It’s an eloquent tribute to Jim Roche that here in this audience sit much of the senior leadership of the U.S. Department of Defense as well as many distinguished leaders from other parts of our government along with many counterparts from allied and friendly countries. It would be impossible to mention you all. But let me just add my personal welcome to Jim and Diane and their daughter, Heather; the many other distinguished leaders and veterans; all the families and friends who are here; the Air Force’s outstanding chief, General John Jumper; and, most importantly, we have here some of the men and women of the world’s finest military—and particularly today, representatives of the outstanding airmen who make ours the world’s very best Air Force.
I’ve just returned from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand, and I’ve seen a region known for its own haunting beauty utterly ravaged by the tsunami which brought death and destruction on an unimaginable scale. But I also saw the healing effects of assistance delivered through the skill and compassion and the tireless efforts of American men and women from all of our military services. At this very hour, men and women of the U.S. Air Force are saving lives in Southeast Asia. They are changing the world for the better. In even more challenging circumstances, they are doing the same thing in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and they are making our country safer and more secure in the process. Let’s show our appreciation to the men and women representing them here today.
Secretary Rumsfeld asked me to convey a big thanks to all of you for the extraordinary job you’ve done under Jim Roche’s leadership.
Jim, your own career—combining long and distinguished service in the U.S. Navy with your most recent tour as the civilian leader of our great Air Force—is the embodiment of jointness. It calls to mind a story about one of the first generals in the Greek Air Force, a man named Metaxas. Unlike you, it seems he had a bit of trouble combining air service and sea service.
During one inspection at an airbase in the 1930s, the base commander invited General Metaxas to test a new flying boat. So, he took the aircraft up for a short flight. As he was coming in to land on the runway, the base commander intervened and said: “Excuse me, General; it would be better to land on water—this is a flying boat.” So, General Metaxas skillfully aborted his landing on the runway and made another circuit, setting the flying boat down safely on the water. Switching off the engine, the general turned to his host and said: “Thank you, Commander, for preventing me from making a stupid blunder.” At which point, the general opened the door and stepped straight into the water.
That’s a true story, by the way. But, humor aside, I have been astonished at how far the U.S. Air Force has come in operating jointly with the other services since my last tour in the Pentagon fifteen years ago, and particularly in the last four years under Jim Roche’s leadership.
Ladies and gentlemen, we’re here today to honor and thank a leader whose intellect and vision, whose character and courage, whose passionate commitment to the men and women of the U.S. Air Force, has truly made a difference and earned our gratitude.
I first met Jim Roche during my first tour in the Pentagon, back in the 1970s, when the Cold War was at its height. Jim was a naval officer back then, working for Andy Marshall—who is himself something of a legend among old Pentagon hands. Andy is the leader of a group of what one observer has called “iconoclastic military thinkers.” They’re known for taking the long view of our military requirements. And that doesn’t always mean the conventionally accepted view—in fact, it rarely does. Jim Roche was right at home in that special group.
For, you see, Jim is very comfortable breaking paradigms and creating new ones. I first noticed that quality in a remarkable paper that he and Andy Marshall wrote in the late 1970s. It was an assessment of the U.S.-Soviet military balance in the submarine warfare competition. The prevailing view at the time was to counter the Soviet threat by focusing on defending our sea lanes in the Atlantic. Departing radically from that view, Jim and Andy argued instead: “Why not keep the threat away from the sea lanes, by forcing the Soviet navy to defend itself in its own waters?”
The influence of that idea was enormous. Andy Marshall, in characteristically understated fashion, has been quoted as saying: “Jim and I had an impact.” In truth, their bold vision led to a fundamental rethinking of U.S. defense strategy: focusing on how our defense investments could force the Soviet Union to compete in areas of U.S. advantage—a strategy that made an important contribution to the peaceful end of the Cold War.
It was that same iconoclastic bent—combined with his ability to get things done—that I came to value so greatly when Jim later came to work for me. That was during President Reagan’s first administration, when I was head of the State Department’s Policy Planning staff. Jim was then my deputy. I look back on it now as a glorious time when I could comfortably say, “Oh, let the Deputy take care of that one.”
Throughout his years in industry, Jim Roche made a similar visionary mark—becoming known for his ability to turn things around and invest old systems with new capabilities. With his singular knowledge of technical systems and the processes that produce them, he was the right person to help the Air Force prepare for the threats of the 21st century.
