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Vincent Bove Article – Leadership Lessons from the United States Military

Published in:

The New Jersey Police Chief, April 2007

Leadership Lessons from the United States Military
By Vincent J. Bove, CPP


Over the past several months, I have been asked to become more proficient in utilizing current technologies for “getting out the message” of Leadership, Vigilance, and Collaboration. To this end, I have instituted a weekday web log (BLOG) called The Sentinel. These postings highlight various topics relevant to American society including community policing, character education, diversity, emergency preparedness, gangs, leadership, school violence, terrorism, and honoring American military sacrifices. Because I believe the message of these blogs is so important, I have incorporated the content of several of these blogs into this article. Doing so enables the e ssence of their message to be available to a wider audience through the print media.

Picatinny Arsenal

On February 8, 2007, through the invitation of Dr. Joseph A. Devine (Chief of Investigations retired, Morris County Prosecutors Office), I had the privilege of speaking at Picatinny Arsenal. Situated on a 6,500-acre military installation located in the Northwest corner of New Jersey, Picatinny plays a unique role in the United States ability to defend itself. There is no other comprehensive armaments facility like it in America.

Leadership is essential to Picatinny due to its role with research, development, engineering and production. Vigilance is central to the facility since America must remain prepared to defend itself and others who are oppressed. Collaboration is required because of the important partnerships that Picatinny has with universities and industries. A presentation, The Ethical Dimension of Leadership was delivered at the request of Dr. Devine in response to the crisis of leadership and deterioration of values in America today. The agenda for the program included lessons learned from the United States Military of which these reflections serve well to further inspire core values for transformational leadership within American society.

The Tomb of the Unknowns

The Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington National Cemetery serve as a model of leadership, vigilance, and collaboration. The Tomb, also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, is dedicated to the American soldiers who have died without having their remains identified.

The ceremony of The Sentinels guarding the Tomb allows us to reflect on the legacy of those who have honored America and to resolve to be dedicated to a transformation of our nation:

  • The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded 24 hours per day, 365 days a year and in any weather by Tomb Guard Sentinels.
  • It has been guarded continuously since July 2, 1937.
  • All volunteers are considered the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry and these soldiers must be in superb physical condition and possess an unblemished military record.
  • During the trial phase, aspiring sentinels memorize seven pages of Arlington National Cemetery history verbatim to earn a "walk." A walk occurs between the guard changes at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
  • After passing the first training phase, the "new Soldier" training begins and each new sentinel must learn the history of Arlington National Cemetery and the grave locations of nearly 300 veterans. The weapons and uniform of the sentinel must always be in immaculate condition.
  • Sentinels undergo rigorous and extensive testing before earning the privilege of wearing the silver Tomb Guard Identification Badge of which only 400 have been awarded since 1958.
  • After serving at the Tomb of the Unknowns for nine months, the Tomb Guard Identification Badge can be made permanent and may then be worn for the duration of a military career.
  • Representing precision collaboration, there are three relief’s, each having one relief commander and about six sentinels. The three relief’s are organized by height to express uniformity and they rotate every hour in the winter and at nights, and every half hour in the day during the summer.
  • An impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza announcing the Changing of the Guard. Soon the relieving sentinel leaves the Quarters and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to start the ceremony. The relief commander walks to the Tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony.
  • The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon. After meeting at the Tomb, the relief commander orders the relieved sentinel, "Pass on your orders." The current sentinel commands "Post and orders, remain as directed." The newly posted sentinel replies, "Orders acknowledged" and steps into position. When the relief commander passes by, the new sentinel begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.
  • The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp "shoulder-arms" movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed, the 21-gun salute. [1]

The white marble sarcophagus has inscribed on its western panel the words:

Here Rests In
Honored Glory
An American
Known But To God.

The mission of the Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is:

  • Maintaining the highest standards and traditions of the United States Army and this Nation while keeping a constant vigil at this national shrine.
  • Prevent any desecration or disrespect directed toward the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Sentinel's Creed can stir vast emotions when spoken by a Sentinel and it reminds all Americans of the dedication, dignity and duty each of us is responsible for in our own particular circumstances of life:

My dedication to this
sacred duty
is total and whole-hearted.
In the responsibility bestowed
on me never will I falter.
And with dignity and
perseverance my standard
will remain perfection.
Through the year of diligence
and praise and the discomfort
of the elements
I will walk my tour
in humble service
to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect I protect,
his bravery that made us proud.
Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day,
alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
this soldier will in honored glory rest
under my eternal vigilance. [2]

United States Military Academy

The cadet honor code of the United States Military Academy at West Point is engraved on marble in the center of campus:

"A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do."

Complimenting this honor code is the mission of the United States Military Academy:

"To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army."

