The Class of 2015 celebrated a milestone with a banquet inside Washington Hall Jan 18 as the cadets reached the 500th Night until graduation.
It’s a tradition commenced by their 50-year affiliation class—the Class of 1965—to first recognize this particular night in the 47-month West Point experience. Class of 2015 Cadet William Goodwin said when those cadets gathered for the first 500th Night in 1964 the nation was still grieving over the death of President John F. Kennedy, and so too were the Corps of Cadets over its commander in chief.
“…The class decided it was time for a celebration and they petitioned the superintendent for a chance to come together and look ahead to the future. And 500th Night was born,” Goodwin said.
Too easy, Goodwin said, is it for cadets to get caught up in the day-to-day routines at the academy and lose perspective on what’s ahead. It’s even easier to dwell on the past and second guess choices made.
“Tonight we’re here to celebrate looking ahead to our shared future,” Goodwin said. “Both over the next 500 days at West Point and upon graduation when we open a new chapter as second lieutenants in our nation’s Army.”
Admiral William H. McRaven, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, delivered an inspired address to the class about today’s Army and the responsibilities they will assume as the next generation of leaders. McRaven said many of the lessons he’s learned about Army leadership came from observing West Point graduates like David Petraeus, Ray Odierno, Stanley McChrystal and Lloyd Austin.
“I have learned first and foremost that your allegiance as an officer is always, always to the nation and to those civilian leaders who are elected by the people, who represent the people,” McRaven said. “The oath you took is clear: to support and defend the Constitution, not the institution.”
Leadership is difficult even in the best of situations, and McRaven said, as future officers, the Class of 2015 will be challenged to do it well.
“I have learned that taking care of Soldiers is not about coddling them, it’s about challenging them—establishing a standard of excellence and holding them accountable for reaching it,” McRaven said. “I’ve learned that good officers lead from the front. I learned that if you’re in combat, move to where the action is the hottest. Spend time with the Soldiers being miserable, exhausted or scared.”
The great leaders know how to fail and McRaven said it is to be expected and used to steel oneself.
“No great leader I’ve watched got it right every time,” he said. “But the great ones know that when they fail they must pick themselves up, learn from their mistakes and move on.”
In his 37-year military career, McRaven has led Soldiers from the most historic and elite units in the Army to include the 101st Airborne Division, 1st Armored, 1st Cavalry, 10th Mountain, Army Rangers and all the Special Forces divisions.