Institute of Land Warfare Breakfast
(2,899 words)
Crystal Gateway Marriott
10 July 2008
As delivered

LTG Stroup, thank you for that introduction. Thank you for your 34 years of active duty service, and your unsurpassed leadership as AUSA's Vice President, Education, and Managing Director of the Institute of Land Warfare.

From the battle fields of Vietnam as a combat engineer to our Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, and now your work with AUSA, your career is a model of selfless and honored service to our Army, and to our Nation.

To all AUSA members here this morning - you represent and support the American Soldier, Army families, and Army civilians. You are, day in and day out, a steadfast voice for our Army.

And many of you who once wore the uniform continue your service to our Soldiers and their families in the businesses, industries, and professions that ensure that our Soldiers remain the best-led, best-trained and best-equipped Army in the world. Thank all of you for what you do and thank you for being here today.

I'd also like to thank the command sergeants major for their extraordinary service and the CASAs for the work they do for our Army.

Thank you also the Congressional staff members here today. There are many issues that divide our Congress today, but one thing that does not is the support of our Army. Thank you.
And, I just learned this a few minutes ago, but also here today is someone who, on June 21, marked 65 years of service to our Army, LTG Dick Trefry.

And, finally, I'd like to recognize MG Jackman, this is his final ILW breakfast - at least his final one in uniform. Galen, you've had an extraordinary career. Thank you and Cathy for your 35 years of dedicated service to our nation.

Earlier this summer, we celebrated the 233rd birthday of the U.S. Army, and this month, we celebrate the 35th birthday of the All-Volunteer Force.

It has been a demanding and momentous 233rd and 35th year - for our Soldiers, Army Families and Civilians - filled with challenges, accomplishment, sacrifice, and selfless service.

When we stop to celebrate these birthdates, we look back on our past - reflect on the accomplishments of our Army, remember those who have given their lives for our country, and we offer our solace to their grieving families. And we offer our thanks and honor to all those who wear and who have worn the uniform over the storied history of our Army.

It is important to an institution such as ours to stop and reflect on our past - to reflect on our great history.

And when you reflect on that history you cannot help but wonder how different the history of our nation would be - in fact, how different the history of the world would be were it not for the United States Army.

Today we are a nation long at war - an Army long at war - in our 7th year in Afghanistan and in our 6th year in Iraq - with our Soldiers who are in harm's way the top priority of every member of the Army team - Soldier or civilian.

And our Army is stretched - out of balance - but we're on the path toward balance with efforts on a number of fronts, including a 2-year acceleration of the plan to grow the Army and the reduction in tour lengths in Iraq and Afghanistan from 15 months to twelve.

Army medicine continues its miracles. Today 90% of our Soldiers survive their combat wounds - unprecedented in the history of war.

We have stood up 35 Warrior Transition Units around the Army and are addressing the shortcomings in outpatient care brought to light at Walter Reed over a year ago.

We are advancing our knowledge and treatment of the invisible wounds of war - PTSD and brain trauma.

And we are correcting outdated and bureaucratic processes that frustrate our Soldiers' best efforts to return to duty or transition to civilian life.

We will live up to our sacred duty to those who have borne the battle - and all our wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers.

We have more than doubled support for Army families, from $700 million to $1.5 billion, adding over a thousand full-time staff for family readiness groups and expanding capacity, availability and reducing the cost of child care - and thanks to Congress for their great support in this area.

And we are continuing an initiative that Congress started, the Residential Community Initiative - replacing on-post Army "housing" with quality homes and real neighborhoods, working on this and many other initiatives to provide Army families a quality of life equal to their service.

We continue the transition of the Guard and Reserve from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve - and as we sit here today, nearly 30,000 Guardsmen and Reservists are in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait - with thousands more fighting fires and repairing flood damage here at home. Citizen Soldiers.

And we continue to see great progress in our Future Combat Systems - with the first prototype of the NLOS Cannon recently here in Washington - and spin-outs making their way to the battlefield - with combat veterans working at Fort Bliss to shape and fine-tune FCS technologies to meet the immediate needs of the warfighter.

And we recently announced that we are accelerating the delivery of key cutting-edge FCS capabilities to our infantry brigade combat teams, the first step in giving FCS capabilities to the Total Force, Active, Guard and Reserve.

The future is now - the Future Combat System is becoming our Army's combat system - heavy and light, Active, Guard, and Reserve.

Modularity of our Brigade Combat Teams will be 70% complete by the end of the year, the largest organizational transformation of the Army since World War II.

