Retired Gen. Charles Krulak, 31st commandant of the United States Marine Corps and 13th president of Birmingham-Southern College, spoke Nov. 15 to students and employees at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law. Krulak was hosted by Samford’s Campus Veterans Association and spoke on “Faith-Based Leadership.”
Krulak identified three qualities that every leader must possess: selflessness, moral courage and integrity. He employed storytelling to provide examples of people who demonstrated each quality to him during his military career.
To exemplify selflessness, Krulak shared the story of a young African-American marine from Mississippi who gave his life to save the lives of his comrades in Vietnam in 1966. The young man saved three squadrons by bravely diverting machine gun fire away from them and allowing them to assume a position of safety. After the young man was shot down, he chose to rise again and continue his diversion tactics, aware that his decision would cost him his life but save the lives of many others.
“A selfless person cares more about the lives of those around him than he does his own, and that is not an easy mindset to achieve,” explained Krulak. “A selfless man doesn’t worry about who gets the credit, but instead worries about whether the job gets done well. That young man wasn’t thinking about himself; instead, he was thinking about his brothers in arms and about their mission, and he enabled them to achieve that mission through his selfless act.”
Krulak described moral courage as “the courage to see something wrong and do something about it.” To exemplify moral courage, Krulak shared a moving story about a young man he befriended in Vietnam who was killed in battle. Krulak was directly beside the young man when he was shot and was so affected by his death that he was unable to continue leading his men. One of his comrades slapped him across the face and forced him to continue, reminding him of his commitment and duty to the rest of his men.
“The more senior you get, the more important it is to surround yourself with people who’ll tell you when you’re veering off course,” said Krulak. “Don’t ever be afraid to tell your boss when he’s gotten off track, but be respectful and always have an alternative plan in mind.”
To exemplify integrity, Krulak shared the story of a young man who chose to re-enter the battlefield after a conflict to retrieve the body of his fallen comrade. The young man was scolded for his actions by his superior and was nearly relieved of duty due to his determination to do the morally right thing. He was later redeemed when a higher-ranking officer visited and complemented him on his actions in front of his superior, but he had been willing to give up his entire military career to keep his integrity intact.
In closing, Krulak reminded the audience that “integrity is the only thing that any of us really own, and it’s the only thing that nobody can take away from us. Being a man or woman of integrity is a choice. We aren’t born with the gift of integrity, but instead, we chose to be a person of strong moral character through our thoughts and our actions.”
Krulak served as 31st Commandant of the USMC and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from July 1, 1995, to June 30, 1999. As the senior leader of the USMC, he was responsible for recruiting, training, operational readiness and welfare of more than 220,000 active and reserve forces and 20,000 civilian employees. After his retirement from the USMC, he served as chief executive officer of MBNA Bank Europe and vice chairman of MBNA America Bank. He most recently served as the 13th president of Birmingham-Southern College.
The goal of the Campus Veterans Association is to provide military veterans with the resources, support and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education, as well as after graduation. The national mission statement of CVA is “Yesterday’s Warriors, Today’s Scholars, Tomorrow’s Leaders.” Samford’s CVA members include veteran undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty members and nonveteran members who are supporters of the military and enjoy the camaraderie. Many of Samford’s CVA members are still involved in the military in various capacities. Samford’s CVA will be involved in the inaugural BirmingJam, a New Year’s Eve concert to be held at Regions Field benefiting Teams for Troops. They also plan to hold a service-based event in the spring and plan to bring more speakers to Samford’s campus in the future.
Polly Manuel is marketing and communication coordinator for Cumberland School of Law.