Hagel Stresses Accountability to Army’s Newest Officers
By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 25, 2013 Noting the new demands of a “shifting and complicated world,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today emphasized the need for accountability and integrity in the responsibilities awaiting the Army's newest officers in his commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
“You’ve made a courageous decision to offer yourself for a very purposeful life,” Chuck Hagel said to the more than 1,000 members of the academy’s 215th graduating class. “You’ve learned the meaning of duty, honor and country, and you will now be asked to lead our nation’s soldiers – an awesome responsibility.”
Hagel said his time in the Army forever shaped him, and that while tactics, techniques and training have changed over the decades since served as an enlisted soldier in Vietnam, some things are enduring.
“The basic principles of soldiering and leadership remain the same,” he said. “Character and courage are still the indispensable requisites of both life and leadership.”
The most important part of leadership is taking responsibility for your own actions and decisions and holding all around you accountable, the secretary told the graduating class, noting that the career of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower “provides one of the greatest examples of this kind of accountability.”
“On the eve of the Normandy invasion, which he would command, Eisenhower scribbled a message on a piece of paper in the event that D-Day was a failure,” Hagel said. “Eisenhower’s framed words hung in my Senate office for 12 years. They read: ‘Our landings have failed, and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.’
“That is accountability, “and I often think of that story when I look at Eisenhower’s portrait in my Pentagon office,” he continued. “Eisenhower’s simple and honest statement should be a guiding point for all of us in positions of authority and responsibility, and for all of you as you embark upon your military careers.
The secretary said he learned in Vietnam that “combat is a furnace that can consume” soldiers, but it can also forge them into something better than before. Today’s ground forces have shouldered a heavy burden over the longest period of sustained combat in American history, he added.
In addition to budget constraints that are forcing the Army and all services to cancel training and curtail exercises, Hagel noted other significant menaces to the health and quality of the all-volunteer force, such as alcohol, drug abuse, suicide, mental illness, sexual harassment and sexual assault.
“You’ll need to not just deal with these debilitating, insidious and destructive forces, but rather, you must be the generation of leaders that stop it,” Hagel said. “This will require your complete commitment to building a culture of respect and dignity for every member of the military in society.”
Hagel described sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military as profound betrayals of sacred oaths and trusts.
“This scourge must be stamped out,” the secretary said. “We’re all accountable and responsible for ensuring that this happens. We cannot fail the Army or America. We cannot fail each other, and we cannot fail the men and women that we lead.”