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Remarks by Vice President Biden, Deputy Secretary of Defense Carter and MRAP Task Force Executive Director Shaffer at the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Program Transition Ceremony

Presenter: Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter; MRAP Task Force Executive Director Alan Shaffer
October 01, 2012

            MRAP TASK FORCE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR ALAN SHAFFER:  Good afternoon.  Please be seated.  

            Vice President Biden, Secretary Carter, distinguished guests, I'm Al Shaffer, the executive director of the MRAP Task Force.  It is my pleasure to welcome you all here today to recognize the incredible efforts put forth by everyone who came into contact with the MRAP program. 

            While there were countless heroes in the MRAP program, there were three senior leaders who made MRAP a priority, and in so doing gave all of us the opportunity -- opportunity to field MRAPs for the forces. 

            The first two of these senior leaders were Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Under Secretary of Defense John Young.  The final senior leader who gave us the opportunity to succeed is Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.  

            Dr. Carter continually challenged the MRAP team to excel and accelerate.  His edict of "acquire then require" was quickly followed by, "and I want them all there for Christmas."  These requests were always followed with, "And what do you need from me?" 

            No one at any level of the entire MRAP team ever had any doubt that they had 100 percent-plus backing of the most senior leaders in the Pentagon. 

            Dr. Carter, for allowing all of us the opportunity to succeed, we all thank you. (Applause.) 

            Ladies and gentlemen, I'm pleased to present the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Dr. Ashton B. Carter. (Applause.) 

            DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASHTON B. CARTER:  Al, thank you for that introduction and for all of your leadership over so many years of the MRAP task force. 

            Mr. Vice President, team MRAP, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, we gather today to mark an important milestone in the life of an important national effort.  We're here to end an era in the history of the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected – "MRAP" – program, and begin a new one. 

            This ceremony also provides us with an opportunity to pause and celebrate the success of the MRAP, and to reflect upon and to honor what it takes to do something truly historic in this world: determined Pentagon leadership, equally determined leaders in Congress, and a talented execution team that thwarted our frequently ponderous acquisition system. 

            The transition to an enduring program of record is an important moment for any Defense Department acquisition program. But MRAP is not just any program.  It is one of the most important acquisitions to come off the line since World War II.  MRAP is singularly responsible for saving the lives and limbs of thousands of servicemembers in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

            There was no more important program for the Defense Department in the last decade.  We needed the MRAP to defend ourselves against a deadly threat.  We faced an innovative enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan, one who would do nothing -- stop at nothing, excuse me, to do us harm. 

            First, the enemy created roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices to attack our vehicles.  So the Defense Department deployed jammers and up-armored its Humvees to defend our men and women.  But then the enemy innovated again.  They developed new triggering mechanisms and increased the power of their bombs to defeat jamming and to tear our armor apart. 

            Commanders saw an urgent need.  They requested urgent assistance from the Pentagon, a plea that initially went unheeded, a mistake that forced the department to permanently alter its whole approach to meeting urgent battlefield needs. 

            It was in 2007 when Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, at that time Commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, requested MRAPs.  Ultimately, we built and shipped over 11,500 MRAPs to Iraq in 27 months and later built over 8,000 all-terrain MRAPs for Afghanistan in only 16 months. 

            By the end, we sent more than 24,000 MRAPs to our warfighters in two theaters of war. 

            Now, MRAPs are massive vehicles, you all know, some as big as a dump truck.  They have a v-shaped hull, which allows for blast mitigation, and they weigh between 26,000 and 56,000 pounds. 

            And you all know me, I would have driven one in here today, if I could get it through the door. 

            At peak production, the United States shipped over 1,000 MRAPs a month to theater.  And there, they saved lives. 

            So how was this accomplished?  Let me start with determined Pentagon leadership.  Secretary Gates frequently said, "The troops are at war, but the Pentagon is not."  This reflected his frustration with the business-as-usual approach he found too often here, and led to his decisions in many cases simply to bypass the system, as with the MRAP Task Force. 

            Secretary Gates -- and now Secretary Panetta -- simply won't take no for an answer when it comes to war support. 

            Neither secretary could be with us today, but Secretary Panetta wanted to be sure we commemorated the MRAP transition here in the Pentagon.  And I informed Secretary Gates of the ceremony, and here's what he wrote back. 

