Michael R. Pence, Vice President of the United States, accompanied by Ryan McCarthy ’96, Secretary of the Army, and U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz ’96, visited VMI Sept. 10, and Pence addressed the Corps of Cadets in Cameron Hall.
The visit by Pence and McCarthy had been in the works for approximately eight to 12 months, with the goal of enhancing leadership development opportunities for cadets. “It’s important, in forming leaders, to expose them to many different types of leaders and leadership styles,” said Col. Bill Wyatt, director of communications and marketing at VMI.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, attendance was limited to members of the VMI community. Seating was socially distanced, and masks were required for all attendees. After his remarks, Pence met privately with about 10 cadets from his home state of Indiana, where he served as governor before being inaugurated as vice president in 2017.
Accompanied by Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III ’62, VMI superintendent, Pence, McCarthy and Waltz then toured the George C. Marshall Museum before departing post with their crew in two MV-22 Ospreys, while onlookers moved to the balcony of Moody Hall to watch them walk across the Parade Ground and board the aircraft.
While at least four presidents of the United States have visited VMI – both Lyndon B. Johnson and George W. Bush did so while in office – Thursday’s visit was only the second by a vice president to the Institute. Vice President Dick Cheney, who served under George W. Bush, came Dec. 8, 2008.
In the past 10 years, speakers who’ve come to post have included former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Senator and former Virginia governor Tim Kaine, and the late congressman and civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, all of whom addressed issues of national importance.
Pence did likewise, speaking on international affairs and defense issues. Before delving into those subjects, though, he praised VMI’s commitment to producing leaders such as Jonathan M. Daniels ’61 and Gen. George C. Marshall ’901, both of whom Pence mentioned by name.
“For 181 years, this institution has been training up citizen-soldiers, who are educated, confident, capable leaders who have a love of learning and a high sense of public service,” the vice president said.
He specifically praised VMI’s commitment to honor as its bedrock value. “At VMI, honor is at the core of what you do,” Pence stated. “And thanks to the extraordinary education and training you are learning here today, honor will be the central characteristic of who you become.”
Pence also took the occasion to remind his listeners that he was speaking on the eve of the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, in which nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives, including two VMI alumni. At the time, Pence was a recently elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and in Washington that day, he could see the black smoke rising from the Pentagon.
That night, he returned home to his wife and young children. As he was heading back out the door to meetings on Capitol Hill, he recalled, his 5-year-old daughter, Audrey, stopped him with a question: “If we have to make a war, do you have to go?”
Pence’s reaction was to give his little girl a hug and reassure her that he was too old to go to war. “It was on that day that I thought of those who did have to go,” Pence commented. Many thousands of American servicemen and women, including many from VMI, went on to serve in the war on terrorism in the years that followed the terrorist attacks, and 12 Institute alumni died in that war. VMI alumni still serve around the world today.
“We took the fight to the enemy,” said Pence, adding that since Sept. 11, 2001, there have been no major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
Pence touted the record of the current administration, where servicemen and women have seen their largest pay increase in 10 years, and the Department of Defense has seen its largest budget increase since Ronald Reagan was in the White House. He also noted the administration’s creation of the first new military branch in 70 years, the U.S. Space Force.
“We’ve made the strongest military in the history of the world stronger still,” said Pence.
This commitment to military strength has paid dividends in the form of peace, Pence said. He said that the administration has been guided by the rule, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” ISIS has been crushed, Pence said, and Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own people has been brought to an end through the use of cruise missiles.
Pence also had some life lessons for cadets, regardless of their career plans. Essential qualities for success in life, he stated, are humility, an orientation to authority and self-control. The vice president told cadets to consider others more important than themselves, respect the chain of command and focus on discipline as the foundation of self-control.
“If you develop and maintain those virtues … you will lead lives of consequence and distinction,” he stated. “America needs leaders like the ones from VMI to lead this nation forward.”
Mary Price VMI Communications & Marketing