“Mission first, people always.”
Mississippi State University ROTC graduates repeated those words many times on Friday morning, as retired Col. Dwight Dyess stressed their importance to the cadets who received their first salutes as Second Lieutenants during the ceremony.
Dyess, who heads BancorpSouth in West Point, also serves as the Civilian Aid to the Secretary of the Army for the state.
His short but powerful commencement address drew from his years as a commander and a special forces solider.
“As commissioned officers of our Military Forces, it is your charge, in part, to ensure the freedom of our nation,” Dyess told the graduates.
Dyess reminded the graduates of the mottos that have kept the United States military the best in the world for many decades.
“Our army has a saying of ‘Be, Know and Do,’” Dyess said. “It is rough corollary to the United States Military Academy’s motto ‘Duty, Honor, County,’ and is reflected in the Army’s Values of ‘Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and personal courage.’
Dyess reminded the students of their duty, not only to their country but to their alma mater.
“Be proud of your alma mater and her heritage,” Dyess said. “MSU has had strong ties with our military since our beginning in 1878. The major reason General Stephen D. Lee fought for the creation of Mississippi A&M was to provide skills and modern techniques to those men he had led in battle. He wanted his soldiers to be more productive and thus have a better way of life. Mission first; people always. MSU is now part of your being.”
The soldiers were also commissioned to look upward and beyond for guidance during their military careers and their lives as civilians.
“Adhere to something bigger than yourself,” he said. “Use it as a source of energy. It will give you peace and allow you to have confidence in yourself and your cause, and will give you strength to accomplish your mission.”
Dyess drew upon his own experiences in the military to impress upon the soldiers the importance of knowing their profession and the imperativeness of leading by example.
“My first unit in the Mississippi Army National Guard was C Company, 1st Battalion, 155th Infantry, “ he recalled. “In the Armory Training Room was a poster that had the ghost of a Soldier overlooking headstones in a cemetery. The caption read, ‘Let no man’s soul cry out ‘Had I had the proper training!’ Know your profession and teach it to your subordinates with gusto! Mission first; people always. You are not mistreating soldiers by training them hard.”
Dyess knows that the military is a tough business, but the experience is what the soldier makes of it.
“Enjoy being an officer,” he demanded. “It is fun if you are prepared, and the relationships you forge in the military will be some of the best friends of your life. It is an honor to serve our great county. Do it well with God’s help.”
Dyess has served the last decade as the CASA for Mississippi. He delivered the oath to the cadets after the commencement address, and greeted each soldier after the pinning ceremony and the tradition of the first salute.