Elite Souls

Portraits of Valor in Iraq and Afghanistan

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The great nineteenth century French military thinker, Ardant du Picq, argued that selfless courage is rooted in a higher moral purpose, and is found among “Elite Souls.” This is a book about five such “Elite Souls,” all highly decorated young West Point graduates and recipients of the USMA’s Nininger Medal.   

Elite Souls  outlines the importance of building and developing moral character in military leaders, while arguing that a rigorous academic education is also essential in creating young officers capable of the kind of creative and critical thinking necessary in the complicated wars of the twenty-first century.  Dr. Raymond suggests that West Point’s servant-leader model is critical in fostering the kind of intense selflessness ideally seen between junior officers, their NCOs, and soldiers. Finally, Elite Souls  makes the case that inspirational commanding officers are also key.     

In this book, Dr. Ray Raymond argues that each of the recipients of the Nininger Award entered West Point primarily for moral reasons and that the Academy's rigorous academic, military, and developmental methods strengthened those values. West Point produced young military leaders who were exceptionally well-educated and trained to deal with the complex challenges of war in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early twenty first century.   

About the Author

Editorial Reviews

“As a professor in a graduate program devoted to the study political philosophy and of statesmanship, I'm always on the hunt for books that can help students form clear connections between ethical theories and decision making. Elite Souls is just the kind of book I have been searching for. It offers models of excellence indispensable for students, and for training the next generation of leaders.” —Dr. Khalil Habib, associate professor of politics, Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship, Hillsdale College
Elite Souls is a compelling story of five West Point graduates, whose moral courage, honed at the Academy, was a key element in their exceptional, heroic performance in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The book provides important insights into the strengths and challenges of the Academy’s and the broader Army’s leader development programs.” —Brig. Gen. James R. Golden, USA (Ret.), PhD, former professor and head of the Department of Social Sciences, U.S. Military Academy, author of The Dynamics of Change in NATO and Economics and National Strategy in the Information Age
“With keen insight and excellent research, Ray Raymond powerfully demonstrates the importance of personal, moral character on the battlefield through the exploits of five outstanding officers. A must-read for those who serve our nation in the profession of arms.” —Col. Robert L. McClure (Ret.), former president and CEO (2007-2016), West Point Association of Graduate
Elite Souls is a must read for anyone interested in servant leadership. Ray Raymond is a masterful storyteller; his richly detailed chronicle of the development of five extraordinary young Army officers takes us on a vivid journey that explores the many factors that combine to produce leaders of character.” —Brig. Gen. Daniel Kaufman, USA (Ret.), former Dean of the Academic Board, U. S. Military Academy
Elite Souls is the culmination of Professor Ray Raymond’s distinguished career as a diplomat and expert on foreign and defense affairs. Drawing upon over 20 years of contributions to West Point's academic program, he introduces readers to five cadets who exemplify the values of that institution: moral and physical courage and self-sacrifice. All five are recipients of West Point’s Ninninger Medal for exceptional valor. Raymond’s study of these five individuals represents an important contribution to the literature on military leadership.” —Prof. Doug Stuart, director of Dickinson College's MA program
“There are a lot of words that can follow ‘elite’ in describing our military heroes, but ‘souls’ may be the most profound. Elite Souls is an important glimpse into the character of some of America’s best soldiers. It is a book that will resonate in all walks of life. It reminds us that competence gets us ‘to the fight’ or ‘in the door’ but character keeps us there.” —Gen. Martin E. Dempsey (Ret.), 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
“Who are today’s battlefield heroes? In Elite Souls, Raymond James Raymond takes us into the heart of combat alongside five of America’s best: West Pointers Nick Eslinger, Tony Fuscellaro, Ross Pixler, Bobby Sickler, and Stephen Tangen, all veterans decorated for their bravery under fire. Raymond explains what made these young leaders capable of their courageous actions—family, schooling, discipline, and guts. It’s all about character. These five have it. In Elite Souls, you’ll find out why.” —Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, USA (Ret.)
