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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!

These lessons include:

– Partially done is not done.

– Go beyond what you are told to do and do what needs to be done.

– If not you, then who?

– Don’t wait for someone else to do it.

– When you see an issue, fix it.

– Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.

– Why didn’t you help your classmate?

– If your roommate couldn’t get it done, it’s your responsibility to help him.

– You must complete the mission – no excuse, Anderson.

By the end of that first year at West Point if you did not buy into taking action based on assigned tasks and moral obligations, you were not going to make it a second year. Duty is the first word in the motto of America’s leadership university for a very important reason – without exercising Duty, you are not a leader.

I am thankful that there are so many young men and women every year who volunteer to attend West Point. Because if they graduate after four years of character education and four years of exercising the habit of Duty, they are prepared to lead our troops in combat and our nation into the future.

Dig Deep Questions:

● On a scale of 1-10, how well do you perform when it comes to the bullets above?

● Where do you fall short and where can you grow when it comes to exercising Duty?


Exercising Duty takes work and is a lifelong journey. We want to partner with you as you practice the habit of Duty daily, which is why we have created FREE tools and resources to guide your journey.

To make it easy to keep the definition of Duty visible on your screens and devices, we would like to share our FREE Duty backgrounds for desktop and mobile available for download at:

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