Norwich Commencement | The Speeches: MG John W. Baker’s ’85 Commissioning Address

Photo of Maj. Gen. John Baker ' 85 speaking to Norwich ROTC commissioning officers on the Norwich campus

On Sunday, May 15, 2016, Norwich alum and U.S. Army Major General John W. Baker ’85 addressed ROTC commissioning officers from the Class of 2016 at the formal Norwich commissioning ceremony. Baker, who serves as Commanding General of the Army’s 7thth Signal Command (Theater), shared the following copy of his prepared remarks.

Alan, Thank you for your kind introduction. General Sullivan, sir, it’s always good to be with you. Thanks for your service. Lieutenant General Valcourt, good to see you sir and all the other general and flag officers, welcome.

So, good morning, Rooks! Just kidding! Thought you might like to hear that word one last time! Although you know that in the military Second Lieutenant and Ensign are just other words for “Rooks!” But seriously, good morning team mates. Let me start by thanking Admiral Schneider for inviting me to speak. It is an honor to be present with the faculty, future officers, and families from Norwich – my alma mater! Thanks also to professors of military science, COL Eric Brigham, COL Andrew Hird, and COL Robert Kuckuk and their spouses Vicki, Alicia, and Jennifer, as well as the other ROTC officers and NCOs for leading our future officers! I would also like to thank everyone that has made this occasion possible today and for the warm reception that my wife, Laurie and I have received upon returning to “The Hill”. And, the Norwich Band, give it up for the toobies! The Honor Guard and Salute Battery!

You know, my dad brought me to Norwich in the fall of 1980 during my senior year of high school. My dad served in the Army for over 31 years; enlisted at 18 and was commissioned at 19 through Officer Candidate School. He was a tough artilleryman. Over the years of his career he met many Norwich graduates in the Army.

When I told him I’d like to go to a school up north where I could ski, play lacrosse, and wanted to participate in ROTC, he immediately said “Norwich!” We came up, toured the school; I stayed the night in Alumni Hall with some lacrosse players and the rest was history! Norwich is the only college I applied to, and maybe the only one I could get into! I knew this was the place for me at first sight.

I’m assuming that many of you, by your presence here today, share that same experience.

I’m not sure what the secret sauce of future success is, but Norwich has it in abundance! In part, it’s the sports and coaches. Back in my day, I played lacrosse at Norwich. Our coach when I was here was a legend. Coach Wallace “MAJ” Baines! MAJ started the lacrosse program here in 1968 and is in the Norwich University hall of fame. He was a “technician” of the sport, knew its complexity and intricacies. But he also knew the human dimension of building a team, of teamwork, of relationships, and bringing out the best in his players.

We all loved the sport, we all loved our team and teammates, and we all loved “MAJ” and HE…WAS…TOUGH! How tough? Chuck Norris tough! He dipped; you know, he chewed tobacco. Always had a chew of tobacco in his mouth. Problem was, we never, ever, saw him spit! Think about that. He would just smirk at the players who chewed and spit! We just figured “MAJ” had a cast iron stomach! I’m sure there’s a “MAJ” in your stay here at Norwich, too! You’ll remember this person fondly.

My own commissioning ceremony at Norwich was 31 years ago this month on 17 May 1985. General John W. Vessey Jr., the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was the commissioning officer. My experiences at Norwich shaped me into a leader as I entered the Army as an Armor Officer. The tough academics, varsity lacrosse team experiences, hundreds of hours on the national ski patrol on Paine Mountain, and four years in the Corps of Cadets all intersected to help prepare me for a lifetime of service. And for the last three decades, the leadership crucible of life at “The Wick” and ROTC training that are the key ingredients of the Norwich experience have been my foundation. You are all many steps ahead of your contemporaries from other colleges and universities as you enter your respective services. And you, too, will find your time at Norwich is the foundation from which you will grow and succeed in our profession of arms. It’s like the face-off in a lacrosse game, because I was a middy and I took all the face-offs. The face-off winner is the quickest and the one with the most agility. And just like in a face-off, you will find during your time at Norwich that the agility of thought and the speed of decision-making you have learned here for four years will give you an early edge as you come into our military. So use it and go!

