It's really great to be with you today on what we all hope is the first in a long series of nice spring days. I welcome the chance to participate in this annual Tri-Service Review. It is great to see joint operations at this level. There was a time when one could serve for an entire career and never have any requirement to know about or work with another service. But the national security environment has become much more complex and the DOD has become much smaller in the last fifteen years. Previously, most contingencies were addressed by single service, or at most two service operations. Now, even the smallest require a joint effort. Understanding all service's capabilities, limitations, and culture is a most useful attribute and you are getting a leg up on it.
I commend you for the moral and physical determination that participation in ROTC both requires and enhances. At any level in life there are plenty of easy ways out of challenging situations.... Sort of like changing the channel of the television if you don't like the program. But participation in ROTC prepares you for reality by helping you understand the meaning and value of commitment, teamwork, and selflessness. It is not by chance that current and former service officers are eagerly sought by business enterprises. They know that military service develops the skills that are most necessary for business success.
Each of you has arrived at this place at this time by a different path. Some of you were probably focused on ROTC and a possible service career for some time. Others saw the opportunity for scholarships and financial assistance to help meet long-range goals. Others joined for the benefits of belonging to an organization with a higher purpose that is committed to national service.
But what has kept you here is patriotism and a sense of belonging to something worthwhile ... worthwhile to you and to America. A personal investment in your own future and in America's future.
The military services today are in superb condition. They are greatly respected by the American people. Public opinion surveys continue to show the military held in high esteem. Of all American institutions the military is the most drug free, the most ethnically and gender diverse, and the most open for men and women of skill and determination to rise to the top. It is not uncommon for the sailor to rise to Admiral, the Sergeant's son or daughter to become a general, and the rudderless youth to become a skilled pilot.
This is not to say that there are not significant challenges or to say that we can rest on our laurels and bask in the glow of public appreciation. Each service has its own set of challenges and I'm sure that the ROTC cadre and staff have discussed them in detail with you. The collective challenges for the military are as follows:
Adapt to the New World Disorder. The cold war and bi-polarity is over. The twelve years since the fall of the Berlin Wall have seen the breakdown of world order in some terrifying ways. You know the details better than I and I won't enumerate them here. But the challenge for the military to wrench itself into the new political environment, the new technological environment, and the new cultural environment is tremendous and will not be easy. Non-standard missions and ambiguity may be your lot as service officers.
Adapt to 21st Century America. Despite calls for bipartisanship, the divisive politics of the 1990's are unlikely to change for the better. You will work in a very uncertain environment. New security threats will emerge. Budgets will be bitterly contested, and money will arrive late for key programs. Politics will continue to drive base closure, contracting, and equipment purchases. The military will have to continue to help address America's social problems ... medical care, drugs, and border control.
The military will have to recognize and plan to counter a diverse range of threats. Any student of history knows that asymmetrical threats are the most dangerous. Boston is a good place to talk about asymmetrical threats. In the late eighteenth century the British had the predominant military force in the world. They were the sole super power of their day. Yet a group of determined colonists developed and executed an asymmetrical campaign that avoided British strengths and capitalized on British weaknesses and here we are today. America has vulnerabilities. Some are easily recognizable, such as our reliance on information and communications. Some are not, such as our difficulty at being evenhanded in inter or intra national disputes. We love to choose sides. Another is our impatience with long-term problems that require long-term solutions.
The good news remains that the military will remain a key, respected component of society and that men and women such as yourselves can achieve personal goals and satisfaction while contributing to the security and future of America. And you can do it working with some of America's finest young people.
I close by again commending you for the independent thought and determination that has led you to this point in ROTC. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will benefit from this experience and the skills you developed here in ROTC.
Lieutenant General James Terry Scott, USA (Ret) was formerly Director of the National Security Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He joined the faculty in January 1997 after more than 32 years in the U.S. Army.