This episode features an interview with LTC McKinley Wood, West Point class of 2001, and recipient of the 2023 Alexander R. Nininger Award for Valor at Arms. LTC Wood talks about how to lead in asymmetric warfare through moral, ethical, and fair leadership, and how West Point taught him the most important lesson of all, the value of teamwork.
This episode features an interview with LTC McKinley Wood, West Point class of 2001, and recipient of the 2023 Alexander R. Nininger Award for Valor at Arms.
LTC Wood most recently served as the Battalion Commander of the 3rd Battalion, 304th Regiment, with the responsibility of providing weapons, tactical employment of crew-served weapons, and physical confidence training to the United States Military Academy. LTC Wood earned a Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering from West Point in 2001 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in Armor. He has served as a Tank Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer, and Battalion Maintenance Officer during three Middle East deployments, two National Training Center rotations, a Joint Readiness Training Center rotation, and more. He has civilian work experience as a Design Engineer at Caterpillar, Assistant Chief and Chief Engineer at Bank of America, and as Assistant University Engineer and Associate Director of Engineering Services at University of Richmond.
In this episode, LTC Wood talks about how to lead in asymmetric warfare through moral, ethical, and fair leadership, and how West Point taught him the most important lesson of all, the value of teamwork.
“The Academy really brought to realization the value of teamwork to me, whether it's someone trying to help me through the studying for an exam, or me running next to someone on a PT test or practice saying, ‘Hey, here's how you breathe’, whatever it is. The value of teamwork and how much more you can accomplish. There's a saying that says, ‘if you want to go far, run as a group. If you want to go fast, go by yourself.’ And I prefer to go far, you know? Go fast, get tired quickly, be done with it, and get passed. So the academy really pushed on us, if you failed, it's not because you failed, it's because you all failed each other.” - LTC McKinley Wood
(02:26) Attending West Point
(06:57) Becoming an Armor Officer
(13:50) Favorite memories as a cadet
(17:20) How to lead in asymmetric warfare
(24:32) Stories from the battlefield
(26:46) Leveraging connections throughout his career
(32:18) Experience as battalion commander
(36:14) Advice for cadets
LTC McKinley Wood’s LinkedIn
COL James Enos’ LinkedIn
West Point Association of Graduates
[00:00:00] Narrator: Hello and welcome to the WPAOG Podcast. This episode features an interview with LTC McKinley Wood, West Point Class of 2001, and recipient of the 2023 Alexander R. Nininger Award for Valor at Arms. LTC Wood most recently served as the Battalion Commander of the 3rd Battalion, 304th Regiment. with the responsibility of providing weapons, tactical employment of crew served weapons, and physical confidence training to the United States Military Academy.
LTC Wood earned a Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering from West Point in 2001 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. in Armor. He has served as a Tank Platoon Leader, Company Executive Officer, and Battalion Maintenance Officer during three Middle East deployments, two National Training Center rotations, a Joint Readiness Training Center rotation, and more. He has civilian work experience as a Design Engineer at Caterpillar, Assistant Chief and Chief Engineer at Bank of America, and as Assistant University Engineer and Associate Director of Engineering Services at University of Richmond.
In this episode, LTC Wood talks about how to lead an asymmetric warfare through moral, ethical, and fair leadership, and how West Point taught him the most important lesson of all, the value of teamwork.
Please enjoy this interview between LTC McKinley Wood, West Point Class of 2001, and COL James Enos, Class of 2000, 2021 Nininger Awardee and Associate Professor and Systems Engineering Program Director at West Point.
[00:01:53] COL James Enos: So McKinley, congratulations on being the 2023 recipient of the Alexander R. Nininger Award. So you received the award for your actions on the 6th and 7th of April 2003, but before we get to that, I wanted to talk a little bit more broadly about, you know, your experiences at West Point, how that kind of shaped your career, and how West Point really prepared you for not only just your time in combat, but also your military career more in general. That's what we wanted to kind of talk about today. The first question I kind of have is like, what made you want to come to West Point?
[00:02:29] LTC McKinley Wood: Sir, thank you for having me and, um, hopefully I can be of a great service to, um, the podcast and the show. So, what made me come to West Point? So, I was talking to someone else earlier today, um, and they asked me the same question, and I told them the short answer.
It was free. The long answer is a little bit, I guess, uh, more detailed. So, when I was growing up, um, my sister and I have an older sister, uh, went to the same high school and our parents told us before my sister went to college, she said that, uh, you guys are going to college and we're not paying for it.
And my sister looked over to me and said, you're screwed. Because she was the person on the extended scale GPA and, you know, honors this, honors that. And I really wasn't thinking about college. I wasn't thinking about what to do after high school, honestly. And what made me consider West Point, and I have to be honest, I didn't know what West Point was.