Allow me to be one of the first to congratulate all 129 of you, whom we are about to commission as Second Lieutenants and Ensigns into this great military of ours! I know that you have worked hard and are prepared to take on leading America’s best young men and women; starting in about ten minutes!

Now my remarks this morning are peppered with anecdotes and insights gleaned from many years of service. Here is the first of them: “You are never too senior to be the junior.”

Let me explain. During a recent training exercise, a newly commissioned Lieutenant was driving down a muddy back road and encountered “me.” I was driving another tactical vehicle. Unfortunately, the vehicle was stuck in the mud and I mean stuck!

This very polite and eager Lieutenant got out of his vehicle and came over to me and said:
“Your vehicle stuck, Sir?”

“Nope,” I replied as I smiled and handed him the keys, “Yours is”!

In addition to my anecdotes, if you don’t take anything else out of what I will talk about this morning, then understand my remarks are about honor, courage, and service. This is what our military and Nation needs of you. This is what your fellow Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen expect of you. Our men and women in uniform ask so little of us as leaders; only to be well led by Officers of the highest character.

And, we are going to give you the opportunity to lead. The enlisted men and women that you lead and the country that you serve deserve nothing less than your best, every minute, every hour, every day that you wear the uniforms of our country. And you will lead, in good times and in the fog, friction, and uncertainty of combat.

For all of you digital natives using your mobile devices to Instagram, Skype, Snapchat, Vine, or Tweet my speech, I’ve placed the full text of my remarks on my command’s Facebook page and you can read it later. But here in this moment, as you are about to be commissioned, hear this: You will be looked at for leadership among the people that you serve — your platoon, your flight, your ship’s division, your team! They don’t want to be your friend, but it’s ok if you were friendly. They expect a human being, not a machine. But they also expect a leader. They want somebody to stand up and show them the way. That’s what we’ve trained you to do here at Norwich; show them the way!

Next, you need to guard your integrity! No one can take your integrity from you. People can take a lot of things from you, but nobody can take away your integrity. This attribute is uniquely yours; to maintain and guard. And, it will be challenged. But, your integrity, the ability to always demand, tell and insist on the truth, to always come forward and deal with the facts, is the foundation of our military profession. We must believe what people tell us as our lives depend on the highest integrity.

Your allegiance, when you take the oath momentarily, your allegiance is to our military – and your respective service! Remember, the absolute allegiance of what you’re about is to the institution of our military. Remember that every day of your service!

Be kind to those our nation asks you to serve! Treat everyone with dignity and respect, because no one in our military is unimportant. We can’t afford to have Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen who are unimportant. Each member of our team has a critical part. We need to treat everybody with dignity and respect and the understanding that your life — your life — depends on them, and their lives depend on you.

And, you have to learn to trust your fellow Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen! You have never had to trust in someone as much as you’re going to have to trust the men and women of our military. You will weave a tapestry of trust – an unseen but very real bond that unites us. This is a very unique part of our profession.

Learn your service history! Everything that you are wearing today, your coats, your pants, the rank insignias, the branch insignias, is all built on a heritage and a legacy and it has a reason for being a certain color, shape, or style. Learn it and you’ll understand its importance. It defines who you are as an officer of our military and who you will be as a representative of our profession.

Always remember to wear hearing protection! Everything in our military is really loud: tank main gun rounds, jets, helicopter rotors, machine guns, bugles at revile, and tough Non-commissioned Officers and Chief Petty Officers. Protect your hearing so you can hear your wife or husband telling you to take the trash out, your children’s laughter, or your daughters telling you NO when you give them a curfew decades from now.

Let me end with something bigger than ourselves – I’m referring to the core values that are common to us all whether you serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines.

