In this episode, Brian Beckcom speaks with Brigadier General Joe Ramirez about the fundamental and timeless principles of leadership.
General Joe Ramirez’s father was a career military man. General Ramirez thought he would enlist in the Marine Corps like his father. However, a chance encounter with the Texas Aggie Corps of Cadets and Aggie Band changed the trajectory of his life entirely. General Joe Ramirez was first drawn to A&M when he saw the Corps of Cadets marching alongside the Aggie Band in Downtown Houston in the early ‘70s.
General Joe Ramirez was commissioned in the United States Army and worked his way through the ranks, ultimately achieving the rank of Brigadier General. He served as the Deputy Chief of Staff for US Central Command, where he managed various strategic, political, and diplomatic responsibilities in the Middle East. Today, General Joe Ramirez is Commandant of the Corps of Cadets at A&M, one of the few remaining 24-hour ROTC units outside of military academies.
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In this episode, Brian and General Joe Ramirez discuss:
- Adaptability and Resilience as fundamental principles of leadership
- How a simple shift in perspective can turn you into a “can-do” type of leader
- The decision he made that changed his life’s trajectory forever
- The four elements of national power: diplomacy, information, military, and economics
- The value in doing your best and being your best at whatever you do
- His mission to grow, raise academic standings and increase diversity in the A&M Corps of Cadets
- Finding a compromise between tradition and positive growth
- Why followers focus on problems and leaders focus on solutions
- And other topics
Brigadier General Joe E. Ramirez, Jr. was born and raised in Houston, Texas. General Joe Ramirez graduated from Texas A&M University, where he was a member of the Texas Aggie Band in the Corps of Cadets. During his 31 years of military service, General Ramirez commanded soldiers worldwide and served in leadership positions in various joint and operational commands. His numerous military awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Korean Defense Service Medal, and the Parachutists Badge. General Joe Ramirez is an outstanding leader and a true American patriot. To learn more about General Joe Ramirez, visit his bio at https://corps.tamu.edu/staff/commandant/.
Read the show notes!
Brian Beckcom: Hey everybody, Brian Beckcom here and today's guest is Brigadier General, Joe Ramirez. General, I am so excited you're on the phone today.
We talked a little bit beforehand about getting positive leadership out globally and, especially in times like we're in right now. And I cannot imagine a perfect guest to have on a leadership podcast than Brigadier General Joe Ramirez.
We're going to talk a lot about leadership and your philosophy of leadership. But before that, General, how the heck you doing, man.
General Joe Ramirez: I'm doing great. Despite everything that's going on around here, things are going very well. I'm enjoying being here at Aggieland.
I'm pleased to work with 2300 great young men and women who will become future leaders in our communities, our state, and our nation. It gives me a sense of satisfaction every day.
Brian Beckcom: That's awesome and good to hear.
Around the country, military academies, the Corps of Cadets, and the other ROTC units are breeding grounds for leadership. I think the whole idea is generally to teach young men and women, the timeless leadership principles.
You were a flag office, nearly a General Officer in the military. Now you're the commandant of the Corp of Cadets. So you've seen leadership, both from the perspective of active-duty military and as the officer who served all over the world.
Before we get into details about teaching young people leadership as the commandant of the Corps of Cadets, I'm curious to know how the Corps of Cadets, specifically A&M, is dealing with the pandemic right now.
How are you guys adjusting to the different conditions?
General Joe Ramirez: That's a great question. Back in March, while our students and cadets were gone on spring break, the pandemic hit. The decisions were made here at Texas A&M and across the nation to shut down classes, transition everything online, and close campus facilities.
So by the time they came back, the Corps of Cadets was nearly done for the year. They were told they could go home, take classes online, and couldn't conduct anything Corp related due to the pandemic. Which was quite a shock, I think, especially for seniors who missed out on the second half of their spring season.
Brian Beckcom: Yeah, that is not fun to think about.
General Joe Ramirez: There are many iconic traditions there usually take place during that timeframe that we could not conduct. It was tough and challenging for our seniors. But we talked to them about leadership during times of adversity.
It was amazing to me how well those upperclassmen took that on and maintained a positive attitude throughout. They learned some tough lessons at a much earlier age than I knew about dealing with adversity and how to overcome those kinds of situations.
As a leader, you have to understand that tomorrow's not guaranteed. Things could change dramatically for you in the blink of an eye. As a leader, you've got to be able to adjust and adapt to that. Not to mention, you are required to maintain a positive attitude throughout. Not only for yourself but your organization and your people.
A lot changed; we spent the entire summer planning and preparing for the fall, despite some concerns about not having a Corps of Cadets because of the pandemic. Our attitude is going in, "Don't tell us what we can't do; tell us what we can do." We focused on the challenge and how do we overcome it
A phenomenal team of leaders surrounds me. Former military, education, you name it. I've got a wide variety of backgrounds at work on my staff and the ROTC staff, and we all put our minds to figuring out how we're going to do this fall.
We've been able to have Corps of Cadets. We put in procedures to try to mitigate and reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19. We worked extremely hard with public health, the university health center, and the health science center. All these people helped us develop a plan to mitigate and reduce risk among the Cadets.
As a result, we still have a Corps and maintain some sense of normalcy throughout the fall semester. Thankfully, that has gone exceptionally well. For example, simple things like issuing masks, we put other hand sanitizing stations on all floors of all the dorms.
