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Retirement Ceremony of General Stanley McChrystal

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Fort McNair, Washington, DC, Friday, July 23, 2010

Well first off, I would tell you that the weather here today is worse than in Jakarta.

We gather today to say farewell to a treasured friend and colleague, and to pay tribute to one of the finest men at arms this country has ever produced. 

There are many distinguished guests and VIPs here today, but none so distinguished and none so important to General McChrystal as his wife Annie and son Sam.  Like so many Army families since 9/11, and especially families in the special operations community, they have endured long separations from their husband and dad.  And like so many families, they have done so with grace and resilience.  Our nation is deeply in your debt.  

We bid farewell to Stan McChrystal today with pride and sadness.  Pride for his unique record as a man and a soldier.  Sadness that our comrade and his prodigious talents are leaving us.

Looking back at the totality of Stan McChrystal’s life and career, it seems appropriate that he ended up in the special operations world, as virtually nothing about this man could be considered ordinary.

Even as he rose to the highest ranks of the service he retained his trademark humility and remarkably low requirements in his trappings, tastes and what we at the Pentagon call “personal maintenance.”  He had little use for amenities that tend to grow up around the rear echelon, much to the chagrin of a few of his ISAF colleagues.  To Stan, fast food counted as fine dining, but neither fine dining nor beer gardens had any place in his war zone. 

In spite of, or perhaps because of, his no-nonsense approach to war fighting, Stan enjoyed a special bond with his troops.  They respected his devotion to them as well as to the mission. And as evidenced by all the uniforms here this evening, they remain just as devoted to him. That’s because Stan never forgot about the troops most often in harm’s way. Always keeping in mind the front-line World War II soldier quoted by Stephen Ambrose, “any son of a bitch behind my foxhole is rear echelon.”

His fearsome exercise, sleeping, and eating routines were legendary – I get tired and hungry just reading about them. 

At the same time this consummate Ranger possessed one of the sharpest and most inquisitive minds in the Army.  A scholar who earned fellowships to Harvard and the Council on Foreign Relations.  A voracious reader who, as one of his friends told a reporter, was prone to spending his free time wandering around old bookstores and reading about what he called “weird things” – stuff like Shakespeare.

The attacks of September 11th and the wars that followed would call on every ounce of General McChrystal’s intellect, skill and determination.  Over the past decade, no single American has inflicted more fear and more loss of life on our country’s most vicious and violent enemies than Stan McChrystal.

Commanding special operations forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, Stan was a pioneer in creating a revolution in warfare that fused intelligence and operations.  He employed every tool available – hi-tech and low, signals intelligence, humint, and others – in new and collaborative ways. 

As a lieutenant general he went out on night missions with his teams, subjecting himself to their hardships and dangers.  After going on one operation that resulted in a firefight, some of his British comrades awarded Stan the distinction of being “the highest paid rifleman in the United States Army.”

Night after night, intercept by intercept, cell by cell – Stan and his forces first confronted, and then crushed Al Qaeda in Iraq.  It was a campaign that was well underway before the Surge, when the violence seemed unstoppable, and when so many had given up hope in our mission there.  Stan McChrystal never lost faith with his troopers, never relented, never gave up on Iraq, and his efforts played a decisive part in the dramatic security gains that now allow Iraq to move forward as a democracy and us to draw down U.S. forces there.

Last year, when it became clear to me that our mission in Afghanistan needed new thinking, new energy, and new leadership, there was no doubt in my mind who that new leader should be.  I wanted the very best warrior general in our armed forces for this fight.  I needed to be able to tell myself, the president and the troops that we had the very best possible person in charge in Afghanistan.  I owed that to the troops there, and to the American people. 

And when President Obama and his national security team deliberated on the way forward in Afghanistan, General McChrystal provided his expert and best unvarnished military advice.  And once we all agreed on the new strategy, General McChrystal embraced it and carried out the President’s orders with the brilliance and devotion that characterize every difficult mission that he has taken on and accomplished throughout his career.  Over the last year, General McChrystal laid the groundwork for success and the achievement of our national security objectives in that part of the world.  I know the Afghan government and people are grateful for what he accomplished in a year as ISAF commander – in the lives of innocent Afghans saved, the territory freed from the grip of the Taliban, for the new vigor and sense of purpose he brought to the international military effort there. 

As he now completes a journey that began at a West Point parade field nearly four decades ago, Stan McChrystal enters this next phase of his life to a respite richly earned.  He does so with the gratitude of the nation he did so much to protect, with the reverence of the troops he led at every level, with his place secure as one of America’s greatest warriors.

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