            Quote, "On the occasion of this transition ceremony, let me add my profound thanks and gratitude to the program office, Task Force leaders, the entire team, and our industry partners.  You have led and implemented the largest defense procurement program to go from full" -- "from decision to full industrial production in less than a year since World War II.  As you look back on this unique time in your careers, you can take great satisfaction in knowing -- unlike many, even in the Defense Department -- that your work truly saved the lives" -- (Laughter.) -- "that your work truly saved the lives and limbs of many men and women in uniform. In May 2009, I walked into the room of a wounded warrior at Walter Reed.  He looked up at me and began to cry, saying, 'Your MRAP saved my life.' No, ladies and gentlemen it was your MRAP that saved his life and so many others. Well done and thank you.  Robert M. Gates." 

            Next was incessant urging and support from a few leaders in Congress who understood the significance of this effort, and especially then-Senator Joe Biden.  It is for this reason that we are so especially honored that he accepted our invitation to be here today. 

            Senator Biden made it his mission to make sure the MRAP was funded and supported despite, or really because of its unusual nature.  His amendment, the bipartisan support he helped win, his countless trips to Iraq and to hospitals in the early days when few knew whether or how the IED could be defeated.  This was the legislative parallel to Gates in the Pentagon. 

            I read the correspondence between Senator Biden and Secretary Gates from those days, and it will make fascinating reading for historians, as these two leaders urged one another on.  

            Mr. Vice President, you honor us with your presence. 

            The third part of the MRAP story is team MRAP -- the team that never took, or takes, no for an answer.  So guys, gang, my colleagues as Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and still my friends, I'd like to call each of you by name and ask you to stand.  And one of the things I know about MRAP people is we don't follow the rules, but in this case, I'd ask you to hold your applause until the end just because there are so many of you.  

            And let me start with John Young, my predecessor as Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, under whom Secretary Gates established the MRAP Task Force and to whom he entrusted this mission.  Hi, John. 

            Al Shaffer, the long-time head of the MRAP Task Force; Sean Stackley, Navy Acquisition Executive; General Mike Brogan and General Frank Kelley, the original and current Commanders of Joint Program Office MRAP; Paul Mann and Dave Hansen, the original and current Program Managers of JPO MRAP; Edie Williams, Chief of Staff of the MRAP task force; Alan Estevez and Log Nation -- logistics nation, who deployed MRAPs to theater in record time. 

            Alan, do you remember looking at each other in 2009 and saying, "How the hell are we supposed to do this?" (Laughter.) 

            Captain Mark Glover, Commanding Officer of SPAWAR, and his predecessor, Captain Red Hoover, who stood up the SPAWAR-MRAP operation in Charleston. 

            So that's the government side of team MRAP, around which we have created a whole system of urgent and agile response that Admiral Winnefeld and I are making a permanent part of how this department operates. 

            I'd also like to give thanks to the industry side of team MRAP for whom, as is often the case with our terrific defense industry partners, this was much more than a job.  Today, we're joined by representatives from five key MRAP industry partners:  NAVISTAR, Oshkosh, BAE, Hardwire and Synexxus.  

            Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a round of applause for team MRAP. (Applause.) 

            Today the MRAP program transitions to the capable hands of Kevin Fahey -- Hi, Kevin -- Army PEO, Combat Support and Combat Service Support; Heidi Shyu, our newly confirmed Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology -- hi, Heidi; and Frank Kendall, my successor as Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. 

            Kevin, Heidi, Frank, over to you. 

            The transition brings an era to a close.  For sure we're still at war and our troops are fighting this very day in MRAPs.  The MRAP Task Force has just completed the underbody improvement kit installation on the M-ATV, which doubled the hardness of that variant, and is doing so still on the MaxxPro variant. 

            But MRAP production and fielding have ended, and now a new chapter begins for MRAP, as it does for this entire department.  The era of total focus on Iraq and Afghanistan, which had to be done, is coming to an end, and a new strategic era is dawning.  

            That's what's signified in the new defense strategy created by President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary Panetta and Chairman Dempsey nine months ago.  It transitions all of us to the strategic future, to the challenges that will define America's future, other regions, like the Asia-Pacific, and new technologies, like cyber. 

            So today's MRAP transition is part of our larger transition.  And who better to have here to witness it than a leader of both, our vice president, Joe Biden. (Applause.) 

            VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.:  Thank you very much.  

            Deputy Secretary Carter, thank you very much. 

            Mr. Shaffer, the whole MRAP team.  

            And I want to particularly thank the defense contractors.  Some of you had to greet me early on and tell me what you needed and assure me that it all could get done so I could get back to the Senate and convince them that this made a lot of sense, to spend this money. 

            And I also want to thank you for inviting me on this occasion.  

            You know, the remarkable leadership you all demonstrated here in making sure that our women and men who were deployed had the best equipment and technology this nation could provide and protect them must give you all -- I hope it gives you all a sense of satisfaction today.  And it's a genuine honor to be with you. 