Scandalous headlines highlighting a deterioration of values and a crisis of leadership in both the public and private sector within American society have been rampant over the past few years. Public corruption is of such concern that the Director of the FBI, Robert S. Mueller III, in Congressional Testimony before the Senate Committee on Intelligence of the United States Senate on February 16, 2005, stated:

"Public Corruption continues to pose the greatest threat to all levels of government...over the last two years alone, the FBI has convicted more then 1,050 corrupt government employees, including 177 federal officials, 158 state officials, 360 local officials and more than 365 police officers."

The ethical deficiencies in the corporate sector smack of decayed underpinnings of dysfunction and the lack of a moral compass. Enron, once an admired company, has become the icon of corporate greed with executives having enriched themselves at the expense of thousands who lost their jobs and their retirement savings. Legions of corrupt and dishonest officials from other companies, including WorldCom, represent this deviance. Professional sports teams share in this pandemic of scandal.

The leadership principles from the United States Military Academy stand as solid counter cultural wisdom to this crisis. These ideals demand review, reflection and resolve for all Americans. America must learn from the motto of West Point, "Duty, Honor, Country" and let it serve as a starting point for a national transformation. The lessons learned from this profound motto are stepping stones for renewal:

  • Duty – perseverance to living out morally based obligations as the heart of personal responsibility.
  • Honor – living and speaking truthfully and standing as a moral force against a culture of lies.
  • Country – living with profound admiration and devotion to the ideals of America and its providential destiny to stand as an example of moral leadership, unwavering vigilance and energizing collaboration.

World War II

It is through sacrifice, the act of delaying or denying self-gratification for the good of others, that our character gets tested and leadership is refined. During World War II over 400,000 Americans made the ultimate sacrifice to secure and preserve our freedom.

One such World War II American was U.S. Marine 2nd Lt. August Sacker, Jr. who joined the Marines when he was 22 years old. August Sacker always wanted to be a marine and was inspired to join by two other marines in his Paterson, New Jersey neighborhood. After previously quitting school, August went back to earn his diploma so he could meet the education requirements of the marines.

Lt. Sacker was killed June 15, 1944 on the first day of The Battle in Saipan, one week after his 31st birthday. Six months prior to being killed, he was wounded in the Pacific theater of operations and received the Purple Heart. After his convalescence, Lt. Sacker requested being deployed to the European theater but was sent back to the Pacific where he was killed.

I learned about Lt. Sacker after noticing his vintage World War II Marine portrait photograph proudly framed in the living room while visiting one of my current neighbors, Marie, his surviving sister.

U.S. Marine 2nd Lt. August Sacker is buried in Beverly National Cemetery in Beverly, New Jersey, 10 miles east of Camden. As stated by his sister Marie who treasures the memory of her brother lost sixty-three years ago, “Visiting the graves and remembering with honor the many Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country reminds us of the enduring value of leadership as learned from the United States Military."


Recently, the Pentagon has been the focus of a major shakeup due to exposed squalid conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The outrage of deplorable conditions has already led to the conclusion of several military careers including the Secretary of the Army. The secretary’s departure was the result of a furor over the treatment of veterans and active duty personnel at one of the nation’s premier military medical facilities. The Secretary of Defense has expresssed his dissatisfaction that “some in the Army have not adequately appreciated the seriousness of the situation pertaining to outpatient care at Walter Reed.” The Secretary of Defense also stated, “the problem at Walter Reed appears to be problems of leadership.”

In light of this recent military patient care services leadership scandal and others throughout all elements of American society, our nation must be dedicated to transformational leadership inspired by the core values of the military’s honorable legacy of duty, honor and country. A renewed commitment to the qualities of American Military leadership principles as exemplified by the Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the honor code of the United States Military Academy and the sacrifices of World War II and all wars where Americans have served and died, must ignite our nation with renewed determination, character and courage.


  1. Tomb of the Unknowns ( http://www.arlingtoncemetery.org/ceremonies/sentinelsotu.html )
  2. Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown ( http://www.tombguard.org/creed.html )


Picatinny Arsenal
    ( www.pica.army.mil )

United States Military Academy
    ( www.usma.edu )

U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs Gravesite Locator
    ( gravelocator.cem.va.gov/j2ee/servlet/NGL_v1 )

Vincent J. Bove, CPP is a Board Certified Protection Professional, Board Certified Crime Prevention Specialist, Certified Law Enforcement Instructor and U.S. Department of Justice Certified Community Anti-Terrorism Awareness Trainer.

He is the 2007 New Jersey recipient of the prestigious FBI Director's Community Leadership Award and was hand-selected to serve as a facilitator and mentor for the 2007 National Conference on Ethics in America and speaker for the 2008 conference at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

"Vincent J. Bove is considered one of the foremost national experts on school and workplace violence prevention, specializing in facility protection, evacuations, terrorism prevention and leadership training." -- U.S. Senate

You can visit Mr. Bove's website at www.vincentbove.com or email him at vincent@vincentbove.com

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