Legacies of Service: John Hurley ’86 and George Hurley ’22and Abigail Goldberg-Zelizer | Nov 15, 2019
Ret. Captain John Hurley graduated from the University in 1986 as an ROTC Cadet, Chairman of The Daily Princetonian, and with a degree in history. He went on to serve as an artillery officer in South Korea and fought in the first Gulf War. After his army service, Hurley went to Stanford Business School. Today, Hurley runs Cavalry Asset Management, an investment firm based in San Francisco and Hong Kong. His son, Cadet Sergeant George Hurley, is a sophomore at the University. Also enrolled in the ROTC program, George intends to follow his father in pursuing a degree in history.
DP: Mr. Hurley, tell me a bit about your childhood. Was there something that made you interested in military matters or military service from a young age?
John Hurley: My father spent 30 years in the Air Force and fought in the Vietnam War. I grew up on military bases. One of my brothers had gone to West Point. I had a pretty good understanding of what military service entailed. Midway through his career, the Air Force sent my father to Princeton to get his Ph.D. in the history department, so I also had a good understanding and attachment to Princeton.
DP: George, tell me a bit about yours. What was it like having a father involved with the Armed Forces? Did that inspire your interest in military service?
George Hurley: My dad was out of the army before I was born, so I didn’t have any direct exposure to it. But I remember, growing up, a lot of my dad’s friends from the army were big parts of my life. I heard a lot of stories about and felt very familiar with it. Unlike a lot of cadets here at Princeton, who really did grow up on bases and their parents are still in the army, I did not have any kind of exposure like that.
DP: Mr. Hurley, You arrived on campus in the fall of 1982 as an ROTC cadet. What was your day-to-day life like, and how did ROTC affect your Princeton experience?
JH: I don’t know that ROTC affected my Princeton experience that much. The leadership of the program did a great job of understanding how challenging Princeton was. They did everything that they needed to do to prepare us to become officers while also allowing us to do everything that we needed to do to succeed at Princeton. I was Chairman of The Daily Princetonian my senior year, ’85 and ’86. So the fact that I was able to both run the ‘Prince’ and do ROTC was a testament to the program leadership recognizing that we had to make ROTC work around a very tough Princeton schedule.
DP: George, you arrived on campus in the fall of 2018 as an ROTC cadet. What is your day-to-day life like, and how does ROTC affect your Princeton experience?
GH: ROTC is a huge commitment. It is a lot of time, but it is great and we have learned a lot. Because of all the time committed to it, a lot of my closest friends are in the ROTC program. But I have also been able to meet a lot of people outside of that. ROTC is intense, but it is really great.
DP: What do you think is different about your two ROTC experiences? What do you think is similar?
JH: One thing that has changed — and it is a very positive thing — is in 1982 we were just a few years past the end of the Vietnam War. I would say attitudes in the country towards the military were pretty negative. Yes, there was a base of folks who were very supportive, but there were also many people in the country who very wrongly and foolishly attacked the military. If we fast-forward to today after the experience of 9/11, ISIS, and the recognition of all the truly terrible people there are out there, I think there is a much broader support for the military in the nation and at Princeton. I think President Eisgruber has been fantastic in his support of ROTC on campus.
GH: I actually 100 percent agree. Particularly, through, hearing him talk about his Princeton experience in ROTC. They could never wear their uniform on campus, and actually that policy changed my freshman year. Just last year, the new policy became that on days when we have military science class we will wear our uniforms for the rest of the day. I think the fact that we can show our presence on campus very comfortably is indicative of how there is a lot more popular support for the military and what we do.
JH: I would say while I didn’t have a negative experience with anyone at Princeton because of being in ROTC, I also was frankly quite quiet about it, and like George says, we didn’t wear out uniforms on campus. It was a pretty large program — we had over 80 folks in army ROTC — but we didn’t go out of our way to advertise it.
DP: Mr. Hurley, you earned a degree in history — how did your studies inform your experience as a cadet and officer?
JH: President Eisgruber gave a great speech at the commissioning last year. If you read that speech, it is a mini history lesson with some really great points in it. He makes two really important points. One is that, unlike in the military of other nations, in our nation when you swear your oath of allegiance, you swear your oath to the constitution of the United States. You don’t swear to any individual, no party, not even to the nation of the land. Instead it is to the constitution of the United States. It makes it different in terms of America's history. He also makes the point that one of the greatest gifts that George Washington gave to the country was his willingness to step down. He was the head of an army, and the war came to an end. Rather than take it over he retired to his farm, which doesn’t happen that often in history. And after his second term as president, he relinquished his power and went back to his farm again. Both of those things were great gifts to us. I was very much aware of those sacrifices and the decisions historically that have given us this great country as I was studying history and as I entered the military.
DP: George, how do your studies inform your experience as a cadet?
GH: I am most likely studying history. I visited the Air Force academy when I was a sophomore in high school, just starting to look at the college process. We were there for a service for the change of the history department. We were there to see my grandfather’s successor retire. I toured the school and visited the history department, and an officer there pointed out that studying history is studying leadership. Leadership is a huge part of what we do for army ROTC. At the end of the day, our primary role once we graduate is to be leaders in the US army. I think history is the best way to prepare yourself for that.
