Remarks of Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr., USN, Commander, NORAD and USNORTHCOM, Simpson Penn Centre for Boys

By Nassau, The Bahamas | February 09, 2011

ADMIRAL WINNEFELD: You guys look great today. Did anybody get out of class to be able to be here? So I know you’re already happy to see me! You didn’t have to do class and everything. But I’ll tell you what. It’s such a privilege for me to be here today with you. You look fantastic. And this is, I think, one of the most important things that I’ll do during my visit to the Bahamas--because this is all about young men…it’s about people…and trying to make ourselves better.

And Ambassador Avant, thank you for the fine introduction, by the way. You mentioned that I have a pretty neat job. I’ve had an awful lot of fun--and all those great experiences that you talked about boil down to one thing. It’s called the ultimate in motor sports. And I get to defend my country--and to help other people defend their countries from things like terrorists and drugs and criminals. So it’s a real privilege for me to be partnered with the Bahamas to be able to maybe do some of that with this wonderful country.

Now, I was asked, “What would you say to a bunch of great young men who are in a place like the Simpson Penn Centre, with great teachers and great people supporting it, you know, motivational or whatever?” So what I would like to tell you is just a couple things. One – one of the reasons this is neat for me is because about eight years or so ago, there was another man who came and talked to this wonderful group of guys. And his name is Colin Powell. Has anybody ever heard of Colin Powell?

A: Yes.

ADMIRAL WINNEFELD: Really, a famous American. He was the chairman of all of our military, and then our Secretary of State--one of the most highly-respected people in our entire country. And he came here and talked to your predecessors about eight years ago. I’ll never be able to fill his shoes, so I won’t try to pretend that I’m another Colin Powell here talking to you. I had the great, unique privilege of working with Colin Powell, so I understand this man, and I understand why he would want to come to a place like this, to talk to a group of people like you--and it’s a real privilege for me to follow in his footsteps today and do this, for a lot of reasons.

The other thing is, you know, Colin Powell is a really successful man. As Ambassador Avant said, a lot of people make mistakes, and he would be the first person to tell you this. When he was growing up in the Bronx in New York, he made a lot of mistakes. And because of his determination and because of a lot of people who supported him and cared about him, he was able to rise above those mistakes and turn into one of the most successful American people--the very first African-American chairman of our Joints Chief of Staff. That was huge. I would tell you the same thing as Ambassador Avant told you: I’ve made an awful lot of mistakes and I kind of rose beyond those as a kid, and as a young man. If you work hard enough, and if you have the great kind of support that I had, then you can do the same thing. And I think that if my president, President Obama, were standing here, he would say the exact same thing. You know, when he was young, he made a few mistakes probably, just like all of us, and he grew to be the president of the United States, of my country--so there’s a lot of potential out there.

How do you get to that potential? I think it’s a matter of the God-given talent that you were born with, and it’s a matter of the kind of teaching that you get from people who care about you, and it’s about your own personal motivation. As you work through that, you’re trying to make your mind better, you’re trying to make your character better, and you’re trying to make your body better--so let me talk just a little about those sorts of things. In terms of God-given talent, I’m a great example of somebody who wasn’t given much of that, but I managed to get some really good teaching as I grew up, just like you’re getting here at the Simpson Penn Centre. And also I was pretty motivated. I kind of – as I got a little bit older, I kind of decided I wanted to do something with my life rather than just kind of hang out, okay?

There’s not much you can do about the talent you were given. Believe me, you were given more talent than you think you have. You may not believe it, but each and every one of you has a special talent, as Ambassador Avant just said a minute ago. In terms of teaching, you’ve got a great staff here that is trying to make you as good as they can. It’s about doing your homework. It’s about studying hard, and putting in a little bit of extra effort to learn how to do the basic stuff--reading and writing and all those good things. That’s going to carry you a long way in the future, even though you may not believe it right now. When you’re older, you’ll really understand that. And then motivation--getting out there and deciding that you are going to make something special out of your life…that you’re going to rise above anything that anybody’s ever said bad about you--or any difficult experiences you’ve had in the past--you’re just going to take off, okay. And as you take off, it’s about making your mind good, making your character good, and making your body good.

We already talked about the mind: work hard on your studies--you know that will really pay off. In terms of making your character good, this is about doing the difficult right thing rather than the easy wrong thing. It’s really easy to go and do the wrong thing. It takes a lot of personal character to go out and do the right thing, especially when some of your friends are trying to get you to do the wrong thing. So if some of your friends are trying to tempt you into doing something wrong, let that be their problem, okay? Don’t let that be your problem. And as you go through life, if somebody gives you a hard time about where you came from, the color of your skin, the fact that you were here, the fact that you may have been in trouble earlier in life, let that be their problem, not your problem, all right?

And as you grow in life, make sure that you’re also taking good care of your body--and that’s one of the reasons why we want to donate some of this equipment to you. There’s a lot of good stuff out there. You know: weights and pull-up bars, and that kind of stuff. Just be determined every day to try to do something to make yourself stronger, faster, more coordinated--and that’s where hopefully some of this equipment will help you out. And by the way, while you’re at it, have some fun. We have things like ping pong tables, basketballs and all that. That’s really good for making your body strong, as well as having a good time.

So again, let me just express to you what a real privilege it is for me to have been invited here today to talk to you. This is the most special part of my visit to the Bahamas, because it’s a chance to look you guys in the eye and tell you that you can become something special. You’ve got a lot of people here who really care about you, who give each and every day, to try and make it so that you can rise above anything that anybody’s ever said about you or anything you’ve ever done, to turn into something special. And so I wish each and every one of you the best in the future. I hope I get a chance to come back here some day, and I hope I get a chance to meet some of you guys later on, maybe as members of the Bahamian Police Force, or Bahamian Defense Force, you never know! The sky is unlimited for you. Grow and have a good time.

Thank you again for letting me talk to you. I really appreciate it. Best wishes to you.