Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Have a seat, folks. Thank you very much for that warm welcome.
Well, I am delighted to be here and I stand at podiums a lot in my work and mostly the press is out there, but it’s a particular privilege to have a collection of folks who have been so carefully selected to do such enormously important work for the Armed Forces and particularly in this case, for the United States Army. We spent some time trying to teach me how to drive one of those big trucks in the training this morning and I passed. But of course, that’s not what you want on your record, was it? I mean, you wouldn’t want on your gravestone, “He was adequate” or anything like that. But it was fun and interesting and I know that in the chemical, military police, transportation and engineer schools, I’m told that they train, in some cases, soldiers mostly, but some sailors and Marines and Air Force folks as well. And needless to say, that kind of joint training is going to have to be the rule in the Armed Forces of the United States, not the exception.
As you know well, in both combat training and advanced individual training, the work of the drill sergeant is just critically important. And you’re the ones who are shaping these young people to be warriors, regardless of whatever branch of service they may serve in. I know that our forward-leaning Chief Of Staff General Pete Schoomaker has put special emphasis on combat training and soldiering. He has noted that even with the advances in technologies, the battlefields of the 21st century there are really no front lines. There are no rear areas and we’re certainly seeing that in Iraq. There are no secure garrisons and there certainly are no secure convoys. The soldiers, regardless of their assignment, have got to be warriors and warriors first, and specialists in whatever field it may be, second. And I know that you folks train warriors here. I was given the drill sergeant’s creed and I’m told that you’re the ones that are charged with turning young civilians into highly motivated, well-disciplined, physically and mentally fit soldiers capable of defeating any enemy on today’s modern battlefield.
That is a big assignment. I’ve been to a lot of military bases where the folks just coming in the beginning of the process, come in and talk to them and looked at them and to take those folks out of high school frequently or some other walk of life and do what you drill sergeants are going to have to do to turn them into warriors is a critically important assignment and not an easy one. And we all understand that.
I think that if one – how many of you have been in Afghanistan or Iraq? Good grief all mighty. Good for you. Well, thank you. If you think about what’s taking place there, it’s tough. It’s difficult, it is uncertain. Like any aspect of war or insurgency that you’re coping with there, it has its ugliness and difficulties, but I know what the folks there are doing. I’m back and forth over there frequently. And I’ve seen what you folks, with your hands up, have done. I’ve seen the work you’ve done in terms of liberating the country in the first instance.
And second, I’ve seen the work you have done in helping to build schools and hospitals and helping the Iraqi and the Afghan people build a nation that’s free and democratic and is, in each case, pointed towards elections in the period immediately ahead.
It is historic work. It’s noble work. And I suspect that in 10, 15, 20, 30 years you will look back on that and historians will look back on that work and say that your contributions, what you’ve done there, and what the people you’re training will do there will be the thing that has helped to liberate 50 million people and set them on a path towards democracy.
If you think about it, those two countries were both on the terrorist list, not so many months ago. And today they’re both helping -- certainly Afghanistan’s helping – to fight terrorism. And the Iraqi government, the new Iraqi government, is helping to fight terrorism and that’s an important change that’s taken place. So the effect of it is to see that the fighting that takes place, takes place away from this country and that this country continues to be a secure and safer place because of that work. So you folks have my thanks and the appreciation and gratitude of the American people, to be sure.
I’d be delighted to respond to some questions. And I always worry about the first question. [Laughter] You know, someone who wants the first question, he wants to ask that question. So where is the Sergeant Major? There you are. Just in case I need help, I want you to stay close by. Go ahead.
For a complete transcript, including questions and answers, please visit: http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2004/tr20040914-secdef1303.html