and I have seen first hand the importance of strong leadership and an unrelenting focus on winning.
I can promise you this, the parents of the forty men that I took into battle did not want me to try hard. They wanted a win. Period.
I have two boys who will likely explore opportunities to serve in the United States armed forces one day. So what is my biggest fear? I worry they will end up in a combat situation being "lead" by somebody who is politically correct, highly educated, and full of reasons why winning is not the most important thing on the battlefield.
The Washington Post article points out that West Point has a great interest in "producing the best possible officers for long-term service in the Army," but I think as an absolute, this is an error.
While many graduates and classmates of mine still serve and represent everything that the author believes to be the embodiment of the Academy's mission, so too are the others who did not serve a 20 or 30 year career that contributed exceptional service to the Country. A diversity in leadership ensures that group-think and political correctness do not erode the the core of the organization that serves to protect our way of life.
My favorite quote on winning was by the famous football coach Vince Lombardi. This quote was displayed on a sign in the "old gym" at Leon High School, and I read it every day for four years of my life:
Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all time thing. You don't win once in a while, you don't do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.
If I could produce nothing more as my response to the Washington Post article, it would be that quote.
If the leader of the United States Military Academy does not demand winning habits, then he is endorsing losing habits.
General Caslen is the leader of the Academy, I can imagine nothing more important than a singular minded focus on winning. Do we really want him to tolerate failure and loss?
Several years ago, the current Superintedent of West Point was the brand-new Commandant of the Academy. During a conversation with myself and fellow "old Army Football player" Ron Rice, General Caslen invited us to his home. I made a flippant comment to the General that I now regret. Especially now. Especially as I have seen him take a non-politically-correct stand against sorriness at West Point.
I once told General Caslen, half jokingly, that he doesn't stand for what what I do (because he was part of the chain of command that would allow the Army Football team to continue down a losing path). But I was wrong. Way wrong, and for that I apologize to General Caslen.
The article in the Washington Post appears to be about winning at Army, but I think it extends far beyond the Academy.
Our society has enjoyed the benefits won by those who have served, fought, lived and died for our freedoms. Are we now the spoiled, entitled by birth inheritors that will bring ruin and an end to our Country, or are we the descendants of winners who choose to keep winning? Sadly, I suspect the former more so than the latter.
I once wrote a rant of sorts against Little League Baseball Parents ... you know the type. Are you one? The parents that demand everybody on the team gets a trophy, even when the team loses? Let's reward "Billy" for being on the team, it's not his fault the other team is better.
I do not want Billy leading my sons one day, into battle, into business, not even into traffic. Do you?
If my boys have to go off to war, I want them lead by Bob Caslen or a group of winners trained by Bob Caslen.
Winning Is Critical
One of the things I attempt to teach my real estate agents is that if we focus too hard on the people in our industry, we get tainted. We start believing "real estate-isms" instead of truly hearing what our customers have to say. Group-think and political correctness are a way of life in America, and it makes us sorry.
While I do not claim to be excellent in every aspect of the real estate brokerage business, I can assure you that it is my sole focus. I want to deliver a better buyer experience and a better seller experience for those families that hire us to handle their real estate transactions. When you employ us to negotiate the largest transaction of your life, I can assure you winning is critical.
I demand that we win for those who have hired us, because a win in real estate is money. Our mission is not on the same level of importance as that of our military, but I suspect our customers are glad that we work and train to win while managing their affairs.
You are spot on Joe. Nice post. I enjoy your forays into the past. I will never forget Tom Perry's speech at Buckner when he said "It's been too long. Too many losses, not enough wins. Winning is the only thing that will make this pain go away." And this guy was a backup, just like me. Great stuff.
Thanks Roy. They could use a shot of Tom Perry Truth right about now.
Joe, I am not a graduate of a military academy but fully understand and concur with your comments concerning the importance of winning. I retired from the Air Force and have a son who has recently begun his career in the Army and is currently reaching the conclusion of helicopter training. I worry about his leaders as well as the leadership training he will receive in the current PC environment. I hope I'm wrong.
I hope you're worrying for nothing too Ed.
Joe, Great piece. Right in all respects in my opinion. Tragically.
Any time West Point accepts mediocrity in any endeavor we have lost the reason for it's existence.
As we were nearing graduation my supe LTG Knowlton held an optional meeting for firsties. He only wanted to talk to those who wanted to be there to tell them how to succeed as Army officers and men.