But when Jim Roche came on board in the summer of 2001, none of us quite knew exactly what those threats would involve. A few months later, on September 11th, we got a frightening window into the future that we had to confront.
Fortunately, by then, Jim had already been hard at work. With his characteristic prescience, he was already advancing some important new initiatives that have saved lives in the global war on terror and will continue to save lives for years to come.
During that summer of 2001, when the Department was working on the Quadrennial Defense Review, we had identified long-range precision strike as one of our key transformation goals. Jim and I talked about the fact that long-range strike needed to be conceived as a combination of air and ground power, not just air power by itself. With the precision now available, ground forces could be projected in places where they could never have been risked in the past, and those ground forces in turn could find targets that could not be found from the air and force them to move into the open.
Always interested in what could be learned from history, Jim would often talk about what happened in the weeks following the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944. How General Hap Arnold’s air forces had supported General Patton’s Third Army, so the armor and infantry could break through enemy defenses, and begin their inland march. Using radios, fighter-bombers talked to tanks and helped destroy hidden flak guns and important rail junctions, and the aircrews helped Patton’s army to keep moving forward.
Jim pressed hard to reconstruct this effective integration of army and air assets—but at an even higher level made possible by using advanced sensors and information technology, and with a precision and flexibility far beyond anything Arnold or Patton could have dreamed of.
Only a few months later in Afghanistan, we saw the fruits of that effort. Less than four weeks after September 11, we saw a war plan come together with remarkable speed, a plan that integrated all of our assets—ground, air, space and sea. And in just days after the start of the campaign, we saw something altogether amazing: Special Forces on the ground calling in close—incredibly close—air strikes: using laser binoculars to spot targets and computers to talk to B-52s that were 50 years old but were equipped with the latest avionics and precision munitions, all the while moving from position to position on horseback.
The result astonished the whole world, but most of all it must have astonished the Taliban, whose tyranny over the Afghan people was ended, and Osama bin Laden and his gang, who were driven out of their comfortable sanctuary into places where they could be captured or at least forced to constantly run and hide.
When a reporter asked Don Rumsfeld what he had in mind by reintroducing the horse cavalry into 21st century warfare, the Secretary said, “It’s all part of my transformation plan.”
That success, of course, had many parents and I asked General Jumper how important Jim’s personal role was. If I may paraphrase the answer, General Jumper said that the pieces were indeed mostly there by the summer of 2001, but that without Jim Roche’s technological prescience to see how those pieces could fall into place and without Jim’s relentless drive—pushing people constantly to move faster and less bureaucratically—it would have taken months or even years longer for the pieces to fall into place. For the men and women fighting in Afghanistan, and later in Iraq, those months and years made all the difference.
And Jim didn’t stop there. He got similar results in a related area when he pressed for more rapid integration of multiple sources of intelligence, enabling air controllers to operate using “chat” rooms to coordinate vital information in real time from multiple sources such as JSTARS, AWACS, Predator and Rivet Joint aircraft along with satellite intelligence and reports from the ground. This has given commanders an unprecedented, integrated picture of the battlefield, all in real time. That, too, was revolutionary and has helped to take sanctuaries away from the terrorists.
Jim also appreciated fully the revolutionary significance of the work General Jumper was doing with unmanned aerial vehicles—or UAVs—down at Air Combat Command. They both saw the Predator as a platform whose applications went far beyond those of a simple drone. Even when it was still in development, Jim worked hard with General Franks to speed the introduction of armed Predators into battle. And here too, the impact of armed UAVs, and Air Force ISR networks has truly made a difference.
General Jumper and Jim Roche like to refer to each other as “partner” in the enterprise of overseeing our nation’s Air Force. Together they have compiled a record that would be a credit to someone who’d spent an entire career in the Air Force. But, Jim has done all that—and much more—in just under four years.
Jim Roche will be remembered for many things: as a Naval officer who inspired his sailors to win the Arleigh Burke Fleet Trophy award for the Navy’s most improved combat unit in the Pacific; as a thinker who wasn’t afraid to reconsider old paradigms; as a leader who would respectfully and candidly speak his mind to authority; as the 20th Secretary of the Air Force who presided over the brilliant application and ongoing transformation of the United States Air Force at a critical time for our nation’s freedom and security.
But there’s something else that Jim accomplished in these last several years that may not make its way into a news column or a book. But many airmen will remember this quality most of all. They will remember how Jim Roche touched their lives. How he and Diane traveled around the world to meet them and hear them. How he spent his time here in Washington watching out for them—making sure they have the tools and parts they need to do their jobs. How he understood that they are the very lifeblood of our air and space force.
