100 Black Men of Omaha

By Admiral Cecil D. Haney | Omaha, Neb. | June 10, 2014

I would be remiss if I did not say Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers in the audience, so Happy
Mother’s Day. I had a visit to Washington D.C. earlier this week Thursday, and I asked one of my sisters…I said “Can you rendezvous with the plane so that I can quickly get a Mother’s Day hug from Mom…and my thought did go up that of course I owe my sister now in spades.

But I can’t thank this group enough for what you do day in and day out.  It’s an inspiration to me and just to be here.  I want to thank also Mr. James Mason, who is also so active here as the Executive Director, and also Ms. Deborah Woods.  Where are you at?  I have not met you on this journey, but I hear you’re in the audience…oh there you are.  And I know the work the 100 Black Men of Omaha does takes a lot of effort and sometimes just stopping and recognizing the Executive Director and the Secretary here that make it all happen.  But the team at large, thank you for your work.

I want to thank SrA Paula Hunt who was up here singing so beautifully that National Anthem and TSgt Dan Bragdon who’s also part of the Heartland Band of America that perform so often and always just like you’ve witnessed here.  And it’s great that Paula Hunt who’s a graduate from High School here in Bellevue…since they’ve got local talent like that.  It’s remarkable because normally a musician comes in as a college graduate etc. -- they rarely get into the Air Force band straight from High School which is no small change.  I just can’t give her enough her.

I also, though, would be remiss if I didn’t thank all those members in the audience…from our locally elected officials and those who have travelled in remarkable distances who have taken time out of your busy schedules for this important evening

I would like to personally acknowledge all the Men of Honor Awardees recipients, from past years as well as current…just getting to know some of you in all my experiences here.  It’s my second time being stationed here in the Omaha community, and I just can’t say enough “well dones” to you.  Having gotten to spend some time tonight sitting beside Mr. Nate Goldston and all that you represent here, your history, I thank you.  Mr. Gary Gates who I’ve spent time with here as well, part of our Strategic Consultation Committee, of course with my outfit.  Thank you for bringing a big bunch of your team, including…My team here has heard me talk about mentorship, but one of the individuals, Joseph Wiegand, was my executive officer when I was in command of the USS HONOLULU out in the Pacific, and we got deployed together.   So it was great having Joe here who was inspirational, coming in periodically saying…hey but Captain, you might want to think about this. So great to see Joe.

Thomas Warren…President and CEO of Urban League and I know you’re going to be acknowledged here soon but I have to give you a shout out. And also from 2013 Mr. Frank Hayes and also Mr. Mike Yanny, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting throughout a couple tours here.  So any way, how about a round for all them?

I’m a little intimidated today with Joe Wiegand here, but I’ll try to do my best, and I’m sure you’ll critique my performance.

Well, since 1963, the 100 Black Men of America have remained committed to improving conditions in their community by connecting global leaders to our youth – to mentor, to educate, and to empower.
What this local chapter has done since 1995 is both admirable and honorable.  You have inspired and mentored so many perform through programs such as The Saturday’s 100 Black Men Academy; the Young Men’s Mentoring Institute, and I met some of those individuals as I walked in the door today; the African-American History Challenge, and one of my favorites Real Men Read…I really like that one.

Your contribution to the intellectual development of our youth and the pursuit of economic empowerment of the African-American community continues the vision of President Ford, who urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

One such American was Captain Alfonza Davis, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, and the first African American aviator from Omaha to earn his “wings”.  But he didn’t earn his “wings” because he was an African American…he earned his “wings” because he understood the importance of education and hard work.  He won the valedictorian upon graduation from Omaha Technical High School, won a scholarship, attended Omaha University, and joined the Army Air Corps graduating top of his flight class.
His heroic actions during WWII earned him a Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Distinguished Cross.  In 1988, the Alfonza Davis chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen was established to promote achievement and leadership of our youth, particularly minority youth, and last year it was great to hear that the Omaha Public School System dedicated a middle school in his honor.

It is the fundamental contributions of such men, such as Alfonza Davis and yourselves, that make a difference in the lives of our youth.  Just as Alfonza Davis served his country, I know that many in this room who currently serve our nation in uniform, or have served are also present…so please stand and be recognized.  I for one, thank you for your dedication.

