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West Point’s Motto - The First Word Means A Lot

Duty - Taking action based on our assigned tasks and moral obligations.

Duty, Honor, Country. Those three words are the motto of the United States Military Academy at West Point. When I was a plebe (freshman) at West Point in 1984 we were constantly reminded what Duty was. That has not changed for centuries. At America’s leadership university, where Leaders of Character are developed to serve our nation, the topic of Duty surrounds all that you do.

Cadets at West Point learn that their Duty is always in front of them. There is no excuse for a leader shirking his or her Duty. What needs to be done, must get done. Period. Difficult circumstances do not excuse the leader from accomplishing the mission.

Plebe Year was a year full of small responsibilities. To a new cadet, the fact that you had 21 hours of classes each semester, including Saturday morning classes, were required to participate in intramurals, attended all mandatory meals, had parade practice after class twice a week, and had mandatory lights out at 11:30pm did not mean you could skate by on your personal responsibilities like having your room ready for inspection, polishing your shoes, completing plebe jobs around the barracks, and answering obscure questions that were affectionately known as plebe knowledge.

The pressure on plebes to get everything done with excellence was always high. Why have the plebes at West Point always been under that type of pressure? Because it teaches them about Duty. Those were all the assigned tasks each of us had to do. But the real lessons came around the idea of our moral obligations. A leader doesn’t just do what they are told to do. A leader always goes beyond that. A leader does what needs to be done. Leaders who leave things undone or half done are not doing their Duty.

There are comments from upperclassmen that still ring in my ears to this day. Think about this: I was 19 years old and the lessons I learned about Duty were being established by men and women who were maybe 20 or 21 years old!