Chief of Staff of the Army speaks at Sergeants Major Academy graduation
Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, speaks at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy graduation, June 21, 2013, at the 127th Aviation Support Battalion Hangar on East Fort Bliss, Texas.

It is great to be here today. It is a beautiful day here. It is a little warm, but it is gorgeous. For me any time I can get out of Washington is a great day. So I am really pleased to be once again down here visiting El Paso and the great installation of Fort Bliss, Texas.

Today is a special day. Today we recognize the Class 63, "All In". I want to thank Command Sergeant Major Malloy for that kind introduction. It is an honor to be here to share the stage with him, a Soldier and Non-Commissioned Officer and leader whose career exemplified the courage, character and commitment resonate within our Army and our Non-Commissioned Officer Corp today. We are very fortunate to have him as our 20th Commandant and the second enlisted Commandant to educate and train our Army's future leaders during this pivotal time in our Nation's history.

Let me take a moment to recognize some of our distinguished guests. Many of them have been recognized, so I will just recognize a few. Of course Sergeant Major of the Army Ray Chandler who is also the first enlisted Commandant at the Sergeant Major's Academy. Sergeant Major it is great to have you here. Thank you so much for being here. Fellow of the International Sergeants Majors of the Army and military attach├ęs, thank you. It is also great to see so many Command Sergeants Majors here from our Army Service Component Commands, other direct reporting units, our National Guard, and the U.S. Army Reserve. Thank you so much. Mr. Tom Thomas, Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army, thank you sir. We really appreciate you being here. Of course, [Major General] Sean McFarland and the Command Sergeant Major, thank you for your leadership here at Fort Bliss. Thank you for all you have done and the sacrifices you have made. It is great to see so many civilian and military leaders here from, not only the Army, but the Air Force, Air Force Reserves, Marine Corp, Coast Guard, U.S. Army National Guard. It is great to see all of them here. This is a very important day. Before I go on I want to thank Specialist Davis for that incredible rendition of the National Anthem. I will tell you I am never surprised by the talent that is resonate within our Army. She is just another great example of this incredible talent that we have. That is what makes us such a great Army. (Applause). I want to thank First Armored Division Band. Thank you for being here and helping us celebrate this great day.

Most importantly I want to thank the family members of the Class of '63 (Army yell, All In), many of whom have traveled incredible distance to be here to celebrate this milestone in our graduates' career of service. It is an honor for me and my wife Linda to be here with you to celebrate with all the families.

Now I've heard Class of 63 has had some fun this year, from turning your family ice breaker into a fierce competition with your kids at the dunker tank to taking home the Post soccer championship (Army yell; applause), though I'm betting you owe that Post championship to your International Sergeants Major, right? (Laughter). I'm certain this year has been a great time and place to learn new skills and spend time with your families while making new friends and connections that will endure throughout your career.

As I travel around the world and I speak to military leaders of many, many nations, the one question and one thing they always want to talk to me about is our Non-Commissioned Officer Corps. They want to know why we have such a strong NCO Corps. How do we develop that? I let them know it requires investment in the development of competence, of commitment, and of character through education, training and providing the experience necessary to be successful. Just as important, I tell them, it requires empowerment, that you give them responsibility, and hold them accountable. That is what makes our Non-Commissioned Officer Corps different than any other. These traits define our Non-Commissioned Corps, the best Non-Commissioned Officer Corps in the world. You are going to lead them. We expect you to carry on the great leadership that is necessary for us to sustain this over the long term.

This is a tremendously diverse and talented class. It includes 592 graduates from across the Army's combat arms, combat support, and combat service support fields; 13 brothers and sisters in arms from the Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard; and 41 international students from 32 countries. During your ten months here, you have earned 56 Associates Degrees, 186 Bachelor's Degrees, and 79 Masters Degrees -- at that's in addition to the 1 PhD, 55 Masters, 170 Bachelors, and 134 Associates Degrees you all arrived with here. That is unbelievable. That shows the progress and dedication that we put into ensuring our Non-Commissioned Officers are educated. It also shows your dedication to your own careers. That is a great example to set for the young men and women that you will be responsible for.

You will now be asked to lead our Army at the Battalion, Brigade, and above levels in Staff positions, Command positions. I want to make sure you never forget that our most important asset is today, and has always been, the American Soldier. I have high expectations that you will create an environment that allows our Soldiers to grow individually and collectively. That is what has made us the best Army in the world. However, this was not always been the case.

I entered the Service in 1972 when I entered West Point. When I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 1976, disciplinary issues, substance abuse and low morale were everywhere in our ranks. It threatened the essence of our Profession. It eroded trust and confidence in our Army. This resulted in diminishing public support, which made the post-Vietnam War transition extremely difficult. These were troubling times, as you can imagine, especially when compared to the high regard our Army is held in today.

Despite these challenges we went about the task of leading Soldiers. We had a battle-hardened and experienced Non-Commissioned Officers who knew what they had to do to build a trained and ready All Volunteer Force following Vietnam. Over time, doctrine was developed reinvigorating our training by standing up combat training centers. It was only after the Army proved itself in several successful operations like Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, Just Cause in Panama, Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Kuwait and Iraq that we began to re-earn the trust of the American people. We were fortunate that visionary leaders, Non-Commissioned Officers and Officers, gave us the opportunity to be a part of the evolution of a new Army, an Army that continued to grow in capability. This was possible through the enforcement of tough standards, uncompromising discipline, but most importantly, the aspiration to be the best. We were prepared.

