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CIA Director's Remarks at the 167th Sovereign's Parade

Remarks of Director of the Central Intelligence Agency,
David H. Petraeus
at the 167th Sovereign's Parade, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst
(as delivered on December 16, 2011)

December 19, 2011

Commandant, Officer Cadets, Royalty and Ambassadors from partner nations, distinguished guests, parents, and friends: it is a great privilege and honor to represent Her Majesty the Queen at this, the 167th Sovereign’s Parade. To see nearly 800 cadets conducting drill on this impressive Parade Square in front of Old College is an extraordinary experience. Indeed, the sense of history is overwhelming, especially given our recollection that many of the world’s greatest military leaders started their careers right here, in a ceremony such as this.

As a graduate of the US Military Academy, I feel particularly privileged to share this day with you and to feel some of the excitement and anticipation I felt 37 and a half years ago during my class’s graduation review on the parade ground at West Point. Sandhurst and West Point were founded in the same year, in fact, and I have a strong sense here of the longstanding traditions common to both our countries’ armed forces and preserved at our respective military academies. In view of that, I am truly grateful for the opportunity to participate in this magnificent ceremony.

I am also, however, conscious that although I was asked to speak for 15 minutes, those on the field would like me to remember the message of the young school boy who had to give a report on Julius Caesar. “Julius Caesar was born a long time ago,” the boy explained. “He was a great general. He won some important battles. He made a long speech. They killed him.” I’ll try not to earn Caesar’s fate today.

Well, in a moment I will have some words for the cadets, but first I would like to recognize the instructors and staff. For the past 44 weeks they have worked hard alongside the cadets, imparting wisdom they’ve gained through many years of service. Their personal examples will stay with the cadets throughout their careers. And I’m confident that the cadets will continue to draw strength from their instructors as newly commissioned officers facing difficult choices in tough situations. Tonight at the Commissioning Ball, I’m sure the cadets will thank the instructors and staff in person, but I’d like to ask all of our guests to join me in applauding them now.

I would also like to say a few words to the proud parents, family members, and friends of the cadets who are here this morning. Although the focus today is on those who are about to become commissioned officers, congratulations are also in order to those who helped the cadets reach this day. As a proud father of a young lieutenant myself, I know well that this day is the culmination of much encouragement, sacrifice, and love. In view of that, I am pleased that so many family members and friends could be here today for this wonderful celebration. Congratulations to each of you!

Now, we have before us a most impressive, multinational group of Cadets and 248 Officer Cadets will receive commissions today, of which 22 are from overseas. For all of you, I want to emphasize that joint training with colleagues from other countries is essential in these times, as we face adversaries who recognize neither borders nor the values that our nations share—and it is through actions by coalitions that our nations can most effectively pursue our national interests.

I speak from having had the privilege of six general officer commands in a row—five of which were in combat—including leading coalition forces in two separate theaters, first in Iraq and then in Afghanistan. In those commands, I had the privilege of soldiering alongside some of the United Kingdom’s most accomplished military and civilian leaders and troops. Indeed, I would like to note the honor it is to be in the presence of General Sir Peter Wall again, a truly great comrade with whom I served in Iraq. Similarly, it is a pleasure to be in the company again of General Sir Nick Parker, a former deputy of mine in Afghanistan—and a truly magnificent leader who is now your Commander-in-Chief, Land Forces. It is great to see so many other battlefield comrades as well.

I would further like to emphasize that the performance of the British troops in each of my commands should be a source of great pride to the citizens of the United Kingdom. No matter the difficulty of the area or the complexity of the task, the British soldiers and civilians with whom I was privileged to serve repeatedly demonstrated the extraordinary initiative, creativity, determination, and courage for which your country has always been renowned. It was, in short, a special privilege to soldier with those who do the most to ensure that the special relationship is still just that!

Well, as those of you on the field before us are about to take the first steps towards active military service when you march up the grand stairs behind you, I am, of course, obliged to offer a few final words of advice to help guide you during your initial steps on the great adventure on which you are about to embark. I’ll offer this in the form of six admonitions.

First, lead by example. Your soldiers will look to you for information and will follow your lead. Think carefully about that. Everything you do will be scrutinized, emulated, and commented on by those you’re privileged to lead. If you lean forward and drive on with your mission, those in your charge will too. If you make light of adversity, your soldiers will follow suit. But if you ease off, if you let down, they will do the same.

Second, listen and learn. Recognize that those you will lead—and, in particular, your noncommissioned officers—will have a lot to teach you. Indeed, many of your soldiers will have already experienced near-continuous combat going back several years. Listening to them—and heeding their advice—will pay dividends.

Third, make decisions. When the listening is done and the time for decision is at hand, you must make the call. There will be many of those moments when all eyes turn to you for a decision. Be ready for them. They will matter.

Fourth, lead from the front. In virtually every activity—with the possible exception of going through the mess hall—you need to be visible and lead the way. That means you must have the physical ability, the technical competence, and the personal attributes needed to inspire those who will follow. Never forget that it’s hard to lead from the rear of the formation.

Fifth, keep your soldiers informed. Each of your troops can be the most important soldier at a given point on a given battlefield on a given day. Each must thus know not only how, but why. If you take care of your soldiers and explain the importance of what they’re doing, they’ll follow your lead and embrace the mission.

Sixth, lead and build your TEAM. Keep in mind that, as a leader, it’s all about the team. Before you came to Sandhurst, you were probably graded on your personal performance. As a military leader, however, you’ll be graded on how your unit does. Remember that there is no such thing as a squared-away platoon leader with a screwed-up platoon.

Well there they are, six bits of final advice to which you might return from time to time. As I close, I urge you to remember that you have chosen a unique and wonderful profession—but one in which few tasks are easy. You will, in the course of your time in uniform, experience hardship, challenge, sacrifice, and even sorrow. There will, to be sure, also be moments of triumph, relief, and even celebration, but they likely will be fleeting.

Nonetheless, the sense of achievement, the pride in mission accomplishment, and the trust placed in you by those you lead—these will more than compensate for the hardships you’ll endure and the sacrifices you’ll make. In fact, you will come to know—far better than most—the wisdom in the words of Winston Churchill—who said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

You are about to give of yourself in the most noble of pursuits. You will do so as leaders of your countries’ most precious resource—their sons and daughters. The example you set, the tone you strike, the decisions you make—these will matter greatly. Your force of will and personal determination will be called on at critical points. And for those who lead forces in combat, remember that you can never let down; as you know, combat is not just an athletic endeavor; in it, the other competitors are trying to do far more than just pass you on the final lap.

But I know that you will run the race exceedingly well and that you will live up to the high expectations of those you will lead in the years ahead. They deserve your very best, and with your Sandhurst experience guiding you, I know that that is what you will give them.

Again, I offer you, your families, and the cadre my heartiest congratulations, most sincere compliments, and very best wishes. Thank you very much.

Posted: Dec 19, 2011 02:20 PM
Last Updated: Dec 19, 2011 02:46 PM