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MCA Annual Dinner
As Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England, Crystal City, VA, Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Great to be back where I belong – with the greatest fighting force in the world – the US Marine Corps!

It’s hard to follow Secretary Gates as he set an exceptionally high standard last year … especially in the humor department.  My problem is I’m unduly constrained.  Since Secretary Gates was the former President of Texas A&M, that eliminates about 99% of my humor! 

People sometimes ask what it’s like to be the Deputy Secretary.  My response is that it’s a lot like the Mom trying to get her son out of bed to go to school, but the son would not get up.  No matter how hard the mother tried, the son would burrow deeper into the blankets and pillows.  Finally, the mother said, “Give me two reasons why you should not go to school today.”  Her son replied, “One, the students don’t like me, and two, the teachers don’t like me, and I’m not going to school.”  He then asked his mother to give him two reasons why he should go to school.  “First,” she replied, “you are 70 years old and second, you are the principal. Now, get up and go to school!”  So, every morning, I get up and “go to school”.

It’s good to be here with you…  I share General Mark Clark’s sentiment on the subject.…  That great soldier once said, “The more Marines I have around… the better I like it!”  Any of you who are familiar with my staff… know that I’m well surrounded by the eagle, globe and anchor – Bob Earl, retired, BG John Wissler, Ollen Richey, retired, and Sergeant John Ciupak.  “Beat Army” is a common refrain in the Deputy’s Office!  They are great Americans, and I appreciate their service to the Corps and especially to me.

During my second tour as Secretary of the Navy, Representative Walter Jones introduced legislation to change the name of that office from Secretary of the Navy… to Secretary of the Navy and Marine Corps.  Now… it sounded like a pretty good idea … but the Marines did not support – and in fact, they had strong objections.  They wanted the name to be Secretary of the Marine Corps… and the Navy.
As I grew to know the Corps… grew to fully appreciate the quality of its people… grew to appreciate the institution’s deep reverence for its traditions and… unrelenting determination to preserve the high standards that have distinguished it for so very long… I always marveled at the iconic images by which it was recognized….

The Navy has the USS CONSTITUTION… “Old Ironsides”… the oldest commissioned ship still afloat in the world… the war-tested veteran of untold engagements and the nation’s proud ship of state.

The Air Force has the gleaming memorial adjacent to the Navy Annex… a soaring monument to victory… evocative of the thrill of flight and the flying spirit.

The Army has the Old Guard… ramrod straight, square-jawed soldiers, the very definition of spit and polish… the vigilant sentinels who faithfully guard the Tomb of the Unknowns.

All inspiring… and all befitting the venerable institutions they represent…. 

And what does the Marine Corps have?  Well… there are many—perhaps no other institution is so beloved and so rich in poignant symbols—but the image that is forever etched in the minds of so many of your fellow Americans … is not the EGA… or the War Memorial… or Chesty the bulldog… it’s … Gomer Pyle…  Shazam!   I remember when Jim Jones promoted Gomer to Corporal!

Of course, there are other, more dignified icons… and there is one that unquestionably best defines the spirit of the Corps.
I’ve been privileged to travel widely and see Marines at work in what truly seems like every clime and place.  There’s one place, however, that stands out in my memory … a postage stamp in the vast expanse of the Pacific … a place where uncommon valor was a common virtue.

Standing on the top of Suribachi, I recalled the Rosenthal photo… and fully understood both the power of that image and the scope of the Corps’ achievement on Iwo Jima … and its heritage.

One of my distinguished predecessors as Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, famously observed, “The raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next five hundred years…”  (Now you know why I’m only a Deputy.  Secretary Forrestal said that while standing on a ship.  I’ve been making prepared speeches for seven years, and nobody can remember anything I’ve said longer than an hour.)  Forrestal was right… because, with all due respect to LtGen Brute Krulak, the nation both wants… and needs a Marine Corps.

Now I also know that the Marine Corps as an institution is positively paranoid about the continued existence of the institution.  Paranoia is a required course in Marine boot camp and The Basic School.  But as one Marine explained, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you!”