And I will say thank you all for allowing me to be a part of this incredibly worthwhile event.  I was elated to receive the invitation, however surprised that you invited me here as Commander of US Strategic Command.  First, because I am not a Nebraska grad; and second, because there are many in our local community who don’t understand why my organization is important to national security.  Perhaps some of the young folks in this audience will join our military or work for US Strategic Command in a civilian capacity, joining the ranks of some that are in this room.

I don’t need to tell you that today’s global security environment is complex and dynamic, but it is important to the United States of America.  You just need to turn on the TV, perhaps to CNN or KETV-7, to realize that almost daily new challenges emerge.  We have multiple adversaries that threaten our homeland, and seek to deny and disrupt our ability to project power and maintain our global awareness, and of course they seek to destroy our democratic way of life.

My top priority is to deter and detect strategic attacks against the United States of America and against its Allies, and provide the President of the United States options to defeat those attacks should deterrence fail.  My operating forces operate from under the sea to geo-synchronous orbit and it affects you more than you might think, particularly in the space and cyberspace areas.

As a nation, we are increasingly dependent on space technology.  Imagine flying an aircraft without GPS or not being able to withdraw cash from an ATM.  For the teens in the audience, imagine not being able to properly access social media sites such as Instagram, Vine, and Snapchat…not being able to upload and share those selfies you just took.  Now as parents, we might not mind our kids not being able to access social media, but as the Commander of US Strategic Command, I want to assure you that access is not impeded by anything other than what your “mother told you to do”

Cyber-attacks are also a huge concern…think back to the Target data breach just a few months ago.  Imagine the crippling effect such an attack could have on the United States of America’s economy and our government, which is why building cyberspace capability and capacity is also a top priority for me.
Now I won’t go through and list my 9 mission areas, but I know we provide a credible deterrent capability that remains effective 24/7.

So how did a guy like me get to be a 4-star Admiral, and in charge of such an incredible organization?
I can tell you I never dreamed that I would one day become an Admiral in the United States Navy, let alone a 4-star, though today I think it is so so important for our youth to dream, and to dream big.  I can tell you I am only here today because of the mentorship and guidance I received from an early age on up, and it continues today.

As a youngster growing up I’m not sure how appreciative I was of the “mentoring and guidance, or shall I say tough love I got at the time, but I can tell it made a difference.  I’ve learned over the years that it doesn’t matter where you come from, or how old you are, or where your path is taking you.  Everyone needs a little “mentoring and guidance” along the way.  It was that mentoring and guidance that helped me, and continues to help, shape both my personal and professional life today.

Today, I still look to my mom and my beautiful bride of almost 36 years for their infinite wisdom and guidance.  I have found the more senior I become, the more filtered the information or the critique becomes, but I know I can rely on both of them to keep me grounded, and I can assure you there is no filter!

It is vitally important, especially as you move up in the ranks, to have candid leaders on your team that are not afraid to tell you like it is, to speak up and to tell you when they think you are wrong.  In fact, I have one of those leaders sitting at my table today.  Command Sergeant Major Pat Alston, would you stand up please?  Now he is my Senior Enlisted Advisor, and provides me awareness of issues involving our force. I rely on his wise counsel, and by that I mean his knack for telling me when I am off track.  I’ve told him he doesn’t have to enjoy it as much as he seems to, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  In fact, he’s been in high demand.  I can’t walk through the Pentagon these days without some of my peers trying to “borrow” him, particularly as they watch him work.  For example, he is currently working a project for the Secretary of Defense’s team.  Everyone needs a Pat Alston on their team!

As I mentioned, I have been extremely blessed with mentors along the way.  Although I could share with you numerous, numerous stories, I will focus on two and give you that picture and it relates to what you do here.

The first goes back to when I, Cecil Haney, had trouble reading as a young kid, and I know how my Dad worked tirelessly on me with this particular deficiency.  His methodology, however, was unique.  I had to stand before him and read aloud almost every day from the Washington Post until I got better.  Now I couldn’t read from just any section.  I had to read from the crime and justice section.  So not only did this work on improving my reading skills, it gave me a great awareness of the real world, and consequences associated with criminal behavior.

