Nakasone sends virtual inspiration to Fighting Saints
May 9, 2020
By Dave DeLand
Gen. Paul Nakasone was prepared for a reunion Saturday with Saint John’s University and the Fighting Saints Battalion ROTC program that provided the springboard for his exceptional career in the United States Army.
Thanks to the COVID-19 global pandemic, however, that reunion turned into something virtually without precedent.
“I expected to stand among you in one of my favorite places – my alma mater. But instead we find ourselves at a distance,” said Nakasone, a 1986 SJU graduate who now serves as Commander, U.S. Cyber Command and Director, National Security Agency/Chief, Central Security Service.
As a socially distanced alternative, Nakasone provided the keynote address for the Fighting Saints 2020 Commissioning program via Zoom, the online platform that graduates and their families also used for the gathering.
“Welcome to the first-ever Fighting Saints Battalion virtual commissioning ceremony,” said Joe Peterson, Fighting Saints Enrollment & Scholarship officer and the master of ceremonies for Saturday’s unique program.
“If NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can conduct a draft from his basement, why can’t we conduct this commissioning virtually, from the headquarters of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command?” Nakasone said with a smile.
“It’s an honor to be here, however far apart.”
Twenty-one senior cadets were commissioned as U.S. Army Second Lieutenants in the online ceremony that bore little resemblance to Nakasone’s commissioning 34 years ago.
“The world looked a little different then,” said Nakasone, who spoke after Fr. Don Talafous, OSB, delivered the invocation. “Yet the one constant, something that provides us balance, is that Father Don was also present at my commissioning – a fact that should give us all great comfort.”
That comfort accompanied a sense of pride in the Fighting Saints’ collective accomplishments.
“We are gathered virtually to recognize an exceptional group of cadets whose hard work and dedication has results in the Fighting Saints Battalion being recognized as one of the nation’s top ROTC programs,” said Lt. Col. Steven Beard, Professor of Military Science.
“We have the finest ROTC program in the country,” added Dr. Eugene McAllister, SJU’s interim president. “Thank you, and congratulations.”
The circumstances of the virtual commissioning became a focal point in Nakasone’s 10-minute address, which he admitted would have been different under normal conditions.
“This is not the speech I thought I would give,” he said. “I pictured spending a few days walking the campus with my family, telling them stories about my life as a student. I looked forward to seeing you gathered in the Humphrey Auditorium, thanking your families and loved ones for supporting you on the journey that led you here.
“But as every good officer knows, you have to be prepared for the unexpected.”
His Saint John’s student experience is something that has helped Nakasone – a four-star general – do exactly that.
“I loved Saint John’s as a student and as a cadet, and I grew to love it more over the years. Whenever I faced a hard problem in my career, whether it’s been professionally or personally, I often return to the lessons I learned at my alma mater and within this program,” Nakasone said.
“We lived the Army values at Saint John’s – loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and courage. It’s these values that provide a beacon to guide my actions.
“You’re headed into a changed world. Pay attention,” Nakasone added. “We’re not returning to an old normal – we’re headed to a new one. I hope it will be a future where challenges give you the chance to find strength you did not know you had.”