We put specific rules in place for the use of the communal bathrooms. Everything is conducted outside. We don't do anything inside because of the social distancing. Everything is done in small units, small groups of ten or less. So we've had to rely heavily on junior leadership and the Corps. So our small unit leaders have had to step up and take charge during all of this.
It's worked exceptionally well. Arcadis has taken it on, they've been very positive about it, and they've taken on the challenge. Our positivity rate in the Corps is 2% or less. So when you're talking about a population of 2300 Cadets that all live together in 12 dorms on campus, it's impressive how well they have dealt with COVID-19.
We've maintained less than 2% positivity rates since the beginning of the school year. We're very proud of that fact and the fact that our Cadets have taken this on head-on and have done an outstanding job dealing with it.
Brian Beckcom: You said so many good things, General, and I want to unpack a couple of them as they relate to leadership. One of the things you said early on, and I've been telling my kids is that we have to be mentally flexible. We have to be prepared to adapt to different things.
A fundamental principle of leadership is adaptability. That's so important not to get stuck mentally in a particular plan or a specific approach. It would be best if you were willing to deviate a little bit. The other thing you said that gave me chill bumps was the idea of "Don't tell me what we can't do, tell me what we can do."
You know General, I am into reading about British Naval history. I like world war II, and I'm a big Churchill fan. I recently kept thinking about London's bombing how the Nazis were dropping bombs over London every day for weeks and at night. The Londoners had to take precautions, but they had a stiff upper lip, continued with their business, and didn't give up.
In America right now, we've got this pandemic. It's a problem. What inspires me is the leaders who say, let's make some sacrifices, let's follow the science, and figure out how to get whatever it is we're doing.
So talk a little bit about both the idea of being adaptable and flexible, as it relates to leadership, and also the concept of being a can-do type of leader.
Adaptability and Resilience as fundamental principles of leadership
General Joe Ramirez: That is kind of fundamental to leadership. I agree with you a hundred percent. The adaptability piece we talked about right up front as we began to plan and prepare. After all, I was a planner and learned about developing plans for those in the military.
One of the things I first learned about planning, Is that no plan survives the first contact. As you make contact with the enemy, the plan will change. You have to be flexible and agile, adaptable enough to change quickly, and adjust to the situation because it will change you.
You can't be so locked in on your plan that you aren't flexible enough to adjust as necessary based on the conditions. We all knew going in that we've got a plan in place, but when the Cadets come back and start rolling out this whole plan and executing, things will change. Conditions are going to change. We've got to be agile and flexible enough to adjust, but more importantly, so do our Cadets. Our Cadets have got to be agile, flexible enough, and agile enough to be able to change as well.
Quite frankly, what surprised me was their ability to be amazingly flexible and adaptable to things that change. They're learning some excellent lessons from all of this that will serve them well in the future. As we all know, best-laid plans never pan out the way you expect them to.
We live in a different world today. COVID-19 has changed everything for us, but we're adjusting to it; we're adapting to it. You have to, it's either you throw up your hands and quit, or you put your nose to the grindstone and figure out a way to work around this.
I'll give you a great example, one of the biggest disappointments we had was we were told by the SEC that the Aggie Band could not march at halftime on Kyle field. Everybody loves to see the Aggie band march, but we were told early that the SEC would not allow us to have the Aggie Band on the field at halftime. It was very disappointing for all of us.
So we said, okay, we can't do that. So what can we do? The Aggie band and leadership sat down and devised a plan to conduct a performance during the week, record it and show it on the jumbotron.
It's not the same as being on Kyle Field at the game, but it's the next best thing. It allowed our Cadets to get still a chance to practice, rehearse, and perform in front of the Kyle Field crowd. It's a little bit different, but they even got the opportunity, and the Cadets kept a very positive attitude about it.
After I was finished with formation last night, I talked to some of the Cadets who are part of the Aggie Band and asked them what they thought. They were thankful that they had the opportunity to march and perform a halftime drill, even if it had to be recorded and shown on the jumbotron.
I mean, that's the caliber of young people we're dealing with today. Talks about resiliency and the ability to adjust and adapt accordingly. Anyone who thinks that this generation isn't adaptable or resilient hasn't seen the young men and women I get a chance to deal with every day.
Brian Beckcom: I love to hear that, General, and I think that's a great point. Typically, you hear old guys like us grumble about young kids, and they're on social media too much or how they are not tough enough. But, sometimes, we don't give that generation nearly enough credit for their resiliency.
I have two boys in high school and a daughter who's in seventh grade. I could not be more proud of how they dealt with the quarantine and the pandemic. Their friends are the same way. And in some ways, I think they are stronger than some of the older people.
Getting to know General Joe Ramirez
Brian Beckcom: General, tell us a little bit where you're from and what it was like in the military. Please give us some insight into the process of becoming a flag officer entails.
General Joe Ramirez: Sure. I grew up in Houston, Texas, and my father was a career military man. He was a former prisoner of war, was shot five times and served for 22 years before retiring as a Master Sergeant.
My mother was the youngest of six kids and grew up in a small town near Shiner called Moulton, Texas. She quit school in the eighth grade to work on the farm. I was the oldest of four. I attended Stephen F. Austin High School, and quite frankly had no aspirations of going to college. I was thinking about enlisting in the Marine Corps as my Dad did, along with many of my friends.
Brian Beckcom: What's the timeframe on this General?
