[Adjutants General Association of the U.S. President, Major] General [David] Rataczak, thank you for your leadership, both in your home state of Arizona and with this Association, which is so instrumental in setting national policy for the Guard. Given the Guard's critical role in the global war on terror, yours is vitally important leadership in a vitally important time. We appreciate your strong role in strengthening our Total Force.
I'd also like to say a word of thanks to [Chief of the Guard Bureau, Lieutenant] General [H. Steven] Blum, a man known as the White Tornado. I guess that's all that white hair on top of your head. But as his nickname implies, he's a veritable force of nature when it comes to transforming the National Guard, making it, as he puts it so well, accessible, ready, relevant and reliable. And indeed the Guard has proved to be all of those things in the last two-and-a-half stressful years.
I also want to say thank you to Tom Hall, our Assistant Secretary for Reserve Affairs. We appreciate Tom's strong and effective advocacy on behalf of the 1.2 million members of the Guard and the Reserve.
It occurred to me that this relatively small group in this room is probably about as powerful as any I've met with recently. When I consider that each one of you commands your own military force, each one of you commands land and air forces combined, that's powerful. And it makes this an extremely exclusive club, in case you hadn't noticed already.
Before I left the Pentagon this morning I was telling Don Rumsfeld that I'd be coming over to speak to this distinguished group, and he reminded me that after he got out of the Navy, he served as a pilot in the Reserves, flying out of Glenview, Illinois Naval Air Station. When he became Defense Secretary the first time—as I think you know, the youngest Defense Secretary in our history; he's running to be the oldest as well—he decided that he'd better go on to inactive duty because he made a command decision that he shouldn't call himself up. Then he reminded me that we both work for a former member of the National Guard named George W. Bush.
I thought about that one for a minute. Here's my immediate boss, a former Naval aviator, qualified in carrier landings, and my Commander-in-Chief and President, a former fighter pilot in the Air National Guard who landed his jet on runways. And I asked Don Rumsfeld, how would he answer this question: Which is more difficult, landing your plane on a small carrier deck that's bobbing up and down in the middle of the choppy sea, or landing on a big airfield that never moves at all? He got his big toothy grin that you see in press conferences, and he said, “How do I answer a question like that?” He said, “I'll tell you: I'd answer that one very carefully. Believe me,” he said, “I can recognize a quagmire when I see one.”
But there was no evasive maneuvering on his part when it comes to talking about the work that you and your colleagues do. Don asked me to convey both his thanks and his enthusiastic support for the nearly half a million Army and Air Guardsmen that you represent—not only as Secretary of Defense and as a former Reservist himself, but as a former businessman who employed many members of the Guard and Reserve. He would be the first to tell you that we couldn't fight this global war on terrorism without the support of our Guardsmen and Reservists and the employers who back them up.
A while back President Bush spoke to the employers who support the Reserve Component, and he observed how the terrorists had misjudged America. They thought that the attacks of September 11th would break our spirit, but instead, the President said, and I quote, "Their attacks have had the opposite effect. We're strong, we're united, we're determined, and all of us are ready to serve that great cause of freedom.” Indeed, all of us are ready, and most certainly America's citizen soldiers.
I know there were many Guardsmen and Reservists who actually saw the Twin Towers fall, and others who saw the smoke billowing from the Pentagon on that terrible day. In last Friday's Wall Street Journal I read about one member of the Connecticut National Guard who was moved to action by the tragedy of September 11, 2001.
One day this past December, Private First Class Steven Wabrek, Jr., who was serving in the 143rd Military Police Company in Iraq, was headed to a training session to teach new Iraqi police recruits how to use 9-millimeter handguns. On the way, a roadside bomb hit his Humvee and the young soldier was badly injured. Pfc. Wabrek recently returned to his hometown in New Hartford to a hero's welcome. I think [Adjutant General of the Connecticut National Guard, Maj.] General [William] Cugno was there. At the large reception welcoming him home, there were so many people who turned out, they had to hold the event in an auditorium in a neighboring town.
When it was Steven's turn to speak, he picked up his crutches and walked to the podium. He told the crowd of family and hometown friends about how much he'd wanted to join the Guard right after the attacks of September 11th. But there was a catch. Steven was only 17 at the time, so his parents had to sign his enlistment papers for him.
