Thank you, Sidney [Harman] and Brent [Scowcroft]. Sidney, you're amazing. And, Brent the real Secretary of State is really going to be ticked off.
I feel like I have worked with Brent Scowcroft since I was a child. Actually, I was first detailed from CIA to the National Security Council 34 years ago this summer. When Brent offered me the deputy national security adviser job 15 years later, in 1989, as he just suggested, I accepted on one condition: I wouldn't work his hours not keep his work hours. And as he indicated, he quickly agreed to my conditions, I think confident I would never stick to them. I didn’t. He knew me better than I knew myself. On other occasions, he would again talk me into doing something I didn't want to do – like going to Texas A&M, which was a classic bait and switch. "Oh come on down, it is a day or two a month for a few months and then we'll pick a permanent dean then you can go back to Seattle." Two years later, two weeks a month later, commuting to College Station Texas, try that on commercial air lines. But the fact is, Brent would again and again talk me into life-changing experience for me. But I have to tell you even Brent didn’t have the temerity to try to talk me into taking my present job.
You have to know that Brent also inspired former President Bush to create an honor to award the American official who most ostentatiously fell asleep in a meeting with the President of the United States – it was called the Scowcroft Award. This was not frivolous. The president evaluated candidates on three criteria – first, duration – how long did they sleep? Second, the depth of the sleep; snoring always got you extra points. And third, the quality of recovery – did one just quietly open one’s eyes and rejoin the meeting, or did you just jolt awake – and in the course spill something hot? Brent, as you can imagine, was the recipient of not only the first Scowcroft Award, but won many oak leaf clusters as well.
The festivities this evening – the cocktail hour, wine with dinner – remind me of the risks of government officials drinking in public. Some years ago, a European foreign minister who shall remain unnamed, and who was a notoriously heavy drinker, was on a trip to South America. And he showed up at an official reception in Peru and was quite drunk. There was music playing and he invited a passing guest in a flowing gown to dance. The guest somewhat haughtily replied, “First, sir, you are drunk. Second, this is not a waltz – it is the Peruvian national anthem. Third, I am not a woman. I am the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima.”
One moment of nastaliga it was a real pleasure to see Chuck Vest, the president of MIT, here tonight. He reminded me of a happier time in my life when the two of us worked together as university presidents on several projects.
It is a pleasure to be here tonight, and I’m humbled to receive this award. It’s fitting that this BENS award bears the name of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Few people in American history had better insight into the workings of America’s military establishment – its virtues and its dangers – which he articulated famously in his farewell address.
Eisenhower’s attitude towards that establishment reflects the precepts and purpose of this organization. That we must:
· Spend as much as necessary to protect the American people, but do so wisely and carefully; and
· Constantly endeavor to find new and better ways of doing business – first and foremost, for the man or woman fighting on the front lines, but also for the taxpayer at home.
BENS has observed – accurately – that America is not going to have the kind of “efficient and agile” military we need for the 21st century without a support structure equally “efficient and agile” – two words not usually associated with the federal government in general and the Defense Department in particular. In areas like accounting, procurement, privatization, and excess base structure, BENS has identified problems and proposed solutions that have saved the taxpayers billions and made our military a more effective fighting force. And for that I thank you.
Tonight, I’d like to discuss three elements of that support structure that I’ve made my top management priorities as Secretary of Defense – areas where I’ve identified shortcomings and want to see fundamental institutional change before my time in office expires. Which if you’re wondering, that’s about 250 days, 14 hours, and 45 minutes from now.
My priorities are focused on better supporting our troops in combat and include:
· Sending more intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets to Iraq and Afghanistan;
· Providing troops the best possible protection on dangerous roads in Iraq and Afghanistan; and
· Improving outpatient care and support for our wounded.
These are issues I take seriously – and very personally.
Each goes directly to our profound, even sacred, obligation to do everything we can to support the men and women currently fighting on the front lines – people like the four we recognized tonight - to see that they are successful on the battlefield and properly cared for at home. These needs require the Department to focus on the reality that we are in the midst of two wars and that what we can provide our soldiers and commanders three or four years hence isn’t nearly as important as what we can provide them today or next month. In each case, there was some sort of leadership shortcoming:
· A lack of vision or sense of urgency;
· An unwillingness or hesitancy to upend assumptions and practices that have accumulated in a largely peacetime military establishment; and
· An assumption that the war would soon be over and therefore we shouldn’t impinge on programs that produce the kinds of equipment and capabilities that probably would not be needed in today’s combat.
A common mantra at Defense is that the rest of the government isn't at war. Well, a lesson I learned fairly early on was that important elements of the Defense Department weren't at war. Preoccupied with future capabilities and procurement programs, wedded to lumbering peacetime process and procedures, stuck in bureaucratic low-gear. The needs of those in combat too often were not addressed urgently or creatively.