General Joe Ramirez: Early seventies.
Brian Beckcom: So this is about the time my Dad fought in Vietnam. He was a Bombardier navigator, and I believe he pulled off one of the last combat missions in 1972. So when you were looking to get in the military, had we pulled out of Vietnam?
General Joe Ramirez: We were on the tail end of Vietnam as I was thinking about it. I graduated in June of 1975, and we ended presence in Vietnam in April of 1975. We just had pulled out of Vietnam as I was graduating high school.
I want to tell you a story about my first exposure to The Corps of Cadets. I don't remember why, but I was in downtown Houston on a Saturday morning back in the days when A&M played Rice. On that day, I remember The Corps of Cadets marching to downtown Houston.
At that time, I had never seen them before. As the band comes marching by, the first organization that I saw was the Aggie Band. I've played Alto Sax since I was in the third grade, and as I saw the band marching by, I thought, "wow, I don't know what that is, but I want to be a part of it."
After that, I went to my high school counselor and told him that I wanted to go to college at Texas A&M. This counselor was a man that I respected greatly. He told me, no kidding, He said, "Joe Mexicans, don't go to Texas A&M."
Brian Beckcom: Oh, come on now!
General Joe Ramirez: He said, Mexicans, go to the University of Texas
General Joe Ramirez: I said, well,
Brian Beckcom: Did he not know who Henry Cisneros was?
General Joe Ramirez: I don't think he even knew. So I went on to tell him again that I wanted to go to Texas A&M, and I want to be in that band. At the time, I didn't even know where A&M was.
Brian Beckcom: One of the reasons I'm smiling right now, General, is for a cause you can confirm. For people who aren't intimately familiar with the Aggie Band, every year, a couple of people in the band don't even know how to play an instrument. They kind of mime it a little bit. I had a couple of friends who pretended to play. They wanted to be in the band so much that they didn't even care whether they played an instrument. Nevertheless, you had been playing.
General Joe Ramirez: Yeah, I played Alto sax since I was in elementary school. As soon as I saw that band for the first time, I wanted to be a part of it. Fortunately, the academic standards back then were nearly as stringent as today. So I managed to get into A&M and joined the band.
It was quite a culture shock for me. I was not used to the military-style environment in regards to it being very regimented and very structured. I wasn't accustomed to upper-level students telling you what to do, getting inspected, and wearing a uniform every day. For me, it was foreign.
But quite frankly, it was probably exactly what I needed coming out of the inner city. I needed to learn some discipline and other ways to handle situations other than using your fist. I enjoyed all four years at Texas A&M University and made some phenomenal lifelong friends while I was here. In my senior year, I was commander of one of the band companies.
Although I had not planned to go into the military at the time, at the end of my sophomore year, the Army ROTC department called me into the office. He offered me a two-year scholarship for the Army ROTC program and asked if I would like to accept it.
My first question was, how much does it pay? Cause quite frankly. I needed the money. When he told me it covers everything but room and board, I said I'll do it.
Brian Beckcom: Sign me up, sign me up.
General Joe Ramirez: He then made sure that I understood that id incurs a four-year obligation to the United States Army by signing up for the scholarship. I said, that's okay, I'll do it for four years, no problem. So at the age of 20, I signed on the dotted line to join the United States Army, not realizing that it was a decision that would change my life forever.
Brian Beckcom: Wow. I mean, that's an understatement and looking at where you're at now.
General Joe Ramirez: I had no clue at the time it was going to change my life in such a dramatic way. I graduated in December 1979, commissioned in the Army, went off to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to become an artillery officer.
I honestly thought I would do four years and get out. I enjoyed what I was doing and wound up staying. An officer in the United States Army, I traveling all over the world. I started at Fort Sill and then spent six years in Europe, during the cold war, with the third infantry division. I then came back to Fort Sill, went to my mid-level education course.
They call it the commander General staff college. I went to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, then went to the first infantry division of Fort Riley, Kansas, for a year. Commanded it at Fort Stewart, Georgia, with the third infantry division, commanded again at Fort Hood with the first cavalry division. After that time, I became the Deputy Chief of Staff for US Central Command.
That's where I spent much time in Iraq and Afghanistan. For two years, I was stationed out of MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. I wound up spending most of my time downrange, probably the most stressful two years of my entire career. I probably learned the most about strategic-level decisions, how they're made, how policy is made when you're interacting with The House of Representatives, Congress, Chairman of The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other combatants commanders, the Vice President, and the President.
It's amazing what you learn by watching the interaction with them and the senior leaders of the military that I worked for at the time.
Brian Beckcom: Were you a flag officer at the time when you were interacting with all these?
General Joe Ramirez: I was the Colonel.
Brian Beckcom: Oh, you were a Colonel. Because I was talking to John Gallemore, the commanding officer of the 57th Airwing Nellis Air Force Base, also a Thunderbirds pilot, he spoke about his time in the Middle East during combat.
He worked for a General and said what astonished him was that the General is often not only the leading military figure in the region, but he's also the leading political figure as well. I learned so much about not commanding military men and women and how to deal politically, strategically diplomatically, with all these different groups.
Tell us, General, what's the difference between being a Major, Captain, Lieutenant Colonel, or Colonel? Tell us about taking the next step to becoming a General or a Flag officer.
