(Applause.) Thanks, Pete.
The only positive thing I can find about Pete Schoomaker retiring is that it will simplify my life a little bit as I deal with Pete Geren, Pete Pace, Pete Chiarelli.
I want to thank all of our distinguished guests, especially the former chiefs of staff of the Army who are here with us today.
I've been fortunate in recent weeks to attend a number of changes of command, and they've given me the opportunity to honor some of our military's most talented leaders -- some of whom are going on to other commands, and some of whom are retiring after decades of service to our country.
General Schoomaker falls into the latter category -- but I would have to note this isn't the first time he retired. I do suspect it will be the last.
Some of his staff were under the impression that his truck is over in the parking lot right now, packed, with the engine running as we speak -- just waiting for this ceremony to end. Rumor has it that Pete has a vanity license plate that reads "AWOL." (Laughter.)
As Pete Geren noted, in 2003, Secretary Rumsfeld asked Pete to return to service as Army Chief of Staff, and it's a great testament to Pete's sense of duty that he abandoned a nascent ranching venture in his home state of Wyoming to return to Washington, D.C. -- a place where, he has noted, too often the horses ride the cowboys. (Laughter.)
Like Pete, I flunked from retirement, but unlike Pete, who as the other Pete said, hung up on Secretary Rumsfeld thinking it was a prank caller, I did not hang up on the President -- a decision I may live to regret.
But it does remind me of another Washington saying. You know about being careful what you ask for -- well, in Washington you have to be careful even what you don't ask for, because you may still get it. (Laughter.)
Although Pete didn't ask for this post, he knew from the second he took the oath that there were great challenges before him, that this was a critical moment in the history of the United States and in the history of the Army.
I doubt many people know it, but both Pete and I consider the same event to have been a pivotal moment in our professional lives. As Secretary Geren said, in early 1980, Pete was part of the team sent in to rescue our hostages from the embassy in Iran. I was chief of staff at the CIA at the time, and I'd spent most of that long night at the White House with the director of Central Intelligence.
Though we at the White House and those on the ground saw things from very different perspectives, many of us came away with the same lessons about the importance of true jointness and the constant need to be prepared and vigilant; to maintain our armed forces even in times of peace, and always to look ahead to threats on, and even beyond, the horizon.
Pete keeps a photo of the destruction from the rescue attempt to remind him of what had happened, and it was at that moment that he committed himself to a future where enthusiasm would always be matched by our capability.
We are seeing that future today. Challenging times require extraordinary vision and leadership, and Pete has shown both of those qualities. He has entirely changed the manner in which our Army is trained, deployed and organized.
Pete was called out of retirement because of his wealth of experience, particularly his unique knowledge of special operations and unconventional warfare -- an area of expertise that stresses innovation and versatility. He has shown remarkable ability to lead individuals as well as institutions during his more than 30 years in the military -- from his days as a platoon leader, to several Delta Force assignments, to his leadership of U.S. Special Operations Command.
Preparing our forces for the kinds of wars we are fighting -- and the ones we may be called upon to fight in the future -- is a difficult task in an environment that requires the riflemen as well as the “smart bombs,” unconventional approaches as well as conventional power.
Pete has led the transition from a division-based Army -- the standard since World War II -- to a brigade-based Army, a lighter more lethal force that can deploy rapidly and effectively to meet today's challenges. To give some perspective, when I was last in government 14 years ago, we measured the time it took to deploy most brigades in months. Today, we measure it in weeks and days.
In just a few short years, Pete has also revamped the training protocol across the entire Army, focusing on the skills necessary to conduct complex operations on an unconventional battlefield with no “frontlines.”
I'm reminded of a story Stephen Ambrose told in one of his books about World War II. A reporter was interviewing a man who had been a in frontline foxhole during the Battle of the Bulge, and he asked about the “rear echelon.”
And the veteran replied, "Listen, as far as I'm concerned, every son of a bitch behind my foxhole is rear echelon." (Soft laughter.) That sounds a lot like Pete Schoomaker.
Every so often, an institution needs a leader to remind us of its core values. Pete has done that by emphasizing the “warrior ethos” and focusing on physical fitness and basic skills like marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat. This led to a renewal of timeless values, like personal courage and pride in one's physical and mental strength -- integral parts of the moral fiber and institutional memory that has, throughout history, made our military so effective against our enemies, and so respected by our friends.
Any of these accomplishments alone would be the accomplishment of a career – but Pete has managed to do all of this in a few short years while simultaneously fighting two wars.
And he has done so within the confines of one of the world's largest bureaucracies -- one that isn't exactly known for turning on a dime. In fact, I understand that when Pete came out of retirement, his status was changed somehow from "retired" to "deceased." (Laughter.) It took General Schoomaker, the highest-ranking officer in the Army, a full six months to iron out the paperwork. Leave it to the Pentagon bureaucracy to prove that you can in fact be brought back from the dead. (Laughter.)
Pete, thank you for your service. And, Cindy, he couldn't have done it without your love and support. Our nation is grateful to both of you -- and the men and women of the armed forces are stronger and safer, because of everything you've done.
Pete's successor, General George Casey, is well-qualified to take the Army's spot -- or was qualified -- well-qualified to take the Army's spot three years ago after serving as Vice Chief.
After that job, however, he volunteered to spend 30 months as commander of Multi National Forces-Iraq.
In that capacity, he oversaw the largest sustained ground-force operation by the United States military in more than 30 years -- a tenure that included the ratification of the Iraqi constitution, two successful nationwide elections, and the creation of the Iraqi army and police force essentially from scratch.
George Casey has the unique experience of having served at the highest levels on both the institutional and operational sides of the Army. Perhaps more importantly, though, he has seen the face of war in the 21st century firsthand -- the complex nature of asymmetric warfare, urban combat, counterinsurgency operations, and sustained commitments of a rotational, expeditionary Army abroad.
If George Casey were well-qualified to take this position before his tour in Iraq, he is superbly qualified now.
He has an eminent familiarity with all the challenges -- personnel, equipment, and tactics -- that the Army must face in the present and in the future.
I'd be remiss if I didn't close without a word -- with a word about Sheila Casey. For 30 months, she endured separation from George when he agreed and then re-agreed to assume the mantle and burdens in command in Iraq. Our nation is in Sheila's debt, as we are to all the spouses of all the soldiers who are deployed to dangerous and distant battlefields. I know Sheila will be a stalwart advocate for Army families as she takes on her latest role in what has been a lifetime of service.
George, Sheila, thank you for everything you have done and will do for this country. I look forward to working with you.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)