ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Bison student-athletes Cori Thielemann, Alex Wallace and Ryan Johnson along with head women's rowing coach Stephen Kish are in Annapolis this week attending the USNA Leadership Conference. Thielemann provided an account of the opening two days of the conference on Tuesday, and today her women's lacrosse teammate Wallace checks in to recap a busy day three.
Alex Wallace from the USNA Leadership Conference -- Day 3
Well, we’ve made it to Day Three of the USNA Leadership Conference! Yesterday set some pretty lofty standards to follow, but (unlike usually) I was extremely excited to set a 6 a.m. alarm this morning. We’ve had the privilege of getting more acclimated to life at the Academy, but we’ve certainly got much to learn.
After breakfast, the entire group headed to the beautiful Mahan Hall to launch the day’s theme – Ethics: The Leader, The Follower, and The Organization. We were lucky enough to hear from five distinguished panelists and internalize their experiences and advice. Moderated by U.S. Naval Academy Professor Priscilla Zotti, the panel ranged from Foreign Service Veterans to leadership experts and authors. Ambassador John Limbert, former president of the American Foreign Service Association and recipient of the state’s highest Distinguished Service Award, elaborated on his intense experiences in Iran and on the importance of followership, while West Point graduate and energy expert Jon Gensler emphasized the importance of upholding one’s ethical beliefs in real-time decisions. Captain H. Wyman Howard III, a Naval Academy graduate and former Navy SEAL, reminded us that while it is important to strive for excellence, everyone is flawed. He and leadership expert Ira Chaleff agreed that self-reflection and peer feedback are crucial in developing and sustaining successful leaders. Last but not least, Major Heather Penney, an inaugural female fighter pilot, emphasized the significance of moral courage over physical courage. Major Penney was tasked to intercept a threatening plane near Washington D.C. on the morning of 9/11 -- showcasing her first-hand experience and courage with moral struggle.
When the panel concluded, we ventured back to our breakout groups to share personal experiences and reflect on the previous sessions in a more intimate setting. With both civilian and military students and athletes present, we were able to compare common practices and see the variety among them. While leadership definitely depends upon the context of a situation, it was unanimous that a solid code of ethics is crucial in excelling. My group in particular had students from both the Naval Academy and West Point, and they truly opened my eyes to the potential gravity of ethical decision-making. Always range the long term when executing a decision, and remember, there is always something bigger than yourself to consider.
To keep on schedule, we ended a bit early and had a second take at the students’ dining hall. Thankfully, a few midshipmen took us through the connecting buildings, and we were able to avoid the polar vortex while catching glimpse of a few facilities and classrooms. Once we made it to King’s Hall, we ate alongside the brigade and lived for an hour as midshipmen. It was an awesome but chaotic experience, and I’m still in awe that the dining staff feeds some 4,000 midshipmen in a span of 15 minutes!
Back to Mahan Hall we went to listen to a wonderful set of keynote speakers. Sargent Major C.W. Kent and Lt. General J.F. Sattler were quite the dynamic duo. Despite the horrific scenes they witnessed in the line of duty, the pair stressed the importance of servant leadership, humility and empowerment. While they were of higher rank than most warriors abroad in Iraq, the two often asked for input from their juniors and traveled around to ensure the best possible conditions for all involved. Leaders eat last, leaders drink last and leaders sleep last. But, there’s more….
We ended the afternoon with second panel of impressive speakers and a lively Q&A session. Not only were there high-ranking military officials present to share their anecdotes but also a couple worldly and accomplished athletes. Former Naval Master Chief Petty Officer Joe Campa and former Associate Deputy Director of Operations for the CIA Robert Richer elaborated on leadership in service roles, while former Gold Medal-winning U.S. Women’s Soccer Coach Tony DiCocco and world champion player Christine Lilly discussed the role of leadership both on and off the field. It was both surprising and interesting to hear the similarities between such different sectors.
To bring Day Two to a close, we journeyed into downtown Annapolis for dinner at Buddy’s Restaurant. Dress was a bit less formal, and we were able to speak more candidly with midshipmen and other service students about their backgrounds. Despite the lighter atmosphere, one of the most inspiring and accomplished speakers presented in the middle of the restaurant. Naval Academy graduate Christopher Cassidy began his career as a Navy SEAL (which, even according to our midshipmen escorts, is a grand accomplishment) and ultimately became a NASA astronaut with several successful ventures under his belt. He shared with us a video that spanned an entire spacewalk trip – from takeoff to landing – and answered quite the variety of questions from the audience. Did you know that typically 95% of water in spacecraft is recycled after consumption? Think about it…
With only a half-day session remaining, it’s a bit bittersweet to reflect on our time at the USNA so far. We’ve been extremely lucky to hear from some of the most influential leaders in our military and meet students from all over the nation. I know that we’re all beyond grateful for this opportunity, and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow has in store.