WPAOG Podcast

EP68 Cultivating Character with LTG (R) Robert F. Foley (Part 2)

Episode Summary

This episode features part two of an interview with LTG(R) Robert F. Foley, recipient of the Medal of Honor, West Point class of 1963. LTG(R) Foley talks about his remarkable journey in the army, invaluable lessons from his career, and dynamic strategies to empower soldiers during combat.

Episode Notes

This episode features part two of an interview with LTG(R) Robert F. Foley,  recipient of the Medal of Honor, West Point class of 1963. LTG(R) Foley held numerous command and staff assignments during his 37 years on active duty. In this episode, LTG(R) Foley talks about his remarkable journey in the army, invaluable lessons from his career, and dynamic strategies to empower soldiers during combat.


Key Quotes:

(16:29) “Let me talk with what I think is the most important leadership lesson learned, and that is the importance of listening. I found that in my 37 years in active duty that we leaders just don't spend enough time on the issue of listening. And so I concluded that leaders at all levels, squad leaders, battalion commanders, corporate CEOs, need to carve out time daily, if they can, just to listen. And I don't mean to a one hour PowerPoint briefing in their office. I mean, getting out of their office, going to the motor pool, the training area, the dining facility, the workspace where the officers and the NCOs and the soldiers are working. And turn off the transmitter and go into the receipt mode and just listen and ask questions and find out things.”

(33:34) “Intuitively, we know that leadership and discipline and training are all factors to ensure that you overcome fear. But I found the most compelling motivation was this intense regard which soldiers had for their fellow soldiers. These were their buddies, their friends, their comrades. They'd been with them 24 hours a day.They would do anything to prevent their buddies from being killed or wounded. And it was kind of an unwritten creed. Soldier would say, I'm never gonna let my buddy down. And so, you know, I leveraged that. I said, you know, that that's an important thing.”


Episode Timestamps:

(01:00) Commandant of Cadets

(11:36) Advice for aspiring young leaders

(19:01) Changes over time at West Point

(23:10) Similarities in the current West Point experience



LTG Robert F. Foley

David Siry’s LinkedIn

West Point Association of Graduates

Episode Transcription

Narrator: Hello and welcome to the WPAOG Podcast. This episode features part two of an interview with Retired Lieutenant General Robert F. Foley, recipient of the Medal of Honor, West Point class of 1963. Retired LTG Foley held numerous command and staff assignments during his 37 years on active duty. 

In this episode, he talks about the vital role of spirit in soldiers advice for aspiring young leaders and the most impactful changes at West Point during his time as Commandant.

Now, please enjoy this interview between retired Lieutenant General Foley, West Point class of 1963, and your host, Retired Lieutenant Colonel Dave Siry, ‘94, Director of the West Point Center for Oral History and instructor in the Department of History.

[00:01:00] David Siry: To jump back forward to, uh, your time as Commandant of Cadets, what was your primary focus as the calm and accomplishing the West Point mission to develop leaders of character?

[00:01:10] LTG Robert Foley: Well, Dave, that's a question because it almost depends on what your point in time is, because you know, I knew that the Honor code, the honor system, the honor education program was one of the single most important parts of developing leaders of Charter.

And so I, and uh, summer of 1992, the superintendent, the dean and I had a meeting with the honor committee, all 83 members of the Honor Committee, cadet Honor Committee, well, the company Honor Education teams. As well as the company tactical officers and tech NCOs to discuss where we were in terms of honor education or any other issues that would come up.

But because of some of the things that I knew about in education, the honor education program, first of all, when I arrived, there were only 22 hours of honor education. From the time that over the four year experience, I said, you know, just the numbers don't seem enough. It's, it just seems like there ought be, but I also was concerned about things like a movie called Breaker Maria.

Did you ever hear about that movie break, Maria, sir? I did. Okay. We all watched it as cadets. Oh, okay. Well,

that's one that I said we're taking it out and I, I hope when I left, it was out. Of course, I left in 94, so, You may have watched it earlier than when I got there. I don't know, but yes sir, it was, but you know what it was. But for the listeners, I'll explain, it was a two hour movie of about three Australian lieutenants who were being court-martialed by the British court for having shot prisoners during the World War in 19 two.

And I said, you know, we ought to have some things that a little more current to. You don't need two hours. You can get the point across in 10 or 15 minutes of a video. I mean, it's a great movie, but two hours you could, we wanna get at cadets into those small group discussions about honor and let them articulate their views and their thoughts and their ideas about honor, honor, and listen to other cadets talk about on listening to the instructors who have been all through that have a rich discussion during each one of those honor sessions.