9th and 10th grade. I had no idea what it really meant. I read history of Robert Lee, Grant, you know, all the Civil War generals, you know, Eisenhower. I knew that stuff, but I didn't know what it really entailed. So in high school, I was part of the JROTC program. It's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.
In high school, it was Army. And our instructors were all Vietnam veterans. And, uh, the professor of military science, who was a fixed rotary wing pilot, Came up to me and asked one day, say, Hey, you're doing very well in the program. I'll say, thank you, sir. Say, do you want to go to West Point? And to get him off my back, I think this was 10th grade.
To get him off my back and to leave me alone. I said, sure, why not? So I'm thinking to myself, yeah, there's no, there's no way, you know, and that started the process really wanting to go to West Point really didn't happen until I learned more about West Point after getting that question of the level of service.
And dedication it took to either one, be accepted, to be part of it, to make it through West Point and to be successful after West Point. There really wasn't a epiphany in high school saying, hey, I want to go to West Point because of X, Y, and Z. It kind of grew along with me. If that makes sense, the more I learned about it, the more impressed I was of the Academy and the people who graduated from it, even the ones who didn't graduate from it.
You know, you look at their history in corporate America. It made an impression on them that was, was wow. You know, so I kind of wanted to have some of that and uh, that's what made me stay at West Point. Cause as you know, Just wanting to go to West Point and being accepted and being at West Point doesn't keep you in West Point.
[00:05:16] COL James Enos: Right, no, definitely, yeah, I mean, I was kind of the same way, right? I thought, growing up, the Army Navy game, because my dad was in the Army, but he didn't go to West Point, right? So I thought the Army Navy game was literally a bunch of old Army guys and old Navy guys who, like, put on the pads one time a year and played football, right?
And then, you know, it was probably at the same time, like, high school, I started really understanding what it was all about. And. The things that make the academy unique and special and the graduates, like you mentioned, it's not just the graduates that stay in uniform for 20, 30, 40 years, right? It's the graduates that stay in for five years and go out and are super successful in the business world and all that that make.
West Point really unique. You kind of mentioned doing JROTC and was there something that made you want to kind of serve as well that was led you towards West
[00:06:04] LTC McKinley Wood: Point? I've always been very, um, into military stuff. I appreciated the level of discipline I would see soldiers display whenever I saw them. I wasn't an influence with my mother.
My mother was a registered nurse in the army. She never pushed the military on me. I had, uh, uncles. Uh, great uncles that served in combat. One of my uncles served in Vietnam as an infantry soldier. I had a great uncle who was a, um, Air Defense Artillery Lieutenant in the Pacific, but they never really mentioned their military service or career.
They were role models to me. It's one of those things that, you know, took bites of the elephant one at a time in pushing me that way. Yeah,
[00:06:45] COL James Enos: no, definitely. You know, and then, you know, you talk about some of your mentors before, you know, family members and stuff like that. One of the main roles, you know, as instructors and when you come back to West Point, giving back is being mentors to the cadets.
So, while you were a cadet, did you have those type of mentors as a cadet? Right. And how did they kind of shape what you wanted to do in the army and, you know, influence you to become an armor
[00:07:08] LTC McKinley Wood: officer? So my mentors when I was a cadet, they weren't the officers here. For me, at least, they weren't the officers.
My mentors were my classmates. I struggled the first couple of years at the academy. I was an academic rock. I tell people that I was a swimming rock because I have no body fat. I can't float. So once I stopped, you know, flailing around, I went to the bottom.
[00:07:29] COL James Enos: I'm in the same boat with you, right? I was a rock swimmer too, so I survived, you know, cleave drowning, and that was about it, you know.
[00:07:37] LTC McKinley Wood: Yeah, survived through shear wheel, but I still can swim to this day, you know, thanks to that. So my mentors were my classmates, and I'll tell you why they were my mentors, because they came to the Academy. They knew they wanted to be here. They understood why they were here, and I was still finding my way through that.
Why am I at the Academy? Is it more than just a college, a university? These guys, uh, had, um, classmates who were enlisted. In the Army. So they understood what service meant to the military, especially to the Army. I had classmates who had parents, grandparents, graduated from West Point in the military, whatnot.
They knew why they were here. I look for that same kind of understanding through their eyes, through vicariously through them. So you'll hear it tomorrow in the speech if you're there. I learned by living in the moment. And living in the moment at that point in time was with my roommates, 24 hours a day in the room.
I think that made an impression on my life to see someone my same age with this type of motivation to do something that I was in the boat with them to do. And it made a difference on me. Everyone who graduated West Point already. Honestly, at that point in time in my life, I had nothing in common with them.
So I didn't look to them as motivation to continue on. But the continuous was my classmates to my left and my right. Yeah, no, like,
[00:09:01] COL James Enos: and it's those shared struggles and shared moments that bring West Point graduates together, I think, more than any other school that we can go to, right? And so, you know, some of those events that you think back on, I mean, do you remember, like, what was your branch night like?
