Thank you General Casey. I want to thank General McKiernan for inviting me to take part in his retirement ceremony. It is an honor to be with him, his family, and his colleagues to celebrate the accomplishments of his 37 years wearing the uniform of the United States Army.
As Dave knows, he and I have something in common that’s important. As George just indicated he’s a fellow graduate of the College of William and Mary, although he graduated some years later than I did. And both of us majored in history. And so, I should note that for more than a century, William and Mary’s senior and most famous military alumnus was General Winfield Scott of Vera Cruz fame. Well, move over, General Scott – another William and Mary alum has outranked you and is even more famous.
Over the course of his career, David McKiernan has served as operations officer at every level of command in the United States Army. He led the storied First Cavalry Division. His overseas deployments took him to Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He has handled everything the Army, and his commander-in-chief, have thrown at him with supreme professionalism, intelligence, and dedication to our nation and the men and women under his command.
When General McKiernan assumed command of the Third U.S. Army, he took his place in a line of leaders that included George S. Patton. With a historian’s regard for these kinds of connections, he approved the idea of code-naming the entry into Iraq Operation Cobra II, after the Normandy “breakout,” Operation Cobra, in France in 1944. Now I grant you that Dave McKiernan’s way of doing things was not identical to Patton’s. A major book on the Iraq war described David McKiernan as “taciturn and unflappable” – qualities for which George Patton was not famous. Then again, I would note that the book later goes on to modify its description of David to: “usually taciturn, almost always unflappable.”
Cobra II was a plan made better by his tireless work in the days before the troops and tanks crossed the Kuwaiti border on March 20th, 2003. And yet when it comes to plans, we all know – and none better than Dave McKiernan – that they never survive the first contact with the enemy. General McKiernan had the skill, and the will, to keep the march to Baghdad on track through Fedeyeen attacks and furious sandstorms – a march that in less than three weeks brought Saddam Hussein's brutal regime to an end.
General McKiernan’s hard-won experience in the war served him well in Afghanistan, where for the past year he ably led a vast international military effort to secure and rebuild a country and a people who have suffered from decades of deprivation and conflict. In that time he devoted himself to:
• Recalibrating ISAF’s mission to better protect the Afghan people;
• Overseeing a major enlargement of the Afghan security forces;
• Bringing better coordination to the civilian and military international efforts in the country, both in Kabul and eastern Afghanistan;
• Making ISAF better at counterinsurgency by insuring its members were more effectively trained for this purpose; and
• Enabling Afghanistan’s military and that of its neighbor, Pakistan, to work more closely together.
One of his many virtues is his good-humored flexibility. I saw this first-hand when I was in Afghanistan to meet with military leaders and our troops. General McKiernan’s staff had prepared a 30-slide PowerPoint presentation. While walking to the briefing room, the general was taken aside and informed of my dislike of PowerPoint briefings. On the spot, he chucked the slides, got a map, and gave me a great briefing.
Reflecting on the mission in Afghanistan, Dave once said that the Afghan people deserve better than “the last 30 years of conflict . . . While the Taliban and other terrorist groups offer only lies and fear[s], our continued efforts promote freedom and hope.” David has spent 37 years in service to these ideals, which are his country’s ideals. David, on behalf of all Americans I thank you.
For the exceptional career of David McKiernan we also need to thank Carmen McKiernan and their children. Carmen, you and your family have made great sacrifices as you’ve helped and supported Dave, and endured having a husband and father in harm’s way. Your own service to America is deeply appreciated. As the McKiernans head back to Germany for a well-earned respite, we wish them every happiness for the future and whatever new adventures retirement brings. Thank you.