So I said,

All of the p o i, the materials being used, the subjects being taught, and point towards the relevant moral, ethical dilemmas that cadets and commission officer would fix. What kind of subjects ought to be taught and what kind of material ought to be used in. Take a blank sheet of paper, just go and put that together and then come back and talk.

But I also told him, you think you wanna add class? What's already there in those 22 hours. You gotta tell me where in the commandants military instruction you're gonna take somebody something else out. I said, here's a good place to look. I didn't think that plebes you've necessarily needed to do paid outta salt train or throw in hand grain.

You're gonna get that in basic training. You're also gonna get it when you get to unit. So you know there's some opening there. You. Instruction on institutional values when you get to the, so maybe this is a good way to put more in there, but I said if you add one, you gotta figure out what you're gonna take out because the environment at West Point is too rich.

Can't just add stuff up, Highland one on top of another, it's too much. The cadets can't assimilate all that. They can't pull it all in. So anyway, we went from, uh, 22 to 35 the second year, 45 near I left of hours of instruction over the four year experience. But it wasn't just the number of hours that was important.

It was the analysis they did on what kind of instruction ought to be brought up. Materials they were gonna be used. It was a total analysis and it was Jerry Galloway would. This is brilliant. This is really gonna make a big difference in terms of our mission, which is to develop a leadership. So that's one of the first things that I jumped on at h on and I felt very good about.

And then later on, 'cause of my, what I mentioned to you about soldiers caring for their fellow soldiers, I decided to incident large in the consideration of I consideration of.

I wanted to see if I could mirror the honor program. 'cause I think we ought to have respect representatives in each company. We ought to have respect education. We ought to have a respect code, just cadets, treat others respect and dig in. Very simple, because I thought that was a very important part of the warrior ethos.

Again, my experience in Vietnam and so.

Put our program together. We had almost 35 or 40 hours of education in that regard and took other things out. You know, the other thing that, that I, I would like to mention too though, is, is, uh, when I arrived in the summer of 1992, uh, I watched as I went around Beast Barracks and yield trading and other places, and I could see that the cadet cadre, the first and second classmen were going through the motions and doing the duties of that.

They had to, and leading the cadets going through it. I didn't feel like they were totally into it. I didn't see the enthusiasm and the the desire on their parts to do a first class job. It was just sort of, something was missing. There was some complacency in there. I said, you know, it's about the spirit, the soldiers, you know, the leaders have to have spirit.

Gotta have that in combat. You certainly need to have it in each soldier, because if not, you know, soldiers like what? I just. And how I was recommended for the medal of honor. You know, we were in, uh, the, uh, deep jungle, but it was heavily wooded jungle with triple canopy trees. The visibility that's lifted to 10 or 15 meetings when we crossed that line of departure, you know, all the training and values and everything that I had instilled, we hope comes forward.

But those soldiers are gonna.

Looking at this idea of spirit, I said, well, we need to try to figure out ways where we can instill a spirit every day. Some kind of programs or issues. So, uh, the home football games each year I felt were important 'cause they added a tremendous ambiance to the start of the year. Everybody got excited about, it's got the, uh, surrounding communities, the Corps of Cadets, the alumni excited.

And what better venue could you have? For the joining of football, the nation's history in Autumn fo foliage in Mikey Stadium. It was the perfect place to have it. So I said, well, you know, maybe you can add a little spirit to the football games. I saw told the first Captain Sean Daniels, I said, Hey, how about getting me your top five or six first classmen ranch artiller?

He said, no, I got those guys in my office and I said, We have these 75 millimeter pack hours that are used by the garrison for ceremonies. So once you get those and use those as your center point, find a place somewhere around Mikey Stadium. Do a staff study. Do site surveys at different places that do courses of action.

Just a staff study and advantages and disadvantages of action, and figure out a place. Those 75 millimeter pack collar can be. So at the end of the year, so whenever there's a touchdown scored for Army, you fire off it's touchdown, 6.6 rounds, field goal, three rounds, depends on what it's, so they did it and they came back to me and said, run across from Los Reservoir.

Well, of course Dave, you know, I'm not sure if there's six over there now, but I'm not, I know there's a couple at the end of each game, and that was 30 years ago. I. I told 'em and I said, okay, but when you do this, it has to be precision. It can't just be trolling. You gotta do just like you're gonna be having an artillery firing battle.

It's good training for you. Well, they got all excited about, they thought it was great and they enjoyed it and they did it for every whole football game. The other thing I did, Dave, which, um, Craig Cummings was the second king.