General Joe Ramirez: Well, the first thing is, when you're a company or greater field grade officer, you're focused primarily at the tactical level. Up until I became the Deputy Chief of us Central Command staff, my whole world was concentrated in the army organization that I commanded, whether it was a company, whether it was a battalion or brigade, that was the organization I oversaw.
That was my world, and that was at the tactical level. When you get to be a Senior Colonel or a Flag Officer, you take a significant step into the strategic level of planning, preparing, and engagement. Colonel Gallemore was precisely right. When General officers are in other countries, they become political-military leaders.
It's not just the military, but you're looking at almost the four national power elements, diplomacy, information, military, and economics. You play a role in all of those as a Senior Officer deployed downrange or operating in another country. I served as a General Officer in Korea, Germany, Georgia, Ukraine, Bosnia, Kosovo, Isreal, and Turkey. You've got to remember that it's far beyond commanding your small organization of soldiers. You represent the United States of America to many of these people.
Brian Beckcom: I was going to say, you are the United States of America to many of these people. As such, you have so much responsibility and why the vetting process for becoming a Flag Officer is strict. The commitment and the fact that you represent the entire country. It's challenging to make it up through the ranks to Flag Officer.
The value in doing your best and being your best at whatever you do
Let's say a young kid is about to get in the military to become a General flag officer ultimately. What advice or suggestions would you have for them?
General Joe Ramirez: I tell Junior Officers that the first thing you need to do is be a good platoon leader. Or be the best at whatever you're doing. I say that because my very first commander told me the same thing.
He said, look, whatever position you're in, be the best at whatever it is you're doing. If you're the food service officer, you'll be the Army's best food service officer. If you're a platoon leader, you'd be the best leader in the Army.
If you are a transportation coordinator, be the best transportation coordinator in the Army.
Brian Beckcom: I've heard that phrase a couple of times; because of my sports involvement, I've heard it stated as you got to block and tackle before you can run the ball. So you have to learn how to block and tackle first.
General Joe Ramirez: Exactly, you're going to fall back on those necessary skills that you learn as a young Lieutenant through your career, and you build upon that. That's what leadership's all about. You're continually learning; you're a lifelong learner. You never stop learning in your journey up the ranks. As a leader, you're always falling back on the lessons you've known beforehand. Still, then you're also learning new lessons along the way.
I learned many different lessons as a strategic leader, starting at Central Command that would far different from what I had known as a tactical leader at the brigade battalion and company level beforehand. But a lot of those leadership principles transcend over into the strategic level, nonetheless.
Brian Beckcom: Yeah, when you start as a commissioned officer, particularly in the Army or the Marines, you're in charge of many enlisted men and women, and they come from all walks of life. It's a super diverse group of people. Your responsibility is essentially to take people with nothing in common or are from all different sorts of places and backgrounds and stuff like that and to make them a unit.
So talk a little bit about as a platoon officer, how you get all these people to work together as a unit.
General Joe Ramirez: Sure, I always tell the story of when my father was pinning on my gold bars when I became a second Lieutenant.
He said, son, let me give you one piece of advice that will serve you well as you become a leader in our Army. He said, take care of your men, and your men will take care of you. And that has served me well for 31 years in the United States Army.
It's probably one of the biggest things that I talk about when it comes to leadership. By taking care of your people, your people will take care of you. Taking care of your people covers a broad territory. You have to be able to talk to your people, listen, and understand your people. When I speak about taking care of people, I tell junior leaders that it doesn't mean you coddle them, treat them differently, or let them off easy. You have to hold them to standards, and you have to keep them to the bar, make sure they're doing the job they get paid to do. You have to make sure they understand that they are part of a much bigger organization than themselves. They are part of a team where everybody works together to make the organization successful.
As an example, I use this thing called the four-man stack. I show a picture of four soldiers who are about to enter a room. And as they kick in the door, anybody in there that's going to try to harm them is going to go down. On that team, every single soldier has an assigned sector of fire. If one soldier fails to cover their given sector of fire, they put the entire team at risk.
Everybody's daily leadership situation is not that dire; still, everybody should be thinking about bringing everybody together as a team to where they truly feel valued.
They feel a part of the team here where they've got to their role, or they're going to let other team members down. With a full understanding that if they all do this together, they'll be successful. It's no different from a football team, baseball team, or a military team.
Everybody's got to understand that they are part of something bigger than themselves. It's about thinking more about my teammates and not yourself. It's about the bigger organization as a whole and all of us being successful together.
Brian Beckcom: That's an excellent notion, and I've said this a couple of times on a couple of the podcasts. It wasn't until I was in my late thirties that I started to have the same revelation. That life is not what you can do for yourself; it's what you can do for other people. You learn that when you're in the Corps of Cadets, the military, or sports teams. It is an excellent notion and one of the lessons you learn as a leader in the military. It's a mission that is outside of you, above you, and is more significant as you're working towards a common goal.
You talked earlier about becoming a good platoon officer and then a good company commander. I interrupted, and you didn't get to finish answering how to become a General flag officer. So finish that off if you don't mind, General.
General Joe Ramirez: For me, it's what I tell junior officers. As you're going up the ranks, you need to be the best at what you're doing at the time. But also, it's about continuing to learn and studying the entire way.
That may sound monotonous, but you have to become a lifelong learner because you are done if you stop learning.
Brian Beckcom: You're done! You're done! I love that so much, General. I love that so much
General Joe Ramirez: You got to be learning the entire time, and it's not easy.