[00:09:16] LTC McKinley Wood: Oh, selecting the branch. So, funny story behind that, you know, West Point pushes, I don't, I don't know what branch you are, sir, but, um, If it's infantry, then I was in the same boat with you at the beginning. It is. So I was all gung ho about infantry once I started learning about it. I want to be around soldiers.
I want to do X, Y, and Z. I want to jump on airplanes. I want to, you know, go to ranger school. And then, um, airborne school during the summer between, um, Cal and, no, it's yearling and cal year. And I broke my ankle on the first jump. And I told myself, yeah, this is not for me. And I clearly remember it. I was the fourth one out the door, the first one to hit the ground, because at the time I weighed 210 pounds.
And I remember just accelerating toward the ground. And I think I pulled the parachute to my chest, trying to pull a slip and land softly, but I didn't. I broke my ankle and that kind of killed being an infantryman to me. Because it was like, well, this is my first attempt at infantry stuff, so maybe it's not for me.
Maybe God is telling me something. So I started looking at, you know, what other combat arms, I wanted to be combat arms. I knew that for sure. What other branches served me well, and it wasn't until we used to take trips to, you know, Fort Knox, you know, we went to Fort Knox, you probably did the same thing, and it wasn't until Fort Knox that they put us in the turret of an M1, I think it was M1 Heavy Common, and they let me fire the main gun, and I saw the recoil of that thing, the 13 inch recoil.
I don't know how anyone wants to be infantry after that. I
[00:10:55] COL James Enos: think it's if we don't break our ankle on our first jump, right? If we make it to like 20 and we're not hurt too bad, we're like, I'll stick with this branch. It's okay.
[00:11:02] LTC McKinley Wood: Yeah. So that was my first, it was like, I want to be armor now. Everything dealing with armor branch, I'm going to try to do.
That's what started it for me.
[00:11:11] COL James Enos: Yeah, so then also as a cadet, right, I read some of your bio, you majored in systems engineering, so I'm probably a little biased, but it's definitely the best department at the academy. It's relevant for our graduates, right, and that's what I tell the cadets when they come in and start talking to us about, hey, what's my major going to be, what do I want to do, right?
Systems engineering I find is something that's relevant that they can apply not only in the military, but then outside in the civilian sector. Um, and you've had a unique career where you've kind of done both things. So how did what you learned at the Academy impact your time in the Army and then also in the civilian sector as you've kind of balanced those two career paths?
[00:11:49] LTC McKinley Wood: So the Academy. Really brought to realization the value of teamwork to me, whether it's someone trying to help me through a, um, studying for a term exam, or me running next to someone on a PT test or practice, say, hey, you know, Here's how you breathe, whatever it is, the value of teamwork and how much more you can accomplish.
There's a saying that says, if you want to go far, run as a group. If you want to go fast, go by yourself. I prefer to go far, you know, yeah, go fast and be done with it and get past. So, the Academy really pushed on us, if you fail, it's not because you failed, it's because you all failed each other and, you know, upperclassmen would preach that to us.
You probably did that to me in my class and say, Hey, if you fail, you've all failed because look what happened to that one person. And in corporate America, I brought that, I like to say, I brought that to people who didn't experience that before. In corporate America, it's all about, you know, the person's self.
and what educational background you bring, what experiences you bring. And it can be very selfish in, in the corporate civilian sector. And you have someone that says, hey, I don't care how good or bad I look. I'm going to stay here and we're going to work through this together, this presentation, this project, this problem, and people appreciate that.
[00:13:16] COL James Enos: Yeah, no, that's great, right? Because it is, it's not only just what we Teach, right? The lesson objectives that we teach in the classes, but it's also that teamwork and working together and the stuff that's outside of kind of the curriculum that you gain at West Point and talking about being able to bring that to the civilian sector is big because that's again what the graduates have that makes it, you know, unique and that community and the teamwork that we build through those shared experiences and stuff like that.
You're a 2001. I'm 2000. You mentioned, hey, we probably had some shared experiences and stuff like that, about the same time frame. So when you were a cadet, was there a favorite tradition or event that we had that, you know, makes you think about, oh man, I remember my times at West Point.
[00:13:58] LTC McKinley Wood: They don't do it now, but the 12 days of Christmas, you remember that.
I love that. I do.
[00:14:04] COL James Enos: Yeah. Singing in the back ball and hoisting up, you know, first D's on the tables and everything.
[00:14:09] LTC McKinley Wood: Yeah. I don't think they do it now because it's too dangerous. But I love that because you had the entire core just going nuts. And then after that, the camaraderie after that in Central Area or North Area, wherever you gather, upperclassmen, plebes, it was just, we're all a team.
I love that. Right. Yeah.