Near the end of his talk he asked us all "What value does West Point bring to the nation."
No one could answer the question, so he did.
He noted that WP grads aren't materially better officers than those who come from other commissioning sources.
He noted that there have been great general officers and fine American military commanders that did not attend a service academy, and then dismissed a couple of the other suggestions that are usually offered as the reason West Point exists.
So why then does the nation need West Point?
"Because," he concluded. "No matter how good the officers are from other commissioning sources, the standard by which they will measure themselves will be the performance of the West Point graduates with which they serve. Therefore, West Point does and always will set the standards for leadership quality in the Army."
I don't remember his exact final words but he essentially ended by reminding us that if we didn't establish a standard that ensured leadership excellence and the Army's success (winning) that no one else would or could. Heady stuff - but I think he was and is right.
Thank you and good stuff Bob.
I understand your dedication to Army Football but I think this article misses the mark as a rebuttal to the WP article.
The WP article isn't about winning in general at Army. Its main focus is the emphasis on football at the expense of standards and other sports and challenges at West Point.
I think you're placing too much emphasis on the link between winning on the football field and winning in combat. To use your Real Estate example: let's say you and your team also run an amateur football league on the side. Let's say it picked up steam and you became extremely competitive. Would you decide to fit in additional practice games at the expense of client meetings? Would you consider hiring a less experienced or less qualified employee if he showed exemplary performance on the football field?
The WP article isn't trying to downplay the importance of winning in general; it is trying to question why we place so much stock in this one sport in particular. And it questions why some at the Academy are so willing to further erode standards that will affect the Academy as a whole just to win in one particular aspect of the Academy. He's arguing that West Point is the total package - athleticism can't take priority over academic and military requirements.
What about other sports? If the Rugby team or the cross country team or the tennis team starts to lose consistently should we then reduce the standards when recruiting these athletes? Or what about in the academic field? If the debate team keeps losing should we reduce physical standards to recruit more academically proficient cadets? If afternoon drill and military training weekends are interfering with cadet athletes' ability to compete should we do away with them completely?
Doesn't all this talk of accepting mediocrity round counter to the argument. I can't equate the WP article to this idea that he is advocating accepting mediocrity. I think that the single-minded emphasis on winning may lead to accepting mediocre cadets who aren't as well-rounded as their peers or predecessors.
Lastly, I think much of the debate and controversy over the topic of Army football really only matters to Old Grads and current cadets. I don't know what your experiences were like but, in the short time that I've been an Old Grad, I've noticed that most soldiers and most non-West Point officers don't really care about Army football. Or perhaps they care 1 day out of the year if they're downrange and it's the only thing on AFN at the time. I say that not to diminish Army football but to put it in perspective. For us Old Grads it is an important topic to be sure. But try polling the rest of the Army at large. Ask one of your old platoon sergeants or, even better, ask some of your old Joes. I guarantee you the question will blindside them since they've never really thought about Army football. I can also guarantee you that when today's soldiers evaluate an incoming 2LT they aren't thinking "Yea, he can brief well and read a map but did he contribute to Army football?".
There's been a lot of talk in the comments about whether or not one would want their son or daughter led by a mediocre officer. Well, I for one would not want my sons or daughters led by a junior officer who is potentially functionally illiterate or who can't comprehend the MGRS system even though he was a Heisman winner at Army football.
At the end of the day it's still just football. Again, I don't mean to disparage Army football but I think cadets should be expected to focus on becoming the best damn officers they can be. Winning at football is a great pursuit but is not the SOLE pursuit.
Joe: stick to real estate. You've missed the entire concept of the WP article. The politically incorrect thing to do was write that article against the group think of the AOG, Athletic Dept, and the supt. The politically correct thing to do is write your article which basically says, "c'mon guys, we can take 'em," while you don't offer any actual suggestions.
And neither does Mears
Thanks for sharing your thoughts OldGrad.
Perhaps I “missed the entire concept of the WP article” at you stated.
I believe MAJ Mears attempted to argue that relaxing admission standards for football players at West Point runs counter to the academy’s mission. If I am off base here, you can quit reading, as my reply will be based upon my misinterpretation of his intent.
But if that is also what you thought he was writing about, then I believe the foundation of his position is fraught with broken logic, thus his entire argument is pointless.
