Speaking before a fully packed Casper Events Center for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming’s annual awards breakfast, retired Lt. Col. Oliver North — a bestselling author, decorated war hero and face of the Iran-Contra scandal — provided the audience with his rules for leading with integrity.
Leading by example was one. Having situational awareness — the art of knowing what’s going on around you — and approaching life with perseverance. And finally, remembering that the company one keeps really does matter.
The speech was well received from the audience, with hearty laughter at his jokes and the elicitation of thousands of dollars in new donations for the Boys and Girls Club following North’s own contribution of a $1,000 check to an already healthy haul for the organization. But for all the rapt attention to his speech, little acknowledgement was given to the record of an individual boasting one of the most polarizing legacies of any political figure of the 1980s.
However controversial his past, North received a similar reception to those of past guests to the breakfast, recognized for his accomplishments in the field, his service in coordinating military and intelligence efforts against American adversaries, and a nod to his brief stint as president of the National Rifle Association, which ended with his ouster by Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre this past spring.
No recognition of the scandal that made up the meat of his bestselling autobiography — an autographed copy of which served as the centerpiece for each table — was included in any of the morning’s largely innocuous remarks from politicians such as Sen. John Barrasso and Gov. Mark Gordon, who welcomed North to our “small town with long streets” and acknowledged that the United States is a country where “we can make our own future,” underscored by the ethic of “doing things right, in the right way.”
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Such an attitude was embraced by North, who praised the values of groups like the United States Marine Corps — which he said values individuals like those taught in the Boys & Girls Clubs of America — and in establishing a morality that differentiates Americans from those responsible for perpetuating terrorism in the Middle East — a region that has consistently been under some form of occupation by the United States or another Western nation since the close of World War II.
“President Bush once said that ‘evil men are served by conscience,’” North told the crowd. “Young people under radical Islam are taught to hate, to kill, and to kill themselves to kill us. Consider the difference between that and what young people are taught in those Boys and Girls Clubs.”
“The difference in what they’re taught,” he added, “defines the difference between who we are and who they are.”
Most importantly, North told the crowd that great leaders lead by example and that, while words are important, “actions are too,” both for one’s own self and for the people they surround themselves with.
“Those with whom you associate are going to define who you are,” he said.