[00:14:28] COL James Enos: And it didn't matter your background or like you said, your class, right? And plebes, we're talking to firsties and all that type of stuff. And, you know, when you get to the fifth, Verse, and everybody's singing Five Golden Rings, right? The whole, you know, 4, 000 plus cadets in the mess hall.
That was always a fond memory of the Christmas dinner, which was always a good time. As a cadet, did you participate in sports and clubs and that type of stuff?
[00:14:56] LTC McKinley Wood: Yeah, I was until I snapped my ankle in airborne school trying to be in infantry. I was part of the track team and doing short sprints there. And, uh, after that, I was part of the volleyball team, played rugby, boxing, intramurals, of course, those are intramural sports.
So I was always in shape and athletic, but, you know, my grades kind of held me from, I personally held myself from, because I wanted to graduate, held me from core squad, any more core squad, because I saw how much time that took. Yeah,
[00:15:27] COL James Enos: it's a huge, huge time commitment. And so rugby, I know one of the stories that, you know, rugby, you know, my classmates that played rugby was always running up the hill because they were up on, by the commissary, right at the very top.
While you're here, you have to go check out the new rugby complex, if you haven't been down there to see. The facility they've got, it's unbelievable. So definitely something nice and, uh, that you can do. But yeah, like all those things, because again, you build that teamwork, right? And you get to know more people on those clubs, sports, and really build that stuff up.
So one other thing, and this goes back to the mess hall when we were talking about Christmas dinner, and I'm going to borrow this one from West Point AOG's social media, and ask, what was your favorite condiment? On the mess hall table. The
[00:16:07] LTC McKinley Wood: hot sauce.
[00:16:09] COL James Enos: Oh, yeah. Was it, was it Texas Pete? I think it was Texas Pete.
Yeah. You should put that on anything and, uh, you know, it became edible. I think, uh, that's great. You know, and again, in your time at West Point, it is kind of funny that we, we overlapped for at least three of the years that we were both here. Uh, I read the article about you coming back and training cadets.
And one of the things you mentioned there, I still remember your acceptance day. Parade, because it absolutely poured on us. It was miserable. I think you said that your company didn't even make it off the parade field, right? You turned around and went back to the Sally port?
[00:16:47] LTC McKinley Wood: I was in F company and we didn't make it off.
[00:16:49] COL James Enos: I was in C1 and we were like one of the few that made it off the parade field when everybody else turned around and ran back in was so bad, you know, at the time, there's always the myth, right? Is something bad happens on your A day parade that your class is going to go to war. Did you give that any thought as a cadet?
Or is it just, I want to get out of these soaking wet clothes and... I
[00:17:11] LTC McKinley Wood: think I stayed in my clothes until they were dry because we got screamed at by upperclassmen telling us we're going to go to war. And I'm thinking to myself, when has this country not been in some kind of conflict? Yeah, that's
[00:17:23] COL James Enos: true, right?
You know, but then, um, for your class, right? A few months after you graduate, September 11th happens. And I'm assuming you're probably at the basic course at Knox at the time? So what was that like? Because now, I think it was a Tuesday, right? So Monday, you probably were going through your normal stuff at OVC, and then September 11th happens, like, what was the mentality, focus?
Did it shift at all? As a, you know, brand new second lieutenant in the basic course, and our nation was just attacked?
[00:17:54] LTC McKinley Wood: So that morning, we were in the simulator, the UCOF unit conductive fire, and I just finished my time in the simulator in full battle rattle, you know. And we're watching this. There are people watching it on TV because they had a TV in there.
And to me, it didn't seem real. It seemed like it was a TV show or movie that they were watching. I didn't. It was like, no way this is happening. Who takes airplanes and crashes them into high rises? No one, who does that? No one does that. It's make believe. And it didn't really hit until I saw all the NCOs starting to leave, leave the, um, office area.
They were walking out and I found out later that, um, the NCOs were trying to figure out how to get out of the 16th CAV and join a, a regular combat brigade. They knew what it meant. They were like, we're going to go fight. And I don't want to be training lieutenants.
[00:18:44] COL James Enos: Yeah, no, that's definitely right. Like, um, you know, I said the same thing.
I was a platoon leader at the time, but we were getting ready to go do air assault training or something, right? And then all of a sudden, you know, you heard, oh yeah, somebody crashed an airplane in the World Trade Center. I was thinking, oh, it's like a Cessna. Right? Like somebody's, you know, passed out while they're flying and hit it.
And then you see like the severity of what actually happened, right? And so how do you think cadets can prepare for that type of environment where it's uncertain and, you know, just at the, in an instant, the whole focus shifts, right? And your senior NCOs, Who may have, you know, at the time, they may have been Gulf War veterans and stuff like that during the, you know, 91 conflict.