He states that
Now, isn’t the past ten years part of the 12 years of sorriness that LTG Caslen wants to correct? Didn’t Mears write:
So why does the rest of the article use a few anecdotal evidences to create an argument against the importance of winning at Army? Why create an entire article geared to stop the Supe from doing something he is not planning on doing? Wouldn't one presume that whatever the Academy did to get the players of the past 12 years was ineffective and needs to be corrected?
You state I don’t offer any actual suggestions. Here's a suggestion … Support LTG Caslen, who is most capable of returning the program to winning ways, without detrimentally changing admissions standards.
On political correctness … I agree what he wrote was brave. I do question the need to take the issue outside of his chain of command and make it public during a time when the Academy is fighting for funding (even perhaps for its very existence).
So OldGrad, if I misread the article, my rebuttal should have been titled “My thoughts on the importance of fighting to win at Army.”
Hey John, thanks for commenting.
And I want to again restate that “rough draft = final copy” because I am not a professional writer and I do not enjoy a schedule that allows me to create an academically acceptable product (consider this my up-front quibble :)). Also, your reply is well thought out but far too long for me to answer each point, so I will address a few…
I believe my lack of thoroughness in the rebuttal post has lead you to a faulty assumption of my intent.
My dedication is not to Army Football. My dedication is to the Corps. To the Academy. To West Point. To the United States of America. And most importantly, to my family. It is “my boys” who might fight one day, and their leaders are being trained right now. I want leaders who understand the importance of winning when they put my boys into harms way.
I believe MAJ Mears' article was well-intentioned, but I think that it too lacked the thoroughness in preparation when considering the global impact of his message. Please see my response to “OldGrad” for the majority of what I mean by “faulty logic.”
On your analogy about real estate, I just don’t think you thought that through (or I’m not smart enough to understand it :))
I would argue that these cannot be analogous, simply due to the mission each organization pursues. The mission of a real estate company is to profit by helping people buy and sell homes. I suspect if we decided to run a “league on the side,” that would be another venture, with its own mission. But you have to be naïve in this day and age to believe that football runs “on the side.”
Football is the gateway to West Point for the majority of Americans who even know about the Academy. Sports are mission critical at the Academy (corps squad and club squad alike). And football is the most widely watched and monitored of all sports. When somebody asks if you are going to the Army-Navy game, do you ask them “which one? Team handball? Basketball? Baseball?” or do you automatically assume they mean football?
As far as the reduction in standards, that point is biased and arbitrarily applied. First of all, MAJ Mears stated “The superintendent has said that he does not intend to relax standards.” Maybe he is concerned that the AD will do this behind the Supe’s back?
Admission standards have been changing and adapting since they were first conceptualized. I suspect they will continue to do so, keeping up with societal changes and the evolving mission of the Academy. There are different standards for gender, and I suspect there are many more of which I am not aware. But that is where “Trust” comes into play. And I trust that LTC Caslen understands the big picture.
As far as Army football only mattering to Old Grads and current Cadets, I disagree.
I certainly understand your position, and if football simply operates “on the side” then I would argue that there are plenty of bookies in Las Vegas that care :). But I think a critical component of leadership training occurs “upon the fields of friendly strife.” We take Plebe Boxing to learn the importance of stamina, agility, and the consequences of losing (anybody who has ever taken a perfect jab in the nose understands consequences). We are evaluated on the indoor obstacle course regularly to learn how to "drive on" when fatigued. We participate in countless other physical activities to promote far more values than simple fitness. And Army Football is the face of this physical leadership training.
Thanks for taking the time to respond. I'm in the same boat; I'm writing off the cuff between appointments and errands so forgive the formatting.
Regarding your paragraph stating that one must be naïve to believe that football runs "on the side": I have to disagree with this assertion. What is a cadet's primary goal? I hope we can agree that that goal is becoming a successful commissioned officer (regardless of time-in-service on the back-end). So, by extension, isn't football on the side? Or do you think that football is their primary goal and learning the doctrine, skills, and techniques necessary to be a successful officer is a close second?
Here's something I recommend you try. Please try casually polling some of your peers and former colleagues. Just ask them out of the blue and off the cuff: "what is West Point's primary goal?". Then hit them with the follow up: "what are some of West Point's secondary goals?". If anyone answers with "for Army to beat Navy" to the FIRST question I would be highly surprised.
