SPEECH | May 15, 2015

Missouri State University Commencement Address

Adm. Cecil Haney: Well good morning, and how about another round of applause for those graduates.  I will not tell you what my grade point average was at any of the institutions I’ve been to.  Well good morning and Ambassador Joseph thank you for that kind introduction. Dr. Payne, thank you for inviting me to speak here. Thank you both for what you do for me in other capacities. 

Well obviously I’m here to honor the celebration here of the nine students before us, as they graduate from this prestigious program that has many esteemed alumni, and as was mentioned this tenth anniversary of this department’s relocation to the historic Washington DC area, from Springfield, Missouri.  Hopefully, you will at least remember our setting here, because the survey says not many remember who spoke at their graduation, or what they said; so at least remember the setting.

To the faculty, thank you for all you do.  We couldn’t grow our next generation of agile and adaptive thinkers, if it wasn’t for your dedication, not only to your students, but to this Defense and Strategic Studies program.  I know you have armed this group of talented young men and women with the requisite knowledge needed to be successful in public service, and I salute you for your efforts.

And to the families of the graduates here, thank you for all you’ve done to support and get them here.  Well done! I know your professors have stretched your minds, professionally, personally, intellectually, and that’s a good thing because you are our future leaders.  Our country needs your critical thinking, your open mind and your ability to voice your educated opinions. The world you are in and entering can be categorized by two Fs: both frightening and fascinating.  Frightening because the challenges you will face may seem daunting; fascinating because challenges are, of course, opportunities for you to make a difference.

The world you are entering is much different than it was when I was your age.  When I graduated with a Master’s Degree from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, California, gas was $0.89 a gallon; the average monthly rent was under $400; Michael Jackson was rocking the charts; acid washed jeans were highly fashionable (and I’ll tell you I did not own any); and the Cold War was still on-going, with two sworn enemies, and one strategic threat.   This was also the year that President Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces INF treaty.

While the past three decades have certainly been troubling with United States operations in numerous regions around the globe, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Libya, and Yemen, just to name a few,  today the world is more diverse, complex, and uncertain than it’s ever been.  Looking through the rearview mirror over the last year and extrapolating into the future, clearly our nation is dealing with a global security environment where other states are investing in their strategic arsenals, and developing or modernizing their nuclear forces and cyber and counter-space capabilities, and presenting challenges to strategic stability. 

Non-state actors and nation states are seeking advanced long-range conventional and asymmetric weapons, and are prepared to employ them as options to achieve their objectives during crisis and conflict.  Perhaps most troubling are trends associated with the proliferation of these advanced capabilities, and how mobile, hardened, and underground they have become. Today our operating environment is also flanked with violent non-state actors, many of which have aspirations to not only do us harm, but to acquire weapons of mass destruction.  These terrorist groups have demonstrated their barbaric behaviors that they understand no boundaries, and they lack respect for international norms.

You can see our nation is faced with many difficult and perplexing problems, and I looked thru your thesis topics ranging from Iran; Russia; violent extremism; to non-proliferation; cyber-security; diplomacy and moral power; and the impact of strategic and organizational cultures on the intelligence community; and these are clearly areas that concern me and obviously concern you too.

As the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, my primary mission is to detect and deter strategic attack against the United States of America and our Allies, and to provide tailored military options to the Secretary of Defense and President should deterrence fail.  Although some literature would lead you to believe that our foundational deterrence applies only to a bi-polar world, I believe your education here, at Missouri State, helps you understand the groundwork done by many of our revered strategic thinkers, such as Wohlstetter, Brodie, Schelling, Kahn and Henry Kissinger, for whom the threat of nuclear conflict was real.  Their foundation for deterrence is based on the premise of deliberate actors who consider the costs and the benefits of decisions they are contemplating.  Their assumptions remain valid, even though today we must deter multiple countries simultaneously across multiple domains. 