Serve with Honor: Conduct yourselves in the highest ethical manner. Be honest and truthful; Be accountable through your honorable professional conduct.

Serve with Courage: Courage is the value that gives us the moral and mental strength to do what is right; and always in the service of our country.

Commit to Service: Have a sense of service before self; realize your needs are secondary to the needs of those you lead.

Ok, we’re almost done, stay with me now. This bit of advice is very, very important. I want you to call, Skype, text, or write your mother once a week. No one has more unconditional love for you than your Mom. Pay it back with frequent contact.

Last thing! We’re doing this by row; like a tactical engagement officers. I want our soon to be officers to stand up and point to the family members that got you here today. That’s an order! Families, you’re the friendlies; help your officers. Make eye contact, identify your location, yell, shout, let them know how much you appreciate them, love them and thank them! Sit back down once you see them!

Family members and friends, STAND UP, yell back. That’s a request! Make eye contact. Shout to your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, grandsons and granddaughters, nieces and nephews, how absolutely proud you are of them. Don’t sit down until you see your officer. And remember this moment!

One last insight; this one is about the importance of timeliness, because in our military it’s all about being on time.

There was a retired Officer who landed a civilian job in a fortune 500 company. During his first week, he came in about five minutes late over a couple of days, which irritated his Boss. During his second week he came in about ten minutes late every other day to the “exasperation” of his boss. During his third week he was a half hour late; every day.

His boss couldn’t take it anymore and called him into his office and berated him for always being late. “What did they tell you when you were late in the military??” the Boss asked. The retired Officer replied, “GOOD MORNING GENERAL…”

Again, thank you very much for inviting me here this morning; it’s a true honor.

To my officers…..
Please look at me…..
You’re in the 1% now! The 1% who have volunteered to serve our nation in the military.

Now, Go out and make a difference! Lead from the front! Be the Officers that our nation needs to shape and mold our military.

And, as we say in the Army’s Signal Regiment, I’ll see you on the high ground.

God bless our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Civilians, and our Families;

And may God bless the United States of America.

Transcript: Brig. Gen. Raymond Descheneaux’s 2015 Norwich Commissioning Address

On Sunday, May 10, 2015, Norwich University alum and United States Marine Corps Reserve Brigadier General Raymond R. Descheneaux ’87, the Corps’ Assistant Deputy Commandant for Aviation (Mobilization), addressed ROTC commissioning officers from the Class of 2015 at the formal Norwich commissioning ceremony. A copy of his prepared remarks follow.

Norwich: A Legacy of Leadership

Thank you, General Sullivan for that kind introduction. And thank you for all you continue to do on behalf of our University. From your earliest days as a cadet through your time as the 32nd Chief of Staff of the Army, through today, you continue to lead from the front. As Norwich’s most distinguished graduate in our school’s history, it is my honor to share this stage!

President Schneider and the Trustees of Norwich University, I want to personally thank you for this incredible opportunity to come home and be with my extended family. I cannot truly express my gratitude. It has been a pleasure getting to know each of you.

Today, Norwich is recognized globally because of your vision and guidance. In uniform our out of uniform, Norwich grads can be found making a positive difference in every corner of our planet and in every walk of life.

To MG Todd and all the distinguished guests I share this stage with; you have lived your life by example and we continue to look to you for guidance, you are a beacon of inspiration to us all.

To the Faculty and Staff, I thank you for your pushing these officers out of their comfort zone and expanding their view of the world. Because of you, their pedigree is unmatched.

To our military team of instructors, you are the ones who introduce reality to theory. You are where the rubber meets the road. You know what these officers will soon be confronting and have shaped their training accordingly. Thank you.

Before I continue, I would like to take a moment to wish all of the mothers in this gathering a Happy Mothers Day!

To the parents, family and friends who helped make this day possible, without your commitment, love, and sacrifice none of this could have ever happened.