Close contender to be the first captain. I I, I selected Sean Daniels. But anyway, he became a regiment commander and asked him and he was a very creative guy and a lot of good ideas. And so I said, what else can I do about Spirit? And he said, well, you know, about six of our companies have these mascots keep 'em in the comfort.

They're really a lot of fun, but they can't take 'em outta the company headache. They can't do anything with 'em. They can't go anywhere. He said, I think it'll be great if all 36 companies, that company mask. So I said, well, sure, why not? Well, pretty soon all 36 companies had mascots. You know, he had the D one ducks, the B two bulldogs, the G three gophers, the G four guppies.

I love to see a, um, mascot rocket. I'm, I'm not sure if you've ever seen one, but, you know, seeing alligators and elephants try to do a rocket. What it was, was the generated spirit. It was a lot of fun. And the other thing that I found out just recently was I was talking to a cadet in, and I saw the, uh, mascot icon on their shoulder pack and on their gray jacket.

So I mean, it's something that's stuck around, they've taken great pride in. So I've said, you know, it's things like that just like the. It's there. Give them pride and they can generate that. And we have a lot of fun with it. And I think those kinds of things that generate spirit are very important. Yes, sir.

Um, so Jeff, that gives some ideas of the kinds of things that I was doing at that time to ensure that we were on track. Yes, sir. 

[00:11:36] David Siry: You've already mentioned several different commands, but to reiterate, you were a battalion and brigade commander in Germany, an assistant division commander in Korea.

Commanding General of the Fifth Army in San Antonio, Texas. With such a diverse background, what advice would you give aspiring young leaders? 

[00:11:56] LTG Robert Foley: One thing that comes to mind all the time is professional reading, and this is for anybody, mayor, a civilian occupation or the military. But I, I just talked in terms of the military.

We have some great courses, the basic course, the advanced course command, staff college and a walk call, and there out. They can't cover everything and they don't. And so my advice and my guidance is that every single officer, non-commissioned officer has to set goals of professional education, reading books about leaders and leadership responsibilities, and leadership challenges that people have, doesn't necessarily have to be military leaders.

You can read about civilian corporate CEOs and the challenges they faced and what they did. You have to be, it has to be a lifetime of professional reader. Could read about presidents, read about Roosevelt and, uh, prime Minister Churchill, what they thought about it, how they did things. It's just, to me, it's, it's essential if you are going to be a tremendous leader of character and you're gonna do the best for your soldiers and for your unit, and accomplish the mission that you get.

A tremendous inventory of professional books and professional reading. My background, you can't see it, but off to my left, I've got a full library and I've got library of books here. I still do the reading because I'm still going out and talking to different places, people in different places, and so now I wanna make use of that.

But I tell everybody that I'm told people, students in junior high school and high school, You're gonna have to do it on your own. Don't just expect that you can live by the textbooks. You get some, some class or something. Go out there and do on your own. Dave, let me give you a couple of examples.

Founding Fighters on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips. I don't know if you've ever heard of it, but to me it's a great book 'cause it's about our founding funds. What's more important about our founding, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George. They held steadfastly to the values that made our nation so great and they had enormous challenges.

Look at George Washington in the winter of 17 77, 17 78, a brutal winter in the Northeast and in Pennsylvania, and he asked members of the Continental Army to come with him. We're talking about 11,000 members of the Continental.

A place called Valley Foods where there was no food, no shelter, and no pain. They weren't getting paid and, but they came. And throughout the winter, many died of malnutrition and disease, but still more came. So by the spring of 1778, yet 13,500 ready to defend freedom against British. And if you read a book like that, you can see the kinds of problems they had, the kinds of issues they had, and what they went did and went forward because they had tremendous challenges and they didn't have much in the way of resources to do it.

And yet, you know, and at Yorktown, Washington was, was successful and entered the war, guaranteed our freedom. And so I think like that are very important. I'll to one dear my.

It know was a class of 69 West Point. He was, uh, the coach at West Point was the head coach of the Duke Men's Basketball program, but he wrote a book called Five Point Play. He's written several books, but this one on five point play. He really talked about the five values that he wanted to instill in every team.

It was trust, pride, caring, communications, and collective responsibility. When you think about those five values, trust, pride, sharing, communications, collective responsibility, any corporation, any organization can use those values. They're extremely important. And I had an opportunity to spend about three hours with 'em one afternoon when I was hiring a coach for army basketball, when that was the Commonwealth, and he happened to be one year when he wasn't in the final tour.