“No matter how many times people call me a hero,” Steven explained to his well-wishers, “I still don't think I am. I was just doing my job.” He spoke about other soldiers who were doing their jobs, the ones he'd left behind in Iraq. And he said, “Don't forget about them.”
As an aside, that job that he was doing, training Iraqi police, is one of the critical pieces of success in Iraq. One of the other pieces just fell into place last night: the move ahead to creating a sovereign Iraqi government. The agreement was reached last night on this transition administrative law. But I'd say that one of the pieces that the Secretary of Defense and I focus on most of all is the training of Iraqi policemen and Civil Defense Corpsmen and the Iraqi army, which is what Pfc. Wabrek was doing.
There are now some 200,000 Iraqis fighting for their country in the different elements of the Iraqi security services. The key to that is the kind of training that people like Pfc. Wabrek are doing.
Whenever I talk to troops in Iraq about their mission or in Afghanistan, where I've been several times, they mention the people they left behind back home. Their sense of purpose is tied to family and friends who are anything but forgotten. They know that they're fighting in Iraq and in Afghanistan so that terrorists can't bring the fight to the streets where they live in New Hartford or Syracuse or South Bend or any number of other towns around across America. They have no doubt why they're where they are or what they need to do.
In the more than two years since those attacks of September 11th, every single member of the National Guard who got the call to serve answered that call. One young man I know left his family in Tulsa for a year to come back and serve in the protection detail for Secretary Rumsfeld and me. I appreciate these young men and women who serve right next to us every day. What a sacrifice it is just to be separated from your family for those lengths of time. To be separated and out in harm's way in Iraq or in Afghanistan, of course, is an enormous extra anxiety even when people come through safely. But it's an American tradition. That wonderful statue [of a Minuteman] out in the hall reminds us that we owe our independence to the National Guardsmen of their day and that we've been depending on citizen soldiers for more than 200 years of this great democracy.
In this war on terrorism, they have helped to liberate the Afghan people from a terrible tyranny and they defeated Saddam Hussein and his reign of terror which has been replaced by men and women who are working hand in hand with coalition forces to set up a new government, a democratic government for Iraq, one that will not persecute Iraqi citizens, threaten Iraq's neighbors or harbor terrorists that threaten us.
In Afghanistan, they've overthrown the Taliban and taken away one of the most important sanctuaries that the terrorists enjoyed. They've given the people of that nation a chance for a government more representative than Afghanistan has ever known, a chance for what we have here in America. They have gotten al Qaeda on the run and are sending countries like Libya and Iran and even North Korea a clear message. Along with all these extraordinary things, they're helping to transform the U.S. military.
Their noble work has had another very positive result. I think Americans have come to appreciate even more fully just how vital our Guard and Reserve are in this nation's security. We will always remember those who responded first on September 11th. From the streets of lower Manhattan and outside the walls of the Pentagon to a field in Pennsylvania, members of the Guard were, from the very first, in the thick of things. It was members of the Guard from North Dakota and Virginia who took to the skies following their orders to “protect the White House at all costs.” F-16s from President Bush's old Texas Guard unit escorted their Commander-in-Chief to Offutt Air Force Base and then back to Washington on that tragic day. And Guard members from Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia went to the Pentagon immediately, before they even got the official call to duty. And they were among the first on the scene in Pennsylvania.
They were securing our borders and our airports and flying combat air patrols to protect America's skies in ways that we never imagined would be necessary. Indeed, it's the first time in my memory that people in Washington were happy to hear jets flying overhead at night, instead of complaining about the noise.
On the battlefield in the years since, members of the Guard have displayed what makes them uniquely valuable to the Total Force. Along with their military specialties, they bring civilian skills to the delicate tasks at hand.
Last summer the Guard took over the mission in Kosovo and according to one retired Air Force colonel who has become a Balkan specialist, since our Guard members come out of civilian society, "They bring a demeanor that's just what the doctor ordered."
Some attribute this demeanor to the fact that some of our Guardsmen tend to be a bit more, shall we say, mature. Having just passed my 60th birthday I think that's a better way to call it. We're not old, we're just mature. It's a distinction that's probably somewhat more noticeable in the ranks of our extraordinary non-commissioned officers.
