Looking back on the thirty-four years of my career that led up to my appointment as Chairman, I felt comfortable with the man I saw in the mirror. I had earned a solid reputation as an honest, straightforward role model for integrity, ethics, and selflessness—a leader whose moral character was beyond reproach. Now, as I proudly stepped into my position as highest-ranking military officer in all of the United States Armed Forces— the principal military adviser to the President and the National Security Council—I was excited to serve as a living example to the three million-plus men and women of our armed forces that it really is possible to rise to the top of one's profession through character-based leadership and without its being at the expense of others.
But what was I stepping into behind the heavily fortified walls of the Pentagon's inner circle? Would subsequent White House gatherings attempt to drag me into more revolting conspiracies? I'd had bosses who asked me to steal for them, others to access and falsify their records. I'd seen my share of cowards and relieved them of duty. But never in those thirty-four years had I seen—or even imagined—anything that came close to a senior Cabinet member suggesting I be party to killing one of our great airmen in hopes of starting a war. Was this typical of what really went on at the highest levels of the United States government, the country I had passionately devoted my life to serve?
If my first few weeks as Chairman were any indication of the challenges the next four years would bring, I would have countless opportunities to call upon those principles deeply ingrained within me as a young boy in a small North Carolina town called Speed.
From "Without Hesitation" by General (Ret.) Hugh Shelton, 14th Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, with Ronald Levinson and Malcolm McConnell. Copyright © 2010 by the authors and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Press, LLC.