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Oshkosh Factory Worker Talk

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Thursday, November 12, 2009
     Well, I won’t be too long, because I know that here – of all places – you have more pressing work to do. I came to Oshkosh to see this operation firsthand, and to get a status update on the production of the M-ATV. Above all, I came to thank everyone here for what you are doing to support American troops in Afghanistan by bringing these life-saving vehicles on-line so quickly.
     What is taking place here is an amazing display of industry and dedication to the war effort. The M-ATV’s lighter weight, independent suspension system, and greater off-road mobility is well suited to Afghanistan’s rugged terrain and will make a real difference in our operations there.
     In July, this factory produced 46 M-ATVs. Last month that figure rose to more than 380, and November output is expected to exceed 660 vehicles – all towards meeting a total military requirement of more than 6,600. Peak production of 1000 vehicles per month starts next month. The wars don’t stop for the holidays and neither will you.
     This has been a team effort with many moving parts – in the military and industry, as well as elsewhere in the private sector. Suppliers of tires and other components have stepped up, as have the manufacturers of other components. Through the efforts of the U.S. Transportation Command, the M-ATVs are shipped or flown to Afghanistan.
     Some historical context to your efforts. For years, the number-one killer of U.S. troops in Iraq was Improved Explosive Devices. Months after becoming defense secretary, I made MRAPs the Defense Department’s top acquisition priority, and 1,500 shipped to Iraq at the end of 2007.  The last time an American industry moved from concept to full-rate military production in less than a year was World War II.
     Soon after we started sending MRAPs in large quantities to Iraq, I visited with some troops there and asked for their feedback on the vehicles. One sergeant major said I quote “MRAPs are the best!” Actually, he used a different four letter word. The sergeant major went on to say, “Troops love them, commanders sleep better knowing the troops have them.”
     Eventually more than 15,000 MRAPs were shipped to Iraq, and they continue to protect our troops today even as we draw down our forces. This record, and your work today, proves what industry and the military can accomplish together. And reminds us that new platforms can be developed, built, and deployed in a short period of time – and the best solution isn’t always the most elaborate.
     Having said that, we must never forget there is no failsafe measure that can prevent all loss of life and limb on this or any other battlefield – especially against a ruthless and resourceful enemy. That is the crude reality of war. But vehicles like the M-ATV and the MRAP, combined with the right tactics, techniques, and procedures, provide the best protection available against roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices. Furthermore, IEDs of various degrees of lethality and sophistication will be with us for some time. And so the need for these kinds of vehicles will not soon go away.
     As you know, the president and his national-security team are considering options for the way ahead in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Even as these necessary deliberations continue, the Department of Defense is pressing ahead – making sure that troops at the front today have the best available equipment, weapons, and protection this country can provide. That is why thousands of M-ATVs will soon be on their way to Afghanistan. And that’s why I’ve approved a deployment of more aviation, intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance assets, plus other enablers such as Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams.
     A final thought. During the world wars of the past century, the war effort mobilized the entire American economy. That is not the case with most of our industry today, defense included. But you all have the opportunity to work on one of the few projects where your efforts have a direct and immediate impact on men and women fighting on the front lines. With every vehicle you complete you are saving American lives and giving our troops the tools they need to accomplish their mission and come home safely.
     For this effort, you have my appreciation and respect – but more importantly, you have the thanks of countless moms and dads, husbands and wives, and sons and daughters of the best troops deployed in Afghanistan.
     So thank you very much.

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