/ Published June 30, 2014
In the Shadow of Greatness: Voices of Leadership, Sacrifice, and Service from America’s Longest War by US Naval Academy Class of 2002, edited by Joshua Welle, John Ennis, Katherine Kranz, and Graham Plaster. Naval Institute Press, 264 pp.
Grand strategy, the operational arts, tactics, and of course memoirs are all common ground for military books. In the Shadow of Greatness takes a different tack, relying on the personal stories of 33 graduates of the Naval Academy Class of 2002 and their experiences from their days at the academy, though deployments, and up to the present. Beginning with Induction Day, and in some cases the occurrences leading up to that momentous event, these former midshipmen recount the actions, trials, and tribulations that helped them develop as officers and leaders. The fact that each “story” is fairly short allows all 33 recollections, along with photos and introductions, to fit into this fairly compact book.
In the Shadow of Greatness becomes especially compelling during its recounting of activities after graduation, when the stories shift from the “Leadership Laboratory” to the fleet, and these new ensigns and second lieutenants begin to put theory into practice. Covering all aspects of Navy life, from air, sea, and ground to multiple career fields and experiences, the stories paint a vivid picture of a nation at war.
These episodes concern themselves less with the greater strategy or the war as a whole than with leadership at work—both their own and that of their mentors. Integrity, service before self, and teamwork become subjects of discussion and examination in the “real world” outside the academy. The stories are at times funny but at other times quite moving—take for example one young lieutenant’s recollection of his first casualty notification to a spouse or classmates writing about the loss of a classmate and friend.
The contributors do not focus on any one community but run the gamut of their experiences, both deployed and stateside, concentrating on leadership. The book’s value lies in its ability to convey some of the lessons that these young men and women paid such a high price to learn. Their stories will give anyone, of any rank or experience, an idea of how young leaders think and why they choose the courses they do. In the Shadow of Greatness is not required reading for airpower historians; however, anyone with an interest in leadership—its development, motivations, and the toll it can exact—should pick up a copy.
Lt Col Aaron Burgstein, USAF
"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."