5 Leadership Lessons From A Retired 3-Star General In The U.S. Army – Lesson #5
2 years ago
If you would prefer to read this content instead of watching the video, the transcript is available below.
What does real perseverance look like? As leaders, we’ll all face adversity and walk through deep water at some point. The question is, how will we handle it?.
Hi there, education heroes! My name is General Robert VanAntwerp, a retired three-star general from the Army. Today, I’m thrilled to share with you part 5 of a talk I gave about the leaders who’ve made a permanent positive impact on my life and leadership. In this video, I’ll introduce you to a platoon commander who worked for my son in Iraq, Scotty Smiley. The lessons I’ve learned from Scotty are some of the most important in my entire life.
Enjoy this talk, and I’ll be back with you in a few minutes!
These two pictures are tied together. This is a guy named Scotty Smiley; his wife, Tiffany, and their two kids; and they have another one now. Scotty’s story is kind of amazing. Scotty was in my son’s unit in Iraq. You wouldn’t maybe know it from looking at that, but Scotty is totally blind. The optic nerve severed in one eye; his other eye is glass. You see, he was a platoon leader for my son, Jeff, who is the company commander in the 124 Infantry in Iraq.
Scotty was sent out on patrol where they had Stryker vehicles, and some of you know what that is. It’s a big armored vehicle, but usually the leader has a turret, and you keep your head down pretty far, but you’re able the see out of that turret. Everybody else in there is under glass protection that’s ballistic glass and of course – a lot of armor. They knew there was a certain area – they were given areas to patrol. Scotty’s platoon had this certain area. This area was notorious for what they call “vehicle-born IEDs.” You just call them “VBIEDs.” So, Scotty was out there with his platoon on patrol. Scotty had his ballistic glasses on. He had about this much sticking out of the turret, and two pieces of shrapnel went up into each eye and went through his left frontal lobe. Changes your life forever.
You go from being vibrant…this is what happens to a wounded warrior. He goes from being that one day to being someone else. If he’s your husband, you didn’t marry him. If it’s your wife, that’s not the person you married. It’s different; your life is changed forever…right then.
They went back to Fort Lewis, Washington. They had a social worker come to their house and said, “When you’re out of the Army in two weeks…” We had known Scotty a long time. He’s a 2003 graduate of West Point. He graduated with my nephew. I knew him from about 2000 on. Tiffany called me that day; she was crying unbelievably. What if you were blind? You’d think, “What am I going to do with my life? What’s next? Is there any future here? Can I ever work?” I mean…a million questions. So she called me, and she said, “General Van, they’re telling us, ‘when we get out of the Army in two weeks.’ What are we going to do?”
I was commanding the accessions command at that time at Fort Monroe, VA. I said, “Tiffany, how would you guys like to move to Fort Monroe?” I said, “Just hold on, I’ll be back with you today.” So, one of the privileges you have when you’re in a leadership position is you know people. And if you’re doing it for the right reasons, people want to help you. So I called the G1 of the Army, the head talent manager, the head HR guy for the whole army. We shared a few niceties for a little bit, because I hadn’t seen him for awhile, and then I said, “I’d like to assign a lieutenant. I’d like you guys to cut orders today, and assign a lieutenant to me.” “Well, who is it?” “It’s Scotty Smiley.” He said, “Isn’t he totally blind?” I said, “Yeah. But wouldn’t it be awesome if there was still a place for that? Maybe there are some seats on the bus that aren’t right for him, but there are some seats that are.” Most of my people were senior at Fort Monroe, so he said, “I don’t think you have a lieutenant’s position.” I said, “I do now! Here’s the description.” That afternoon, Tiffany and Scotty got orders to Fort Monroe. It was the beginning of the next chapter in their life.
Fast forward. Scotty’s getting ready, and I’m leaving Fort Monroe. I’m going to be the chief of engineers, and we have dinner with Scotty and Tiffany. He was working for me as my only lieutenant. I said, “Scotty, what do you want to do next?” I was really saying, “Tiffany and Scotty, what do you want to do next?” He said, “I want to go to West Point and teach.” I said, “Wow!” You’d think, “That’s pretty impossible, right?” I said, “Well Scotty, that’s a great goal. Let me see what I can do about that.”
So on the way home, Tiffany was driving them home in a separate car. I asked Paula to drive and I said, “I need to make a couple phone calls.” So, I called the dean at West Point who is a close friend of mine. I said, “I’ve got a guy that really wants to teach up at West Point.” “Who is he?” “Scotty Smiley. Do you know about him?” He said, “Oh! You know, your son Jeff (who was assigned to West Point) and Scotty came up. They did a tandem thing in front of the freshman and sophomore classes, and I snuck in the back. He’s an amazing guy! When can he get here?” That’s what he tells me! I said, “So I don’t need this in writing, but I need you to say it very clearly.” I put my phone on speaker. I wanted Paula to hear that. “So, Scotty Smiley, you’re gonna take him at West Point, and the caveat is that he had to get accepted into grad school.” He had to earn his way in. All we were doing was making it possible. And he said, “Yes!” I go, “Okay! Two witnesses on this end! We got you, my friend!” Not that we needed that.
My next call was to Mike Krzyzewski. Guess what? Scotty had been there with the Olympic team! I said, “Mike, we just had dinner with the Smileys, and he wants to come to Duke. He wants to get his MBA, and he wants to go back to teach in the social science department at West Point. Is that even possible?” Mike’s thinking, “You know, they do spreadsheets and everything, but it’s possible.” So guess who Mike knows? He knows the dean of the Fuqua School of Management, the MBA school. So, Scotty had to pass the test. He had to do all the work, but if you asked the dean today, if he were here, he would say, “This was Scotty’s class.” What Scotty did for them is change it from “Let’s get this education so we can go out and make tons of money,” to “Let’s get this education so we can go and give back.” He just wanted to be a soldier. My lesson from Scotty Smiley is, winners never quit. They don’t! They don’t!
Well, I hope you enjoyed the talk and you’re as moved by Scotty’s perseverance as I’ve been. This video series has been about the leaders who’ve had the biggest impact on me as a leader. Who are some of the leaders who impacted you the most? What was the most important lesson they taught you? I’d love to hear about them.
If you found this talk helpful, please do us a favor. Click the “Like” button to share with your friends, and also scroll down to the bottom of this post and let us know your thoughts.
So, let’s continue the discussion below. We’d love to hear from you. Take care, and I’ll see you soon!