As Supreme Commander in Europe during World War II, the otherwise affable Eisenhower was known for having little patience when he found out combat soldiers were shortchanged. Eisenhower, of course, had the industrial muscle of the entire United States behind him. We do not have that today. But even without Rosie-the-Riveter, victory gardens, and bond drives, we must put our defense bureaucracies on a war footing with a wartime sense of urgency.
This is well illustrated by my most recent management challenge: the capabilities provided by intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in general, and UAVs in particular.
Countries have been experimenting with unmanned airborne weapons since the mid-19th century. As a result of losing a substantial number of pilots during the Yom Kippur war in 1973, the Israelis pushed advancements in aviation and electronics that led to modern UAVs.
CIA has been involved with the development of this technology as well. When I was CIA director in 1992 I could not get the military to co-fund UAVs because the platforms did not need a rated pilot.
In short, the basic technology for UAVs has been around for over three decades, but the defense establishment didn’t see the potential value or anticipate the need for this capability. Put bluntly, we suffered from a lack of vision and have struggled to catch up.
I’ve taken a special interest in UAVs because they are ideal for many of the tasks in today’s wars. They give troops the tremendous advantage of seeing full-motion, real-time, streaming video over a target – such as an insurgent planting an IED on a street corner.
Commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan have understandably clamored for more of this capability – more sorties, more video, more potential to save American and Iraqi lives. There have been improvements, to be sure. Since 2001, the total number of UAVs has increased 25-fold to more than 5,000. Over the past few months, the Air Force doubled the number of Predators supporting combat operations. But that’s still not enough to meet the demand from commanders in the field.
In a speech at Maxwell Air Force Base last month, I made news by saying that ramping up these assets for field commanders was like “pulling teeth.” It was reported in some outlets as scolding the Air Force. It really wasn’t. The problem was a bureaucratic culture within all the Services and within the Pentagon itself that did not encourage out-of-the-box thinking and that did not encourage every employee to come to work in the morning thinking about “what can I do today to help those in combat?”
To get even more of this critical resource into the right hands faster, I launched an effort to scour the world for additional ISR assets that can be sent to theater, and to ensure we are getting maximum utility out of the assets already there. The task force will report back to me 90 days from its inception, and every two weeks between now and then. One thing I’ve learned in the Pentagon is that the best way to get results is to set short deadlines and enforce them.
Second issue. The vast majority of our combat deaths and wounds are the result of road-side bombs, improvised explosive devices, and explosively formed penetrators (IEDs and EFPs). Efforts to get the best protection for troops riding on the world’s most dangerous roads are well underway and showing results. I refer to the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle – or MRAP. As with UAVs, the Department didn’t recognize or act on the need for large numbers of these systems early enough.
The Army and Marine Corps that went over the berm in Iraq five years ago were designed for conventional war – with distinct front lines and relatively safe rear areas. Ten years after “Black Hawk Down” in Somalia, the Army did not have quantities of armored, wheeled troop transports that could protect against ambushes in urban areas.
On a battlefield with no front lines, there can be no failsafe way to protect troops against a resourceful and adaptive enemy. Up-armored humvees have been fielded in large numbers and provide adequate protection against some threats, but not against the most deadly IEDs. The MRAP’s distinctive v-shaped hull, capable of deflecting the blast from buried explosives, is invaluable in a conflict where these types of attacks have been the number one killer of our troops.
The MRAPs, which were produced for years in various forms by the Germans, South Africans, and others, were not sent to Iraq in large quantities until last year. I believe that one factor that delayed the fielding was the pervasive assumption I referred to earlier – and this applies to all three issues I’m discussing today – that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would not last long: that regimes could be toppled, major combat completed, the insurgency crushed, and most U.S. troops withdrawn fairly soon. The fact that these vehicles – which cost over a million dollars each – could potentially compete with other, longer-term, procurement priorities geared towards future wars probably was also a factor.
In May 2007, I directed the Department to make MRAPs our top acquisition priority. I issued instructions to identify urgently any constraint – funding, material, program, legal, or otherwise – that might inhibit this effort. In under a year, production has soared from 10 vehicles per month to over 1,200. I was particularly impressed by how quickly industry responded once the Pentagon made MRAPs a priority. In fact, the last time American industry moved from concept to full-rate military production of a major piece of equipment in less than a year was World War II.
Today, there are more than 4,500 MRAPs in Iraq and Afghanistan and thousands more on the way. One sergeant major summed up MRAPs saying: “Troops love them [and] commanders sleep better knowing the troops have them.” Recently, I was having lunch with a wounded soldier who told me an MRAP saved his life. There have been 151 attacks so far on MRAPs and all but seven soldiers have survived. The casualty rate is less than one – third that of Humvees, less than half that of an Abrams tank. These vehicles are saving lives and limbs.