I had to laugh when I read one first sergeant's assessment. He said, "Yeah, we're a little bit gray." But he added with a smile, "You know what they say. ‘Age and treachery will overcome youth and enthusiasm every day.’" Then he added, "I think we have more patience and more experience to draw on because many of us have teenagers at home."
It's this combination of real world savvy and combat skill that is having remarkable effects in Iraq. I can tell you that General Myers, along with all our chiefs of the services are always heaping praises on our Reserve Component. Just a couple of weeks ago on the eve of their departure for Iraq, our Chairman told members of the North Carolina National Guard that one of the most valuable traits our Guard can offer is mentoring Iraqis—teaching them what he called “the lessons of how to live free, how to support democracy, how to build communities, and how everybody can work together for the common good.”
I've seen how our troops relate to Iraqis and I can tell you that General Myers is exactly right. In particular, I've seen some extraordinary work by civil affairs units from the reserve component who are doing truly remarkable work. When you consider that the new rotation into Iraq is made up of almost 40 percent National Guard and Reserve, we can expect a lot of useful mentoring is going to get done.
Engineers from the Nevada Army National Guard, for example, are putting General Myers' words into action. With the structures they build, they're providing a better quality of life for Iraqis and for the soldiers who protect our forces. Specialist Miracle Novero said this of her work: “We're not supposed to build new cities, but as long as we make some kind of difference we have succeeded.” With their judgment and maturity and skill, members of the Guard also bring remarkable valor to their mission.
Early in my time, in what is for me my third tour in the Pentagon, even before September 11th, I had the very moving experience of going to Virginia Beach to attend a memorial service to honor 18 members of the Virginia Air National Guard and three members of the Florida Army National guard. They had been flying Air Guard Red Horse engineers back home when their plane went down. There was a tremendous outpouring from the community that day. It was clear that they were men who served and were loved by their communities. I saw the pain firsthand, which is something you can't forget.
That sacrifice came during a time of peace and demonstrated the fact that military service at any time in any place asks each one of our men and women to say “yes” to some unusual risks. And during the war that we now fight, the risks, of course, are even greater. Our men and women continue to say “yes” when their country calls.
In that selfless spirit, 57 members of the National Guard have made the ultimate sacrifice in this war and we are profoundly grateful. They are heroes.
Specialist Mathew Moss, a 22-year-old medic, has been called a quiet hero. He's a member of the Florida National Guard. He downplays his role in trying to save the life of a fellow soldier even at the risk of his own. When an improvised explosive device hit his Humvee, Moss suffered a blown ear drum, cuts on his body, and abrasions on his eyes, but he somehow managed to pull a critically injured soldier, someone who was much bigger than himself and even heavier with all his combat gear, out of the vehicle single-handedly. He began working on the injured soldier to get him breathing again. Despite his heroic efforts, Specialist Robert Wise, the injured soldier, became the third Florida National Guardsman to die in Iraq.
Those who saw Mathew Moss that day have described him as a man who faced danger to save a comrade and never once thought about himself. That Mathew gave her son even a few more moments is something that brings great comfort to the mother of Robert Weiss.
I know [Adjutant General, Florida National Guard, Major] General [Douglas] Burnett gave Specialist Moss his Purple Heart and that President invited him to come hear the State of the Union Address.
General Burnett must also know about Sergeant Jeffrey Wershow, another member of the Florida National Guard. I heard from the commander of the Delta Squadron that went into Iraq the day before the war officially began about how Jeffrey and his unit helped breach a defensive berm on the Jordanian border. I think like any good Guardsman, that young man was obviously proud of his home state. We know that Jeffrey was, because he brought a Florida state flag all the way to Iraq with him and he planted it in the sands after they breached that defensive barrier. That historic moment, I'm told, was captured on video and General Blum has promised to get it for me, with Jeffrey Wershow proudly standing alongside that flag. Floridians should be proud of that moving scene.
Jeffrey was later assigned as a bodyguard for some American officials and he was doing his job in a place most Americans would have considered safe and peaceful—the campus of the University of Baghdad—when someone came up and shot him at close range. Jeffrey's company commander sized up this young soldier, saying that he “gave his life for his country doing something he truly believed in.”