They knew what was going to happen, right? So, and cadets will be in a similar environment where their NCOs may have been to combat, maybe some of their senior officers, like how do we focus and prepare our cadets for that type of situation?
[00:19:36] LTC McKinley Wood: So, I did a, um, a class engagement right before this podcast and that kind of came up in the, um, the engagement.
Well, the question was essentially, how do you lead an asymmetric warfare? And I told them two things. The first one was, um, as a new platoon leader, you get to your organization, whatever unit you get to, and you become a platoon leader, you're lucky enough to get a platoon, because that does not automatically happen.
You have to interview for it or be top of whatever class to get a platoon leader position. And I told them these soldiers and NCOs only want one thing from you. They want your moral, ethical, and fair leadership. They already know how to operate every piece of equipment in their sleep better than you.
They're not looking for a technical expert or a teacher or someone to be a moral compass to them, you know, in their life, in their personal life. They want a person who is morally, ethically, and capable of leading. And to a point, you shut up and learn, and you learn from your NCOs because if you're that type of person, they're going to want to teach you.
So that's the first thing to prepare. The next thing was to take the lessons of West Point. What is West Point trying to get you to do? What do they want you to take out of West Point? Of course, how to lead and how to do these other things. But they want you to take what you learned at West Point in addition to what you have learned at home.
And I've told them this, that the American Army is one of the very few armies, if not the only army, that takes their morals and values into combat and to prepare for the unthinkable. The unimaginable, the unprepared, you know, scenario, you have to have the brain synapses formed to be able to think through that problem.
It's sort of like, you don't want to be stuck in a paradigm, like here's how we fought World War II. We're going to fight Korea the same way. Well, we saw how that worked. Then we're going to fight Vietnam the same way we fought Korea. Well, you saw how that worked. It just doesn't work. You're stuck in a paradigm like that is that you have to be ready for.
The unpredictable and how you're ready to be in those situations where the worst happens and people turn to you and look and say, ma'am, sir, what are we going to do now? You have to lead morally and ethically. And they will follow you. They won't make you make the wrong decisions. Nobody wants to die because they want to see you make a decision.
I try to give them that little nugget of how to prepare here at West Point for what is unpredictable because you and I fought a traditional war. You and I also fought a asymmetric war. We're probably the last officers, and we're senior officers, to have done both. They're going to walk into an asymmetric world because our enemies know that if you stand toe to toe with the United States or in a high intensity conflict, you're going to lose.
Protracted warfare is how you can beat the United States and we have to be ready for that as well. Yeah,
[00:22:28] COL James Enos: that's great, right? Because, I mean, as a platoon leader, I mean, you were in 3rd Infantry Division, you know, leading the charge to Baghdad, and you guys were moving fast, right? We couldn't even keep up with ourselves.
I mean, I was in the 101st, you know, the most, you know, mobile division in the world with the air assault capability, and we couldn't even catch you guys, right? So being able to operate like that, like you said, that was, you know, potentially the last time that we were in a conventional warfare fight, and that only happened for the first couple months, and then it rapidly shifted into an asymmetric warfare.
So I think you teed it up perfectly, right? It's about cadets gaining that understanding of Not what to think, because if we teach them what to think... They're, they're going to fail in a dynamic environment like that. Right. But it's that how to think and how to approach a problem. I like that. Right. I mean, and that's what West Point really tries to do with not only the academic program, but everything puts somebody in a challenge, right?
You know, you often hear everybody at West Point struggles in something, you know, some of us struggle with multiple things, right? Like, and that's, that's great, but there's probably that classmate that. You know, you were better at him at something, right? And, and you can help him out or she's helping you out with math or something along those lines, right?
And that piece really makes West Point like this connected alumni network. When you graduate from here, because you share those experiences, you know, and I'm sure during the invasion, right? You had classmates and graduates on your flank, right? How did that influence you? Did that give you like this? a little bit more confidence knowing that you have people with shared experiences, maybe your company commander, battalion commander, platoon leader on your flank, something along those lines.
[00:24:15] LTC McKinley Wood: will tell you a story. So it was, it surrounds the, uh, April 6th, April 7th, um, engagements. That was the push to take the international airport, Baghdad, you know, all the objective lines and whatever other objectives they called them, those kind of crazy names. But anyway, when we got the order to do a block position in northwest Baghdad, so we're blocking armored forces, fedayeen, whatever the forces were from entering so we could isolate, isolate the airport in Baghdad.
And I think that was the first time I was really worried because this was going to be the first true weapons free possible massive tank on tank, tank on infantry fighting vehicles fight that we had. You know, up until then, we had defensive belts, but we didn't have someone counterattacking us at the same time we're attacking.
It was a move into contact. And I was really worried. And that worry went away when we did a four passage line with our scouts. And the platoon leader was a classmate of mine, and he's like, you see all those vehicles up there? We took care of them for you. And that, it kind of relaxed me, because I'm thinking, this guy doesn't even have a tank, and he took care of this?
