File this Veteran’s Day speech in your Memorial Day Folder

Delivered at the University of Oregon, November 11, 2009

Civilians are sometimes surprised when they hear a veteran speak of what he owes this great country of ours.

Often, they mean well.  They tell us, “No, your country owes you!  We owe you an unpayable debt because of all you’ve done to defend America.”

They mean well—and I always truly appreciate their sentiments—but they don’t quite understand. They don’t understand how much we veterans get from giving. They don’t understand how the lessons we learned and the values we absorbed in our military careers have meant so much to our success in life that we feel indebted.

I guess if I were to explain this to a civilian, I’d take him to a Barnes & Noble bookstore—or any mammoth bookstore in any city in America. I’d steer him to the management section. Then I’d ask him to count up the number of books on the shelves that are all about how to get ahead as a business leader.

As our civilian looked—and counted up the books—he would see title after title on how to lead by example … how to lead with integrity … how to be a servant leader … how to be a purpose-driven leader … how to lead by being mission-oriented … how to motivate the people under you … how to make crucial decisions … how to function well under pressure—and so on.

Civilians buy these books by the armload. They spend hours poring over them, to find the secrets they think will help them advance their careers. They attend seminars on leadership techniques. They flock to motivational speakers for tips on how to pump up the people under them.

Veterans, as a rule, don’t do this. We don’t have to. We have learned all these things already—by serving our country.  And we’ve learned with a difference. We’ve learned —not by putting ourselves first, but by putting our country and our comrades first. And we’ve learned under conditions where leadership can’t be faked.

When you reach a point in life where integrity, courage, resilience, selflessness and devotion to duty are second-nature to you, then nothing can hold you back. You can’t help but succeed. 

I know that I loved my military service and my ROTC experience at the University of Oregon. I loved the training and the skills it taught me. I loved the discipline I acquired from the marauder field training. I loved the confidence, and self-reliance I got from the program. I loved the way it taught me to assume responsibility, provide direction, and make things happen. 

All of this served me very well in life. As a businessman, my military training has helped me to manage my time, motivate my employees, realize my company’s goals—and even start my own investment and corporate advisory firm. In short, my military service made me.

That’s why, no matter how much I give, I know that I will always feel indebted to my country. And that is one debt I am proud to owe.

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