I've been out to Walter Reed a number of times, and twice I've been introduced to wounded soldiers who have been wounded so badly that they were actually medically retired. What has struck me about the two I met was how much they wanted to get back on active duty.
The same is true, apparently, of another Florida National Guardsman, Staff Sergeant Dustin Tuller, who was retired from military service when he was in a coma and not expected to recover. Just a week ago this 28-year-old college student and father of four, who had both legs amputated, was formally retired at Walter Reed, and he said, “I always wanted to be a soldier. If they hadn't retired me I'd still wear the uniform, even with no legs.” That spirit, which is throughout our force—active, Reserve, National Guard—is just truly inspiring.
These men and women remind us that America gives us her best, and they deserve our best in return. We are working hard to improve things for them across the board.
There is no question that this is a time of enormous stress and strain on members of the Guard. We're asking people to serve for longer periods in larger numbers and with greater uncertainty than I think any of us ever envisioned.
When I flew into Iraq last July, we were flown on a C-130 crewed by members of the Tennessee Air National Guard. They'd been on active duty 19 of the previous 23 months. I was floored to learn that our co-pilot, an attractive woman doctor from Nashville, was married to a mobilized Guardsman. They had two small children that her husband was somehow managing to take care of on an Air Force base in Louisiana. It is a fair question to ask whether we are distributing the burden fairly. It is impressive to me that fair or unfair, people take on the burdens that are assigned to them. That case illustrated to me a real need to look at tour lengths and balancing skill areas.
We're doing that. And in doing so, we’re emphasizing how we use our people, whether it's for 39 days a year or 365. Secretary Rumsfeld and the whole leadership of the Department of Defense are committed to reducing mobilization by how we balance our commitments throughout the Total Force.
We need to ensure that we have the right kinds and depths of capabilities to meet the mission requirements we face. We're looking hard at it, and I think we're making a lot of changes, and I know we're making progress.
Last year Don Rumsfeld was speaking to the Reserve Officers Association, and I know he struck a cord with those people when he said, "I'm sure this will come as a shock to all of you, but the process for alerting and calling people up and then deploying them is," and the Secretary reached for the word, "imperfect." Well that line just about brought the house down with laughter and applause.
Indeed, it is imperfect. We know it's imperfect. But the Secretary went on to assure them, as a man with some experience in the business side of things would do, that he knew that our Guardsmen and Reservists, as he put it directly, "Prefer not to get jerked around and called up two or three or four months before they're needed, only to find they're not needed, only to be sent back home with a 'sorry about that'." And he added that we're darn well going to figure out a way to manage our forces better.
As you know, our top leader is engaged, and everyone who works for him is engaged, including all of you in this room, to deal with this problem better. We're working with the combatant commanders, with the Joint Staff, and with the services, to ensure that they're identifying requirements in a timely way that allows for members of the Guard and Reserve to react purposely and methodically. We're committed to not having one more soldier or airman than necessary in any theater, not one soldier or airman less than is required.
Fighting the global war on terror has been a challenge not only for our military members and their families, but also for the employers. That's a dilemma also that goes back to the days of Lexington and Concord. When the winds of war were stirring in 1776, John Adams then a lawyer in Boston, wrote to a minister in that city, "We must all be soldiers now."
A few weeks later a young apprentice in Adams' law firm was drawn to the cause and told Adams that he wanted to enlist, at which point Adams turned to this young man with slightly different guidance. He said, "We cannot all be soldiers."
The force has responded, and so have the employers, with all that we could ever expect. We must respond to the most pressing challenges our forces face with all the energy and commitment that they expect and deserve.
One of the areas to focus our energies is the area of transformation. Steve Blum's got that big task and as I mentioned earlier, he's done much to ensure that the Guard is better postured to support the global war on terror, the homeland defense mission, and our homeland security operations.
Last Friday I was speaking on the topic of transformation because I think it is so important to our future and indeed to our present. Three years ago when President Bush took office he gave us our mandate to transform. And we've made progress even while fighting a war. And as we've seen, it involved a full range of military capabilities, hardware, doctrine, communications, organization and training. And transformation is about a lot more than just technological change. I would say it is not even primarily about technological change.
