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Competence And Character: Schwarzkopf’s Message To The Corps By Lieutenant General Dave R. Palmer "56 (Retired) Assembly Magazine, May 1992 (Note: The author was the Superintendent of the United States Military Academy, more commonly referred to as West Point, when Schwarzkopf delivered his speech.) (Extract from article with parenthetical explanations) General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Class of 1956, returned to his Alma Mater (West Point) on 15 May 1991 to speak to the Corps of Cadets. It was a rare event, for not since Dwight D. Eisenhower returned from Europe in 1945 had America or West Point been able to welcome home a victorious war hero. Excitement and anticipation could hardly have been higher. At that moment, with images of his stunning success in DESERT STORM fresh in everyone’s mind, Schwarzkopf was arguably the most popular person in America. The day was as beautiful as they come in the Hudson Valley. A brilliant umbrella of blue sky enriched the deep green of the Plain, still fringed by splotches of spring color. A large crowd turned out, hoping for a glimpse of the famous visitor. The helicopter was right on time; spectators were not disappointed as Schwarzkopf arrived wearing his trademark desert camouflage uniform. Everything seemed to be on track. Relaxing for a moment before starting a scheduled press conference, sipping a glass of iced tea in the garden behind the Superintendent’s quarters, our guest gave me the first indication that we might have a problem. He had a speech ready, he said, but for some reason he just didn’t feel comfortable with it. "What would you like me to talk about?" he asked. Now it was my turn to be uncomfortable. The address was set to start in just three hours, and in that time we had the press conference, a brigade review (parade of the Corps of Cadets) in his honor and dinner with the Corps in Washington Hall. No time to start over. "Well, any topic would be fine," I responded tentatively. "Stories from DESERT STORM, your summary of the entire deployment and employment, international problems remaining, things like that." I added that many cadets had followed the fighting closely through a situation room the Commandant had set up and that a group of commanders from the desert, from platoon through division level, had recently spent several days in seminars with the cadets. He was not visibly encouraged by my suggestions. Sitting backstage in Eisenhower Hall, due to go on in about ten minutes, he confided that he still was perplexed, that he did not have a good idea for a new approach if he abandoned the prepared remarks. "Really, anything you talk about will be suitable," I ventured. "You are a national hero, and a valuable message is conveyed just by your being here." He looked at me ruefully, the way classmates can. Still unsatisfied.
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"There simply isn’t a more respected leader in the nation right now than you," I tried again. "Remember, the Academy’s very reason for being revolves around leadership. Our purpose is to produce leaders of character. So any topic you are comfortable with will fit the purpose squarely." His face lit up. "That’s it!" Three minutes to go. In that short time, in that small holding room, he put his thoughts together. "Now I know why the original talk wasn’t right," he said. "There is only one topic for me at this time at this place." Following the introduction, he strode out onto the stage, which was vast and empty except for a huge American flag hung as a backdrop, reminiscent of the famous scene form the movie Patton. I took my seat, probably the most curious person in the packed theater. Still in desert camouflage battle dress, he paced the stage, as one reporter said, "like a lion." He had no script, no notes whatsoever. His address that night was totally unrehearsed. He delivered it in a...
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