The students at Riverside Military Academy received a “timeless message” in leadership Wednesday afternoon.
Lt. Gen. John E. Wissler spoke about honor, courage and commitment as part of the school’s Character Development program.
He explained the importance of these traits by giving examples from his service.
During a mission in 1979, it was his responsibility to make sure the helicopters were properly equipped to carry the
soldiers off a small island.
He said he knew that every item on that checklist was written in blood. He found that one helicopter was lacking
inflatable life vests and said his Marines wouldn’t board the helicopter without them.
Even though he had to fight both the crew chief and the pilot to get them, the vests were eventually added to the helicopter and the Marines leftthe island.
Halfway to the destination the transmission in the second engine went out and the helicopter crashed into the Pacific Ocean.
Of the 13 Marines and four crew members, three couldn’t swim; thankfully they all had their life vests.
“It wasn’t because I was smart. It wasn’t because I was brave. It wasn’t because of anything but a checklist and an understanding that ... being accountable means doing what’s right regardless of the person (who) is in power,” Wissler said.
He encouraged the cadets to hold both themselves and their leaders accountable.
“The true test of a leader is not the leader’s performance but the performance of the people the leader leads,” Wissler said.
He explained that, by staying true to their core values, they will become good leaders, a valuable trait.
“Leadership is not exclusive to the military. Leadership is the most sought-after skill set in America today,” Wissler said.
Wissler served as the Marine Corps aide to President Bill Clinton and President George H.W. Bush. Wissler is currently serving as deputy commandant for Programs and Resources at the U.S. Marine Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Dr. James Benson, retired colonel and president of Riverside Military Academy, said he was proud to have such a distinguished member of the armed forces to speak.
“We believe in the holistic philosophy of education, where you don’t just focus on the academic development, you focus on the leadership, the moral character, the reasoning and sound judgement,” Benson said.
Benson explained that many of the speakers who visit the school are connected from previous service in the military.
Sgt. Maj. of the Academy Jorge Sosa served in Iraq with Wissler and said there isn’t anyone better to teach the students about leadership and integrity.
“Being in the military is like being in a big family. When you serve together in certain circumstances it brings you even more closer together, so the friendships that you develop are forever,” Sosa said.