It’s not easy to upstage a four-star general, but most of the crowd that filled the plaza outside Baker Memorial Rink on Jan. 7 was there to see the Stanley Cup, on loan from the Hockey Hall of Fame. That enabled Gen. Mark Milley ’80, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, to mingle quietly with his old friends.
Nevertheless, when it came their turn to pose with the Cup, the general had no trouble rounding up his troops.
“Let’s go! Come on! Hit the beach!” Milley barked to his old mates, as a few dozen 60-somethings scrambled into formation.
Though he was not a star on the ice, hockey has been an important part of Milley’s life. A standout at Belmont Hill School outside of Boston, he was recruited to Princeton by then-coach Jack Semler. He also considered West Point, but Milley says that his parents, both of whom had served in the military, urged him to attend Princeton, then the only Ivy League school with an ROTC program, to give him a greater range of opportunities in later life. An older brother attended Harvard.
And, of course, he played hockey. A lifelong Boston Bruins fan, Milley was a defenseman like his hero, Bobby Orr, though not in the same high-scoring style. “I was a goalie’s defenseman, pretty scrappy,” he characterized himself. “I would protect the goal, get the puck out of the corner, and get it up to the forwards on the blue line.”
Cliff Lawrick ’80, who played alongside Milley and roomed with him for three years, remembered him in similar terms. “He was there to protect his teammates,” Lawrick recalled. “From the first time I met him I knew — this is a guy you want on your side.”
Like many of those at the Hobey 100 games, Milley has warm memories of games and practices at Baker Rink, as well as lessons learned off the ice. “The whole idea of team sports, it’s much bigger than just putting points on the board,” he said. “It’s about resiliency. It’s about teamwork and learning how to get knocked down and get back up, and the camaraderie built from all that.”
Long an advocate for Princeton’s ROTC program, Milley has encouraged more Ivy League graduates to join the military. “We want more diversity in our officer corps,” he says. “We want officers coming out of OCS [Officer Candidate School], out of the ranks, out of civilian institutions, and out of the military academies, as well. You take all those officers, and you blend them together, so they’re representative of American society as a whole.”
Milley urged today’s Princeton students to give back in some form, whether in uniform or not. “Don’t just chase the almighty dollar,” the general advised. “Don’t just chase power. Serve the greater good of the society, the community, the country.”