July 25, 2008 - Remarks at Military Child Education Coalition 10th annual conference
July 31, 2008
General George William Casey, Jr.
Chief of Staff of the Army
Military Child Education Coalition 10th Annual Conference
July 25, 2008
Mrs. Casey: Good morning. ItAca,!a,,cs always wonderful being introduced by Mary. Thank you, Mary, and thank you to all of you, for all that you have done, all that you continue to do day in and day out to help the children of our military.
For 38 years IAca,!a,,cve been proud to be part of a military family. Being a military spouse and a mother of two sons, both married now, was often challenging as IAca,!a,,cm sure you all know. There were so many moves, but with every move each community wrapped their arms around us and helped bring us into the fold to ease our transition, as best that they could.
Today our military families and children continue to face the same, unique challenges with even more complexities built into them after seven years of being at war. Our all-volunteer force is stretched by strategic deployments, active and reserve components, but theyAca,!a,,cre securing AmericaAca,!a,,cs future and theyAca,!a,,cre making a positive difference in the world. And MCEC-- all of you-- are true partners as you work to secure our childrenAca,!a,,cs future. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen can focus on the task at hand knowing that their families are supported back at home. ItAca,!a,,cs a team effort and I thank all of you. You are part of securing the future.
Now IAca,!a,,cve been asked to introduce my husband today, and this is a first. IAca,!a,,cve never had to do this before. I thought long and hard about this. There are some secrets that canAca,!a,,ct be told. There are probably a lot of you in this room that know some of those secrets. But I decided I should probably watch myself because he might have the opportunity to introduce me one day. As they say, payback is a mother.
Every time George is introduced thereAca,!a,,cs this long laundry list of jobs heAca,!a,,cs had and career accomplishments, but that really doesnAca,!a,,ct tell you anything about who he is. This week George marked his 60th year as an Army family member. HeAca,!a,,cs looking pretty good. Now remember I said that [to General Casey].
General Casey: ItAca,!a,,cs on tape.
Mrs. Casey: As a child he went to numerous grammar schools, and he went to four different high schools in three different countries. Stability in school did not come until he went to college. Because of his high school experiences he made some very tough career choices so our boys didnAca,!a,,ct have to go to a third high school. He knows and he understands how hard these transitions are, and he knows it because he lived it.
As we traveled around about the first four months of GeorgeAca,!a,,cs tenure what we heard every place we went from parents is their concern about the education of their children. George heard this loud and clear, and he heard this because of his experiences. George believes that education, childrenAca,!a,,cs education is a family readiness issue and the Army is committed to enhancing educational experiences for all of the family members through partnership and collaboration with all of you. I never, never miss the opportunity, no matter where I am, to tell military families about this organization [MCEC] and the importance of them using this organization to help their children go through very tough times and various transitions.
So George and I both work very hard in your behalf to help make these dreams of these children come true. So without divulging any real family secrets, IAca,!a,,cll let him do that, IAca,!a,,cd like to introduce my husband George.
General Casey: Thank you.
ItAca,!a,,cs wonderful to be here with you. Mary, Tom, Sandy, itAca,!a,,cs really a great pleasure for me to be around such passionate people. To be around all of you who are making such a difference in the lives of our children, and from that the future of our country.
As Sheila said, and youAca,!a,,cll be pleased to know that we didnAca,!a,,ct coordinate our remarks, so youAca,!a,,cll see a lot of commonality here.
I started off in Iraq on Monday and Tuesday, and Tuesday was my 60th birthday. I got back to Washington on Wednesday and attended the celebration in the Rotunda at the capitol of the 60th Anniversary of President Truman signing the Executive Order to desegregate the military. That afternoon the Joint Chiefs had a meeting with the President. I came out of there at 4:30 yesterday, now IAca,!a,,cm out here to talk to you to wind up the week. It has been a great week.
