Thank you, Nick [Nicholas Chabraja, Chairman, AUSA Council of Trustees]. Let me also express my thanks to you for everything you’re doing for the Association of the U.S. Army. Gordon Sullivan [AUSA President], thank you for your continuing leadership. And may I extend my congratulations to Jack London and CACI for that well deserved award [the John W. Dixon Award presented by AUSA].
It’s a privilege to be able to join you here today. The companies that are represented among AUSA’s sustaining members are among the Army’s greatest supporters. I want to thank all of you and your organizations for helping the Army to carry out its vital mission.
Your contributions have helped to make the U.S. Army the best-equipped, best-trained, most-effective Army on the planet, a fact that is demonstrated every day, both on the battlefield in the global war on terror and in the Army’s continuing effort to transform itself to meet the threats of the 21st century.
That transformation begins first and foremost with the Army’s unrelenting attention not just to technology, but to the leadership and the leadership skills it imparts to its young officers. The Army proudly and truthfully claims that it does not man equipment; it equips men and women.
And in it’s fabled history the Army has raised up some great leaders, leaders who proved equal to the challenge of their time, leaders like George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Black Jack Pershing and one of my favorites -- that great officer of the Missouri National Guard -- Captain Harry S. Truman.
And of course there are the giants of the Second World War -- Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas McArthur, Omar Bradley, George Marshall, George Patton, and Jimmy Doolittle – and yes, he was an Army man.
It’s an incredible list of soldiers who not only distinguished themselves by their skill and bravery on the battlefield but -- perhaps more importantly -- by exceptional moral courage as well.
There are many examples. But for me the most unforgettable one is a message that was never sent. It’s a message that Dwight Eisenhower drafted the night before the D-Day landing in Normandy. He kept it in his pocket to be used in case the invasion failed. One could only imagine what went through his mind as he wrote these words:
“Our landings in the Cherburg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time 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.”
What an incredible ability to stare danger in the face and stare it down. Thankfully that message wasn’t needed. But it says volumes about the enormous sense of responsibility with which Eisenhower prepared for what would be the pivotal battle of the war in Europe. Here was no finger pointing, no effort at spin. He certainly had time to prepare a cover story, had he chosen to do so. But no, the man who sent men into battle took upon himself the awful and awesome responsibility of command.
That tradition of exemplary leadership continues in the Army’s leaders today. For the past two-and-a-half eventful years, I have been privileged to work closely with many of them, extraordinary and dedicated leaders for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration. Leaders like General Tommy Franks, who did a truly phenomenal job in leading the U.S. Armed Forces to two extraordinary victories, first in Operation Enduring Freedom and then in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
As he did later in Iraq, General Franks crafted a plan for Afghanistan that was daring and innovative. He managed to do in Afghanistan with 10,000 troops what the Soviet Union had failed to accomplish with 100,000. In fact, in no small measure he was successful, I believe, precisely because he understood the difference between doing it with 10,000 and doing it with 100,000.
I remember the first of several times in which we were supposedly bogged down in a so-called quagmire. This was in November of 2001 outside Mazar-e-Sharif, and I had a long conversation with General Franks about whether he didn’t really want to ask for more troops. And he quite firmly said no. He said, “Wait until February. Maybe I’ll reconsider. But I don’t want to make the same mistake the Soviets did.”
He was very firm in his convictions. And to me, that episode speaks volumes, not only about General Franks’ keen strategic sense, but he was a leader with a real courage of his convictions.
But he was also a leader who was willing to listen. Of course, he had an obligation, as all military leaders do, to listen to his civilian leaders. And in that case it means listening a lot to my boss, Don Rumsfeld, and quite a lot to his boss, the President of the United States. But he does more than listen. General Franks listened and paid attention and took the question seriously.
I remember in July, shortly before his retirement, General Franks made a remarkable presentation to a conference of the combatant command about what he politely called “iterative planning,” what some of us would have called a rather seemingly endless round of meetings with the civilian leaders back in Washington and an enormous number of questions that General Franks had to take back to his command to answer. And he freely admitted that there were a lot of questions but he also said, there were times when he would wake up at 3:00 in the morning realizing that the question he had been asked was much more profound than he had realized at the time. And I remember many times when he would come back with an answer that surprised not only him, but the questioner, and improved the planning.