It just likes what I tell Cadets when they take command of an organization. I say this is your first day of command, and it doesn't mean that you suddenly turn a switch all of sudden your the best company commander out there. Now you've got a lot to learn as you're going along. Some of it's going to be hard lessons learned, but you've got to be learning every single day.
Brian Beckcom: That's why we, as lawyers call it the practice of law. Because if you're doing your job, you're always trying to get a little bit better than before.
Since running a business for almost 20 years now, my thought is that if we're not always trying to learn how to get a little bit better every day, then I feel like not only are we stagnant, but we're going back. There's always going to be other folks working hard to learn how to become better at business. If you stop learning, you're probably not just stagnating; you're probably regressing.
General Joe Ramirez: I agree! Not only that, but if your organization is going backward, the people you lead are going back as well.
Brian Beckcom: That's right.
General Joe Ramirez: You've got a more significant responsibility to your people in your organization, not to yourself.
As an answer to your question earlier, there was no magic formula for me to become a General officer. If you'd have told me as a young Lieutenant that I would become a General officer, I probably would have laughed at you and said it wouldn't happen.
I firmly believe that a lot of it had to do with the fact that I did my utmost best to be the best at whatever I could, whatever I was doing. I did my best to try to take care of my people.
I wanted them to know that I cared about them more than just being the guy who would do this job for me. I truly cared about them, and I wanted to make sure that they were successful as well.
I honestly tried to instill that sense of loyalty throughout my organization as I went up in rank. The most significant transition for me was going to a joint headquarters at US Central Command. And seeing leadership at a strategic level and how you've got to be able to engage multiple types of people in various sets of environments. And how to deal with a complex set of situations and problems that aren't necessarily the kinds of things they prepared you for.
As you go into that position, I watched some phenomenal, phenomenal General officers do some incredible stuff and offset some potentially hot button items, brilliantly and diplomatically. Although they were wearing a uniform, they could have easily had on a coat and tie.
I don't think there's any particular formula for becoming a General officer. What I tell folks is to be the best at whatever you're doing at the time.
Brian Beckcom: I've been thinking over the past couple of years, at 47, I don't feel I'm middle-aged. And, I've been thinking about my role as a father to three children, what principles one could live a good life by.
You said something that is one of the main things that I've been thinking about. And that is doing the best you can, with the God-given talents and the skills you've been given. Whether you're working at McDonald's, a General flag officer, a lawyer, a high school athlete or student, trying to do the best you can with what you've been given is a pretty good guiding principle in life. Not just in the military, but everywhere. What do you think about that?
General Joe Ramirez: It fits perfectly with what we've been talking about in terms of whatever position you're given. When you're assigned to a unit and a post in the military, you usually don't get much say in that.
It may not be exactly what you wanted. Still, suppose you're assigned to be the battalion maintenance officer. In that case, you should strive to be the best battalion maintenance officer in the Army. That's where you've got to plant yourself and learn everything about the job.
You have to commit to going at it with a hundred percent of your energy and my talent. I used to tell the junior officers that everything else will take care of itself if you're doing that. I use it as an example because I went in as a battalion maintenance officer one time, and oh my God, that's not the job I wanted.
I said, okay, I'm going to take this on, and I'm going to be the Army's best maintenance officer. I was fortunate to have some outstanding people who were maintenance types, which taught me a lot about being a good maintenance officer. I'll always be grateful for that, but again, it all comes down to being the best at what you're doing at the time.
Use the talents you've been given and continue to learn and grow along the way. Everything else will take care of itself.
Future Vision for the A&M Corps of Cadets
Brian Beckcom: That General is a perfect transition to talking about your current role. You're a retired General; however, in many ways, you're still very involved in the military as the Texas Aggie Corps of Cadets' commandant.
I want to talk a little bit about your vision for the Corps and where the Corps is headed. You know, us old Aggies kind of joke about how the Corps's getting soft. You've been hearing that for a hundred years.
My Granddad and Father were both in the Corps; hence, they know about that too. My Dad was in the class of 65. He used to tell me when I was in the Corps that maybe some physical things were a little bit harder, but that the academics are substantially more challenging. The academics are five times harder now as they were when I was at A&M. It makes me laugh that you keep hearing some of the same things from old aggies, again and again.
People that are not familiar with the Corps. It is one of the few remaining 24 hour ROTC units outside of the military academies. The mission has always been to train leaders.
So talk a little bit about it. What's you're doing as far as that's concerned.
General Joe Ramirez: I got here in November of 2010, and the one mission that I was given was to grow the Corps because the Corps is dying a slow death. The numbers are going down, the presence on campus is going down, and the reputation is not necessarily the best. We've been trying to increase the Corps now for 40 years, and it's not working, so that was the only mission given to me when I came on.
I had three priorities. Number one, I wanted to grow the Corps. I tried to focus on the mission that was given to me. Number two was to raise the academic standing of the Corps. I wanted to ensure that our Cadets were succeeding academically. Number three, I want to increase the diversity within the Corps and what I mean by that is I wanted the Corps to look more like our state and our nation.
I had come out of the military, a very diverse organization, and I wanted a Corp to look like because that's the environment our Cadets will go into when they graduate. So those are the three things we focused on.
I got to tell you; the first one was probably the biggest I knew we would face.
How do you get young men and women in today's world to want to come and join an organization where you get up early, you do PT, you wear a uniform, and you're getting inspected every day. Not only that, but you have upper-level students on top of you every day. Not to mention, you're still going to class and trying to survive in a very rigorous academic environment.