As Sheila said, I turned 60 and I realized that IAca,!Eoeve been a member of an Army family for 60 years. I started thinking back through some of my experiences as we traipsed around the Army. My momAca,!a,,cs motto was Aca,!A"Make the best of itAca,!A?. They used to get all five kids in the back of this Country Squire station wagon, and weAca,!a,,cd drive from Fort Belvoir to Fort Bragg or Fort Benning to Fort Bragg. WeAca,!a,,cd say, Aca,!A"Mom, we need this, we need that,Aca,!A? and sheAca,!a,,cd say, Aca,!A"Make the best of it.Aca,!A? My wife says the same thing, make the best of it.
So I was thinking back on some of my experiences in military service. I remember going into Mannheim High School in Germany as a sophomore. Typically arriving in August, I didnAca,!a,,ct know anyone and I was too late for football practice. I was sitting in my first period Latin class about two weeks into the start of the school and, Mr. Domenica, the Latin teacher, was also the sophomore class advisor. So he says, Aca,!A"Aca,!A|well everybody here, most of you are sophomores, and weAca,!a,,cre having elections next Thursday for class officials for the sophomore class, and Pat over here is the only one who has been nominated for vice president. We need another candidate for vice president.Aca,!A? So we all lowered our heads. He says, Aca,!A"Casey, youAca,!a,,cre going to be our candidate for vice president.Aca,!A? I said, Mr. Domenica, I donAca,!a,,ct know anybody. He said, Aca,!A"ThatAca,!a,,cs okay.Aca,!A?
So I didnAca,!a,,ct know what to do. I went home and talked to my dad and I do remember they had school elections and all I remembered from that school election was that funny people got elected. So I went home and I worked on this funny speech. I still remember it to this day. I walked out to the front of the sophomore class and I probably knew two people. I said, Aca,!A"Well IAca,!a,,cm fairly new here and I donAca,!a,,ct know you all, standing up here talking.Aca,!A? I made a bunch of crazy promises which I knew I couldnAca,!a,,ct keep. Then I said IAca,!a,,cm not going to do any of those things, and I sat down. And I won the campaign.
Anyway, as Sheila said, we went around talking to soldiers and families. It was an easy thing for me to do, to really elevate the families, and IAca,!a,,cll talk a little about that in a second.
But I did, as I said, just return from visiting our troops in Iraq and I must tell you they are doing absolutely great. I couldnAca,!a,,ct be prouder to be standing shoulder to shoulder with these men and women and their families as they are on the forefront of our efforts to keep this country safe.
One of the things that impressed me the most about the Army divisions and soldiers that I talked to is how we really set the bar and continue to be a learning organization. I was just, after four years of experience there, I was amazed at how much we have learned and adapted ourselves to deal with this hugely complex environment.
Our troops are tremendous because they know thereAca,!a,,cs a lot at stake, and whatAca,!a,,cs at stake is nothing less than the kind of future that we want for our children. WhatAca,!a,,cs at stake is nothing less than the power of our values and our civilization. WhatAca,!a,,cs at stake is whether our children will continue to enjoy the freedoms that we enjoy today.
When I went to Iraq the first time my grandsonAca,!a,,cs pre-kindergarten class gave me a flag. It was a big cut-out American flag and the stars had all their little pictures on it. I hung that behind my desk in Baghdad. Whenever I had a bad day, which was more than I care to remember, I looked at it and reminded myself why we were doing what weAca,!a,,cre doing there.
ItAca,!a,,cs interesting that each of us is here because weAca,!a,,cre focused on the future; weAca,!a,,cre focused on the kids: MCEC, school officials, parents, teachers, military and community leaders, and last but certainly by no means least, our military children that are here representing the more than two million military children all around the world.
About half of those military children have had a parent deploy either to Iraq or to Afghanistan. This has been challenging for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, and itAca,!a,,cs been challenging for their families. I believe itAca,!a,,cs also added a new dimension to the challenges of educating our military children.
Military families and children have always faced unique challenges, and everybody here knows that well. As I said, IAca,!a,,cve lived it. IAca,!a,,cve made the best of it. And as Sheila and I traveled around 14 months ago or so visiting soldiers and families it was clear to us that we were asking far more of our soldiers and our families than we were providing for them. So we decided that we had to do more to ratchet up what we were doing for our soldiers and families.