Therefore, for deterrence to be effective in the 21st century, we must address it across the spectrum of adversarial challenges and across the spectrum of conflict.  At all phases, our planning and operations are designed to deter and develop “off-ramps” and to de-escalate conflicts at the lowest intensity level while dissuading our adversaries from considering the use of nuclear weapons, or strategic cyber-attacks and counter-space activities.  Adversaries -- and potential adversaries alike -- must understand they cannot escalate their way out of a failed conflict; that they will not reap the benefits they seek; that our nation is prepared to manage escalation using a cross-domain, whole of government approach, that may include all the elements of national power; and that restraint is always a better option.

So we must be thoughtful going forward, and as I hope you would expect we have a number of intellectuals around the country – from within the Department of Defense and our government at large, our industry partners, to those working in our national laboratories and in academia – who are putting critical thought to these difficult problems sets.

Your talent and your intellect are especially needed.  I encourage you to broaden your horizons beyond the National Capitol Region; you might be pleasantly surprised at some of the opportunities that are out there.  While I would never shamelessly plug U.S. Strategic Command, we do have at least three of your fellow alumni working at my headquarters, two of whom are in my plans and policy directorate and one that’s in my Mission Assessment and Analysis directorate.  I know all of these will vouch for the Omaha region and the great community we are a part of.

I am also proud to tell you that I have sailors, soldiers, airmen, marines, and civilians stationed around the globe, who are also coming to work each and every day ready to address the challenges of the 21st century.  Some of these individuals are standing watch in underground Launch Control Centers, throughout the Northern Plains.  I also have sailors, that are silently gliding through the depths of the oceans on strategic patrols; bombardiers flying missions around the globe, deterring our adversaries, and assuring our Allies of our strategic commitments to them; 19 and 20 year old defenders guarding our most precious nuclear assets, often in sub-zero temperatures; space operators that tracking some 1000s of objects in space, and controlling satellites that our nation depends on for Precision, Navigation and Timing; Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance; Weather; Communications; and Indications and Warnings; strategists planning and preparing for the unexpected; and cyber experts who are monitoring our networks around the clock.

These strategic warriors and professionals are on watch 24/7 365 day a year proudly serving our nation. Each and every one of them are doing their part to support our country’s strategic deterrence and assurance objectives.  Like you, they are contributing to something bigger.

Well now I know every graduation speaker is supposed to get up here and give you some “pearls of wisdom” on how to be successful, so I will try to give you a little advice that you might remember this graduation day that will perhaps help you on your journey, as you graduate today with a Master’s degree in hand.

So what can a guy like me – who was just an ordinary kid who grew up here in Washington DC – who joined the Navy to be a Sailor, who never dreamed of being an Admiral, let alone a 4-star in charge of such an incredible org, say to this class who have studied subjects such as: nuclear strategy and arms control; international law and global sec; causes of war; strategic culture; international negotiations; emerging strategic challenges; regional security problems; counter proliferation and strategic thought?  Truthfully, I could talk all day about these subject areas, but I thought I would offer you what I would consider more “practical” advice.

Number 1: Be Thirsty.  Your diploma is not your conclusion.  Thirst for Knowledge is so important.  Be curious in things you do not understand or know, and have a questioning attitude, and don’t be embarrassed for asking questions.  Learn by participating.

Continue to read, read, read books and papers for professional development.  Read for knowledge and understanding, because the wealth of information is so at your fingertips today.  Now, it’s easy to read a lot, yet not read anything at all, so be careful.

Number 2: Send does not equal Understood. Work hard to be a powerful communicator! An e-mail sent is not an e-mail received, and in this digital world, an e-mail is not a substitute for personal interaction. Don’t be tied to your desk.  Be careful of texting, and other social media applications that limit your ability to communicate. You can’t solve the complex problems of the world in 140 characters or less.

Number 3:  Don’t Compromise your Integrity or your character. Rather, what you think, say and do become who you are. To paraphrase the wisdom of Margaret Thatcher: you words, excuse me, your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your character; and your character becomes your destiny. Remember, behaviors can’t be erased. Be cautious with your social media habits and what you are posting on the internet for the rest of us to see. Don’t compromise your integrity. Know who you are and know what you believe in.  

