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Farewell Lieutenant General Emerson Gardner

Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Marine Corps Barracks, Monday, March 15, 2010

Thank you, General Conway.  It’s great to see so many of Emo’s family and friends here today.  Vivian, Philip, Christian, Nick, Marc – I’m particularly glad that all of you could make it.

It’s a real pleasure to be here at the Marine Corps barracks – a fitting location to pay tribute to a distinguished Marine as he retires after rendering almost four decades of service to the country.

Most of you know, as General Conway indicated, that Emo began his career as a naval aviator – more specifically, a helicopter pilot with more than 4,000 hours of flying time.  It’s a pretty safe bet that if it has a rotary wing and is part of the Marine Corps’ inventory, then Emo has flown it.  Whether during evacuation missions under fire or ferrying presidents aboard marine one, Emo demonstrated early on the professionalism and courage that defined his time in the Marine Corps.

He also showed his gruff sense of humor on occasion.  Some years ago, during a training mission in Memphis, a reporter asked him about resident complaints about how loud the helicopters were.  Then-Colonel Gardner responded that was just the “noise of freedom.”

I think that’s one of the reasons Emo’s been so effective since he came back to the pentagon in 2004 as deputy commandant for programs and resources, after holding key positions on the joint staff in the early phases of Operation Enduring Freedom and at Pacific Command.  Upon arriving at the Pentagon for his last two tours, he brought to the bureaucracy an attitude you don’t often see in these parts:  a Marine’s sense of precision, order, timeliness, and candor. 

In a time of war, when the regular way of doing business just won’t cut it, that’s exactly what we needed.  Emo was one of earliest and most forceful advocates of the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle.  In 2007, when I made MRAPs the pentagon’s top acquisition priority, Emo helped spearhead the effort that saw these vehicles go from concept to full-scale production in the shortest timeframe for any major acquisition program since World War II – saving countless American limbs and lives in the process.

Emo also played a critical role with our efforts to increase intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance for our troops in combat.  He led the task force that dramatically increased the number of ISR combat air patrols – and he designed the Liberty Project, another program that is paying dividends by giving troops on the ground a constant eye in the sky.

            All of this brings me to the role in which I know him best and in which he has made his greatest contribution to the Department of Defense:  as the architect of last year’s sweeping reform budget.

You could say that, in many ways, Emo was the perfect officer for this historic task.  First, when a job seems impossible, always send a Marine – someone who knows how to do significantly more with significantly less.  And, second, he was also an aviator, meaning he understood platforms and technology – their possibilities and their limitations.

As we began this process last year, vacancies at the office of cost analysis and program evaluation – CAPE – meant that Emo led a very small team charged with pulling together the most revolutionary budget in 40 years, and doing so in two and a half months as opposed to the standard year.  That compressed timeline translated into 16-hour days, seven days a week.  Emo took an organization filled with rocket scientists and numbers crunchers and ran it like a Marine battalion – he never took a break, and never missed a deadline.

He laid out his recommendations with candor and clarity.  And showing a special kind of courage, he took on parochial interests even when they cut close to home:  he led the charge to kill the new presidential helicopter – despite being a former Marine One pilot himself.  I guess he just didn’t understand the need for an EMP-protected galley.

In the lead up to the delivery of this budget Emo ran every meeting from the 3-star programmers, small group, large group, and DSLCS – 75 meetings in all, an average of about one per day over those two and a half months.  He teed up every decision to me that culminated in a presentation to the president prior to the April announcement of my recommendations.  I will never forget a Saturday afternoon when we were going through draft after draft of the presentation.  Emo was trying to describe a decision about a satellite program when he said, “I don’t even know what it is, so I am pretty sure the President won’t either.”  I agreed, and we left it out.

There’s one other story I want to share.  Over the course of the meetings about the budget, any and every topic was discussed.  One of those was the alleged “fighter gap” – the total number of fighters in the services’ inventories over time as matched against their stated requirements.  Of course, there’s a Powerpoint slide with a graphic that shows the trend – they call it “the bathtub.”  So there’s General Gardner in a meeting of the DSLC – with the department’s top military brass and senior civilians arrayed around the table.  In the midst of a heated discussion about the “bathtub chart,” Emo pipes up and says, “Well, it’s really shaped less like a bathtub – and more like a bidet.”  You could have heard a pin drop.  Especially when Emo had to explain to the commandant what a bidet was.

At the end of the day, of 33 major budget decisions that I endorsed, 31 were signed into law.  Programs were killed that, had they been pursued to completion, would have cost the taxpayer more than $300 billion.  The impact of this budget – and the changes it has initiated – will be felt for years and decades into the future.  Because of General Gardner’s work, the Department of Defense is stronger – and so is the nation.

I want to close with a few words thanking Emo’s family for their service over so many years.  They have supported him during deployments and tolerated his incredibly long hours, especially in the last few years.  And Vivian, I understand you’ve even forgiven Emo for the time he drove your car to the Pentagon and got it towed. 

Let me extend a very special thanks to Nick and Christian, proud Marines both.  Nick, active-duty for five years, is the crew chief of the same kind of helicopter his father flew – the CH-46.  I agree with Emo that our goal should be to make sure Nick’s son isn’t flying the same helo.  Christian is a sniper with the second battalion based at Camp Lejeune.  Christian, I wish you the best of luck on your upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.  I know you will make your father – and your country – very proud.  Thank you both for your service.

Emo, I will miss your advice, your candor, and your friendship.  I wish you and Vivian all the best as you begin this next chapter in your lives.  You embody the best of our country and the Marine Corps.

And I would only leave you with the words my wife, Becky, gave me on the day I retired almost twenty years ago: “For better or for worse, but not for lunch.”


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