Yesterday we visited the soldiers and families at Fort Hood. ItAca,!a,,cs a community thatAca,!a,,cs been heavily engaged in deployments and redeployments over the years. Over the last five years about half of the population of Fort Hood is usually gone at any one time. Sheila held a family forum and we both visited with wounded soldiers and Gold Star spouses to tell them how much we appreciated what it is theyAca,!a,,cre doing for this country.
As we finished up our travels around the Army about 14 months ago I think most of you know that we felt, Secretary Geren and I, that it was a time to restate our commitment to Army families so we issued what became known as the Army Family Covenant. It acknowledges the partnership between the Army leadership and families to build an environment where families can thrive and children can grow and learn. ItAca,!a,,cs fairly short. Let me just share it with you.
First, we recognize the increasing sacrifices that our families are making every day. We recognize the strength of our soldiers comes from the strength of our families. We are committed to providing soldiers and their families the quality of life thatAca,!a,,cs commensurate with their service. WeAca,!a,,cre committed to providing our families a strong supportive environment where they can thrive. WeAca,!a,,cre committed to building our partnerships with Army families that enhances their strength and their resilience. WeAca,!a,,cre committed to improving family readiness by: one, standardizing funding in existing family programs and services; two, increasing accessibility of quality health care; three, improving soldier and family housing; four, ensuring excellence in schools, youth services and child care; and five, expanding education and employment opportunities for the family members.
We decided it was good to restate that commitment, but we needed to put our money where our mouth was, so last year we doubled the amount of money that we applied toward soldiers and family programs, $1.4 billion. This year we upped that to $1.7 billion. Washington insiders know that we have base program funding and we have supplemental funding for the war. One of the first things I told my staff is that I wanted to make sure all the family programs were in the base budget so when the war supplemental went away, family programs will remain.
Let me just focus for a second on ensuring excellence in schools, youth services and child care. This year alone we will start building 72 new child care centers across the Army, and I must give credit to my Vice Chief, Dick Cody, who is retiring here in a couple of weeks. He has really led that effort. You really canAca,!a,,ct go on Army posts around the country without seeing a crane up building something. I think that will make a huge difference.
We also upped the amount of operating hours for the child development centers based on the local need. Some of them are up to 80 hours a week, and 97 percent of all of our child development centers are certified. So weAca,!a,,cre making great process on that.
As the covenant also suggests, weAca,!a,,cre working on enhancing educational opportunities for our families as a key component of our efforts to support families. We believe we can best do this through partnerships and collaboration at the local, state and national level, what MCEC has been doing over the last decade.
Earlier this week Lieutenant General Bob Wilson, who is responsible for our installation and family support programs, hosted the 2008 Army Education Summit for all our installation leaders, school superintendents and board members from 24 different communities across the Army. This summit focused specifically on sustaining partnerships that benefit our childrenAca,!a,,cs education. Some of you may have attended that summit.
WeAca,!a,,cve also improved school liaison and transition support with over 300 school districts around the country.
At the state level, and most of you know this, ten states have signed the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, and thatAca,!a,,cs a huge step forward for all of us.
Also, I think Secretary Gates will mention this, but in June Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to promote collaboration to improve the quality of education for military children. This will be especially important to us over the next several years as we complete these base realignment and closure moves and restation forces back in the US. WeAca,!a,,cll have about 300,000 family members over the next several years that will be affected by that, and you all know and see the challenges that can present themselves. Like Fort Bliss, Texas where the population will increase by about 30,000 folks and the impact that has on local schools and communities.
We also this year began what we call Army Community Covenants across the country at communities around army installations to foster state and community support for the soldiers and families. One of the things weAca,!a,,cre trying to achieve by that is to highlight across the country the concept that soldiers are making sacrifices, and so are families. WeAca,!a,,cre getting more and more recognition of that across the country.
