May 18, 2013 -- Gen. Odierno's remarks at the Institute of World Politics graduation ceremony
May 31, 2013
President John Lenczowski: It is a special privilege for us at IWP to welcome General Ray Odierno back to the Institute and to honor him in his current capacity as Chief of Staff of the United States Army. It is a particular pleasure for us to do today since we are witnessing the graduation of the largest cohort of Army Officers to attend IWP. Like other Chiefs of Staff of our Armed Forces, General Odierno has had a brilliant professional career, but there are many Chiefs of Staff and many other figures here in Washington, who have exercised great power and influence. So why would we make a great point of honoring General Odierno? It is not because he occupies his current position. It is because he has exemplified the very kind of leadership and statecraft that serves as a model for our graduates, our students, and our larger community and country.
General Odierno had pursued a standard career path in the Army and did so with great distinction. This path involved the development of professional expertise in the Army's principle operational concept, namely, Air Land Battle. At the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003 General Odierno commanded the 4th Infantry Division and executed what may well have been the most rapid deployment of heavy armored forces in the history of warfare. His Division played a major role in the initial occupation of Iraq and was responsible for the capture of Saddam Hussein. Having been given a certain portrayal of the strategic environment in Iraq, General Odierno's battle plan conformed very much to the Army standard doctrine for many years. However, having discovered first hand that the strategic environment did not conform to the optimistic appraisal that he had originally been handed, he contributed in a major way to the radical re-conceptualization of the doctrine most appropriate for that war.
Upon his second deployment to the Iraq War in 2006, he became Commander of the entire Multi-National Corp-Iraq where he took the lead in implementing the revised doctrine. The details of this revision and how he put it into operation will be the subject a dissertations and great war histories. Suffice it say, using a crude, and perhaps unfair caricature, that doctrine changed from kicking down doors in search of terrorists and insurgents to knocking on doors, from clearing a neighborhood of terrorists and insurgents and returning for rest into the Green Zone, to remaining in the neighborhoods and working hand in glove with the local population establishing relationships of trust. Air-Land Battle became the counter-insurgency doctrine that brought many other arts of statecraft beyond the kinetic parts. These included diplomatic negotiations with tribal and neighborhood leaders, reconstruction, humanitarian aid, public diplomacy, counterpropaganda, and opportunities in intelligence, particularly cultural intelligence, and other stabilization operations. In theory this sounds like a whole of government approach, but in reality it was the Army that took the lead and did the heavy lifting.
It took an enormous intellectual agility and professional flexibility to undertake this conceptual Copernican Revolution. It took uncommon humility to admit the inadequacies of the previous approach. It took great leadership to bring everybody on board to implement the new concept and it took great adaptability and professional skill to mobilize his leadership core to ensure that the effort was performed with maximum effectiveness. Although in a popular imagination the surge constituted a material increase in arms strength, in fact it was this extraordinary re-conceptualization successfully implemented that was its real substance.
In his current position, General Odierno has been setting the stage for the future Army and the challenges it faces in a changed strategic environment, including the so called Pivot to Asia and the strains of budgetary pressures. He has lead a special effort to institutionalize the Army's focus on the human domain in warfare, where the hearts and minds and the relationships of trust are top priorities, not only in prevailing in war, but especially in preventing it and shaping the strategic environment. General Odierno is a man of honor and principle, and indeed represents the highest standards to which we hope our graduates will aspire and uphold long into the future. We are honored to bestow upon him the Doctorate of Laws of Honoris Causa.
General Odierno: Thank you very much. The advantage of being the Chief of Staff of the Army is that I can wear whatever uniform I want so I can wear this thing. It truly is an honor to be here today. I've built a relationship over the last several years with the Institute, and it is one that is very exciting how much this has grown over the last several years and what it represents. It really means a lot for me to be here Dr. Lenczowski, thank you for those kind words. While I was sitting there listening I was trying to think of who you were talking about as you were describing that, but I really do appreciate your very, very kind words. I am hoping somebody taped it so I can let other people listen to it.