While he did this, my Mom taught me the blessings of having “patience”, and she needed quite a bit of it, quite frankly, given Dad’s strong personality.  Both Mom and Dad did not have a college education, but they ensured myself and my siblings understood how valuable education was.  They preached it to us frequently and made us strive for it.  We listened and we were able to have them all attend our various college graduations, and I’m really proud of one of my sisters who achieved her PhD in education.

Story 2.  Now that goes back to just a few years ago when I was in High School…exactly.  I knew nothing of the United States Navy, much less becoming an officer.  In fact I could not swim at the time frame.  But I was fortunate enough to participate in a summer program in the Washington DC area and, believe it or not, I worked for the Department of the Navy.  I had a civilian boss’ and civilians who worked around me during that time frame.  I was a key punch operator for the mainframe that was taking stock of all the ship yard finances and man hours and what have you…a gloried key punch operator.  Something most in the audience, unless you’re my age, you probably can’t relate to it with today’s iPhones and what have you…or iTouches.

My civilian boss, an African American lady, Mrs. Cynthia White, not only motivated me to do a good job, but challenged me day in and day out to learn computer programming. She also exposed me to a Naval Officer who opened my aperture on some of the military education programs, such as the United States Naval Academy, which I was fortunate to attend

So you can see that I am fortunate.   I’ve had people looking out for me from a very early age.  Interestingly, a couple of my most influential mentors couldn’t have been more different.  For example, I had salty old master chief, Master Chief Hubbard take me under his wing as a young junior officer on the first submarine I was assigned to…the USS JOHN C. CALHOUN.  Our skin colors were different; he was older, he was getting ready to retire, and I was just getting started; I was from Washington DC, he was from Alabama.  And he definitely was not a Red Skins fan!  But it’s important to understand that mentors come  in different sizes, shapes, and colors…and you can be mentored by someone who is NOT at all like you, as long as you let them.  The wisdom and experience of those early mentors had a profound effect on the person I am today…influencing decisions that I have made throughout High School, college, and my military career

Even as senior leaders, we are still mentored and should still be mentoring.  That is why it is SO important, as you know, to give back to the community, and why I am so excited about being around you tonight.  It’s critical we mentor our youth; that we join together and fight for positive change, particularly when you look at just so many being incarcerated today; that we must create a foundation of success -- help them to develop character, leadership, and discipline skills; that we embrace the “I can do it too” attitude embodied by this organization.

The more time we spend in these “mentoring” roles, the more we reinforce the positive attributes and characteristics, the more likely we are to see a difference in our community, and in fact the United States of America.  You can never know ahead of time the power of mentoring…the affect you will have when you reach out and touch the lives of someone in your community.

Today, as you take a look around at the young folks that are here tonight, you cannot tell exactly how your actions will accelerate their future.  I encourage you to continue to reach out and talk to these young people, and I ask the young people here to make sure you listen.  There is no telling how many future 4-stars, Senators, Doctors, teachers, CEOs, or perhaps even Presidents that are in the room this evening, for who we can have the opportunity to touch.  I hope they ALL achieve success…no matter how they define that.

Now I cannot waste an opportunity to speak directly to the youth in audience…so to you a couple of my personal tidbits. First, value your education. Read, read, read, read some more and master the art of oral and written communications.  Know and learn your strengths and your weaknesses, and don’t ignore those weaknesses, but address them.  Be careful with your behavior–as certain behaviors can’t be erased.  And be good mentees! Don’t forget to give back! You are the leaders of tomorrow and I wish you the best of luck in all your future endeavors, wherever that may lead to.  And finally, never, never, never give up!

I am proud to be part of evening, supporting the next generation of leaders and I thank the members and supporters of the 100 Black Men of America for your efforts and making real your goal of what our young youth see is what they’ll be!

And by the way I hope to see many of you, and please bring the young folks, to our Offutt Air Show that will be in July, the 19th and 20th.  I think that’s another great opportunity and I’ll sure be sharing that more with the team here!

So all I can say as I end this speech is thank you, thank you, thank you for your dedication and for your service to our country. May God continue to bless you for your efforts and may God continue to bless the United States of America.  Thank you!