            And let me start by saying congratulations to the joint MRAP program.  The team did an incredible job.  And I have been around for -- I've been around for eight presidents, and I know it's not easy to push something this big through this system, this fast.  But you all did -- you all did it, and in the process you -- you've saved an awful lot of lives, you protected an awful lot of our sons and daughters who fought in Iraq and, as Ash pointed out, are still as we speak fighting in Afghanistan. 

            And selfishly as a father, I want you to know I felt a hell of a lot better, as the general can tell you, knowing -- and General O can tell you -- that -- knowing that when my son was in theater in Iraq that MRAPs were available. 

            I remembered back in 2006, I was reminiscing with Ash on the way in, and I made one of my what turned out to be multiple trips before and since to Afghanistan, and quote, the "battle of Fallujah" had been, quote, "concluded."  I went to meet with a Marine commanding lieutenant general in his headquarters and about 30 of his commanders and noncommissioned officers to get briefed on the state of play. 

            Well, they took me outside afterwards and they were talking about these IEDs and how this is -- had become such (inaudible) sitting there.  And they said it was impacting positively on reducing the casualty rate they had in patrolling Fallujah, and that they were saving a lot of their troops.  And they showed me what at the time they called a "buffalo."  It was, as you all know, but the press may not, a big vehicle like a Caterpillar bulldozer with a long arm used to disarm IEDs and a V-shaped hull that looked like a ship out of water. 

            And I remember them saying to me, "Why can't we build these kind of vehicles?"  And they talked about the fact that the South Africans had vehicles and other had vehicles like this.  And -- and -- and they -- and they -- there was no formal petition, but it was from -- everyone from the noncommissioned officers who were showing me around, to the Marine general were, you know, "Why don't we do more of this?" 

            And -- and they -- and they didn't know an MRAP at the time, but they knew that we needed something drastically different.  It's a mine-resistant vehicle with a V-shaped hull that diffuses the force of an explosion, offering much greater protection than the up-armored Humvees our soldiers and Marines were riding around in at that time. 

            And you've heard me say it before, and I know you all agree with it, this country has many obligations.  This government has many obligations.  But it only has one truly sacred obligation.  It has obligations to our children, to the elderly.  It has an obligation to protect our (inaudible).  But it only has one truly sacred obligation, and that's to equip and protect those who we send to war and care for those who we bring home from war.  It's the only truly sacred obligation that government has. 

            Five years ago, when all the statistics started rolling out about 70 percent of our -- those killed in action or killed or wounded in action as a consequence of IEDS, and that we knew, at least someone knew how to build a vehicle to provide them four or five, depending on the studies you have, up to eight times as much protection as the up-armored Humvees they were riding around in. 

            And (inaudible), as we used to say in the Senate, a point of personal privilege -- I don't know whether she's here today, but someone who is an unsung hero here is a woman named Erin Logan. 

            Erin, are you here?  Erin, stand up. 

            I want to tell you where -- Erin worked for me.  She now works for you, Mr. Secretary, but she worked for me in the Senate, and she is brilliant and tenacious.  She was the person who the "whistleblower," quote/unquote, came to, for me to focus on the request that had been sent in, the dimensions, the specifications, et cetera, even though I was being told no, there was no such -- there was no such request that had come forward.  And Erin was like a bulldog.  It's a matter of individuals being able to make a difference.  She would not let go.  She would not let go. 

            And what none of you if knowing it -- and not -- not any of us could live with -- was with Americans being in a situation where they were coming home in flag-draped coffins or coming home literally missing body parts or severe brain trauma when -- when there was at least more than a potential solution out there. 

            So on March 28th, 2007, we were debating this issue on the floor, getting considerable pushback, I might add, on the floor, from Democrats and Republicans as what Erin had put together for me with my staff was a proposal to give life to the request that had been formally made by others within the Pentagon and a lot of folks in the field. 

            And I stood on the floor, and it was clear I didn't have the votes.  So I called -- I got on the phone and I called -- I don't think he's here today -- Marine Corps General James Conway.  He's not here today, is he?  Well, let me tell you something, he deserves a whole lot of credit.

            Everyone was saying generically nice things about it.  I got him on the floor.  I -- I -- I put my lapel mike down, went and called him from the Democratic cloakroom, and I said, "General, I understand you are committed to this MRAP program." 

            And he said to me, he said, "It's the highest moral imperative I have as the commandant of the Marine Corps." 

            I said, "Would you repeat that again?" 

