Thank you, General Casey.
I should start by noting that I just flew back from a trip where, among other stops, I visited the Tenth Mountain Division at Fort Drum. Those soldiers are a remarkable group of warriors and patriots. And their high morale and preparedness after nearly eight years of war is testament enough to the man we pay tribute to today.
It is honor, on this bittersweet occasion, to say farewell to Pete. Pete’s tenure as Army secretary caps a long and accomplished career of serving things larger than himself – and stepping forward at the right time to do what was needed for his country.
Having said that, Pete is not perfect. For example, early in life, he did suffer a serious lapse in judgment when he decided not to follow the example of his father and grandfather by attending Texas A&M and instead went to that other Texas school in Austin to complete his undergraduate and, later, his law degree.
Pete would go onto work in law and politics. The first time he ran for Congress was against Joe Barton in 1986 – when he campaigned by driving around the district in an old cream colored jeep without floor mats. The result of that race allowed Pete to continue practicing law just a little while longer. Of course, he ultimately achieved electoral success, and faithfully represented the people of the Fort Worth area for four terms. Back then, Pete already showed his interest and devotion to the U.S. military – so much so that I’m told he was referred to as “Congressman F-16.”
It says a good deal about Pete that as a lifelong Democrat – albeit a Texas Democrat – he was selected by President Bush to serve what Pete thought, as General Casey said, was a two-year hitch in the Department of Defense. Over the past eight long years in the Pentagon, Pete has served in a number of posts and taken on a number of diverse assignments – what they all had in common was that they called for someone with uncommon ability, integrity – and agility.
As Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, Pete was a Minister Without Portfolio, a utility Mr. Fix-it of sorts – from reforming the civil service system and environmental laws to managing all dimensions of detainee issues in the wake of Abu Ghraib.
I’m told that soon after Pete got to the Pentagon, Secretary Rumsfeld asked him to work with his former colleagues in Congress to reduce the 900 or so reports that the department had to send to the hill every year – always the dream of every cabinet secretary. It was not long before Pete’s office was filled with reports stacked everywhere, on every spare horizontal surface in the room. I suspect Pete to this day is still the only person in government – on either side of the Potomac River – who has actually read all of those papers.
In the wake of the scandal involving the refueling tanker contract, Pete was once again called on – this time to be the Acting Secretary of the Air Force, where he worked to restore integrity to the service’s acquisition culture.
The Army was fortunate, indeed blessed, that Pete Geren was there two and a half years later in the wake of Walter Reed. The surge had just gotten under way in Iraq, casualties were high, and combat tours were being extended. The Army family was under tremendous stress and strain. But Pete’s steady leadership and passion for soldiers helped see the Army through and emerge stronger.
He dedicated himself to improving the outpatient and transition care of everyone in the Army – including a Warrior Care and Transition Program that provides one-stop shopping for benefits and entitlements – what Pete called “the least we can do” for wounded warriors and their loved ones. On my visit to Fort Drum yesterday, I saw the very real benefits of his efforts in the construction of their new assistance center and the expansion of nearly every medical facility on the post.
Pete made himself the Army’s tireless spokesman, advocate, and guide. He often said that our all-volunteer force is a national treasure not to be squandered. He was fully aware of all he was asking of the Army family with extended and repeat deployments. But he also understood we are a nation at war – engaged in conflicts whose outcome will affect the security of the United States for decades. As you know, in Iraq, U.S. forces have transitioned from the surge to turning over full security responsibilities to the Iraqis – an achievement made possible in no small part by Pete’s training, preparation, and care for the soldiers who made it happen. He leaves having strengthened the core institution that has borne the brunt of America’s wars.
He has earned a well deserved rest. Pete, like Cincinnatus of ancient Rome, left his proverbial plow to defend his homeland when his nation needed him most. And like Cincinnatus, he can, having done his duty to his countrymen, go back to doing what he loves most. And in Pete’s case, that means spending time with his family, lawyering, and watching the Longhorns try to beat the Red Raiders. The less said on these last two the better.
Seriously, Pete Geren is what a public servant ought to be. Pete, I thank you, and I thank your family, for your service to the Army and the American people. We have a good man following you, but he has a huge pair of shoes to fill. And I also want to thank Beckie, Tracy, Annie and Mary for standing by Pete and also serving and sacrificing on behalf of our country. You will all be sorely missed. Good luck and Godspeed.