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2009 Distinguished Graduate Award

GEN (R) Eric Ken Shinseki '65

Throughout a lifetime of dedication to our nation, as a Soldier and civilian, General Eric Ken Shinseki has exemplified the ideals of West Point: Duty, Honor, Country. His military career spanned over 38 years, and his service to our nation continues still. He is a visionary and humble leader who has proven again and again that he deserves the title “Distinguished Graduate.”

“Ric” Shinseki, a native son of Hawaii, graduated from West Point in 1965. He soon found himself at war in Vietnam, where he served two tours, earned two Purple Hearts, and emerged a skilled and confident warrior. “My name is Shinseki, and I’m a Soldier” became his trademark self-introduction.

As a young officer, General Shinseki transferred from the Field Artillery to Armor. He then obtained a Master of Arts degree in English Literature from Duke University and served as an instructor at West Point from 1976 to 1978. He went on to command, successively, an armored cavalry squadron, an armored brigade, and eventually the famed 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. In each of these command positions and the many staff assignments in between, General Shinseki displayed a visible commitment to Soldiers and their families.

By 1997, General Shinseki had earned his fourth star and was given three concurrent assignments: Commanding General, United States Army Europe; Commander of Allied Land Forces Central Europe; and Commander of NATO’s Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina. His tenure was marked by two major changes: defused tensions between previously warring factions and the rebuilding of the national infrastructure. It was in Bosnia-Herzegovina that he learned how much the international security environment was changing – in fundamental ways – and how transformation would be necessary for our Army to adapt and win.

In 1999, General Shinseki was appointed as the Army’s 34th Chief of Staff, assuming the mantle worn by such storied figures as George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, and Creighton Abrams. During the next four years, he devoted his own energies and the Army’s to adapting to the new demands facing our nation’s ground forces. He had seen a dangerous bifurcation. Slow-to-deploy heavy formations capable of sustained combat were powerful, while more readily deployable and versatile light forces were vulnerable. He envisioned hybrid formations – making the Army more responsive, deployable, agile, versatile, lethal, survivable, and sustainable – that have since proved their worth in the Global War on Terror. General Shinseki also asserted that a holistic approach to transformation would be necessary, including everything from recruitment to training to supporting Army families.

Anticipating support from politicians who expressed a commitment to defense reform, General Shinseki instead met with resistance. In a firm show of integrity, he consistently offered his honest and straightforward professional opinion. He understood what capabilities our Army would need. He was determined to foster buy-in across the Army for transformation, knowing that this would provide the sustainability such changes require. General Shinseki was always willing to stand up for what was best for the Army and its Soldiers.

Subsequent to his retirement, General Shinseki was appointed as the first holder of the Class of 1951 Chair on Leadership at West Point. Among other leadership positions, he served as an Advisor to the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and to the US Comptroller General. His recent selection as Secretary of Veterans Affairs is more than fitting since he has always believed that Soldiers are the most important resource in our nation’s defense structure.

“My name is Shinseki and I’m a Soldier.” Few who have ever worn the uniform have invested that title with as much wisdom, dedication, integrity, and personal grace. His contributions to the nation continue as he has offered his professional excellence and visionary leadership to our nation for over four decades. History will record General Shinseki as a true leader of character, steeped in the principles of Duty, Honor, Country. Accordingly, the West Point Association of Graduates takes great pride in presenting the 2009 Distinguished Graduate Award to Eric K. Shinseki.