Now, to the commissionees. I talk with you today as a brother in arms, a fellow graduate and a friend. From all of us here today, congratulations for making it through the crucible we call Norwich. As we all know, the hard part is not getting into Norwich, it is graduating from it.

The day you have been waiting for is finally here. By now, your car is, or should be, mostly packed with old uniforms, new uniforms and four years of who knows what. Mentally, there is Still a whirlwind-list of things you need to wrap up. Meanwhile, you have company in town! Then, of course, is the much anticipated, final drive down 89 South.

Well, for the next few minutes, I invite all of you to stop, catch your breath, and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and the atmosphere of this special event. This ceremony is an amazing moment-in-time…and it is ours to enjoy.

Today will mark the first day of your life as a commissioned officer. Before you take your Oath of Office, I would like to offer a few thoughts. As you know, what comes with this Oath is a great responsibility and an incredible challenge. As of today’s commissioning, you have one objective in life; to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

For the United States military, this is a very complex and varied order that spans the globe. However, it truly boils down to one fundamental purpose: To fight and win our nation’s battles. Period!

You have made the conscious decision to take a path less traveled; one of military service as an officer in the United States Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps.

Very soon, you can expect a high octane, rocket ship ride into the stratosphere, so tighten your chinstraps and lean forward. There may be no guardrails where you travel.

For our new officers, you have prepared your adult life for this challenge. You intuitively understand that military service is a calling and not just a job. In this world, if you are not thoroughly prepared, others depending on you may pay a painful price for your shortcomings.

I don’t have to tell this crowd, the threats are real. Many of you will be forward deployed faster than you realize. As we enjoy this morning, the reality is, our nation is locked in a clash of human wills, a war of ideas.

Right now, our enemies are actively preparing for or engaged in combat with our fellow countrymen. The enemy plays by their own rules; and for them, there are no rules.

Radical extremists, near-peer competitors, state and non-state actors top the charts of emerging or maturing threats in 2015. Nuclear proliferation, terrorism, cyber-warfare, and piracy remain in the headlines. Then of course there are the natural disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes, and now Ebla outbreaks. Sprinkle in regional instability or contested space and there is your powder keg. This is the world you are inheriting, the domain you must master.

However, threats to our liberties and our Republic are nothing new. There will always be new bad guys, new technologies, and new realms of instability to overcome. After 196 years, Norwich has gotten pretty good at producing warrior-statesmen that can confront and eliminate the next new threat.

Norwich men and women with backs of steel have answered our nation’s call and have moved to the sound of gunfire since our first graduating class. This is who we are, and this class is no different. The commissioning Class of 2015 already knows this.

Based on my calculations, when the Twin Towers fell, you were in grade school. Armed conflict and the defense of all-we-hold-dear is all that you know. It seems your path to this commissioning is only natural.

You also know the price for eternal vigilance. You know the recent names, faces, and personalities of those colleagues who have made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. They and all of our brothers and sisters who have made this sacrifice will always be remembered. Today, we stand united as a testament to their service!

You have entered this calling with eyes wide open. You represent the next “greatest generation” of Americans and I’m proud to stand amongst your ranks.

Remember, coming from Norwich, you are well suited to operate in the modern battle space; a diverse battle space that blends combined and coalition partners, joint forces, inter-agency and non-government entities.

You will soon find yourself operating in a volatile, uncertain, and complex environment. And yes, there will be competing interests. To succeed, you will have to learn to thrive in this chaos; and master this domain!

To assist you I offer a few brief thoughts. Remember who you are and where you come from. Your family and Norwich have prepared you well for this journey.

Trust your instincts.

Reinforce your character and integrity at every turn. Never, ever compromise your standards.

Constantly seek self-improvement and master your profession with a vengeance.

Never underestimate your enemy or overestimate your capabilities.

Starting now, you must develop an intense if not insane work ethic. Sound extreme? Perhaps, but consider this, our enemies do not rest. They are preparing for you at this very moment. They are focused, driven, and unrelenting. They are resourceful. They have already been in the fight.