ThatAca,!a,,cs an overview of some of the things that weAca,!a,,cre doing. WeAca,!a,,cre working on improving the quality of life for our military families. IAca,!a,,cm proud of what weAca,!a,,cve accomplished so far, but we really have been at this effort about a year on the family side, and weAca,!a,,cve got a lot more work to do to keep this moving forward, but weAca,!a,,cre absolutely committed to doing that. With MCECAca,!a,,cs help I know we can make great strides on the educational side. So thank you very much.
Before I close IAca,!a,,cd just like to talk a few minutes about kindergarten through 12th grade education as a whole, not just on the military side but across the country. Because I believe that secondary education is increasingly becoming a national issue that we all have to address. ItAca,!a,,cs not only the foundation of every childAca,!a,,cs future, itAca,!a,,cs the foundation of every communityAca,!a,,cs future and of our countryAca,!a,,cs future.
Last month I co-hosted, with Frances Hesselbein down here in the front and Jon Spector from The Conference Board, a conference of business leaders, not-for-profit leaders and government leaders. And the substance of that discussion was how to improve secondary education across the United States, and how the three groups can work together to do that.
Most of the CEOs and not-for-profit leaders see secondary education as a crisis in workforce readiness. In fact The Conference Board recently released some reports that are telling. They surveyed over 400 employers across the country and found that 40 percent of the employers believe that high school graduates are deficient in basic knowledge and in applied skills like teamwork, initiative, ethics, creativity, critical thinking and communication skills. Over 80 percent of these employers said high school graduates canAca,!a,,ct write; and over 70 percent of the employers deplore their lack of professionalism, how they behave and how they dress. And these are the kids that graduated.
America has about a 34 percent dropout rate for high school overall, and for African-American and Spanish students the rate is about 50 percent. TIME Magazine recently reported that 38 percent of fourth graders canAca,!a,,ct read at an appropriate level. ThatAca,!a,,cs a loss of potential that our country just canAca,!a,,ct afford. And in todayAca,!a,,cs world, a high school education is the start point. Competency isnAca,!a,,ct the ticket to success, itAca,!a,,cs the price of admission.
For our nation to be competitive in todayAca,!a,,cs world we must improve the effectiveness of our public kindergarten through 12th education across the United States. When I was a child following my dad around from assignment to assignment, I think I was pretty lucky. I had great teachers, coaches, counselors and parents who challenged me. If IAca,!a,,cd had MCEC, I could have been somebody. [Laughter]. But the world was different then. TodayAca,!a,,cs kids face an increasingly challenging and complex world. TodayAca,!a,,cs high school graduates are expected to know more and do more, and we need to prepare them to do that.
As a nation we owe not only our military children but all of our youth the opportunity to succeed and compete in the global economy. ItAca,!a,,cs about securing AmericaAca,!a,,cs role as a global leader in the future and it all starts with K-12 education and the overall educational experiences that our children have.
Our Army is committed to our soldiers, our families, and our children. With our Family Covenant and Army Community Covenants, weAca,!a,,cre building partnerships that will help us create a better now and a better future.
Thanks to MCEC for bringing us all together here to share and learn from each other, to help our children lay the seeds for their success. WeAca,!a,,cre all here because we believe in AmericaAca,!a,,cs future and we believe that these youth represent our future.
IAca,!a,,cll close by talking a little bit about the ceremony that I attended in the Rotunda on the 60th Anniversary of desegregation of the military. Colin Powell spoke. In his remarks he said, Aca,!A"Aca,!A|you know, people questioned, did you ever dream, did you ever think it would be possible for you to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs'Aca,!A? He smiled. He said, Aca,!A"Aca,!A|now, standing on the corner of 163rd Street in Kelly, the Bronx, it wasnAca,!a,,ct exactly what I was thinking about. In fact it was unthinkable.Aca,!A? It wasnAca,!a,,ct until he entered the military where he was viewed on his competence and not the color of his skin that he began to see the possibilities.
What MCEC is about is helping military children realize their dreams. This is America. No child, no American child, should be denied their dreams. So together I believe that we can help not only military children but the children of this country recognize their dreams and build a better future for all Americans. We canAca,!a,,ct do that without you. So thank you very much for your passion and for your dedication to our children. God bless you all, and God bless America.