Just maybe there’s some valid reason for that paranoia.  Back in December, 1949, with the atomic bomb in mind, Louis Johnson, then Secretary of Defense, wrote to one senior admiral, “Admiral, the Navy is on its way out … There’s no reason for having a Navy or Marine Corps.  General Bradley tells me amphibious landings are a thing of the past. 

We’ll never have any more amphibious landings.  That does away with the Marine Corps.  And the Air Force can do anything the Navy can nowadays, so that does away with the Navy.”  I might mention that history records that SECDEF Johnson was not fondly regarded by the military, especially the Navy Department!

About a year later, the Marines would be making an amphibious assault at Inchon.

I liken the uncertain times then to the time we face today – in that uncertain world, the nation was just beginning to adjust to and counter communism … as today the nation is just beginning to adjust to and counter worldwide terrorism.

Just the other weekend, I was in New Orleans for the christening of LPD-21, the New York.  It was a poignant time with New York policemen, firemen and families of survivors.  It was a day of remembrance and reflection and it caused me to reflect on the events of 9-11. 

I’ve often wondered … why the terrorists killed 3,000 people that day.  I’ve concluded that the reason they killed 3,000 was that they didn’t know how to kill 30,000 or 300,000 or 3 million.  But they would have if they could have … and they are still trying.
Believing that, then you also know that there’s no going back … We can’t put the lid back on Pandora’s Box … and must remain as committed to our cause as our adversaries are to their own.

This is not a war of our choosing.  This is not a war we can ignore.  This is not a war that will end if we walk away from the battlefield.

This fight, brought to our shores that day, is a struggle that will require strong, steady and sustained leadership with the enduring need for a strong military … and an even stronger Marine Corps.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the first campaigns of a long war … and it’s vitally important that the nation understands that reality as well.  We are in for a long, tough fight and must never forget it.  As Marines know … far better than most … we’ve seen such times before.

Some of you have heard this story before – but I like to retell it – because it’s a rich memory for me and such a lifelong lesson.  Although I was only a youngster, there’s a memory from World War II that has stayed with me.  I grew up in Baltimore.  One day in 1945, workmen came to the square where several streets intersected near my home on Mulberry Street.   It was the spot where my brother and I played with the other kids from the neighborhood.

On this particular afternoon, a simple sign was erected that read, “Francis Callahan, Jr. Square.” 

That night, I asked my Mom who Callahan was.  She told me that Francis Callahan was a young man who lived in a house on the square.  He was a Marine and had been killed on Iwo Jima.   His family erected the sign in his honor.

That memory has stuck with me all these years… indeed, when I think of those who serve… when I think of the Corps and people like you … like Jason Dunham …and I do so often… I’m transported back to Mulberry Street and the memory of Francis Callahan, Jr.

Because of his sacrifice… and the sacrifice of thousands like him, America triumphed in World War II... and I was permitted to live the life I’ve known.  But, as we know… it was a tough, hard slog that tested the nation’s mettle and resolve.

Yet we prevailed… and when that war ended … people felt entitled to a well-deserved period of peace… but communism didn’t cooperate.    Instead Korea was the beginning of a long Cold War that did not end until the Wall came down in Berlin in 1989 … almost 40 years later.

That victory was the result of a sustained commitment that stretched over four decades and transcended political party lines.  In those days, the nation’s security wasn’t about Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives. 

It was about a nation committed to freedom and liberty … a nation that understood the challenge… and a nation that was willing to drive to a shared goal of victory… a lesson that desperately needs to be understood and reapplied today.

When the Wall finally came down and the Cold War ended in 1989 … we again expected a peace dividend.  But our path has never been easy … and that, perhaps, is the real lesson of history.

Iraq and Afghanistan are today the front lines in the war on terror … but they will one day surrender that distinction to some, as yet unknown, challenge.  They are also not the sum total of the war on terror.  As we look ahead, the probability of a large conventional war is small while the probability of wars like Afghanistan looms large.  In my judgment, we will not see new Iraq-type conflicts … as this nation will be very hesitant … and unlikely for a long time … to engage again in protracted nation building.