Third and final issue. Doing what we can to prevent injury is essential. But when our troops are wounded, they must be confident that the military will do everything possible to help them heal. The wounded warrior program – our highest priority apart from winning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – involved two different kinds of leadership challenges: accountability, and reforming a lumbering out-patient healthcare system.
Over a year ago, The Washington Post broke the story about inadequate out-patient care at Walter Reed. I was disappointed by the initially-dismissive response of some in the Army’s leadership, who went into damage-control mode against the press and, in one case, blamed a couple of sergeants. Wrong move. I concluded responsibility lay much higher and acted accordingly.
Teddy Roosevelt – not a businessman, but an entrepreneur in other respects– once said: “A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards.” Over the last year or so, the VA and DoD have made significant progress to ensure our veterans get a square deal. We are on track to complete more than 400 recommendations resulting from the new National Defense Authorization Act and five major studies and commissions.
Perhaps the most important change has been the new way our injured receive medical treatment through “Warrior Transition Units.” These units are responsible for shepherding injured Service members back to their units or helping them transition to veteran status. Thus far, the Army has created 35 new Warrior Transition Units caring for over 10,000 soldiers.
I visited one of them at Fort Bliss, Texas, and was impressed by the “triad of care,” in which each soldier is assigned a case manager, squad leader, and primary care provider – all focusing exclusively on a single individual. In addition, the Wounded Warrior Units offer a full range of support for military families – including personnel benefits, financial counseling, employment support, education counseling, childcare, and so on. Assigned coordinators make it easier for the troops and their families to understand and navigate the system.
We have also made a number of improvements at Walter Reed and other hospitals, such as establishing consistent standards across the VA and DoD for the housing of wounded, ill, or injured Service members. We’ve inspected nearly 500 buildings against these new standards to ensure our people have a place to heal that is clean and decent.
Another change is to streamline the Disability Evaluation System. In the past, Service members received two separate disability ratings from DoD and the VA. We are now converting the disability evaluation system into a single and transparent process in which one disability rating would be legally binding by both organizations. One Service member. One exam. One rating.
Testing this new pilot process began last November at three local medical facilities. Thus far, over three hundred wounded, ill, or injured troops have been treated and evaluated. Early findings suggest that a better handshake between the VA and DoD could cut in half the time required to transition a veteran to full VA compensation.
The Department has also placed great emphasis on caring for those with post-traumatic stress. As we all know, not every soldier returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is getting the treatment he or she needs. We are actively working to eliminate any stigma associated with PTSD. Over 900,000 soldiers have been trained in recent months about symptoms of PTSD and the need to seek assistance. Another important element of removing the stigma and encouraging people to get help has been changing the question about mental-health on the security-clearance application. Too often, troops have avoided seeking help because they were worried it would affect their security clearance, and perhaps their career.
I announced at Fort Bliss two weeks ago that the question about mental health, as a general matter, will now exclude counseling related to service in combat – post-traumatic stress in particular. We hope this will encourage more men and women in uniform to seek help if they need it.
Tomorrow, I will deliver the commencement speech at Virginia Military Institute, the alma mater of George Marshall. Marshall once said, “We must do everything we could to convince the soldier that we were all solicitude for his well being. I was for supplying everything we could and [only] then requiring him to fight to the death when the time came … you couldn’t be severe in your demands unless [the soldier] was convinced that you were doing everything you could to make matters well for him.”
The Defense Department is filled with great people who want to do right by the men and women on the front lines – it’s up to their leaders to clearly articulate the Department’s priorities and spell out, as they say in the military, “commander’s intent.” When we do so, the bureaucracy responds, industry responds, and the nation responds.
As Secretary of Defense, I am responsible for the war strategy and for signing the deployment orders to carry it out. Every day, my signature on a piece of paper sends our brave men and women in harm’s way. At the end of the day, I must be able to look them in the eye – be they in Kandahar or Ramadi or Walter Reed – and tell them, truthfully, that this wealthy and generous country has done everything possible for them.
Tonight we sit in comfort and safety, reflecting on questions of national security and the priorities of the Defense Department. Meanwhile our country’s adversaries ponder cheap and dangerous ways to circumvent our advantages and find new ways to strike – to kill America’s sons and daughters in uniform. This war against violent extremist networks – a war whose outcome is far from foretold – will, I believe, persist for a long time to come. Meeting this challenge, as Eisenhower said in his farewell address, will require those sacrifices “which enable us to carry forward, steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle – with liberty the stake.” The struggle we are in will require even greater sacrifices from the men and women who have stepped forward to serve. It is our duty, in Marshall’s words, to “make matters well” for them. And, it is on their behalf that I accept this award.