This is an important event.

Our country, as great as it is, is facing some significant challenges. So first of all, thank you for honoring the men and women of the greatest armed forces in the world, and maybe even in the history of the world.

[Applause].

As I look around, and I feel the energy in the room, your pride in your armed forces really comes through, and I'll tell you, that's important. Because we may not think about it every day, but this country is in its eighth year of war. We're involved in a long-term ideological struggle against a global extremist terrorist network that attacked us on our own soil. They're not going to quit; they're not going to give up; and they're not going to go away easily. It's the men and women of your armed forces that are carrying the fight to them around the world today and allowing us to do what we do back here at home.

We get paid, in the Joint Chiefs, to look at the future and to try to make predictions ... and do the right thing so our country is ready for the future. We weren't ready on September 11th. We didn't have the Army that the country needed for the 21st Century on September 11th. We've worked hard to build that Army, and we're almost there.

But as I look to the future now, what I see is a long-term ideological struggle that's only going to be compounded by the global trends that I see out there. I'm sure you see the same ones.

Globalization. There's no question that globalization, until a few months ago, was bringing prosperity to countries all around the globe. But that prosperity was unevenly distributed. If you look at South America, Africa, Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the benefits of global prosperity are very unevenly distributed. That can lead to a "have and have-not" culture that can be exploited by extremist organizations.

Technology is another double-edged sword. The same technology that is bringing knowledge to anyone with a computer and a hook-up is being used by terrorists to export terrorism around the globe.

Demographics are going in the wrong direction. The population of some developing countries like Pakistan is expected to double in the next decade. Imagine the challenges that will bring to an already over-burdened government. By 2020, the expectation is that 2.5 billion people will live below the poverty level. And if you look at India and China, the middle classes are both larger than the population of the United States. That's a lot of two-car families. Imagine what that does for competition for resources.

The two things that worry me most: safe havens -- countries or parts of countries where the indigenous governments and security forces can't or won't deny their territory as a safe haven for terrorists; and weapons of mass destruction. We know there are over 1,200 terrorist organizations around the world that are looking for weapons of mass destruction. And I firmly believe that when they get one -- and I expect they will in the next five years or so -- they'll try to use it against a developed country.

So when I look at those trends, I look at the fact we're at war. What I see is an era ... a decade or so ... of what I call persistent conflict: protracted confrontation among states, non-states, and individual actors who are increasingly willing to use violence to accomplish their political and ideological objectives.

If you look at what happened in Mumbai not long ago, that's what's going to happen. And it's not going to involve us all the time, but it's out there.

So as I look at persistent conflict as a service chief, I have to ask the question: okay, what is war going to look like in the 21st Century' A lot of people look at Iraq and Afghanistan and say that's what it's going to be. I say maybe.

Look at what happened in Lebanon in the summer of 2006 where you had Hezbollah, a non-state actor, a terrorist organization, operating inside a state -- Lebanon; supported by another state -- Iran; fighting yet another state, Israel. And 3,000 Hezbollah operatives that were armed by Iran with the instruments of state power held off a well equipped, well trained Israeli force of 30,000 men and denied them their objectives.

They used improvised explosive devices to channelize the attacking the Israeli forces into kill zones where they shot at them with modern anti-tank guided missiles. They shot down an Israeli helicopter with a surface-to-air missile. They shot an Israeli ship in the Mediterranean Sea with a cruise missile. They used secure cell phones and computers for command and control. They got their message out on local television. That's the kind of hybrid warfare that we're going to be involved in.

And as you look at that, it is very, very complex. The key thing that comes to mind for us in the Army is that it's all going to be about leadership. It's all going to be about the type of leaders that you've recognized here tonight. They're the ones that are going to have to chart the path through this very difficult and complex period.

Now tonight we've recognized, with the exception of Retired Master Chief Williams, we've recognized officers. I will tell you that we have a national asset here in all of the armed forces, and that's our noncommissioned officer corps.

[Applause].

In the Army, we have designated this year as the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer. It's the first time we've done that in 20 years. We're doing that because we want to: one, recognize the contribution of our noncommissioned officers to what's going on today. Because as I've looked around today, I've found that they are the glue that's holding this force together in an incredibly challenging and difficult time. And they're the ones that are allowing our soldiers to accomplish the near-impossible every day, all around the world. And we felt like we needed to inform the American public about the great contribution that they make and the national asset that they are. Lastly, we're going to do some things to enhance their leader development training so they can be even better and grow even more.

You should know that over a third of our command sergeants major, our senior noncommissioned officers, are African-American. They are the leaders of the best noncommissioned officer corps in the world.

[Applause].

The history of our noncommissioned officers goes back a long way. I can point to leaders like Sergeant Emanuel Stance, a Buffalo Soldier from Troop F, 9th Cavalry ... a squad leader in Texas during the Indian wars. He was the first African-American in the Regular Army awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism in battle.

I can point to leaders like Sergeant first Class William Bryant from Alpha Company, 5th Special Forces Group who -- 100 years after Sergeant Stance won his Medal of Honor -- was awarded the Medal of Honor after leading a 36-hour fight to retain his fire base against an attack by three North Vietnamese regiments. He was awarded that award posthumously. His action was the last by an African-American to earn the Medal of Honor.

I can point to leaders like Sergeant Chris Waiters who, as a young specialist in Baghdad in April of 2007, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry in action. He was riding in his Stryker, and he came across a Bradley (which is an infantry fighting vehicle) that had hit an IED. It was burning. He had to clear the area, so he turned his turret, fired on two enemy, and killed them. Realizing there were still soldiers on the burning vehicle, he got out of his vehicle and rushed 100 yards through a hail of gunfire to get to that burning vehicle. Somebody asked him afterwards, "What were you thinking as you were running through that gunfire'" Here's what he said ... he thought to himself, "I'm already in hell. I might as well keep going." Fortunately for the driver and another soldier, he kept going. He pulled them out, dragged them back to his Stryker vehicle, and began to give them first aid when he heard there was another soldier still on the burning vehicle. He ran back to the burning vehicle, found the soldier was already dead, ran back to his vehicle to get a body bag, ran back, and was pulling the soldier out when the ammunition in the vehicle began to explode. For these actions, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

[Applause].

One of the elements of our Warrior Ethos is to never leave a fallen comrade. Staff Sergeant Waiters demonstrated that.

Sergeant Stance, Sergeant First Class Bryant, Staff Sergeant Waiters -- all examples to show that every generation of Americans has risen to the challenge. I have great confidence that this generation of Americans will do the same.

As I said, we're in difficult times. A few weeks ago our President issued a call to service during his inaugural address. He talked about a "new era of responsibility ... a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world ... duties that we do not grudgingly accept" -- he said -- "but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining to our character than giving our all to a difficult task. This" -- the President said -- "is the price and promise of citizenship."

Your Army and your armed forces have answered the President's call. We like to think that we're "Army Strong," and we are. We believe that our strength comes from our Values, our Ethos, our People and our diversity. Our diversity is the strength of our Army, and our Army is the Strength of our Nation.

Thank you very much for having me here tonight. Good luck to you all, and God bless you.

[Applause].

Page last updated Tue February 24th, 2009 at 10:22