Uh, we're good. Let's go. Let's get it on. Right.
[00:25:29] COL James Enos: Yeah. I mean, and it's even that, like, little bit of you see your classmate who just took out all these tanks, there's probably like some little competitive part that's like, I, I'm not going forward. Well, we'll see. I'll talk to you at the end of this, um, and see how it goes.
Alright, so that's a pretty interesting place to, uh, run into a classmate on the battlefield. What was the oddest place you ever ran into a classmate on the battlefield?
[00:25:50] LTC McKinley Wood: The oddest place? Where we, uh, set up our forward operating base or combat outpost. There was no facilities to use the bathroom or anything like that.
So what we did was we built a, a raised platform over a sewer line and there were a couple there, you know, with no doors or anything. Yeah, I met someone there using the bathroom.
[00:26:14] COL James Enos: That's pretty good. I think my honest belief, I think we ran into each other in a. Uh, refrigerated van because you know it's 130 degrees outside and we like both went in the refrigerated van to get like water and decided to stay there for about a half an hour and you know we just probably had a you know a conversation reminiscing because at least it was you know maybe it's probably 65 in there but still much cooler than it was outside but yeah it's those odd places that you start to run into classmates and then As you start to go beyond the time in the military, right, you still have all these connections to people.
You know, so how have you leveraged some connections and friendship kind of throughout your career?
[00:26:51] LTC McKinley Wood: I would say the most I've, I've leveraged my connections with my classmates, especially ones with shared experiences. After West Point and in other countries, it wasn't really for career. It was for mental health.
That indirectly would help the career because, you know, if you're not mentally prepared to go into an interview, you're going to bomb the interview. So I would say that's how I leveraged it. You know, just saying, Hey, man, Blah, blah, blah, this, that. I had a classmate of mine that wore the same armor battalion, 269 Armor.
You know, he went through some experiences and we were shared experiences. So, I think that's how I leveraged it. I went to the interview knowing that, hey, if I'm interviewing for this job, I'm going to do everything I can to get this job myself. But I had to be mentally strong to be able to do that.
Mentally prepared, ready.
[00:27:41] COL James Enos: Yeah, no, like, classmates are great for mental health. And I know, you know, I've talked about it to you. It's this weird thing where you can go 15, 20 years without seeing one of your classmates and then you start talking to them and it's like you saw him yesterday, right? And that strength of friendship and bond really helps prepare you as you're, you're facing uncertainty, whether that's in the civilian world or on the battlefield, whatever that is, right?
That, that ability to have those things really helps. Like you said, your mental health, your mental thought process going into any type of. New experience. So that's awesome that you think about that and your classmates. As you've gone, you've had a very, I'll call it an eclectic career, right? You're an active duty armor officer in the invasion in Iraq, in the division that was literally at the tip of the spear, right?
You transitioned into the reserves, you spent time working at Caterpillar, Bank of America, the University of Richmond, you know, were there things at West Point that guided you along this path?
[00:28:44] LTC McKinley Wood: Don't be afraid of, just don't be afraid, you know, going to Caterpillar. And I remember the interview with the guy, Bill Rose, and he said, uh, he have one of the three things I'm looking for.
And I'm thinking to myself, I'm not getting this job. And he, he hired me and it turned out the one thing that I, that he said I had enabled me to. Learn the industry. And it was designing, programming, building, and commissioning emergency parallel switchgear generators, power management, power generation.
And I was so green to the point, I didn't know what PLCs were. You know, that's programmable logic controllers. I didn't even know what the acronym meant, and within a year I was leading a team of other engineers when the senior engineer was gone. So just not being afraid of going into something, if you feel like you can do it, be honest with yourself.
Is this something I can do? Is this something that interests me? I pulled that from West Point. West Point taught me not to be afraid of doing something new, like jumping out of airplanes. Well, I don't want to jump out of airplanes anymore, but if I had to. I'll do it. No, that's
[00:29:52] COL James Enos: great. Right. And also, you know, not only is West Point like guided you to this, this path, right.
And bringing that, not having the fear of something unknown is grads, we get to bring some West Point things to the places that we work. Right. And you mentioned a little bit about teamwork. Were there other things that you brought from your West Point experience to these other industries, Caterpillar, Bank of America?
[00:30:13] LTC McKinley Wood: Caterpillar didn't have any direct reports. I was always, you know, assisting the leader or when in his absence, I was the leader. University of Richmond, Bank of America, CB Richelieu, those companies, I was, I had direct reports. And the teamwork thing was new to them. And that was always something that.
It's just amazing how the civilian world doesn't have that, but it's the concept of learning how to learn. What that essentially means is being able to, yeah, you can look at a formula, you can look at a poem, you can look at grammar and you can mimic what's going on there. But if you don't truly learn what it is, how it works, it does nothing for you.