Some say you should “work smarter, not harder.” I say, in the world you will be operating, if you are not working both smarter and harder, you are already falling behind the power curve. For them to succeed, they must remain one step ahead of us. They trust you will be lazy, pre-occupied, and ineffective. You will prove them wrong.

You must master your profession so that you can get out in front of their thought process. The best hockey players don’t skate to where the puck is but where it is going. Anticipate failure and wrong turns when operating outside of your comfort zone. Correct your shortfalls, and never, ever give up. This is the difference between victory and defeat.

This is the new world you will be operating in! Remember this, as an officer it will never, ever be about you. It will be about the men, women, and the families in your care. Challenge, mentor and guide them to improve their physical, mental, and moral capabilities.

You will soon be handed the keys to America’s most precious natural resource, the American warfighter. Like those of yesteryear, this post 9-11 warfighter is amazing. Like you, they run like stallions, have the tenacity of a pit-bull, the cunning of a fox, and an insatiable hunger for information. They serve by choice and possess an unlimited fountain of ambition.

You will learn from them and they will learn from you. As a commissioned officer you have the additional obligation to develop and care for them. As a parent to a child, you must mentor, inspire, and always lead by example. You must also have compassion and understanding; a firm and guiding hand. They will emulate you. You are grooming our next generation of leaders.

Success is not based on machines or technology, but rather human nature and the will to succeed. This is has always been the intangible yet critical element of warfare; inspiring an individual’s will to overcome adversity. This is why the United States military is so successful in the art of “centralized command and decentralized control.”

We groom and trust our subordinates. Properly led, the American service member will deliver incredible results with their heart and soul. No threat on Earth can stop them!

And now, the torch is being passed and it is up to you. The future is yours; you will seize the moment. Like the Norwich men and women before you, there is no doubt you will blaze your own noteworthy trail in our Nation’s history!

We again want you to know how proud we are of your achievements. We know this world will be a safer place because of you. On behalf of your entire Norwich family, we wish you god-speed, fair winds and following seas as you become an officer in the United States military.

Thank you. Norwich Forever!

Norwich University to Celebrate Commencement and Commissioning This Weekend 

Norwich University Office of Communications

May 7, 2015

NORTHFIELD, Vt. – Norwich University will celebrate commencement and commissioning with ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday, May 9-10, in Shapiro Field House. Both events are free and open to the public.

At a 2 p. m. ceremony on Saturday, former U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole will deliver the 2015 commencement address to over 400 seniors graduating from 31 majors. The Class of 2015 is comprised of 264 students in the Corps of Cadets and 168 civilian students.

Perhaps best known as the former president of the American Red Cross and for her own political career as U.S. senator representing her home state of North Carolina, Dole is also the wife of former senator and World War II veteran, Bob Dole.

In 2012, Dole, who will receive an honorary degree from Norwich University, founded Caring for Military Families: The Elizabeth Dole Foundation, to raise awareness and support for the spouses, mothers, fathers, and other loved ones caring for wounded, ill and injured military personnel.

Norwich University officials say Dole was the natural choice for its 2015 commencement address given her lifetime of public service. This year, Norwich is celebrating the 2014-15 academic year as the “Year of Service,” the first of five years in a countdown to the university’s bicentennial celebration in 2019.

At 9 a.m. Sunday, during a joint services commissioning ceremony, graduating future officers will hear remarks from one of their own.

Brigadier General Raymond R. Descheneaux ’87, United States Marine Corps Reserve, Assistant Deputy Commandant for Aviation (Mobilization), returns to the Norwich campus to speak to ROTC commissioning officers during a formal ceremony to mark the occasion.

As this year’s speaker, Descheneaux will address more than 100 students anticipated to commission into four branches of the military – Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. The new officers will receive their second lieutenant or ensign bars, and their first salutes.

See the full schedule of weekend activities here. Post-event coverage will be posted on the website of the Office of Communications.