Let me shift gears - from the focus of the activities of Big Army to the 35th birthday of the All-Volunteer Force and the 1.1 million Soldiers, who are on point for freedom here at home and in 80 countries around the world - unquestionably the best-led, best-trained, best-equipped Army in the world - the best ever - all volunteers, members of the 35-year old All Volunteer Force - engaged in the third longest war in our nation's history and the longest war we have ever fought with an all-volunteer force.

We are succeeding in the Global War on Terror today - and this success has a thousand fathers - and mothers.

But I want to focus on the foundation that has made this success possible, the national treasure that is, The All-Volunteer Force. Extraordinary Soldiers on the ground who are courageous, adaptable, intelligent and committed professionals, who have learned from their hard-earned experience how to succeed in this complex security environment. And they are putting that knowledge and experience to work.

And these Soldiers are re-enlisting to go back, build on the lessons they have learned, and finish the good work they have begun.

We are an Army filled with combat-tested and seasoned veterans: 64% of the Active Component has served in combat theaters - 31% of the Reserve and 33% of Guard. And these extraordinary men and women have figured out how to win this war.

I recently read a biography of George Marshall - over his 50-year career he became known as a master tactician, a grand strategist, a diplomat, a statesman, and he also was known for speaking his mind, no matter whom he offended. And he offended quite a few.

Today, we are asking our NCOs and junior officers to compress into their few years all of the skills George Marshall accumulated over half a century and bring them to bear every day on their tour in Iraq or Afghanistan.

A young captain with two tours in Iraq recently shared his experiences with me:

"Daily life for a young officer in an Iraqi neighborhood is both demanding and rewarding. Young officers must provide security, care for the economic and social well-being of their local area, and facilitate local governance. This requires daily interaction with the local populace, working alongside the Iraqi police and army, and leading battle-tested American Soldiers.

"Every day has a new challenge that requires young officers to be warriors, leaders, and thinkers because of the diverse demands of the current fight.

"One day you can be expected to recover a downed helicopter in an Al-Qaeda saturated area, and the next be expected to identify why the local population is not receiving adequate water. While all of these challenges are tackled you must also care for your Soldiers. This is done through helping them understand the bigger picture, ensuring they are prepared for every patrol, sweating and fighting with them, and consoling them during difficult times."

A fellow officer with tours in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan added:

"The most [apt] description of the routine in a combat environment for a leader involves his/her agility and ability to adapt. ... Whereas platoon leaders were focused on area development and improvement projects, as well as interaction with low-level government officials, my patrols usually meant talking with religious leaders, mayors, or Iraqi military officials. ...

"We usually conducted targeted offensive operations about every three days. ... It was not uncommon for a platoon to have two 4-hour patrols during the day, and then to execute a raid in the early ... hours [of the next morning].

"This is where having positive, effective platoon leaders paid off. These weren't just 'yes men.' There were times when my aggressiveness was tempered by my First Sergeant or a candid [platoon leader].

"If a platoon was indeed incapable to give 100% on that mission, another was assigned with no repercussions. To me, that showed maturity in my platoon leaders and their understanding that a 1-year combat tour [is] a marathon, not a sprint."

Tactician - Strategist - Diplomat - Statesman - and combat leader - Every day these days in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Secretary of Defense Les Aspin once warned of the dangers of asking too much of a Soldier - of giving him too much discretion - he noted the danger of asking a Soldier to be both a policeman and a Soldier.

Said Aspin, "For a policeman, everybody is innocent until proven guilty. For a Soldier, everyone who isn't wearing your uniform is a bad guy." He thought it was too much to ask.

That was 20 years ago - and today we ask that and much more. And our Soldiers are making hard and quick decisions every day - and delivering for America.

Our Army is made up of professionals - above all dedicated, but also courageous, adaptable, intelligent and thinking men and women, acting on their experience, exercising their judgment, and making thousands of well-informed and well-considered decisions, on the spot, every day, and they are shaping the future of Iraq and Afghanistan - and America.

The foundation for this success is the All-Volunteer Force - 35 years old, a toddler by historical standards. And its success in this era of persistent conflict, in this long war, has confounded its early doubters and the skeptics.

And - I'm always afraid to quote something from history when General Trefry is in the room - if I get it wrong, I expect him to let me know it. In 1969, President Nixon established the Gates Commission to study the possibility of an All-Volunteer Force. A member of his commission wrote, and I quote:

"While there is a reasonable possibility that a peacetime armed force could be entirely voluntary, I am certain that an armed force involved in a major conflict could not be voluntary."
He was wrong. I do not deny that there are challenges, but this year alone, 175,000 men and women are going to join your Army - Active, Guard, and Reserve, equal to the size of the entire Marine Corps.