Number 4:  my favorite -- Get Mad and Get Over It.  Take a few breaths and walk away for five minutes.  Blowing up in front of your subordinates, your peers, or supervisors will not help your cause.  I fundamentally believe it never helps your cause.

Number 5:  Find your Yoda. Seek out a mentor and know that sometimes the best mentors are the people you least expect.  One of my most influential mentors couldn’t have been more different than me.  He was a salty old Master Chief by the name of Master Chief Hubbard, who took me under his wing as a young naval officer onboard my first sea assignment—a submarine.  Now our skin colors were different; he was older, getting ready to retire, and I was just getting started; I was from Washington DC, he was from AL; and he definitely was not a Red Skins fan!  But he was an effective leader, and Master Chief Hubbard taught me about the value of teamwork and not to ever assume I was in it alone.  Never think you are too old or too wise to learn.  I recently sought out the wisdom of Dr. Henry Kissinger, one of the best strategic minds in the last century, to get his perspective on some of the issues I was wrestling with. 

Believe it or not, for two hours, we had had a chat on some thought-provoking dialogue on the state of world order and I sought his opinion on some concepts I am working on at U.S. Strategic Command.   I can only hope you are as fortunate as I, in some of the mentors I have had.  But as you find your way in this world, pay for it forward.  Pass on what you learn to others.  You will not only experience satisfaction that comes from impacting the lives of many, you will influence perspectives for what is possible in this great world we live in. Let your example and your mentorship be part of your legacy.

Number 6:  Clean your Glasses and your Ears. Know yourself and know your strengths and your weaknesses.  Have a purpose beyond any personal goal of position.  Discover what you are passionate about, and embrace opportunities with energy and enthusiasm. And don’t forget your roots and those who have helped you get where you are today, and will be behind you in the future.

Balance what is on your plate w/the four F’s:  Family, Force, Fitness, and Faith.  All will compete for your time and attention, so ensure you maintain a healthy balance.  As a leader, it is essential to know when the details are important but it’s also critical to have confidants who are not afraid to tell you like it is and to speak up and tell you when they think you are wrong.  Believe it or not, I still look at two people, my mom and my bride for their wisdom and guidance. I have found the more senior in rank I get, the more filtered the information I receive becomes.  In other words, I don’t always receive the candid facts – and the truth is sometimes filtered. Sometimes those confidants happen to be your closest allies, and I am grateful for my family, because I know I can rely on them to keep me grounded, and I can assure you they have no filter!

Number 7:  Never Give Up, just like you heard earlier.  Keep charging forward with your dreams and your ideas.  Occasionally, assess your progress.  Are you heading in the right direction?  Are you working towards your goal, and are you passionate about what you are doing?  If the answer is no, then make timely course corrections.  As the Secretary of Defense, who I just left talking to in the Pentagon, has iterated over the past several months, we need innovative people -- in and out of uniform -- in public service.  Dr. Carter is an “out of the box thinker”, and he is pushing initiatives that 10 years ago were unthinkable.  Only time will tell as to their success, but you can’t have success without trying, and to try you must be courageous and take risk.  You will not always succeed in every endeavor and I will tell you that’s ok.  While you must own your mistakes and learn from your mistakes, you must never let fear of failure preclude you from trying and from recommending new, different and even bold things. 

And then number 8, finally:  Make your occupation fun.  Enough said on that one.

In closing, you know the world is a complex place, but I know you will be part of the solution.  The future is yours, and it will be full of surprise and opportunity.  Unlike when I started out, you have a world of info that’s at your fingertips.  You can’t possibly know it all but I challenge you to use it, and to grow intellectually. So, dig deep, try hard, never shy away from a problem, and let nothing, nothing hold you back.  As said by Gen Colin Powell, remember “… that all you can ever leave behind is your reputation, your good works, and your children for the next generation…and let your dreams be your only limitation.”  Congratulations graduates.  Good luck and may God continue to bless you and the  United States of America! Thank you.