So, that's the challenge, how do you get young men and women become a part of that. It became our core focus, and we focused hard. We are trying to get out there and put ourselves out on social media. We traveled around to talk to different high schools about the Corps and what we're all about.
We try to dispel notions that we're an all-male, all military school. We haven't been that way since 1965. It was a real hard concerted effort, but we focused hard on that and grew the Corps. We had expanded the Corps from 1800 Cadets when I got here; now, we're at 2300. We hope to be 2,400 soon, but COVID hurt us, quite frankly.
Brian Beckcom: Yeah, I bet it did.
General Joe Ramirez: Many Cadets we thought we were getting decided to stay home. We're hoping to get them in the spring or, if not, next year. But, we're growing the Corps, which was essential to me, as we couldn't let the Corps die. I mean, Texas A&M without the Corps of Cadets is not the same.
Brian Beckcom: Yeah, it's the same thing.
General Joe Ramirez: I say tongue in cheek. It's the University of Texas without the Corps of Cadets. So we set about growing the Corps, and then, we also put heavy emphasis on academics. It was a real paradigm shift. For most of us in the Corps back in the day, academics wasn't a big deal. You know, it was "2.0 and go". Anything over 2.0 was a wasted effort.
Brian Beckcom: Yep, that's right, haha!
General Joe Ramirez: We all heard that when we were in the Corps, back in the day. Well, in today's environment, grades count. It didn't take me long to realize that look. The academic standards A&M are so high now that we're bringing in the top 10 men and women into the Corps. We got to show them that they can succeed academically.
So we knew that we had to change the focus and priority on academics. In my first semester here, the Corps posted a 2.6. which I was pretty impressed with.
Brian Beckcom: That's not that bad.
General Joe Ramirez: We didn't ever make that back in our day. For the rest of the University, it was a 2.9. We were lagging way behind the rest of the University. So we started focusing on academics, including putting money from my budget toward tutors for the Cadets. It's free for Cadets, tutoring in chemistry, physics, biology, engineering, and math. Last semester our Corps posted a 3.5.
Brian Beckcom: Wow! Wow! 3.5
General Joe Ramirez: Yep, a 3.5!
Brian Beckcom: Unbelievable.!
General Joe Ramirez: Our Cadets are smart young men and women. To get into A&M today, you've got to be smart. We've shown that if you provide them the resources and the environment, they will succeed academically. Because today, for example, if you want to go in the United States Army, 40% of your ability to be selected into the Army and then what branch you want to get is your grades
Brian Beckcom: Really? That's interesting.
General Joe Ramirez: If you want to go to the Navy or the Air Force, specific career fields will not take you if your GPA is below 2.75. In our Cadets, all I want to do is make them successful. If you're going to be a pilot in the Air Force, I want to help you be a pilot in the Air Force. But part of that is you got to make the grades to get there.
Brian Beckcom: You better make the grades. I think some people have a notion that officers enlisted in the Army or Marine are tough people. Physically they're very talented, the mental part, maybe not being there.
I was having a conversation with a former CIA officer the other day. We discussed the military's upper echelons, such as the General officers, the colonels, and the special operator; it's the mental toughness that's most important. It's not how big your muscles are; It's not how tough you are. It's how smart you are, how much judgment and wisdom you have.
General, a 3.5 at A&M with 2300 people, is astonishing. I played basketball during my first year at A&M, and I did not know the first thing about studying. I did not often study throughout high school, as it wasn't that hard for me. But, when I got to A&M, I got super lucky because, as part of the basketball team, we had to sit there three hours a night, Sunday through Thursday, with literally the assistant coaches watching our study.
So in a way, I was forced to study. I ended up making good grades because of that. I got in the Corps after that, and we had the same thing. We had CQ where you're forced to study. Nowadays, it's a little bit different because good grades are required to get into A&M. However, there's still probably kids that come to A&M that are a little bit overwhelmed and aren't sure exactly how to study for these classes.
To provide them with tutors and a structured environment is, it's incredible. Many parents thinking about sending their kids to A&M may worry that their kids may just mess around all day, shooting guns and crawling through the mud. We're here to tell them that the number one priority is making your grades.
General Joe Ramirez: It is, that's our number one priority. You ask any of the Cadets today, and they'll tell you the same thing. Now don't get me wrong. We don't sacrifice all the physical training.
It's six o'clock in the morning, and we are out running PT. For those seeking a military commission, there are all kinds of activities here for them. Whether they seek out to join the Rangers, the Navy seal platoon, the Marine platoon, or the Air Force special forces squadron, they'll do military-style training, usually on the weekends, so there are many opportunities here for Cadets.
I also remind parents that 60% of our Cadets do not go into the military. 60% of our Cadets are headed to other career fields. Be it education, law, medicine, vet medicine, finance, and we have Cadets going into virtually every career field out there.
The largest component of our Cadet Corps is not going into the military. People find it hard to believe that all these young men and women walking around in uniform, the majority of them are not going to go into the military.
So why do they do this? Well, you said it at the very beginning, it's because of leadership. We need leadership in virtually every career field out there.
I had a cadet come back a couple of months ago. He was one of our company commanders in the Corps a few years ago, went to nursing school, graduated from nursing school, and worked at a Houston hospital.
