By: Mattie Cook
FORT KNOX, Ky.- Maj. Gen. Christopher P. Hughes, Commanding General of Cadet Command and Fort Knox completed his first summer in charge of Cadet Summer Training (CST) this week.
Hughes was impressed with what he saw from Cadets and Cadre this summer and described his first CST as rejuvenating.
“The experience has been therapeutic I guess you could say. The Army has been through a lot in the last 15 years of war and those who have gone through those entire 15 years are tired, but when you get to come back to an organization like this and you see young, energetic, motivated and ‘the world is their oyster’ approach it energizes you. It renews your belief in so many different facets of America,” Hughes added, “From the first class to the very last class that I had the privilege to speak to, I found them engaging, articulate, intelligent and willing to just really put on a rucksack and challenge the heck out of themselves.”
He identified the three leader attributes most important for future officers of the US Army as: agility in thought, adaptive critical thinking and problem solving, and an ability to show innovation in their leadership. He also outlined his three main goals as the new commander.
“First and foremost is to produce the best second lieutenants we can, based upon those three leader attributes. The second thing we do is develop our Cadre, our military force if you would, so they are value added to the operational force. So I have to develop our officers and noncommissioned officers in Cadet Command so they are the world’s best, or at least the Army’s best leader developers. So they understand how to educate leaders, how to train leaders, and they themselves become valuable because they have advanced levels of critical thinking, innovation and adaptability in themselves. And that’s something we haven’t focused on so I’m making that my second focus area. The third is the Junior ROTC program. That program has a very interesting mission statement; it’s to produce better citizens. How do we produce better citizens who understand patriotism and the Constitution of the United States?” Hughes added, “I think in a lot of cases, yeah we’re making better citizens but in a lot of cases we’re making better human beings. And we’re providing them the opportunity to realize with adult figures (authoritarian figures) that people believe in them and they begin to trust that they can do better than they think they are, and I think that’s pretty cool too.”
Hughes has also assessed the performance of CST and given much thought for CST 2017.
“Because of the unique agility of this headquarters and CST itself, we were able to make a lot of changes while in flight, if you will. We made a lot of changes in the field. We decided to keep the Cadets in the field longer; we didn’t bring them back as frequently, that was because we wanted to build their field craft skills. We wanted to get them use to acclimatizing, getting used to the weather so the weather isn’t always such a challenge; it becomes part of their training. Surviving the heat, surviving the thunderstorms, the rain, the chiggers, the ticks.” He added “ Next year a big part of our train up will be teaching those skills and assessing those skills to ensure that when they do go to their basic officer leader courses they are better prepared for what they need to do.”
In addition building field craft, critical thinking and problem solving skills, and adaptability, Hughes puts a defining emphasis on the role of one’s character in leadership development.
“I’m of the opinion that if someone is a person of character, if they possess the basics, the academic basics, the physical basics, the mental basics, the character which brings that holistic person together in my opinion is if we can assess their character the other three are obvious. I can tell if you’re physically fit, I can tell if you are mentally sound and your GPA tells me your academic capabilities, or intellect, well not so much your intellect, it tells me what you know, not what you could know and we’re still debating about that piece. But the character piece of this is important.”
He quoted Martin Luther King Jr. when defining character. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands in moments of challenge and controversy.”
Hughes continued, “how do I create moments of challenge and controversy so I can truly assess an individual’s character, because, I don’t want them to be great leaders leading 40 or 50 men and women in combat when everything is going great. Anybody can do that. It’s the first casualty, the first vehicle that gets blown up, the first flat tire on a convoy, it’s the first small arms contact. How will their character and leader skills react at that moment of challenge and controversy? And that’s key in trying to find conditions where you have to create those conditions at school and at camp are the overarching umbrella idea that I want everything to nest under.”
Hughes’ ability to create conditions of challenge and controversy emphasizes just how important CST is in the development and evaluation of ROTC Cadets and programs across the country.
“My ability to see that and get that feedback mechanism is almost impossible throughout the course of the year because I am getting it second hand. Second hand information, results and data inputs as the commander. But where I can see it and tweak it and actually assess it is during these 32-day crucibles at Fort Knox. Then I can see the fruits of those ideas to see if I have the appropriate effect on the development of the Cadets,” Hughes said.
Hughes is passionate about impacting the lives of Cadets and developing Second Lieutenants, and draws from past experiences to incorporate into Cadet Command.
“The experiential factor that probably influences the most, is my personal experience as an ROTC Cadet and then my personal experience in my two sons being ROTC Cadets. I see the program through the eyes of a parent and i see the program through the eyes of an Army officer and the eyes of a Cadet. So I use those three experiences to think about, what did I see that I would change as a parent? What did I feel? What was the most frustrating piece of what my sons had gone through,” Hughes said.
Overall, Hughes is excited about the impressive performances he saw at CST but also what the future holds for Cadet Command and Fort Knox. He is adamant that Fort Knox as an installation sets a high standard.
“I’m not just saying that because I’m here, this is the best post I have seen, the best maintained, the best staffed, the best resourced, the best training facilities. The infrastructure here is incredible, the natural gas and how they do utilities here is off the charts innovative. I just love it.” Hughes added, “And the systems they created here are phenomenal. And the staff that thinks and innovates that way, I think is, well I know it’s the best I’ve seen. And some of the places I’ve been recently, they pale in comparison to the capabilities, and the passion and the professionalism of the men and women who run this post.”