You know you’re in good company when the leadership message of the commandant of the United States Marine Corps comes out sounding quite a bit like that of your school.
Such was the experience of the Corps of Culver’s Cadets Feb. 24 on the occasion of the first on-campus appearance by a four-star general since 1922’s fabled visit by Gen. “Blackjack” Pershing.
Gen. Robert Neller’s address in Eppley Auditorium also made history as the second visit of the commandant of the USMC, the first being the presence of the 13th commandant, Maj. Gen. John A. Lejeune, at the dedication of Culver’s Legion Memorial Building in 1924.
Neller was introduced at the convocation by his brother, Culver’s own Commandant of Cadets, Capt. Mike Neller, who noted the general is his older brother by four years and “had a big impact on me” in instilling values and an ethic of hard work.
“That’s the nicest thing he’s ever said about me in my entire life,” quipped Gen. Neller, who has served in the Marines for 41 years in both peace and wartime, including in Iraq, Somalia, and Panama.
The general’s comments consistently circled back to the centrality of servant leadership, and substantive character over the mere exercise of power over others, all values remarkably consistent with those promoted by Culver since its inception.
The leadership system is not about telling people what to do.
“The leadership system is not about telling people what to do,” said Neller, “but you set the conditions through your values, your effort, and your virtue as a human being. Those that are (under) you will want to emulate you, to be like you.
“The highest compliment I think a leader can get paid is when someone comes up to them and says…’I really appreciate you being here; you helped me out a lot.'”
Neller also emphasized the opportunity presented students by their Culver experience, regardless of the post-graduate path they pursue, noting all citizens are called to serve their nation, whether in the military or otherwise, and to be good citizens.
As is the case in the Marines, he added, his own brother as commandant is uninterested in a given student’s reasons for choosing Culver, or family or financial background, “but (he’s interested in) what you do here every day. You have a huge opportunity, to be here surrounded by what I think are other men and women of virtue, character, and substance — good people. Good people make all the difference.”
“General Neller’s comments fit perfectly with the Culver values,” Capt. Mike Neller commented after the presentation. “This should be no surprise since those values — honor, duty, service and truth — come from our military traditions. In addition, his comments about leadership were right in line with how we train cadets to fulfill their leadership responsibilities.”
Both Nellers come by their military backgrounds through family connections. Both their father and his own father served in the military (their father as an officer during the Korean War and their grandfather as a World War II Navy pilot but also in the Korean War).
“Neither my brother or I grew up planning to serve in the military but due to a number of circumstances it just worked out that way for us,” added Capt. Neller.
Gen. Neller also showed a video showcasing the work of the Marines, which he said was developed by a few young Marines assigned to the social media division of his office. They did the video in their spare time, he added.
He also discussed the circumstances which led to his push to mandate use of devices on Marine vehicles which detect and protect from IEDs. The death of a young southern Indiana Marine, he explained, was the catalyst for his making the push, which has since saved “hundreds and hundreds of Americans.”