On September 11, 2001 our world around us changed forever, but our Army was prepared. Our Army was ready and capable. A selfless, talented group of young Americans stepped forward, raised their right hands, and dedicated themselves to this Nation. Our newest generation of Soldiers have proven themselves through incredible displays of endurance, adaptability, and personal courage guided by an NCO Corps who trained and led a force into combat with professionalism, exceptional tactical and technical skill and most importantly, with great adaptability.

As we continue our deliberate drawdown in Afghanistan, it is important to remember that the U.S. Army maintains more presence overseas than any other military in the world. As we sit here today, nearly 75,000 Soldiers are deployed, with almost 60,000 are in Afghanistan. 90,000 more are forwarded stationed in almost 150 countries around the world. Now is not the time to take our eye off the ball. International threats and challenges are in the headlines every day, uncertainty and unpredictability is prevalent. At the same time, we are once again an Army in transition. Deployments overseas are gradually decreasing. Our country's economic crisis is not yet over. Declining defense budgets over the next several years will force us to make tough choices about our Army's end strength, the amount of money we have available for training and modernizing.

We will have challenges, but that does not matter because we have the leadership to guide us through it. Our Army today is starting from a position of strength. 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, and in many cases, more times. Our Soldiers and Non-Commissioned Officers have demonstrated exceptional courage and sacrifice.

Class 63, you have proven yourself to be leaders under the toughest of conditions. The kind of valor and dedication to mission you have shown over the last twelve years in combat will be even more necessary as we transition our Army. Now is the time for you to give back. We need you more than ever to lead, inspire, and develop young men and women to reach and exceed their potential. You are on the front lines of our next transition.

As we build the Army for the future, I need you to focus on four fundamentals: leader development, realistic training, good stewardship of resources, and last but not least, ensuring that we sustain the Army Profession.

First, I need you develop and mentor leaders of character. The U.S. Army has historically been in the business of building leaders. It is a competitive advantage we must maintain that cannot be replaced by technology or substituted for with weaponry and platforms. While combat operations have honed the skills of our troops and leaders, we must sustain and improve upon our leaders' development as we reorient the force to an expanding set of global challenges.

That is why I recently released our Army Leader Development Strategy. This strategy provides a comprehensive roadmap to prepare leaders for the challenges our Nation will face. This strategy is all encompassing. For Non-Commissioned Officers, it begins with basic and advanced individual training, continues through the Warrior Leaders Course, the Army Leaders Course, and builds leadership mastery and operational competency through the Senior Leader, First Sergeant, and finally the Sergeants Major Course. Yet, it is not enough to simply build competent leaders. We must be sure we are building leaders of character that are committed to their Soldiers the institution or our Army.

Second, I need you to conduct hard, realistic training for your units, refocus on expeditionary mindset, and prepare Soldiers for rapid deployment to remote destinations. You've been in the Army long enough to know what it's like to develop complex, rigorous training at home station and ensure the Force's readiness in a time of constrained resources. We are not walking away from our experience over the last 12 years. We are building on it because we believe the future will be even more challenging. We've got to ensure our training centers preserve our hard-fought experience and the lessons learned while we adapt, update, change and move forward and continue our training. We must ensure that each and every Soldier realizes their potential. I'm relying on you to ensure that every Soldier is proficient in his or her specialty and gets to school on time, then work on progressively building unit competency using local training sites when possible, and at our combat training centers.

Third, I need you to be good stewards. Maintain your equipment, sustain it, and make it a priority.

Finally, and most importantly, as an NCO each of you is the standard bearer for the Army Profession. You must teach our Soldiers and junior Non-Commissioned Officers what it means to be a professional and what it means to committed to the unit, your mission, and the Army, and the importance of personal character defined by trust, moral and ethical values and most importantly, respect for others.

I need you to get after several serious problems within our formations: sexual assault and sexual harassment, hazing, and toxic leadership. These are insider-threats to our Army that w must eradicate. These problems are a failure of leadership, a failure to hold individuals, units, and leaders responsible and accountable for taking care of every Soldier within our formation. The most basic fundamental to the success of any organization, but especially this one, is trust. These intolerable acts destroy trust, and if we let it, it will destroy our profession. We cannot allow that to happen. The only way to fix this is to engage the Non-Commissioned Officers more to face this head on.

Our future as an institution depends upon investment in our single most precious resource, our Soldiers. Our Soldiers, Civilians, and Family members have stood behind us and endured significant sacrifices. The courage and selflessness of our Soldiers is a source of inspiration to me every day. We owe it to them to create an environment where success is built on trust.

I want to commend you all for your longstanding service to our country and your willingness to take on higher levels of responsibility. I commend each of the graduates today for your hard work and dedication to education and self-development. I thank the incredible leadership, the staff and faculty at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy for your commitment to rigorous learning and innovative training. Most importantly, I thank the family members who stand alongside their graduates today. Thank you for your support . Thank you for your sacrifices. Thank you for allowing us to continue to train and build an Army that is the best in the world.

Today we are the best Army in the world. Two years from now we will be the best Army in the world. Five years form now we will be the best Army in the world. Ten years from now we will be the best Army in the world. That is because of you. You will lead us as we continue to move forward and continue to sustain the excellence that is unmatched around the world. Thank you all for allowing me to be here today and share in this great celebration of your graduation form the Sergeants Major Academy.

The strength of our Nation is our Army. The strength of our Army is our Soldiers. The strength of our Soldiers is our Families. This is what makes us Army Strong! Thank you very much. God Bless.

Page last updated Tue July 2nd, 2013 at 08:14