Defense Leaders Bid Farewell to Army Secretary
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
FORT MYER, Va., July 17, 2009 Defense leaders bestowed honors on Army Secretary Pete Geren at his farewell ceremony and Geren turned the event into a paean of praise for soldiers and their families.
ARMY ADVOCATE - Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates bestows honors upon Secretary of the Army Pete Geren during a farewell ceremony in his honor at Conmy Hall at Fort Myer, Va., July 17, 2009. DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Molly A. Burgess
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey co-hosted the farewell review here, praising Geren for his leadership during a difficult time.
Gates praised Geren for his long and accomplished career of serving things larger than himself.
Geren became acting Army secretary in March 2007 after Francis Harvey resigned in the wake of revelations of poor conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He became secretary four months later.
“The surge had just gotten under way in Iraq, casualties were high and combat tours were being extended,” Gates said. “The Army family was under tremendous stress and strain.”
But Geren’s leadership and care for soldiers guided the Army and the service has emerged stronger, the defense secretary said.
Gates praised Geren’s efforts to improve medical care across the Army. He spoke of Geren establishing a warrior care and transition program. “Pete made himself the Army’s tireless spokesman, advocate and guide,” he said.
Geren understood, as secretary, all that the country has asked of soldiers and their families, “but he also understood we are a nation at war, whose outcome will affect the security of the United States for decades,” Gates said.
Casey spoke of the Geren’s leadership as the Army transitioned and modernized even as the service was involved in combat. He also reiterated that Geren put soldiers and their families at the center of every decision.
Geren, in turn, reflected on “the privilege” to serve.
“It has truly been the privilege of a lifetime for me to work with soldiers, to work with Army families during this time of war,” Geren said. “Today, this nation numbers over 300 million people and only 1.1 million wear the uniform of the United States Army in this time of war. There are only 2.4 million in all the services combined – less than 1 percent of our population.”
Geren quoted British World War II Prime Minister Winston Churchill: “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many, to so few.”
Churchill’s remarks were true in 1940 when the Royal Air Force staved off attacks by the Luftwaffe, Geren said, and it is equally true today. “Three hundred million Americans and much of the free world depend on the courage and valor of 2.4 million men and women who wear the uniform of the United States,” he said. “Tonight, I want to say thank you to those few.”
Geren noted that he was in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 when terrorists flew a plane full of people into the building. “That day, I watched soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines go to the sound of the explosion,” he said. “And for eight years, I’ve watched them go off to war – I’ve watched many of you go off to war. And I have watched your families stand by you. I have been inspired by your service and humbled by your sacrifice.”
Geren spoke of the service and the family of Army Pfc. Ross A. McGinnis. McGinnis, 19, was serving in Iraq in December 2006 when an insurgent threw a hand grenade into the Humvee he was riding in. He shouted a warning and then smothered the grenade with his own body. When it went off, he was killed instantly, but the four soldiers with him survived. The nation awarded him the Medal of Honor.
During a Pentagon ceremony enshrining Pfc. McGinnis in the Hall of Heroes, Tom McGinnis, Ross’s father, turned to the four soldiers that his son had saved. His son, he said, did not impose a debt on them, but gave them a gift, Geren recalled. The secretary quoted the father: “A debt is something you can repay. A gift is something you can enjoy. So live your lives, enjoy your lives, for it was a gift. Ross gave you a gift.”
It was an illustration of the Army family at work, Geren said. “Ross saved the lives of those four soldiers, and his father continues to look after them,” he said.
Gates presented the Defense Distinguished Service Medal to Geren. Casey presented the Outstanding Public Service Award to Geren. He also presented the Commander’s Award for Public Service to Geren’s wife, Becky.
President Barack Obama has nominated U.S. Rep. John McHugh of New York to succeed Geren as Army secretary.