Norwich University is a diversified academic institution that educates traditional-age students and adults in a Corps of Cadets and as civilians. Norwich offers a broad selection of traditional and distance-learning programs culminating in Baccalaureate and Graduate Degrees. Norwich University was founded in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge of the U.S. Army and is the oldest private military college in the United States of America. Norwich is one of our nation’s six senior military colleges and the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). 

In fulfillment of Norwich’s mission to train and educate today’s students to be tomorrow’s global leaders and captains of industry, the Forging the Future campaign is committed to creating the best possible learning environment through state-of-the-art academics and world-class facilities. Learn more about the campaign and how to participate in the “Year of Service” here:    

Media Contact:
Daphne Larkin
Assistant Director of Communications
(802) 485-2886, (m) 595-3613
Follow us on Twitter @NorwichNews

Norwich University Commencement: Marine General to Speak at ROTC Commissioning Ceremony

Updated May 6, 2015

Norwich University Office of Communications 

NORTHFIELD, Vt. – Norwich University’s graduating future officers will hear remarks from a fellow alum at this spring’s joint services commissioning ceremony.  Brigadier General Raymond R. Descheneaux ’87, United States Marine Corps Reserve, Assistant Deputy Commandant for Aviation (Mobilization), returns to the Norwich campus to speak to ROTC commissioning officers during a formal ceremony to mark the occasion on Sunday, May 10 at 9 a.m.

Descheneaux will speak about the value of Norwich leadership in its unique setting, which embraces all four ROTC branches plus civilian students.

“The Norwich experience uniquely prepares future officers for joint, coalition, and inter-agency operations in the 21st century,” says Descheneaux.

Descheneaux is currently assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps in the Pentagon. He is responsible to the Deputy Commandant for Aviation and assists in procuring, employing, integrating, and sustaining current and future aviation capabilities throughout the Marine Corps.

A career aviator and KC-130 pilot, Descheneaux has served in a wide variety of leadership roles since his days on the “Hill” as a Norwich cadet.  He has served in each echelon of the Marine Corps from a squadron through the Marine Expeditionary Force.  A forward air controller with service at sea, Descheneaux has engaged in the full range of military options from assault support missions in Iraq through humanitarian relief operations in Somalia.  In addition, he has served in joint, combined, NATO and United Nation actions in the Middle East, Far East, Africa and in Europe.

Descheneaux received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Norwich University, a master’s degree in business from Columbia College of Missouri, a master’s in strategic studies from the U.S. Air War College and is a graduate of the Joint Forces Staff College.  He has flown 319 combat missions while accumulating over 3,700 military flight hours.

Descheneaux is one of 23 Norwich alumni currently serving the nation as a general officer, admiral, or in the Senior Executive Service.

At the 10 May ceremony, Descheneaux will address approximately 110 students anticipated to commission into four branches of the military. The new officers receive their second lieutenant or ensign bars and their first salutes. The event, which begins at 9 a.m. in Shapiro Field House, is part of Commencement Weekend and is open to the public.

Here are anticipated commission numbers:

Army: 75
Air Force: 10
Navy: 18
Marine: 7

About Norwich University

Norwich University is a diversified academic institution that educates traditional-age students and adults in a Corps of Cadets and as civilians. Norwich offers a broad selection of traditional and distance-learning programs culminating in Baccalaureate and Graduate Degrees. Norwich University was founded in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge of the U.S. Army and is the oldest private military college in the United States of America. Norwich is one of our nation’s six senior military colleges and the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

In fulfillment of Norwich’s mission to train and educate today’s students to be tomorrow’s global leaders and captains of industry, the Forging the Future campaign is committed to creating the best possible learning environment through state-of-the-art academics and world-class facilities. Learn more about the campaign and how to participate in the “Year of Service” here:

Media Contact:
Daphne Larkin
(802) 485-2886, 595-3613(m)
Follow us on Twitter @NorwichNews