He happened to be on campus, and he came by to see me. He told me, "Sir, you would not believe how much these people lean on me for the leadership piece. It's not my nursing skills. It's the fact that when they need leadership, and they need decisions to be made. They come to me because of my background with the Corps of Cadets."
When I hear that, I wish I could capture it and remind the Corps that there's a lot to be learned from the leadership experience you gained in the Corps. And that you don't even realize you're getting it until after you're gone.
Brian Beckcom: Isn't that interesting? What a great way to put it. I mean, look back in my days in the Corps and ended up being the wing commander, and I was a Ross volunteer for two years and a couple of other things. But, I look back on my experiences, and I know now that I learned some stuff at the time that I didn't even realize I was learning.
Finding compromise between tradition and positive growth
Let me ask you this question. Now I want to switch topics a little bit General because I know that we want to know your philosophy and your thinking on this question. There are, yeah,
A&M is a very tradition-based school. We have many extraordinary traditions, and the Corps of Cadets are no exception to that. But we have to, we have to evolve, and we have to change. A great example is my Dad, who graduated in 65. That's when General Rudder first started allowing women in the University.
Can you imagine if we did not evolve in that capacity, we would be gone right now, or it would be, be tiny schools? So we have to, we have to grow, and we have to change with the times. But we also want to preserve that fundamental C O R E of the Corps.
How do you balance evolving and staying current with the times while also preserving the Cadets' entire Corps experience?
General Joe Ramirez: That's the healthy balance that we look at every single year. For those who lament the fact that it's different from when they were in the Corps, I remind them I graduated in 1979, and the world has changed dramatically since 1979.
Today, it's a different generation of young people than what we were back in 1979. We are responsible for preparing young men and women for the world they're going to enter today when they graduate. If I tried to prepare them to enter the same world I joined in 1979; I'd be doing them a huge disservice.
I've got to prepare them for the world they will enter today, which is very different from the world I joined in 1979. We have to adjust to today's environment. I think back in my day, we didn't have computers, wifi, or cell phones, and there were many things available to Cadets today that we never even dreamed of.
The world has changed, complicating that even more as we live in a COVID 19 environment. We have to prepare Cadets for that environment, and it's not as straight forward. However, Texas A&M is still Texas A&M University. The Corps of Cadets is still the Corps of Cadets, all the iconic traditions that we cherish the most at Texas A&M Silver Taps, Aggie Muster, The 12th man, Reveille, and Yellow Leaders.
All of those things that we cherish the most as being Aggies, they're still here. We still hold onto those. Those traditions are still sacred to us, and we will never waiver from those ever. The Corps of Cadets is still the Corps of Cadets, and I'll give you a great example. We aren't allowed to March into Kyle field this year because of COVID-19 for football games.
So we said, okay, what are we going to do? We're going to march on campus, marching, and when I told when I put that out on social media, the feedback we got was incredible.
Brian Beckcom: Nice
General Joe Ramirez: People said, thank God we still have the Corps doing what the Corps does. And, I talked to all the Corps leadership on Friday morning, last Friday morning.
And I reminded them, you represent far more than yourself. Every day you're wearing that uniform, you represent all the Aggies that came to this great school that was either part of the Corps or saw the Corps daily. For them, you represent all that's good about Texas A&M University.
You represent the traditions, the history, the legacy of what this great school is all about. I can't tell you the number of people that have said, amidst all the turmoil that we're seeing out there in the world today. When we see the Corps, we're reminded that everything's okay.
Because the Corps is still there at Texas A&M University, the band is still there at Texas A&M University. They're still marching, still wearing their uniforms, even going to the football games, and they're still performing at halftime. They see that, and they say things are okay at Texas A&M.
Corps's still there, and I remind the Cadets that you carry on your shoulder a big responsibility. You have 144 years of the Corps at Texas A&M University on your shoulders. You represent the very best of our University. You represent the traditions that we consider so sacred. You represent all of that every day that you wear that uniform.
Brian Beckcom: General, I'm getting chills right now.
I'm going to speak directly right now to the Cadets in the Corps right now. What General Ramirez is saying could not be more accurate. When my friends and I go to A&M for the football games, we stand out there and watch the Corps march in; the amount of emotion that goes through our body is hard to describe.
Still 27 years after I graduated, I get chills every single time I hear the band. If you haven't experienced what it feels like, it's hard to describe. General Ramirez is a hundred percent right; you Cadets carry 144 years of tradition that is still exceptionally important to tens of thousands of Aggies.
General Joe Ramirez: It's a big deal. I told them the story about how, when I was in the Aggie band, my senior year, as we were getting ready to step off, there'd be old Aggies there watching us. As I would start playing the war hymn, I'd see Aggies with tears in their eyes.
Brian Beckcom: You know, they may have heard that song hundreds, if not thousands of times, and they still get tears in their eyes. I always get chill bumps, and I've listened to that song more times than I can count.
General Joe Ramirez: Yeah, and I would look at when I was a cadet and wonder why are they crying? Well, now, I get it. Because I'm the one with tears in my eyes as I watch the quarter march by. Thank God that these young men and women are still willing to step up and join the Corps and be a part of what Texas A&M is all about.
And listen, we are a much bigger organization now here at Texas A&M University. We've got many more students; the Corp is the last remaining part of what Texas A&M once was. When it started back in 1876 till now 144 years, that's what the Corps represents. Sometimes it's hard for our Cadets to understand that I try to remind them of how important it is that they represent so much more than themselves.