But learning how your brain works so that you can learn new things. That's what I brought to a lot of people. Where I'm at University of Richmond right now, honestly, I'm stronger in mechanical engineering than I am electrical. But I work with one of my direct reports now, he's an electrician and I work with him.
He understands plumbing engineering. He understands mechanical engineering to a point where he can sit in a room with professional engineers and argue points. But he had to get to the point of understanding how he could learn new things. What made sense in his brain on how to pick things up. And it turned out he turned everything into electrons.
He made everything, he turned water into electricity. He turned mechanical engineering into vectors. It's like how he learned. He correlated to something he was already comfortable with, and he was able to transfer that into something he wasn't comfortable with and argue with people and make his point and actually win a lot of times.
[00:31:49] COL James Enos: Yeah, see, that's great, right? See, I think, um, you should probably come back and guest lecture in one of my systems classes,
[00:31:55] LTC McKinley Wood: right? You guys don't want me to come back.
[00:31:57] COL James Enos: No, you can come on back anytime, right? Because exactly that type of experience, right? Understanding how to approach a problem and everybody approaches it from their own perspective, right, but you got to apply that stuff and use what you know, but still having that idea of, you know, teamwork and working together and thinking about how can I make this something that I recognize, because now I can go and solve it, right?
So I think that's a great thing to kind of pass on to the cadets as they start to think about things. You know, you also had the opportunity to command a battalion, right? So in addition to all this stuff that you're doing on the civilian side, you commanded a battalion and you came back and trained West Point cadets, right?
So talk to me about that. What was that like now being the battalion commander that's back here responsible for training our cadets out there during summer
[00:32:44] LTC McKinley Wood: training? It was freaking awesome. So the command, um, And if you're not familiar with the reserves, this battalion was staffed, every MOS that's represented within the battalion is called a double O golf battalion.
And it doesn't matter what the occupational specialty of that soldier is. They can be infantry, armor, they can be logistics, they can be adjutant general. It doesn't matter. They can come to the battalion and they have a place because West Point has a need for all of it. They want the experiences of the soldiers.
They want the experience of the senior people. They want all that. So it was awesome coming back to West Point with a Swiss Army knife to help train the cadets. Uh, the cadets had a lot of questions, you know, first and second year, you know, they have a ton of questions about life, about Army, about this, that, what branch to choose.
I'll give an example. I did have a company that was full of AG, NCOs, and soldiers. Guess what they taught for West Point? They taught their branch and how to employ. Medium Machine Guns. That was their mission. That was their summer
[00:33:56] COL James Enos: mission. No, I get that all the time, right? Because we go out as faculty and, uh, we go help out with training.
So I'll have an engineer officer who she had just finished a master's degree from Harvard in data analytics. And she's out there running the machine gun range. You know, that eclectic nature of, hey, you know, here's the mission. Let's go do it, right? And that's part of, part of that. So did it bring back any memories of Camp Buckner?
As you were back here training?
[00:34:24] LTC McKinley Wood: Yeah, it brought back some memories, alright. My memories at Buckner were... They were interesting, I'll give it that. You know. Getting beaten into the ground because I could carry more or whatever. Yeah, it was interesting to see the cadets. Now, I mean, I would say this about the Academy now.
I would not have made it through at today's standards for cadets. There's no way I would have made it through. And I don't know how many people would say 20 years ago they could make it through today's standard. Those cadets are phenomenal, the things that they are doing. Yes, they're green. Yes, they don't understand a lot of things, but man, they're talented.
And they brought back memories of being hazed for me. Those memories won't even be a memory for those guys because they're learning the craft. Kind of wish we did that when we were at Buckner and Lake Frederick and all the other
[00:35:19] COL James Enos: stuff. Yeah, no, I tell people that all the time, you know, the, probably some of the old grads that will be listening in on this, right, will be like, oh, it was harder back then, and it was this, you know, and it's, it's not that it was harder, it was different.
And you're right, right, I look at some of the stuff the cadets do, and everything they're involved in. And the level of, you know, technical expertise and academic excellence that they display. And I'm in the same boat as you. I don't know if I would have made it through, right? It's just a different type of challenge.
And I think it's preparing them well for the environment that they can kind of go into. You know, it's kind of funny we started thinking about that. And one of the criteria for the NINJA Award is To be a relatively recent graduate. I said that last year, uh, when I talked with Rob Beal. You know, you can check out that podcast if you haven't listened to it.
And he was, uh, he was an O2 guy. So he's, you know, even more recent than we are. You know, and I appreciate that West Point AOG consider us to be recent grads, but a lot has changed in 20 years. You had the chance to talk to the core. At dinner in the mess hall, something I never thought I would do. And I'm sure you probably never saw yourself, you know, under the poop deck, talking to the whole corps.