In fact if you go back to one of those great military transformations of the last century, the invention of blitzkrieg by the German military, it's been pointed out many times that it wasn't the Germans who first invented tanks; it wasn't the Germans who first fielded tanks in warfare. It was the British and French who did it in the late battles of World War I. Indeed, at the time of the Battle of France the British and French had as many tanks in the field as Germany did. And yet they lost that battle in a short four weeks because the Germans had figured how to use tanks in a decisive fashion. A good part of that German organizational innovation rested on their ability to push responsibility down to their non-commissioned officers.
I think we saw an example of using old things in new ways with the extraordinary victory that was achieved in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. I think people sometimes forget just how extraordinary it was because it happened so quickly. Indeed, as I recall the history of that war, it started on October 7th. By October 21st or thereabouts we were already deeply in a quagmire, if you read the press, stuck outside Mazar-e-Sharif. And by late December people were saying we were moving too fast and we would take Kabul before the poor Afghans could get their act together.
It was phenomenal speed. And when you think about the history of other countries in Afghanistan, particularly the Soviet Union, and that it was done with such an incredibly small footprint is really remarkable.
To me one of the most remarkable aspects of that campaign was to hear about, observe, listen to and finally meet firsthand some of these young Special Forces—and they were young—who went in just 12 days after the campaign began. I remember it seems like three months because Secretary Rumsfeld was asking General Franks four or five times a day, when are the guys going to get in on the ground? When are they going to get in on the ground? When I later learned it was October 19th, 12 days after the war started, I couldn't believe it had been that short a time. It seemed like it had been forever.
The first thing they did when they landed was to link up with General Dostum. And they weren't sure whether he was going to embrace them or execute them. It was a pretty risky mission. He embraced them. And he said get on horseback. Only one of them had ever ridden a horse in his life, and this man had not ridden in a wooden saddle. But they adapted, and they began in short order to be calling in B-52 strikes on Taliban positions that were on the verge before that of overrunning the Northern Alliance.
It was really a combination of 19th Century horse cavalry, 50-year-old B-52s, with modern communications and incredible young American ingenuity. A truly 21st Century capability. In fact when Rumsfeld was asked at one of his famous press conferences what he had in mind by bringing the horse cavalry back into the military, he said, "It's all part of our transformation plan."
And indeed, transformation really is about much more than platforms and technology. It is about how we use what we have. I think in this era it is more than anything about jointness. Indeed beyond jointness, it's about the ability not just to work with other services, which can be a cultural challenge I'm told, but working with soldiers from other countries and training Iraqis who speak different languages and aren't going to train to our standards, but nonetheless can fight and will fight for their country if we give them the tools to do the job.
So all of that kind of change is taking place in real time as we fight a war. It's something that the National Guard is a leader in, a major participant in. I came here today frankly to thank you and the men and women who work for you for the extraordinary service they're performing for our country, to recognize the extraordinary demands that we're making on them in this war. But this is a war. As President Bush said immediately after September 11th, it will be a long war. It's not one that will be won when we capture bin Laden, as I'm sure some day we will do. It's not one that will be won even if we defeat al Qaeda completely. September 11th I think brought home that what terrorist could do on that terrible day is a fraction of what they can do if and when these global terrorist networks get their hands on biological weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.
We are fighting a long war to eliminate terrorist networks and to end state support for terrorism. In the two-and-a-half short years since September 11th, we've made extraordinary progress. But there's a great deal more to do.
During one of my trips to Iraq, an Army colonel who commands a brigade in the 101st Air Assault Division told us that he tells his soldiers something that I think applies to each and every member of our services—active duty and Guard and Reserve. He told them that what they're doing in Iraq is every bit as important as what their grandfathers did in Europe and Japan in World War II, or what their fathers did in Korea and Europe during the Cold War.
I think he's right. I think our troops on the front lines today are not only defeating the terrorism which I think is the totalitarian ideology of our time, but they're also helping people who have been subjected to terrorism and subjected to tyranny build better futures for their country and in the process help build better futures for our children and grandchildren, and to make not only the world, but, most importantly, this great country safer and more secure.
So I thank you for what you're doing. I'd ask you to convey my thanks and the Secretary's personal thanks to every man and woman serving in our National Guard, and we will keep stressing your work and we will strive to manage it better. God bless you all and thank you.