Regarding the paragraph that claims that football is the "gateway to West Point": Do you have any facts to support that? I agree that, among the aggregate sports offered at West Point, football is the most visible. But I don't think Army football is the "gateway" as you put it. I didn't even know about the emphasis that West Point placed on football until I got there. Most of my peers who did not play the sport directly weren't lured to the academy based on its football program. I think this paragraph lacks a sound grounding it reality and may reflect a biased viewpoint.
Regarding the reduction in standards: Going beyond the article you can find some telling and frank feedback from some Academy faculty in the comments. And I know what you're thinking....the comments aren't a credible source because anyone can spout off and say whatever they wish down there but the comments confirm what a cadet can glean from the faculty while one is still there. So I don't think they are far off the mark. Those comments highlight that there already is a reduction in standards. Maybe not officially and in black ink but there is a statistically-identified pool of "at-risk" students who, in aggregate, come primarily from sports-recruited cadets - football, in particular. I agree with you that LTC Caslen has not yet made a decision on this so there's no cause for undue alarm. But there has been suggestions floating around about further loosening standards for cadet-athletes so one can understand where that is coming from. And as far as admission standards changing and adapting to reflect societal changes is concerned I don't think most people would agree that concessions for cadet-athletes is on par with some of the larger societal shifts our culture is experiencing.
I agree that nothing is set in stone as of yet - there's nothing but broad statements made to the press and rumors. But when the new coach starts talking about looking over the whole process with a fine-tooth comb and possibly drastically altering the summer military training that cadet-athletes undergo then people start to get worried - and rightfully so.
Regarding Army football mattering to Old Grads and current cadets: That's fine if you disagree but I don't think the facts support your stance. In all seriousness, try reaching out to old soldiers and ask them, objectively, do they follow Army football. I was shocked my first year out of the Academy. Around December of that year, my facebook and my phone was abuzz with talk about who would be going to the game and who was planning on hosting at their house so everyone could come watch together. I addressed some of my guys and some of the other LTs (ROTC & OCS) and they had no idea what I was talking about. One of my E6s did but only because he watched a game once because it was the only thing playing where he was stationed at the time. Just look at all the debate and conversation going on right now - it's focused in social circles closely linked to the Academy. ROTC Lieutenants and OCS Lieutenants don't follow it. The soldiers and NCOs who I have spoken with don't follow it - unless they served as a TAC NCO at some point but even then it's hit or miss. Outside of our specific social circles it's just not seen as that big a deal to the Army at large.
Regarding your last paragraph: There is a long grey line of Old Grads that agree with you (including myself) that what happens on the "fields of friendly strife" can be a critical component of leadership training. But that's just it - it is a component. Sports contribute to a cadet's eventual success but only in conjunction with everything else that the Academy has to offer. That is what is so mystifying to people on my side of the argument. Yes, we are losing at football (an admittedly high-vis sport), but we do have winning records in other sports AND in non-sport competitive categories. That is where the controversy lies, I think. Why has there been talk on the other side about reducing standards or adjusting the 4-year Academy process just to fix this one component of the system?
If the Academy can innovate internally to get a win next year without changing the types of cadet-athletes it recruits and without drastically altering their military development cycle then I'm all for it. Football at the Academy is a very politically-charged topic with many vested interests. I doubt that a simple memo would have even made its way to the desks of those who need to see it. I think encouraging a spirited debate can be a useful thing. By throwing his thoughts out there into the digital ether for all to see he has ignited a firestorm of back-and-forth discussion. And I am sure that LTG Caslen and all those involved with policy decisions at USMA will be able to incorporate that feedback into any future decisions.
I think the only reasonable solutions that have come out so far have come from some of the players and ex-players themselves. I saw this in the comments on MAJ Mears' article and I heard these same opinions from football-players (starters) in my old company. Why not drop down to another division? The only thing in our way is pride, it seems. I don't know enough about football to be able to provide worthwhile input but I think the fact that several players have quietly espoused this opinion is telling in itself. I wonder how many else would agree if privately polled on the topic...
Anywho, thanks for commenting and taking the time to read this....I know it's a lot because I'm a fast typer and tend to type stream-of-consciousness so it comes off as verbose. Thank you for creating a good forum for opposing viewpoints.
Great article Joe! I don't think one needs to have been in the military to appreciate your comments and dedication to excellence. I agree with all that you say and thank you for saying it.
Thanks Tom, I just go crazy when I read somebody explaining why winning isn't important ... for our military.
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