The result was not only a better plan, but -- I think very importantly -- a plan that was jointly owned. And as a result, when General Franks came in -- seemingly at the last minute, with major changes in the plan because Turkey wasn’t participating, or major changes in the plan that moved the land attack, the ground attack up ahead of the air attack -- the President and the Secretary of Defense understood what he was doing, had confidence in what he was doing, and those changes could be made almost seamlessly.
I’ve had the privilege also of working more recently with General John Abizaid who has stepped into Tommy Franks’ huge shoes at Central Command and he’s filling them brilliantly. In the process, he has demonstrated an extraordinary mastery of the complex politics of the Middle East, as well as the crucial military issues that he and his command are facing.
I first met John Abizaid in 1991, when he was a lieutenant colonel commanding an airborne battalion in northern Iraq. And it is clear that the experience he gained there and in other assignments throughout the Middle East has been instrumental in his leadership today.
General Rick Shinseki, who retired recently, is another great Army hero. If you’ve been reading any newspapers lately, you undoubtedly know that we had a difference or two. What the papers failed to report is that I have enormous respect for what General Shinseki accomplished in his four years as chief of staff. Moving the Army into the 21st Century, and working to close a gap between very heavy forces that are extraordinarily lethal but slow to deploy, and light forces that deploy rapidly but are not sufficiently lethal. General Shinseki did much to bring the Army into a new era, and we will be grateful for him in the future.
And then there are many other Army commanders with whom I’ve had the pleasure and the honor of working. Among them, Gen. Jack Keane a truly great American who retired as vice chief of staff just a few days ago, after 37 years in the service of our country. And the great Commanders in Iraq today: General Rick Sanchez, Commander, Joint Task Force 7 ... Major General Dave Petraeus, commanding the 101st Air Assault Division in northern Iraq ... Major Gen. Ray Odierno, commanding the 4th Infantry Division in the heart of the so-called Ba’athist triangle ... and Brigadier General Martin Dempsey, commander of the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad itself. I believe they are as impressive a group of general officers as this -- or any -- country has ever had.
And I had the great privilege of having had two great officers work for me -- Major General John Batiste, and now Major General Bill Caldwell -- who demonstrate that the Army has a deep bench in the two-star rank.
But the U.S. Army’s extraordinary leadership does not begin with its senior leaders. Nor is it limited to officers who are being groomed for those top positions. The Army’s strength is due in very large measure to the way it grows non-commissioned officers. When Marshal Akhromeyev, the last Defense Minister of the late, unlamented Soviet Union, visited the United States for the first time in 1988, he was (needless to say) impressed by the power of the U.S. Armed Forces.
But the thing that impressed Akhromeyev the most, the thing that truly awed him, was the extraordinary level of competence and self-confidence displayed by American enlisted people and non-commissioned officers. I’ve observed the same thing myself. Even in comparison with some of our closest allies, the U.S. non-commissioned officer corps is unmatched anywhere in the world.
Now having said all this about my regard for the Army, I think you will understand why I am puzzled when I read reports in the media asserting that civilian leaders think that ground forces are somehow obsolete. Yes, the Armed Forces today have mind-boggling long-range precision strike capabilities. And yes, we intend to take full advantage of that. But that hardly suggests that the Army is no longer necessary. I can’t imagine a conclusion more at variance with everything we should have learned from military history.
For the record, let me state my own view, which I imagine is shared by almost everyone in this room: Wars are won by seizing and holding ground, and only ground forces can do that.
I will confess that I didn’t believe the war in Kosovo could be won from the air. And to this day, I am not convinced that it wasn’t won in part by the threat of ground forces. But in any case, if on that point I was less than prescient, I would still submit that Kosovo was a unique case, one that will probably not be repeated, if at all, for a very long time.
Instead, what we’ve seen in Afghanistan and Iraq is the incredible effect that can be achieved by the Joint Force. In this era -- when communications can connect the different pieces of the force in ways that were undreamed of in the past – and when we have the capability to deliver support to ground forces from platforms that were unimaginable in the past -- the power of the Joint Force together is what we should be thinking about.
I recalled that one of my primary assignments during the first Gulf War, when I was working for then-Secretary of Defense Cheney, was to combat Saddam Hussein’s efforts to draw Israel into that conflict, and to look for ways that we could suppress SCUD attacks on Israel. I remember many brave pilots flying over western Iraq, dropping bombs unsuccessfully at targets they couldn’t find. And I remember some phenomenally brave Special Forces who went in on the ground in western Iraq and found those targets, but did not have the ability to call in long-range strikes in time to kill them.
