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Sunday, August 02, 2009

All About Us

In its July 25/26 Weekend edition, the Wall Street Journal printed a fascinating article, "A Class of Generals" about the West Point class of 1976. From this class have come five Generals currently leading major military units in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the first time in West Point's 207 year history that one class has produced generals commanding two wars simultaneously.

What is fascinating about this story, for those of you too young to remember, is that the class of 1976 entered West Point in 1972, at the low point for prestige and morale in the U.S. military. This was the period immediately post-Vietnam and in the midst of Watergate. It was decidedly uncool to be in the military at all, much less pledging your life and career to lead its soldiers.

Yet this one class has produced 33 active or retired generals from its 855 graduates. Not since the class of 1915, which produced Generals Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley, who led the U.S. through World War II, has one class had such an impact on military leadership. Asked why they came, most said as part of their families' traditions, a sense of duty, and some had scholarship or other opportunities that made it their best opportunity. Today, after stepping into an organization in which they believed when it needed them most, they are a class of professionals who will go down in history.

Reading this reminded me of a similar group, this from the sports world in my native Kentucky. The 1991-92 University of Kentucky men's team is revered in our state as "The Unforgettables." Due to flagrant recruiting violations under then Head Coach Eddie Sutton, the U of K program was banned from postseason play for two years. The best players left the program and the best recruits went elsewhere. Four seniors, Richie Farmer, Deron Feldhus, John Pelphrey (now coach at the University of Arkansas), and Sean Woods stayed with the program. All were native Kentuckians who, because of family traditions stayed together and with the program.

Their reward was a new head coach recruited from the NBA, Rick Pitino, who in turn recruited great underclass players. In the '91-'92 season they went 29 - 7 and lost to eventual national champion Duke in what is often called the greatest college basketball game ever played. All four players' jerseys are retired at UK. Their rise from the bottom of the SEC to national prominence in one year turned around the UK program for a decade.

Which brings me to us. Eighteen months ago there were around 660 of us; now there are around 480. I won't go back through what we endured in the year between April 2008 and 2009; you know that all too well. What I can tell you now that is probably news to you should make you feel good about yourself and your teammates. The staff reductions of 2008 actually happened in six phases of planning and implementation over a 14 month period. During this time every single one of us was discussed at some time or other. The magnitude of the downsizing, and the fact that it came in wave upon wave, necessitated an examination of each and every job and person. Was the job necessary? If so, which person was the right one for the job and who should go?

So, if you're here at Thomas Nelson right now, today, you are good at what you do. You have been vetted and approved, and you're regarded as someone who knows what they're doing. That doesn't give any of us a pass on doing our job everyday, but it should make you pause for a moment to hold your head up. Like the Class of Generals and like The Unforgettables, you are leading and performing at a unique time in our history. You're doing that almost completely because of who you are and what you believe, not because its raining money on Nelson Place.

And, since nothing happens accidentally, you are where you are for a reason. As we near the mid-point in this very difficult Q2 may this be an encouragement to you that you can also pass to anyone around you who needs it.

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