And nearly 120,000 will re-enlist. Over the past six years, in the middle of this war, a million men and women have enlisted in the Army and over three-quarters of a million Soldiers have re-enlisted.

Now there are those who have raised questions about the quality marks of our force - some even comparing it to the bad old days of the mid-70s. To begin with, any such comparison to the 70s is bogus. But as to the education metrics: In 1973, half of our Soldiers were high school grads. Half. Today, over 80% have diplomas and all have their General Education Degree equivalents. In 1973, nearly 20% were Category 4s, today less than 4%.

Are our so-called "quality marks" off our record peaks of the 90s' They are, and we are keeping a careful eye on that.

But as most of you know better I ever will - a great Soldier has intangible qualities that you cannot always measure with technical precision - something deep inside that keeps him/her going when most quit - decide to risk everything or give everything, to step forward when others would step back.

In time of war, with an All-Volunteer Force, we have an advantage in building our Army, a character screen, a "gut check" on everybody on the way in that you never have with a draft and do not have in a peacetime Army. You can call it the 1% factor - the 1% of Americans who step up and say "send me" when most don't. You can assume a lot about that 1%.

We don't have a yardstick or a dipstick to measure that quality - no empirical measure - but with an All-Volunteer Force - in time of war - with every new recruit, with every re-enlistment, you start with that intangible as a given.

Let me talk about one such Soldier - PFC Ross McGinnis. Ross shared a birthday with the United States Army, June 14 - his year of birth, 1987. But that was all in his boyhood or adolescence that gave any hint whatsoever of the Soldier he would become. His teachers remembered him as a "regular guy" - he worked at McDonald's, loved cars, music, and his dad said he loved basketball most of all - never cared much for school work.

A good kid with a strong family, a mom and dad and older sisters who loved him dearly, but there was really nothing that set him apart from his peers until, at age 17, with his nation at war, he joined the Army - most don't, he did - that 1% factor - it tells you a lot.

On December 4, 2006 he was manning the .50 caliber machine gun on his humvee on a patrol in northeast Baghdad when an insurgent threw a fragmentation grenade through the gunner's hatch into his vehicle. Reacting quickly, he shouted a warning to his four crew members. He then easily could have jumped to safety. He chose not to.

He dropped down into the humvee and pinned the grenade between his body and the vehicle and absorbed the blast - gave his life to save the lives of his four battle buddies. Ross was 19 years old. On this past June 2, President Bush honored Ross in a White House ceremony, and he gave Ross' mother and father his Medal of Honor.

At a Pentagon ceremony the next day in our Hall of Heroes, Ross' father spoke to a gathering that included the four men Ross saved - men who are alive today only because Ross was willing to die for them.

Previous speakers had spoken of the debt we all owe to Ross and those who sacrifice for our lives and our freedom. His father had prepared remarks, but before reading them, apparently sensing the burden the four men must carry, he spoke directly to them. He said, "Something that was said just a few minutes ago made me think, when it was said that Ross gave these four men a gift.

That is what it was. [You] can't be expected to live the rest of your lives living up to something, or paying back something. It can't be carried as a debt. A debt is something you can repay. A gift is something for you to enjoy. So live your lives, enjoy your lives, because it was a gift."

After the Civil War, General Joshua Chamberlain, who shares a Medal of Honor with Ross, wrote about character. He wrote, "Character is formed in the silent and peaceful years, by the mother's knee and the father's side."

In Ross' father's generous and liberating words, you get a sense of the spirit of the man who raised Ross McGinnis and a glimpse into Ross' heart he helped mold - the heart of a Soldier - a volunteer - who lay down his life for his friends.

In James Michener's novel about the Korean War, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, he writes of an officer waiting anxiously through the night for the return of planes to his aircraft carrier. As dawn is coming, he asks, 'Where do we find such men''"

In 1984, on the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of D-Day, President Reagan stood on the Normandy beach and recalled the question and answered it. "Well, we find them where we've always found them. They are the product of the freest society man has even known. They make a commitment to the military, and they make it freely, because the birthright we share as Americans is worth defending."

Where do we find them today - they find us - "Send me."

That is the magic of our All Volunteer Force - a national treasure. Happy 35th Birthday to the Strength of our Nation! Thank all of you.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16