Ten years later in Afghanistan, we have seen a revolution, a true revolution in the ability to integrate forces on the ground with long-range strike capabilities. We had brave Special Forces troops literally riding horseback in cavalry charges, directing strikes by B-52 bombers coming from thousands of miles away, in a manner that turned the tide of war at a speed that astonished the world. It was literally a combination of 19th century horse cavalry with mid-20th century bombers, to achieve a truly 21st century capability.
When Secretary Rumsfeld was asked what he had in mind by bringing the horse cavalry back into the modern Armed Forces, he joked, “It’s all part of our transformation plan.”
The Secretary got a laugh with that line. But he was exactly right. It is part of our transformation plan, which is not principally about hardware. Transformation is about how the various parts of the Joint Force work together. Most of all it’s about people -- brave and ingenious and highly trained Americans, who are prepared to risk everything for their country.
What we saw in Afghanistan, I believe, is just a faint glimpse of what that joint capability can deliver in the future, as we move forward with a whole range of transformative changes throughout the force. We saw some of that in Operation Iraqi Freedom, where General Franks achieved a level of tactical surprise that was little short of miraculous, when you think that this was one of the most long-advertised military operations in history.
He did it by working against Saddam Hussein’s expectation, probably his confident expectation, that the American way of war dictated there would weeks of bombing before we dared to put ground forces into Iraq. Instead he had the Army and the Marine Corps crossing the Iraqi border ahead of the initial major air strikes, and then brought air power in to support them with a precision that would have been impossible a relatively short time ago.
In its stunning and record-breaking advance on Baghdad, under the command of another Army general, Dave McKiernan, the first combined forces land component command in our history, including our British and Polish allies, achieved a success that one our British colleagues said will be Chapter One when the history of warfare is written in the future. I have to amend my remark: “our British, Australian, and Polish allies.” All of you are wonderful.
But no Army moves forward by resting on its laurels or by fighting the last war, and I know this Army isn’t going to. Under the able leadership of Pete Schoomaker, who has selflessly agreed to give up a comfortable life as a civilian – and I know it was a good life -- to come back in the service of his country. This Army and the Joint Force are moving forward. And we thank you, Pete. [Applause]
Now having said all that -- about the Army’s exceptional leadership and about technology and jointness and transformation -- I don’t want to leave you with a misimpression. The fact is that in the future, the most impressive measure of the U.S. Army will still be its soldiers. That was true in the past. And it remains true today.
As you know, like the Army that won our independence, our soldiers today are volunteers. And they are as devoted a group of soldiers as ever wore the uniform of the United States Army. I can’t say enough about their professionalism, their skill, and their courage. They can be incredibly effective on the battlefield one minute and amazingly compassionate the next. They embody the best that this country has to offer.
General Keane said it eloquently at his retirement ceremony last week. Let me just quote a short passage from that remarkable speech:
“The foreign terrorists, the Ba’ath Party sympathizers, the Islamic extremists who wantonly kill Americans and innocent people from many nations,” General Keane said, “have no idea what they’re up against. Their strategic objective is the political and moral will of the American people…. They think they know us because they have heard of Lebanon in ’83, or Somalia in ’94, or the USS Cole in 2000. They think we are morally weak and we will lose our resolve. But their knowledge is superficial and their understanding is shallow. To understand America and Americans, they need to understand the Marne of 1918, or Tarawa in ’43, Omaha Beach in ‘44 or the Chosin Reservoir in 1950.”
“America,” General Keane said, “produces heroes in every generation. They are out there now … performing every day.”
Two months ago, I was in Iraq, and I had the opportunity to see for myself what General Keane was talking about. It brought to mind an earlier trip, when I accompanied then-Secretary of Defense Cheney on a similar trip after the first Gulf War. Secretary Cheney said that he went with the idea of boosting the morale of our troops, but he came away instead with his own morale lifted. I had the same experience this past July.
I heard moving stories, like the one about the 19-year old kids from the 82nd Airborne who came under fire from snipers in a mosque. They demonstrated remarkable restraint and courage and refrained from shooting back until some elderly Iraqi civilians had a chance to get out of the line of fire. Their behavior did not escape the notice of Iraqi civilians who were on the scene. Those young soldiers are helping to win the battle for hearts and minds in Iraq today.