Brian Beckcom: I didn't appreciate it when I was that age, either General. I certainly understand it now. One of the things I like to tell kids when I'm talking to them about joining the Corps is. Well, first of all, if it's a male, I usually say I don't think you're tough enough to join the Corps cause I like to reverse psychology.
The other thing I say is I have never met a cadet who's gone through four years of the Corps and said they regretted it. I know people that have quit early and said, I wish I wouldn't have done that. I'm sure there's a couple of people like this, but 99. 9% of the people that complete the Corps look back on it and say, man, I sure am glad I did that.
General Joe Ramirez: So what's important to me too, is the fact that the friends you make, the relationships you forge in there in the Corps of Cadets that are unlike anything else and turn into lifelong buddies.
My class of 79 Aggie band buddies and I met last November and Fredericksburg for our 40th anniversary. I hadn't seen some of these guys since we graduated. It was like a family reunion, we get together, and time stood still. We were back in 1979 on the quad, reliving those days of what it was like.
I know you probably do the same with your outfit. It's something special that you can't measure, and, for the Corps of Cadets, it's an experience that's like no other here at Texas A&M. I'm not saying anything about any different experience here at A&M. I'm saying the Corps is like no other. It's one that is very special and one that I'm glad we still have here at A&M
Brian Beckcom: I agree with you a hundred percent. I would add that the older I get, the more I appreciate the fact that I have these friendships. I mean, I have friends that I know I can call upon any time I need to for basically anything. And we still keep in contact, and many people don't have that.
The older I get General, I feel very grateful that I had that experience and still have these friends. I would even go so far as to say that most people don't have those friendships.
I'll tell you a quick story. My Dad was in the Corps with a guy named Gary Tisdale who died of brain cancer ten plus years ago, and one of Gary's, dying wishes was for my Dad to wear his Aggie ring to the football games. So my Dad wears two Aggie rings to every football game, his and Gary's.
Those are the kinds of friendships that are so deep lasting and so rare. It's almost guaranteed in some ways when you go through the Corps of Cadets that you're going to form those friendships.
Well, General, I've taken up a little bit more of your time than we reserved. I have one more question I would like to ask you if you have time.
General Joe Ramirez: Sure. Absolutely.
Followers focus on problems. Leaders focus on solutions.
Brian Beckcom: I've asked many of my guests this same question. It is perhaps the most critical question I ask. As a nation, we're going through difficult times. We've got the pandemic, we've got some issues with racial relations, police issues, and of course, the politics are crazy right now. It's challenging times for many folks.
As a leader, what are your thoughts on this? What do you see as the best way forward for us as a country over the next 6 to 12 months?
General Joe Ramirez: The first thing I will say is, our country has been through tough times before many times before. We are tough, resilient people.
We have dealt with challenging issues before, and we've come out of it better as a nation. We will this time too. I will also remind people since we're talking about leadership, that followers focus on problems, leaders focus on solutions, and I firmly believe that.
We will get through this because we have leadership in all the right places. Whatever it is we're facing. As an optimistic person by nature, one of my favorite sayings is that a positive attitude is a combat multiplier.
Brian Beckcom: Nice; love that.
General Joe Ramirez: It's the difference between success or failure for you, your organization, again, you can't throw up your hands and quit.
You've got to stay positive and work your way through this. I firmly believe that our nation is going to do that. I know we're going through tough times right now, but we've been through tough times before. We, as a people, will get through this. I pray that we don't have to have something like September 11th happened to unite us again as a people and bring us together and help us figure out this whole situation.
I pray we don't need something like that to make that happen. I pray that we, as a nation, with the right leaders in place, will figure out a way to get through this. And bring us back to being Americans, Aggies, who care for each other, who love their families, who love each other, and want to see this country succeed in the future. I firmly believe that but again, followers focused on the problems, leaders focus on solutions.
Brian Beckcom: Brigadier General Joe Ramirez, that is a great way to end up our conversation. General, I know you got a lot of stuff going on, and you're a busy person. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your time.
Your life story is phenomenal. As a poor Hispanic kid from the East side of Houston, becoming a Brigadier General in the Army, It's an inspiring story. You're the perfect guest for a podcast on leadership. You're the kind of guest I had in mind when I started this podcast.
You have positive leadership and the ideas that I want to get out there in the world as much as possible. You're also an American Patriot.
The other thing I want to say before I let you go is, I can't tell you how much I appreciate how much you care about the Corps of Cadets. There are tens of thousands of us that were in the Corps of Cadets and meant the world to us.
To talk to you and to know it's in your hands right now, General Ramirez gives me a great sense of satisfaction. It gives me a great sense of confidence that this organization means so much to so many of us is in such good hands. So, General, thank you very much for coming on the show.
Hopefully, I'll get up to Aggie land sometime in the fall, and maybe I can come to say hi to you. But other than that, man, I can't thank you enough.
General Joe Ramirez: Well, thank you very much for the opportunity. I greatly appreciate it, and for all the old Aggies out there, I'll say this. The Corps of Cadets has been around for 144 years, and if I have anything to say about it, we're going to be around for at least another 144 years.
I love this organization. I love these young men and women, and trust me on this one. These are great young men and women. They're going to go on to do great things and in our communities, our state, and our nation in the future.
God bless all of you and beat the hell out of Alabama.
Brian Beckcom: Beat the hell out of Alabama.