So he had plenty of time on it and said, we got to talking about that, those values. He said, you just take collective responsibility. Me and my coaches, our job is to train them and coach them, get them ready for games, get them ready for the season, do all the things all year long. We'll make them the best basketball players and the best team.

But once they step on the basketball court, they know it's their responsibility to win the game. So it's collective responsibility. We'll get you ready when you get out there. You gotta win the basketball. Now, he obviously called a few strategic timeouts here and there, but basically the players knew they lost.

It's not on the coach, it's on them. And what he did is he, he said, it's the same with you. You train your soldiers, but once they cross the line of departure, you hope they know the commander's intent and they carry it out. So you know what it's, I mean, it's a great book. I would be remiss Dave if I didn't talk about this other book Standing Tall.

I think it's a great book. I know the author personally. It's called Standing Tall. It's got subtitle of leadership, lessons Learned and the Life of Soul. And that's all it really is. It's about the leadership challenges I've faced, what I did about them, and the lessons I learned along the way. And it goes all through 37 years of my, of my career.

So I think it's a book helpful to your listeners to understand no matter where they are, what they're doing, you understand, at least from my standpoint, what I thought was very important about leaders, what they need to do, and whether it's peace, time, or combat. And I got the title, actually, it came to me because I was thinking, first of all, I played basketball.

The idea that you have officer superiors, peers, and subordinates who may challenge you on certain things, and you need to stand tall, guess what you think is right. And so again, it gets back to institutional values. What's the right thing to do in this particular thing? And maybe your boss not gonna like it or somebody else not gonna like it.

Or your peers, or your subordinates, but you gotta stand tall against that kind of confrontation. And then the last thing was I used standing tall only once in the narrative of my book. That was recognition of those terrific soldiers that I had that were with me right beside me during that Battle of 5 66.

And I basically just said every one of those wolf found soldiers was standing tall that day. So what that's worth.

[00:19:01] David Siry: Now, sir, you were stationed at West Point three different times. You were a cadet from 1959 to 1963. You returned as attack from 1969 to 1972, and then you served as the commandant from 1992 to 1994. What were some of the most important changes you've seen at West Point 

[00:19:20] LTG Robert Foley: during that period? Well, you know, that's one of the things that the superintendent, the dean, the commandant, and everybody's struggle with all the time.

How much change should be made? How much should we keep? Its solid tradition that you need to have something we looked at all the time. Can have a strategic vision of where you want to go, but how much goodness is the representative of what the military academy stood for all the way back to 1802. I'll just talk to you about, from my standpoint as the comment, because I think the changes that were made during my time and before and after well received, One of them was we certified and codified and established the company tactical officer.

In terms of standardization, the company, tactical officers normally had five to eight years of service. Successful company commanders before they came to us, but we didn't have any standardized process for them to go overtake the company just report in. Now there is a master's degree in lead development.

The company tax, while they going through that course. The Academy generates the information for the course to make sure that they're getting the best out of, from their experiences, what they've learned, putting it into the course each year, and new tax are there. They haven't been assigned a company yet, but they're going to be, and they can learn from the, uh, there by being right on site and they know who they're gonna replace.

They're gonna be talking to that individual. So that's a great sense of continuity and standardization for the criteria we want Officer. Second thing is the company tactical officer attack NCOs, when I was, um, came in as commandant, we had 'em at the battalion level. I said, no, we need to have a, every single company needs to have a company.

T C O T. NCOs are the ones, teach and train all of the non-commissioned officers in the core cadets. From squad leading to platoon sergeant to First Sergeant Bri eight, Sergeant Major. They set the example for what a non-commissioned officer does, because officers do certain things and NCOs do certain other things.

They're the ones that are out there in Yearling Camp Buckner. They're doing land navigation and in the billis, they're the ones that are taking care of maintenance procedures and so forth. So the non-commissioned officers, extremely important. Third attack N C O and having at the company level, just absolutely out and before Officer n c.

Together, they're instilling every day the values that those cadets needed yet. The second thing was when I was a company tech, we lived up on the top floor of Washington. Home Cadets had to come up there to get their evaluations and their counseling. So, and if they had a problem, you know, it was too far to go in between classes.

By the time they get up there, the T wasn't there, so it wasn't worth it. So moving the company tack and Tech N C O down into the company area right there near the oily room was perfect. Cadet can come back to the class where he heard something he just didn't think was right. Just poke his head in and talk to the TAC officer, attack NCO and say, man, your experience, do you think?

And so you had the TAC officer and TAC NCOs write the leveling process of the education because final analysis, they're involved in every aspect anyway. Ensuring that at the end of the four years that each one of these first classmen are Qualified to be commission officers in the United States Army or another branch of service.

