A year and half ago when I heard Birmingham Southern College had named a former United States marine commandant as their new president, I thought "Boy, those students are in for a shock."
But, if the students were expecting a rough, "give-no-slack" disciplinarian as their new leader, they might have been shocked by what a kind and caring leader Gen. Charles Krulak would be.
Krulak's Biggest challenge was getting Birmingham Southern back on solid financial ground. Now, coming up on two years on the job, it appears that Southern brought in just the right leader, at just the right time.
Gen. Charles Krulak believes in the value of solid leadership.
"Leaders enable ordinary people to do extra ordinary things and that's what we need in the country and that's what I'm trying to do with these young people: convince them that they're not ordinary, they're extraordinary," Krulak said. "Everybody says you know, 'You can,' 'Nothing's too high for you to reach for,' 'The sky's the limit, the sky's the limit.' I tell my students all the time, 'Don't tell me the sky's the limit when there are footprints on the moon.'"
Marines never stop being marines, and after serving 35 years, Krulak is no exception. His last assignment was as commandant of the Marine Corps and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
I was familiar with the general's military career from Vietnam to the White House, but I wanted to know how one flips the switch from marine discipline and command to leading a college campus.
"Young people are young people: whether they're in uniform or wearing school clothes," he said. "They still have the same heart, they still have the same sense of what they want to do in life and it's just a matter of helping them achieve their goals, helping them meet their passions."
Gen. Krulak is the 13th president of Birmingham Southern. When he and his wife came to campus, they lived in one of the dorms for 14 months. He says he wanted to know what dorm life, campus life was like -- not just be told about it. He's developed a relationship with faculty, staff and students. With all his years of experience, he told me he's convinced that you can't fool young people.
"But if you have a passion for the young man or woman they pick up on that. They know. I have a saying that 'You can pretend to care, but you can't pretend to be there.' They know if you're there and they know if you're a phony or not; and if you're a phony they'll pick it up in a heartbeat and you've lost their respect. If you're not a phony, they pick that up too and they're going to love you and you're gonna love them."
Gen. Krulak's military record is one we should all salute. He's been awarded just about every medal the marines award, and the one no one wants -- the Purple Heart. Two of them.
His heroes include his father, Ronald Reagan, and a fellow officer, a lieutenant colonel he served with in Vietnam.
"Who taught me the
importance of integrity and it's the only thing that you really own. And no
one can take it from you but you can give it away, and if you give it away
you're finished. So I've had a lot of good role models," Krulak said.
The student body is growing at Birmingham Southern, up 30 percent in two years. This marine is now in the business of developing good men and women.
"My whole background is
making men and women of character, and to do that you have to develop them
mentally, morally and physically. If
they want a job they're gonna get it for 40 percent what's up here and 60 percent of what's
here and I'm working on here as well as here. Most schools don't do
that," Krulak said.
So it appears that one of the top academic schools in the country is on track to be stronger and better than ever, under the leadership of a veteran marine with a big, big heart.
That's the spirit of Alabama.
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