April 8, 2010 - ANNAPOLIS, Md. (NNS) -- The secretary of defense (SECDEF) visited the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) April 7 to review a formal dress parade presented by the Brigade of Midshipmen and to speak to the midshipmen as part of the USNA's Forrestal Lecture Series.
This was SECDEF Robert M. Gates' third visit to the USNA since becoming SECDEF.
His visit included lunch with midshipmen in King Hall and the opportunity to speak to political science classes during the day.
Speaking to the Brigade of Midshipmen in Alumni Hall, Gates addressed some of the qualities of leadership the midshipmen will require as young officers, citing leaders from U.S. military history - such as Adm. Chester Nimitz, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Victor Krulak and Army Gen. George Marshall - as examples of these qualities.
"The qualities these legends embody have been important and decisive throughout the history of warfare, and I would contend that they are more necessary than ever in the first decades of this century," said Gates. "One of the key reasons they were successful is that they were willing to speak truth to power."
"He went straight to the point, talking about how one of the biggest lessons we need to learn here is just to go ahead and start developing our values, because those will carry on through your whole career, how to stand up for your morals," said Midshipman 4th Class Joshua Ramey, of Morehead, Ky. "It's something that we really should start thinking about."
According to Gates, a willingness to accept honest criticism from subordinates is just as important as having the courage to give it.
"In addition to speaking hard truths to your superiors, as a leader you must create a climate that encourages candor among your subordinates, especially in difficult situations," said Gates.
Gates focused on the value of listening to subordinates, the men and women "on the front lines," but also told the midshipmen that it is inevitable that some time in their career they will have to stand alone and make an unpopular, difficult decision.
"For the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism," said Gates. "I urge you instead to be principled and creative and reform-minded leaders of integrity."
Midshipman 3rd Class James Compton of Summit, N.J., said he appreciated what Gates said about not being afraid to be honest.
"He's got a unique perspective and a lot of experience as a public servant and as a senior official, and he knows firsthand what it takes to be an effective military leader," said Compton. "I thought it was great that he took the time to come talk to the Brigade."
Gates concluded his lecture by praising and thanking the midshipmen for volunteering their services in a time of war.
"You have answered the trumpet call," said Gates. "And the whole of America is grateful and filled with admiration. I salute you, and I thank you for your service."
Gates was sworn in Dec. 18, 2006, as the 22nd SECDEF. He is the only SECDEF in U.S. history to be asked to remain in that office by a newly elected president. President Barack Obama is the eighth president Gates has served.
Before entering his present post, Gates was the president of Texas A&M University, the nation's seventh largest university. Prior to that he spent nearly 27 years as an intelligence professional, joining the Central Intelligence Agency in 1966 and eventually becoming the only career officer in the CIA's history to rise from entry-level employee to director of central intelligence, a position he held from 1991 until 1993.