            He said, "It's the highest moral imperative I have as the commandant of the Marine Corps.  My kids are getting killed." 

            I said, "Can I say that?  Can I walk out on the floor of the United States Senate in taking on pro-defense" -- (inaudible) this was not a case where it was a bunch of liberals opposing and a bunch of pro-defense conservatives.  I was not getting support from the committees.  And he said, "Yes, you can." 

            I quoted him, and that turned the tide.  That turned the tide.  It was a 100 to nothing vote at the end of the day.  There were a lot of other priorities people had.  They couldn't understand how we could spend this much money on programs. 

            I had arguments made like, "You know" -- I remember, I will not name the senator -- saying, "Look, we're not going to need all these when these wars are over, so it's going to be a waste of money." 

            I said, "Can you imagine Franklin Roosevelt being told, “We need X number of landing craft on D-Day, but, you know, once we land we're not going to need them all again.  So why build them?'" 

            I'm serious.  Those of you who were involved know what the arguments were.  They were the arguments being made by intelligent people. 

            But when Bob Gates got engaged, when Bob Gates got all this information, when Bob Gates saw the stuff the whistleblower was pushing out there, everything changed.  Everything changed. 

            But I'd be remiss if I didn't say personally I want to thank -- I want to thank General Conway. 

            And I also want to thank Ray Odierno -- I shouldn't call him Ray; he's become a good friend -- but General Odierno, who asked for 18,000, which sort of knocked everybody's socks off when that was the case, to protect our troops, and made an ardent case why they were needed. 

            Our mission -- your mission became crystal clear, although I still marvel at how you got it done.  To forward fund MRAP production was my responsibility, to get people to vote to do that -- forward fund MRAP production lines so we get the lines going.  You guys were saying to me, "Don't ask me to go ahead and change my lines here," when I went down to South Carolina," unless I know you're going to build these things." 

            We can do it.  We can do it, but there was no forward funding at the time.  And everybody stepped up, and it was in large part because of Bob Gates and Ray and a lot of you in this room who were pushing the case, why it was possible, even in difficult economic times.  And as I point out, not everyone -- not everyone was on board, but we voted and we won. 

            And I would be remiss if I didn't also thank names of people you don't remember, maybe, but there was a representative named Gene Taylor in the House and Senator Kit Bond, the Republican leader on the other side.  And they stepped up, taking on their own, just like I was taking on some of my own team, taking on their team.  And they stood fast and they did not yield. 

            And so we approved over $23 billion to get the MRAP production lines rolling.  We got our troops the vehicles -- you got our troops the vehicles they badly needed.  And we listened to troops in the field asking for a vehicle that could protect them.  And we'd been hearing it for the previous four years. 

            And you all ignored the skeptics.  I used to hear, "Joe, we don't have the money; MRAPs won't get the job done; you can't make these vehicles fast enough, Joe."  And thank God none of you bought it.  None of you bought any of that.  And you bet on what our top military officers were telling you and we bet on what you were telling the military.

            And that is, we put our faith in American manufacturers' being able to ramp up the production lines because we did -- because they delivered and sent more than 24,000 MRAPs to our soldiers and Marines, sailors and airmen in the field a heck of a lot sooner, instead of forcing them to wait for the new vehicle. 

            Remember the alternative was -- everybody forgets this -- the alternative was there's a new vehicle in five years.  There was a new vehicle.  That was the biggest argument used against my initiative.  "No, no, no, Biden, you're screwing things up; you're going to take a chance on this other thing; you're going to try to build now; they're not going to be able to do it well; they're not going to know what to do; and you're really going to step all over us having a vehicle that can really matter." 

            That was the big argument.  But I just came to thank you guys personally, and you women personally, because you didn't buy it.  So what do we get for the effort?  Well, we got a whole lot of young women and men coming home in one piece.  When we started the MRAP push over five years ago, MRAPs were a lower priority, remember, than Humvees, and way lower than the new five-year program for this new vehicle we're going to produce. 

            We're were told we can't build them fast enough, so why go spend the money?  We were told that we shouldn't wait -- we should wait until manufacturers ramp up their productions line first before we commit to forward funding MRAPs, expecting companies to make an investment on their own, you know, without contracts for anybody who would buy them. 

            If we accepted that status quo back then, I just want to remind you.  If we had not made this a top -- you had not made this a top priority and committed up front funding to buy MRAPs, our troops would be just receiving their first Humvee replacements now -- assuming that we got that done. 

            That would have meant years of higher casualty rates, years of a lot more of our troops coming home in flag-draped coffins.  If they were lucky enough to survive a blast, they came home without limbs, traumatic brain injury, amputations. 