As I was listening to a couple of things that was said, I feel obligated to say, as I stand here in front of you with 37 years of service in our military, and I wear these medals and a lot of them represent combat operations. One of the misperceptions that many people have is they think that people that wear this uniform and have all these medals want to go to war, and there is nothing further from the truth. Once you have experienced the chaos of war and the destruction of war and all the things that go along with it, you realize that it absolutely should be something of a last resort. That's why what you are learning is so important. What are the methods that cause us to prevent conflict so we become more of a deterrence that never has to be used? It struck me in the comments you talked about the Cold War. I spent about 8 years of my career in Europe as part of the force to stand up against the Soviet Union. I think that is very important as we think forward here about what you want to do. Again, many thanks to Dr. Michael Waller, the Provost, and Mr. Owen Smith, Chairman.
Thank you so much for conferring this great honor upon me today. I am not sure what would have confused my first generation Italian-American parents more (who are unfortunately no longer with us), me being Chief of Staff of the Army or me receiving a doctorate from this prestigious institution. You see I come from fairly humble beginnings back in New Jersey. This school celebrates frankly a lot of the core values upon which I was raised. Respect for learning, love for country, and the imperative of service and civic action in order to give back to one's community, one's Nation, one's people. It is an honor for me to share the stage with all of you here today.
I accept this honorary Doctorate of Laws on behalf of the American Soldier and the 1.1 million men and women in the uniform today. I often get asked the question, why have you served 37 years in the Army? I tell them it is because of those Soldiers. They inspire me every single day with their dedication, with their willingness to raise their right hand and say I will defend the Constitution of the United States of America. It takes special people to decide to do that because they don't have to, because our force is a volunteer force. Many people come into the Army, or the Navy, or the Air Force or the Marine Corp for many different reasons, but they have one common value, and that is to serve their country. I accept this on their behalf.
I want to thank everyone for allowing me to speak this great day to celebrate the accomplishments of the 57 current and future statesmen, military leaders, and national security professionals that we are honoring here today. General George C. Marshall, whom I believe is one of the great leaders if not the greatest leader in our country, and thinkers in the history of our military and our Nation, often spoke of unique tools necessary for success as a strategic leader. As a Chief of Staff, he said, "It became clear to me at the age of 58 that I would have to learn new tricks that were not taught to me in military manuals or on the battlefield. In this position, I am a political Soldier, and I will have to put my training and rapping out orders and making snap decisions on the back burner, and have to learn the arts of persuasion and guile. I must become an expert in a whole new set of skills."
Your education here at the Institute of World Politics marks a critical junction in your career - the transition from, and I am using a military term, tactical to strategic leaders. Strategic leadership requires an understanding of the intricacies of the environment. It requires the ability to craft and communicate a vision. It requires selfless commitment to your organization and the people that you might ask to be led, no matter what you choose to do. It requires that you demonstrate both competence and character in every action that you take. It requires the development and mentorship of the next generation of young leaders that comes behind you. Your leadership in critical positions across our government, and between governments, within the military, in the non-profit sector, and in the private sector, is essential to shaping a more positive future.
IWP's commitment to the developing leaders in international affairs, national security intelligence, with an eye towards the craft of strategy across all instruments of national power, is essential to achieving positive strategic effect in today's complex and uncertain security environment. From my perspective, there is no better time for you to join the ranks of the Nation's strategic leaders. We are at another crossroads in our Nation's history, one in which we face an uncertain security environment, exacerbated by our own fiscal and economic instability.
Throughout the course of history, world events have always presented states and their militaries with a complexity and unpredictability. Today's environment sustains this norm, but at the unprecedented speed at which events unfold and information travels, so therefore the pace of change is accelerating. There are emerging factors at work in today's strategic environment that we just simply cannot ignore. The sheer number of connections between people and societies has increased exponentially. The ever present global media can instantaneous elevate local actions to strategic import. Technology and weapons once reserved for states can now find their way into hands of disinfected individuals and disruptive groups. International tolerance for civilian causalities and collateral damage for military operations has decreased while the capabilities to inflect such damage has spread to a growing number of illicit actors.
As experienced as our Army and military are today, after the past 12 years of war we must ensure that the Department of Defense and the rest of the U.S. Government are prepared for the future security challenges our Nation will face. Adding to the uncertainty of our security environment, our country's inability to put it fiscal house in order is compromising our national security. Therefore the Department of Defense, and the Army, must play a crucial role in reducing government spending and strengthening our Nation's economy because our economy is the foundation of our nation's strength. We have, and will continue, to do our part to find efficiencies and reduce costs in how we do business. However it is critical that our government return to a predictable budgetary process so that we can plan ahead and efficiently and effectively manage resources that we are given.