DP: Mr. Hurley, can you tell me about your service and career since graduation?
JH: In the army, I served for two years in South Korea and I also fought during the first Gulf War. I was an artillery officer. After the first Gulf War, I went to Stanford Business School. I worked at fidelity investments and then I started an investment firm that I run today called Cavalry Asset Management. We are based in San Francisco and Hong Kong. We invest in technology companies.
DP: How did your service impact what you wanted to pursue professionally?
JH: When I arrived at Stanford Business School, I knew a lot less than my classmates who had worked in banking and consulting about finance, accounting, and business. But I had much more direct management experience, having led soldiers in South Korea and then in Iraq and Kuwait. That experience is invaluable. I could learn the finance and accounting in the classroom pretty quickly, but the leadership experience could only be gained by actually doing it. So when I think about things I learned in the military: how to deal with real stress, not mild stress, how to make important decisions with only limited information, how to build elite teams, commitment to mission. I also served with some truly amazing people, many of whom I am still close with. So when I was both analyzing companies as an analyst and investing as a portfolio manager and then ultimately building my own company, all of those experiences were extraordinarily helpful.
DP: George, how does your dad’s experience in the military shape what you want to do after graduation?
GH: I am not sure. I may end up on the same path, but to be honest, there are a lot of factors that go into what I’ll do after graduating and commissioning. The number one thing that decides where we’re sent and what role we are doing is the needs of the army. After getting out of the army, maybe I will go down the same path, but it is really hard to say at this point.
JH: And we will see, you know, it is a great source of pride for me and for other folks who were in Princeton ROTC in the ’80s that General Mark Milley, who is Class of ’80, is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Chris Cavoli commands a U.S. Army Europe and was a year behind me in ROTC. So hopefully some of the folks in the current program, including George, 35 years from now will be doing that kind of service.
DP: Mr. Hurley, what aspect of ROTC challenged you the most?
JH: I would say the bigger challenge was actually being an officer. As I described, the ROTC program was very supportive and we had great leadership, two different colonels here who were very supportive and did a great job of getting us ready. The real challenge, you know — you show up in a unit where you are 22 or 23 years old and some of the people who work for you are as old as 40 and have been in the military 15 or 20 years. You have only been in the military just a couple of months, and you are supposed to be in charge. You have to learn how to listen to them and how to earn their respect and then ultimately build a team. That was a huge challenge, but it was exciting. It was not easy for the first year or so being the young officer. It was pretty intimidating, but once you get the hang of it it’s wonderful.
DP: George, what aspect of ROTC challenges you the most?
GH: Balancing it with a Princeton workload. ROTC is a big commitment. Particularly waking up at 5:30 a lot of days of the week. Between going to classes, getting all of the work done, and then getting enough sleep to continue the next day, I think you will find that most of us have pretty crippling caffeine additions. But who doesn’t by the end of Princeton? So that has been the trickiest part for me, but our leadership has done a great job at trying to be understanding that Princeton is not an easy school and doing everything they can to help us balance out our lifestyle.
DP: Mr. Hurley, what is the single greatest thing military service has taught you?
JH: Well, I’d say that I was really lucky. I had some great commanders that I served with and I mentioned some great NCOs that I served with. I think it was the understanding that first and foremost, your mission as an officer is to take care of soldiers. You get up each morning thinking, “am I doing everything that I can to make sure that these young men and women that I am responsible for are prepared in case we get the call to go to combat?” That example of sort of a selfless approach to management, which I learned from people who were great leaders in the military, has probably been the most important thing. If you start with that and think about what is best for the people who work for you, it is hard to go wrong.
DP: George, what about you?
GH: There is no substitute for hard work. At the end of the day, everyone at Princeton is incredibly talented. Everyone in ROTC is incredibly talented. But talent can only carry you so far. There is no substitute for putting your head down and moving forwards.
DP: How do you think that Princeton ROTC and general military service fits into the University’s motto of “in the nation’s service and the service of humanity?”
JH: I think it’s central to it. Princeton has a proud tradition of ROTC with the army program having its 100-year anniversary. I think it’s great for the country, it’s great for the army, and it’s also great for Princeton. If you believe, as I do, in the importance of civilian control of the military, then Princeton has been able to produce great leaders like General Milley ’80 and General Cavoli ’87 and has been able to influence them. General Petraeus got his Ph.D. at Princeton. I think Princeton should actively seek to be able to educate future leaders of the military, and for 100 years we have done a great job of that.
GH: My mom is a refugee from Eastern Europe. One of my mom’s earliest memories is foriegn tanks rolling down the streets of her hometown. She eventually ended up moving to England and then to the U.S. because of that, and I think that serving the nation and joining the U.S. military really is a service to the whole world. It is not just about U.S. interests. As a country and as an organization, we are a global force for good. That is actually a Navy recruiting motto, but I believe it is relevant to all branches of the military. It expands a lot beyond the United States and beyond serving our country on its own.