The listeners can find your speech and then all the other speeches there on the, on the AOG's website. You know, what is the one thing that you really hope to kind of pass on to the cadets during this address, you know, given that it's a 20, we'll just call it a 20 year age difference between. Between us and the core now.
[00:36:45] LTC McKinley Wood: So in contradiction to what we've talked about previous, and you know, all the other stuff, I'll talk about the learning how to learn. I'll talk about the don't quit versus never quit. I'm only keeping my topics down to three because I know their attention span is going to be on like going to bootlers or something like that, stuff their face, or playing video games.
The one thing I want to, because I see it happening, I'm at Georgetown learning about diplomacy and statecraft, and I see all these conflicts happening, and something is going to rip wide open, and it may happen when some of these cadets graduate, like it did with me. One thing I hope they take away from it, I'm going to go over these simplified rules of combat, so that they can start thinking about, hey, this guy is talking to us about these things about being cadet, but what's for my future?
You know, simplify rules of combat. And you probably already know this, but I'll say it for the sake of the podcast. There are three rules of combat. See the enemy before he sees you. That allows you to get inside their decision cycle. Make contact with the smallest element possible. Don't commit all your soldiers to the engagement.
You know, make sure you have room to maneuver and then fire distribution and control. So I really hope they, they take that away, if anything, because it will immediately help them once they get to their, their organization outside of West Point. It's contradictory to what, um, we talked about previous about learning, you know, all the other good stuff.
You know, all the theoretical, nice, soft skills. Those are hard skills, you know. It's hard as the infantryman to sneak up on an armored vehicle and still kill it. Well, not for you because you're trained in it, but for me, I would suck. I would make so much noise.
[00:38:26] COL James Enos: Those are great, right? I mean, because it brings it back to that.
What is that practical takeaway that they can start to think about and really You in all the other stuff that is thrown at them as leaders and what they're going to do in combat, right? Those are three very tangible things that they can take with them. So I think that's going to be great as you, as you talk to them and you get to engage with them.
This kind of leads great into this next question, right? I don't remember this as a cadet and I don't know if you remember it, but I guess now they play speech bingo. If the sup and com are listening to the core, I'm not encouraging speech bingo, right? But I distinctly remember. I felt really good during my speech.
I'm talking to the entire Corps of Cadets, just trying to keep it together. And there's a huge cheer. And I thought I had said something, you know, like, just said something great that really resonated. Turns out I learned a few days later that a table had just one bingo, right? So it wasn't something I said, they just got the right matching of words.
So that took me back down a couple of notches, which is probably where I, where I needed to be. You know, I felt pretty good about myself and then, you know, the core had its way of, you know, bringing me back down to, okay, you know, be humble, uh, as you should be. I asked a few cadets, right, and I'll keep their names, uh, my sources secret, to think of what would some words be for a bingo card based on your speech.
So what I'm going to do is I'm going to ask you a phrase or a word, I'm going to ask if it's in your speech. Okay. So we can see. So the first one, duty, honor, country. Nope. All right. Baghdad.
[00:40:00] LTC McKinley Wood: Dammit. Yes.
[00:40:02] COL James Enos: All right. Crucible of ground combat. No. No. All right. How about Abrams tank? No. No. Okay.
[00:40:12] LTC McKinley Wood: Not that phrase.
Exactly. All right.
[00:40:15] COL James Enos: Trust. No. And I won't hold you to it, right? If you go insert a couple of these later so that, you know, one table wins. What about rock of the Marne? No. Tanker boots.
[00:40:25] LTC McKinley Wood: No.
[00:40:28] COL James Enos: All right, all systems go. No. It's the systems guy. I had to put that one in there. Yeah. What about selfless service? No.
Man, we're going to have some disappointed cadets, but the last one
[00:40:44] LTC McKinley Wood: is Beat Navy. Yes, yes.
[00:40:47] COL James Enos: All right, if we didn't have that one, I think they'd be disappointed, but you know, you got to just be able to laugh at yourself sometimes, right? And uh, you know, the best thing about the Corps of Cadets, just like when we were cadets, right?
They'll keep you honest. And um. Make sure that you really, you know, stay humble, right? Because that's part of it too, is just being a humble leader. And it sounds like you definitely are. And hopefully as you get to talk to all of them and you've gotten to talk to, you know, some groups of them so far, right, they get to take some of that stuff away from you and your experiences.
So, Michele, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. Uh, let the Long Gray Line, you know, continue to connect a little bit more. You know, on behalf of all the graduates, appreciate what you did that day and what you do every day as you continue to serve our country. You are definitely a great representation of how the long gray line will never fail us. So again, just thank you so much for speaking with me today.
[00:41:41] LTC McKinley Wood: Yes, sir. Thank you for having me. It's an honor.
[00:41:45] 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.