“An exceptional example of the value of moral character. Raymond demonstrates how valor in combat emanates from the moral character of “elite souls” by describing the heroism of five very different soldiers that all share the common attribute of strong moral character that was cultivated by their family, institutionalized at West Point, and reinforced by strong leaders in the Army. A riveting read.” —Col. Liam Collins (Ret.), executive director of the Viola Foundation and the Madison Policy Forum
“How does courage differ from bravery? Does character easily emerge to meet the moment? Is it nurtured and developed, strengthening with each lesson and sharpening with each test? These questions are at the heart of Ray Raymond’s insightful work. Whether you are a young person aspiring to public service, or an experienced professional reflecting on your career, Elite Souls will have a place on your bookshelf” —Col. Jay M. Parker, USA (Ret.), distinguished professor and Major General Fox Conner Chair of International Security Studies, College of International Security Affairs, National Defense University; author of Restoring Thucydides: Testing Familiar Lessons and Deriving New Ones
“In 1962 General Douglas MacArthur told the West Point Corps of Cadets that the American soldier has 'drained deep the chalice of courage.' But what exactly is courage, a virtue too easily confused with bravery? Professor Raymond James Raymond poignantly analyzes the combat experience of five recent West Point graduates and concludes that 'true courage is selfless, and serves a higher moral purpose.' Raymond’s book on these graduates, Elite Souls, is a compelling read about how 21st-century leadership is taught at West point; more importantly, Raymond reveals how graduates like these five officers have internalized the values of the Academy, built strong moral foundations, and provided courageous, inspirational leadership on the battlefield. Concerned about whether Millennials have the 'right leadership stuff?' Raymond’s remarkable, insightful stories should bury all doubts.” —Lt. Gen. Daniel W. Christman, USA (Ret.), 55th Superintendent, USMA
“In his detailed descriptions of five Nininger Award recipients, author Ray Raymond brings each one to life and shows how they responded to extraordinary circumstances. The reader actually feels as if he knows them personally. Elite Souls is a great read–gripping and insightful.” —Lt. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, USA (Ret.), 57th Superintendent of the United States Military Academy
Elite Souls is a compelling and gripping story of battlefield heroism and selfless service. Author Ray Raymond—a professional historian, diplomat, and scholar—spotlights five extraordinary West Point graduates who received the Academy’s Nininger Award for demonstrating valorous leadership during the campaigns of Iraq and Afghanistan. The book focuses on the sources of pre-combat nurturing which contributed to the success of these warriors: their families, their rigorous character development at West Point, and their Army leaders on deployment. Raymond writes with a riveting narrative style which captures the danger and setbacks of each of these warriors in a way that reveals not only their personal courage and triumphs but also the complexity of servant leadership for soldiers in the wars of the 21st century.” —Lt. Gen. David H. Huntoon, Jr., USA (Ret.), former superintendent of the United States Military Academy
Elite Souls is a great book and an easy read. The book captures the stories of the development of some of our best young military officers. It is a true guide as to what it takes to develop leaders of character.” —Lt. Gen. William J. Lennox, Jr., USA (Ret.), former superintendent of the United States Military Academy
Elite Souls captures the story of five American soldiers who decided to serve their country by first going to the United States Military Academy at West Point, and then deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. When facing life and death in traumatic situations, they chose to put their own lives on the line for their fellow soldiers, never willing to let them down. As a result, each was selected by a special group at West Point for the prestigious Nininger Award. Their stories will not only amaze you, but will also inspire you to live a life worthy of their incredible sacrifice.” —Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, USA (Ret.), 57th superintendent of the United States Military Academy
"This book cells the story of five officers, all grad­uates of West Point, from their childhood to their education, military training and service overseas. All had unique experiences, but each was flavored with the themes of their service common to all soldiers. The author captures those themes and relays them effectively to the reader. The book is an interesting look at the lives of young officers in the U.S. Army." — Military Heritage 
Elite Souls is two books in one, a biographical account of five West Point graduates and the author’s views on how West Point provided these young men with the leadership skills they needed to effectively command troops in frontline combat. The book can be read either as military history or as a guide on how to develop leadership skills.” —Journal of America’s Past
"These are inspirational stories, proving that West Point and other military academies are doing it right - training young Americans to be elite souls." — Military Officer