Our domestic fiscal constraints however, do not diminish threats from overseas. Many of the challenges that we face are in the headlines everyday, whether it be the aggressiveness of North Korea and Iran, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or continued turmoil across the Middle East and North Africa, or the growing threat of cyber warfare. As a department and as a government, we must make decisions based on the context of the security environment and the historical experience, not false assumptions about the future.
As a result of our fiscal challenges some tough choices are being made across the Defense establishment. My foremost priority is still to ensure that our forces deployed or next to deploy to a foreign station have the resources they need. As I stand here today, there are 80,000 U.S. Soldiers deployed around the world, and another 90,000 stationed in 150 countries. Our nation has been in a state of continuous war for nearly 12 years. Since 9/11 we have grown a generation of experienced, combat-tested leaders and Soldiers. More than 1.5 million Soldiers have deployed, and more than half a million have deployed 2, 3, 4 or more times. Many of the military Officers and intelligence professionals and Foreign Service Officers with us here today can personally attest to that.
As history has shown, we can't project the future, but strategic uncertainty is no excuse for inaction. Instead we must assess risks and take action to mitigate these risks. We can best do this by having a flexible, adaptable force capable of meeting many different challenges, and we will do this by striking the right balance. We are at a strategic inflection point in our history. As U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan draw down, we are taking a hard look at how we preserve the hard lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan and adapt our national security institutions for the future. As part of this process, the U.S. Army is re-dedicating itself to the development of its leaders. It is the surest way to be prepared for any future contingency.
Leadership underpins everything that we do, which is why I will continue to invest in our most important resource, our people. Our focus on leader development is one of a mindset more than a resource. For the most part we already have the infrastructure, expertise and personnel requirement. Going forward, however, we must invest most heavily in talent management so that we identify the unique skills, education and broadening experience necessary to match the right people with the right assignments at the right time in their careers. It is this reason that the Army particularly is indebted to the Institute of World Politics, because they have opened their doors to the Army Fellows and most recently to our Army Strategists. The creation of the one year basic strategic arts certificate program is an invaluable additional to our mid-career training of our Army Officers, specializing in the practice of strategy.
I have been so impressed by the education, diversity of the curriculum and faculty, and the civil-military blend of experience that all of our Army Officers and all of you have received. General Omar Bradley, who was known as the Soldiers' General, intuitively understood the strengths and limits of military power and the necessity of integrating direct and indirect instruments of national power. During World War II he said, "Battles are won by the Infantry, the Armor, the Artillery and Air Teams, by Soldiers living in the rains and huddling in the snow, but wars are actually won by the great strength of a Nation and it must be the Soldier and the civilian working together." I have learned this repeatedly throughout my commands in Iraq. As was mentioned earlier, when I was a 4th Infantry Division Commander, it became clear to me very quickly on the ground that we completely misunderstood the political, economic, social dynamics of the conflict. We did not understand the societal devastation that occurred during the previous 20 years in Iraq, and the economic impact that sanctions had across the population. We did not understand as we overthrew Saddam Hussein and the Baathist Government all the political ethnic and religious dynamics that had been boiling for many, many years would explode. If we had understood it better, we would have been better prepared. We might have come up with better solutions so we would not have had to spend 8 years in Iraq. That is why we need courses like this -- so we study, understand the environments in which we are going to have to operate.
I want to commend the leadership and faculty of IWP for your commitment to growing strategic leaders. I commend each of the graduates today for your hard work and dedication to the task of learning strategy. Most importantly I thank each of the family members who stand alongside of the graduates and provide them with moral support to complete this tremendous milestone in their career. I want to end by saying one thing. I implore all of you to use this great gift of education to make a difference. No matter what part of society you choose to work, we need you to make a difference. Dedicate yourself to something with passion. Follow that passion. Use this education and make this a better country. We live in the best country in the world. I have a chance to go all over the world in my endeavors, and the one thing that is very clear is there is no nation like the United States of America. There is no nation that allows each individual to rise and perform to the best of their abilities and provide them the opportunities to do whatever they want. However it is your choice. It is your choice. I challenge you. I challenge you to make the best use of that choice. Thank you so much for allowing me to be here today. I wish you nothing but the best of luck and great success in the future. Thank you very much. God Bless America.