            Instead, because of the extraordinary efforts -- and I'm not being solicitous -- the extraordinary efforts of you people sitting before me, you saved thousands of American lives. 

            I know all the statistics.  I'm not going to quote.  There's different studies, whether it's three to four times safer or nine times safer, whether you save 40,000 forces or 15,000 forces, it is unmistakable -- it is unmistakable -- what you all did. 

            First time after the first MRAP was deployed, General, to a place you spent an awful lot of time, in Iraq, you all flew me out to Fallujah.  There was a meeting with the Sons of Iraq and the sheiks at the time.  And a lieutenant general asked me whether I'd come four streets over, and you guys provided a lot of protection to get me over there. 

            And I met with a group of -- I think the highest ranking officer besides the lieutenant general who took me over was a colonel, then a captain and then six noncommissioned officers.  And they showed me a photograph of just earlier, about three days earlier, a 300-pound IED had hit an MRAP and blown it so high in the air -- you all know the stats, but the press may not -- literally ripped the telephone wires.  The wheels got caught on the telephone wires.  That's how high up it was blown into the air. 

            They showed me and had marked out on the road where the various parts of the vehicle were -- the axles, the -- you know, it just spread within probably, I'm guessing, an area as big as this room. 

            But -- but the hull of the ship, so to speak, was in place.  Everyone survived.  Nobody died. 

            And I'm going back to my vehicle, which was a Humvee, to ride back to the center... (Laughter.) 

            Hey, look, senators and vice presidents are expendable, man. (Laughter.) 

            But, seriously, going back, and I go to get in this Humvee and this kid -- not a kid, I shouldn't say kid.  He was a master sergeant and he had a chest about -- his neck was as big as my -- my thighs and he was -- and he was -- you know, he saluted me and he said, "Sir."  And I said, "How are you, Sergeant?"

            And he waited till we got around the side of the vehicle and he threw his arms around me and he filled up and he said, "Thank you.  You saved my..."  I won't say exactly what he said, but, "You" -- (Laughter.) "You saved my life.  You saved my life." 

            You all have had since that day, I'll bet every one of you in this program has had one or two or five.  I can count probably over 40 young women and men -- two women -- who have approached me in hospitals in the field and said, "Thank you." 

            I can't think of any greater satisfaction for playing a little, little, tiny part in this process, when all the credit goes to all of you who made this work so fast, so well, and so consequential. 

            And I was told last week, Ash and my national security adviser Tony Blinken, were over at -- visiting wounded warriors.  And one kid told you, he said, "Thank you.  Your MRAP saved my life twice."

            So this is real, man.  This is real.  Awful lot of husbands, wives, moms and dads, brothers and sisters wish they could be here now to do what that -- that master sergeant did with me, throw their arms around you and say thank you -- thank you for saving the life of their kid. 

            That's the legacy left by this office -- thousands of American lives saved, helped save.  And they're still saving lives of the 68,000 kids we've got -- not kids -- 68,000 soldiers we've got deployed in Afghanistan.  They're better protected because there's 12,000 MRAPs in the country, and you altered them, varied them, you made then adaptable.  So you are -- you are among an awful lot of unsung heroes. 

            And so, folks, I just want to conclude by telling you all that there's been a few things in my 36 years as a senator that I've been involved in and been able to play a little part in, but there's -- this is one of two that I know because of what the outcome was, I don't have to wonder about whether it mattered.  I don't have to wonder about whether what we did mattered. 

            And I'm sure none of you have to wonder, because it just hasn't saved American lives.  When I'm -- I've had the honor of being able to travel 600,000 miles overseas since being vice president, just since vice president, back in theater a number of times.  I get the same from our coalition partners -- the same thing from our coalition partners, who may be we either loaned, sold or provided surplus MRAPs operating in Afghanistan now. 

            So for helping our countries fulfill that sacred obligation to equip those we send into battle with the MRAPs they needed, thank you.  And on behalf, as I said, of the moms and dads, brothers and sisters, parents whose sons and daughters were deployed, I can't -- I can't thank you enough, because so many are home -- so many are home because of what you guys in industry did, you did it so rapidly, which you did in changing the way -- the culture of any big organization to get it done. 

            And I am -- I am pleased to know that -- that culture is now being inculcated in what you're doing from here, because the needs are going to be different, but just as vital, and require similar kinds of breakthroughs over the next 20 years. 

            So again, it's -- it's an honor to be with you and it's an honor to have witnessed what you've done for so many Americans. 

            God bless you all and may God protect our troops. 

            Thank you. (Applause.)

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