Staff Sergeant Alan Yoshida will remember. He is a combat controller who was in Afghanistan in the opening days of the war. His service there, by all accounts, was exemplary. He orchestrated many air strikes—even some that they call “danger close”—that helped crush the Taliban resistance and saved members of his team and Afghan forces fighting alongside them. Sergeant Yoshida’s right arm was wounded so badly in combat that he could no longer raise it to salute.
Jim first met Alan Yoshida on a visit to Pope Air Force Base when Sgt. Yoshida received a Purple Heart. In talking to Alan, Jim learned that this young man—who knew combat first-hand—had some promising ideas about helping his fellow controllers fight, survive and win in combat. One idea was that the communications kit that special operators use to call in air strikes was too heavy.
So, Jim challenged the young sergeant to put together a task force to look at the problem. He made sure that Sgt. Yoshida was able to stay on active duty. And, he called on leaders in the defense industry to lend their support. The result is a new battlefield air operations kit with improved communications links that’s also more responsive in processing target and location information. And—perhaps most important for the combat airmen on the ground—it weighs less than half as much.
Jim tells people that he got a sergeant to cut through all the bureaucracy. He also likes to say that not only do our pilots and aircrews work for the combat sergeants on the ground. But now the officers in acquisition do, too.
But, Secretary Roche didn’t stop there. He wanted the Air Force to focus more on developing the critical joint skills that people like Sergeant Yoshida bring to the fight—airmen who are embedded with Army line and special operations units, who coordinate close air support or jump into the thick of combat. So he created a new specialty code called “Battlefield Airman” that encompasses the Combat Rescue, Special Tactics, Tactical Air Control Party and Combat Weather career fields. Given their indispensable role in our joint fight, it’s probably no surprise that four of the 12 recipients of this year’s prestigious Outstanding Airman award are Battlefield Airmen.
Jim, there are many other Alan Yoshidas out there who thank you—from the enlisted airmen who can now pursue post-graduate work at the Air Force Institute of Technology to the individual airmen and officers you’ve personally helped to untangle bureaucratic red tape—yes, we do have some of that!
Most of all, I know how much you care for our wounded servicemen. I personally remember when we learned about one airman, a triple amputee, who needed special transportation to get to and from the hospital. Naturally, I turned to you. I knew you’d make it happen immediately. And you did.
You’ve never forgotten the airman or soldier or sailor—the one who truly makes great air forces and armies and navies run. There is no question that the men and women of the Air Force will continue to do just that.
Of course Jim would be the first to tell you he didn’t do all this alone. And so I want to mention Jim’s other partner, his wife Diane. She’s been with him every step of his remarkable journey. She learned back in their Navy days that it takes the whole team to achieve success. Diane, your devotion and energy have made you an effective and welcome ambassador around the globe. And I know you had a big part in Jim’s decision to return to the service, so to speak, to take on one more tough task. On behalf of Secretary Rumsfeld and all of us in the Department, let me thank you for your own untiring devotion to our country.
Four years ago, when Jim Roche accepted the president’s call to become Secretary of the Air Force, he did it reluctantly. He wasn’t looking for a fancy title or for an addition to his already long resume. He already had a great job and was looking to the near-term prospects of an enjoyable retirement. He knew that he would have to divest some of his assets and make a considerable financial sacrifice to come back to the Defense Department. But he did it because he believed he could do something for what he calls the “kids”—the men and women who sacrifice so much for our country. And I know that Jim has faced the great responsibility of his office with a true passion for the mission.
President Theodore Teddy Roosevelt, who was himself a great leader who served in two services—the Army and the Navy—knew what it was to dream great things and take the risks to make them happen. It was Teddy Roosevelt who said that in the end, “it’s not the critic who counts.… The credit belongs to the man who is in the arena … who spends himself in a worthy cause.”
You are one of those men, Jim. I know that what enticed you was the idea that you could do something important for the men and women in uniform. And you have. You have truly made a difference. There are few causes greater than that.
So if I may introduce some Navy terminology, we congratulate Jim, Diane and Heather and wish them “fair winds and following seas” in all that lies ahead.
And finally, we celebrate what the men and women of our Air Force do for our nation every day. The future is in good hands.
Thank you, and God bless the United States Air Force, and all the men and women who serve our nation so nobly and so well.