Another group of GIs came to the rescue when terrorists took a group of Iraqi women and children to use them as human shields. To avoid harming the hostages until they worked out a peaceful surrender, the U.S. soldiers negotiated for 15 hours. Then when they found out that a 3-year old girl had been injured by being thrown down a flight of stairs, they called in a Medevac helicopter to take her and her mother to the nearest field hospital. The local Iraqis who witnessed that event, too, were impressed, and there hasn’t been a problem in that neighborhood since.
During my visit, I walked through an area of the city of Mosul in northern Iraq with a young company commander of the 101st Air Assault Division. He told me an interesting story about the problem they’d had in the town square right after the liberation, when the local butchers started slaughtering carcasses in front of their shops and leaving them in the street. Of course in the old days the regime would solve that problem by just shooting a butcher or two, and the rest would get the message. We have liberated Iraq from that kind of tyrannical abuse. Instead, this young Army captain organized an association of butchers so the authorities would have a way to interact with them. And I jokingly asked that young officer if they taught him how to organize butchers associations in some class at West Point, and of course they hadn’t. Like ingenious young Americans all over Iraq, he worked out that solution by himself, maybe with some 6th grade civics. And the fact is that this kind of ingenuity and initiative is being replicated across Iraq on a daily basis.
A few weeks ago an American couple received a letter from their son 1st Lt. John G. Gibson, who was in Baghdad with the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division. It was Lt. Gibson’s birthday, and he wrote, “the hardship endured by myself, my men, my Battalion and this Army are not in vain…. Our work is not done…. I see things here, on a daily basis that hurt the human heart… However, I see the hope in the eyes of many Iraqis, a new hope for a chance to govern themselves in a new way of life. I think that they are on the cusp of a new adventure.”
Our Army understands that, right now, Iraq is the central battle in the war on terrorism. One young man, Specialist James Kiehl, was with the 507th Maintenance Company, the unit that included Jessica Lynch. Kiehl was 22 years old, married, with a newborn son. When the unit got its orders, this brave young soldier told his father, “I’ve got a job to do, and I’m going to do it. I’m not going to raise my son in fear of terrorism. And this is the first step,” he said, “in eliminating it.”
Army Specialist Kiehl fell in battle. He gave everything he had for his child -- and for yours and for mine.
That is the heroism of which our Army is made. I have the high honor of working with men and women like James Kiehl everyday. And so do you, through work that helps to make their achievements possible.
Since the attacks of September 11th , the Army has had a major role in Joint operations that have won two wars and liberated nearly 50 million human beings from horrible tyrannies. It’s an extraordinary record of accomplishment, made possible by the selfless support of two groups that don’t always receive the credit they deserve.
One of those groups is made up of the Army’s civilian employees who have taken on increased responsibilities and long hours in these days of transformation and war.
The other group that does so much to make the Army’s effectiveness possible is made up of the families of our soldiers. There is no one in America who does more to support the Army. Spouses and children must bear with long separations, frequent moves, and the anxieties of having a loved one in combat. Their sacrifices are enormous, and they are appreciated. The Department of Defense is committed to doing everything that is possible to lighten their burden by improving conditions and pay and by bringing more predictability into the deployment process. We owe it to our men and women, both those in uniform and those who keep the home fires burning.
As General McArthur told the Long Gray Line at West Point 40 years ago, the U.S. Army has never failed the American people. That remains true to this day. And we owe it to them to show our appreciation as often as we can and in every way that we can.
Well, almost every way. I’m reminded of the time that the legendary newspaper columnist, Ann Landers, visited some soldiers who were wounded in Vietnam. In one hospital a young corporal asked her to lean a little closer so he could smell her perfume. Miss Landers asked him, “How long has it been since you smelled perfume?” He answered, “Ten and a half months.” Miss Landers got up with a smile and said, “That’s all for you. You’re dangerous.” [Laughter]
Well the Army today is dangerous for our enemies and wonderful for our friends, and it’s a great gift for this country.
So with that advice from Ann Landers let me close by saying again how much we appreciate what the Army does, what it’ doing, what it will be doing, and that we’re committed to ensuring that it remains the best-trained, the best-equipped Army in the world for decades to come. Our nation depends on it. I know that you share this commitment, and we appreciate what you do to support it. So thank you again. May God bless our great Army. And may God bless America. [Applause]