What does this all mean for the nation’s Corps of Marines?  To me, the implications are clear …  First in Afghanistan and, then, in Iraq … the Corps demonstrated both its soldierly virtue … and its remarkable capacity to adapt and overcome …  in the bewildering, often lethal complexity of Anbar Province … the Corps was first to unravel the Gordian knot that is Iraq and pursue an effective counterinsurgency campaign … high recognition for an institution that knows how to march to the sound of the guns, yet understands the cultural sensitivity and light touch required for nation-building … as much at home building partnership capacity as you are at destroying enemy capability.

I noted earlier that one certainty of the future is its unpredictability … another certainty is that we can expect sustained conflict in the years to come … yet a third certainty is that this will be evermore an era of naval forces.  In the kind  of fight we will likely be engaged in for the foreseeable future, ships like LPD-21 (New York) and the ability to project power forward in a lethal and integrated way will be vitally important to our national interest.

Being able to quickly deploy forces anywhere in the world … … at any time … is exactly the kind of force the nation needs today and will need in the future. 

In that regard, it’s important that the Marine Corps not use the conflict in Iraq as the model for this long-term mission.  The Marines will need to be light, quick, adaptable and fully deployable as we move to the future.

Naval forces have another unique and critical attribute.  Naval forces are ideally suited to build partnership capacity and to strengthen the bonds of friendship between nations … soft power.  Forces from the sea have always been welcome at ports of call.   Stresses of life at sea result in strong bonds of friendship among naval forces around the world … the foundation for friendship between nations.  It can truly be said that our naval forces transcend even our diplomatic efforts, as every nation relies on naval forces to protect against pirates, and terrorists, and to keep the international lines of communication and trade open … and safe.

Therefore, as you continue to build and strengthen the fighting base of the Corps, also remember that soft power could ultimately be equally … or even more important.

Military force alone will likely not win this war or future wars on terror.  America will not lose on the battlefield – not with the best forces in the whole world.

But America and our friends and allies can’t win only on the battlefield, either.

Ultimately, what will win wars on terror … like the Cold War … are the choices people make, whether the terrorists’ path of violence, or the far better path of peace, democracy, and development.

President Eisenhower said, “The history of free men is never written by chance, but by choice – their choice.”

All free nations have to provide an alternative to the terrorists’ false promises, in the form of real paths toward social and economic development, the rule of law, and freedom of choice.

The most important message America can send to the world is our commitment to freedom and liberty for our citizens and for all people.

In his second Inaugural, President Reagan said, “Freedom is one of the deepest and noblest aspirations of the human spirit.  People worldwide hunger for the right of self-determination.”  It was that same hunger by our founding fathers over 230 years ago that provided the foundation for the way of life we so enjoy today.

The power of freedom … the power that brought down the Wall in Berlin in 1989 … the power that brought millions to the voting booths in Iraq and Afghanistan … is still the most powerful tool in our national arsenal.  America and the Corps need to deliver this message to the four corners of the world.

As we deliver this message of freedom, we need to remember that as a nation, people in embattled communities around the world listen to the words used on our national stage – and they watch our national actions – and choose whether and how to act – and this could be more important than anything else in tipping the scales.

Let me close with a story a Marine colonel told me recently … It says a lot about the Corps.  He was surprised one day to receive an email with a long list of “to” addresses … all Marines with the same last name … from a young private he didn’t know … who was convinced that there was a fair chance that, at least, some of the Marines on the “to” line were related to him.  Well, the colonel was in the process of typing a fatherly response to assist the young Marine’s genealogical research when a “reply all” response to the same request flashed across his computer screen.  It was from a sergeant, who also shared the same last name, but who obviously needed a lot less time to frame his response than did the colonel.  The sergeant’s language was predictably direct – what we’d expect from a Marine.  He wrote simply, “Private, why are you using a government computer … for personal matters … during working hours?  Get back to work, Devil Dog … we’re all related … we’re all Marines.”

The sergeant said it all.

Lastly, it is most appropriate that we end this evening the way we began … with words from our Pledge of Allegiance … “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” That is why we have … and will always need … a United States Marine Corps.

God bless each of you and your families, your magnificent Corps, all those who stand the watch for freedom today, and God bless this great nation.

Thank you.