So those three things I think were very important to ensure that the role of the company tactical officer and that function, which as I mentioned, was put in by Ance Thayer and how important it's to carry off the continuity of developing leadership. So sir, 

[00:23:10] David Siry: what remained the same that you saw through your years at, of experience 

[00:23:13] LTG Robert Foley: at West Point?

There two things. One is discipline and the other is lead a developer. You know, all of the things like the known meal formations, room inspections, drill and ceremonies, the uh, indoor obstacle courts. So all of these things were all part of ceasing discipline, which is so important in the military academy.

And it, and to getting that into the culture of every single cadet so they understand that discipline is something that is normal. It's in my culture, it's something that will always be there. So we're organized to accomplish our mission and continue to do well. The other thing I would talk about is the leader development.

You know, during the academic year, we have, um, every cadet gets a certain position. They go through those positions during the academic year, do it during summer training, do it on the athletic field. There, there is opportunities for leading development every single one in. I wanted to talk about this because I want to tell you a story about Pat Malcolm who was the field goal kicker for the army football team in 1992 and we were losing the game.

The, this is the Army Navy game. There's another thing that won't change and wheelers in the game. 20, uh, five to 24 to 22 and had five seconds left. Pat and Malcolm had his kick a field goal for 44 yards. He kicked it straight through the upright and everybody was jumping up and down and cheering. But I watched Pat Malcolm.

He could see that the officials had thrown the yellow flag, the lay of five yard. He just turned around and took five steps to the rear and turned around again, kept looking at the uprights. He looking at the team getting ready,

heaver. Calm, cool, confident. He sat there, he kicked it again straight through the uprights and army. He won 25 to 24. I mean, that's the kind of leader who will put in pressure situation. It's the kind of leader you want to lead and command our soldiers and our troops, and you want 'em beside incumbent. So, so the leader development is extremely important.

I only tell you one, one other thing about this memories. And that is, um, best memory I've had was race selection when I was a yearling. And from that day forward, I wanted to be an airborne racer. And one day, those 14 ways above, however, the branch selection was based upon academic standing and academic standing old.

And I was ranked 4 97 on 5 0 4, well, 4 96 Cs ahead of me. The only branch that was left was Signal Corps. I wasn't just disappointed, I was devastated. I went to the company, attack office and said, is there any way we can change this? He said, it's done. Two days later, I'm walking through central area and I got my head down and General Stilwell coming on a cadets came up behind me.

General Stillwell was, you know, we in the class of 63 called him because he was terrific. He was also very interested in sports and he followed basketball all the time. He had a lot of kind words for me all year when I was a first classmate and he said, why? So gone Bob, your buck, get ready to graduate.

So I told him my situation. He said, you know, keep the faith. You never know when doors will open. Three days later, a company tech called me and said, you, you've been re-designated Infantry branch. You're gonna go to Airborne and Ranger School. And when I was going to Signal Corps, they didn't have any slots for ever wanna ranger school.

So I got all of that and then a couple days later I found out I was going to the 25th empty division at, um, Schofield Barracks. So again, everything that I ever wanted on West Point, it made all the difference in the world and I was the happiest camper that made it, launched me into the United States Army and gave me the trust.

Took it upon himself, not just the 4,000 that he's responsible for, but individual cadets that he could make a difference in. I never forgot about that. When I became the 63rd common owner cadets, it was a less alert. Yes, sir. Final question for you, sir. What does your service mean to you? Let me just go right back to when I was Brandy Second Lieutenant.

And I started going through all the assignments and I got to that point in time where I had my mandatory five years. And at that point in time, I could stay in the Army or I can get on, and it was easy for me. I didn't do anything. I just stayed. Why? Because I enjoy my leadership responsibilities. All the ones I had.

I enjoyed the camaraderie with the officers and NCOs and soldiers. I enjoyed making a contribution, enjoyed the leader development responsibilities, but I also felt very good that I was making a contribution to my country. I felt good that I'd be doing that all of my life. I would be doing something where I could say, you know, this is a very important part of what I'm doing, and so my total focus will be.

Make a contribution to the unit I am in, soldiers I'm serving, and the country that I'm so proud to be citizen of. Sir, 

[00:28:56] David Siry: thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your memories with us. This has been absolutely wonderful.

[00:28:59] LTG Robert Foley: Okay, well thank you Dave. I appreciate it. 

[00:29:06] Narrator: This has been a production of the WPAOG Broadcast Network. Please take a moment to rate and review the show and join us each week for a new episode. Thank you for listening.