July 15, 2009- General McKiernan Retirement Ceremony
July 27, 2009
Welcome, everybody! We're here tonight to say goodbye to our leader for the last two years and to his Family ... Secretary Pete Geren, Beckie, Tracy, Annie, and Mary. We'll say a lot here but - right up front - you have served us well, and we'll miss you.
My hat's off to the Old Guard for having to pull a quick shift from Whipple Field over to here. Thank you very much for what you do ... as well as Pershing's Own ... not only what you do and what you bring to these ceremonies, but also for what you represent ... the magnificent Army that we have. How about a big hand for them' [Applause].
I'd like to recognize a few of our distinguished guests here to farewell Pete and Beckie and the girls. Secretary Gates ... it's been an Army kind of week for you. At least you don't have to wear a baseball cap to keep the sun off your head. Secretary Shinseki ... Ric ... Chief ... glad to have you with us. I heard Jim Peake was also here ... Jim ... former Secretary of Veterans Affairs ... thank you for coming down. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus ... Ray, thank you ... great to see you. Former Secretary of the Army Marty Hoffman and his bride ... it's nice to see you. Les Brownlee, former Acting Secretary of the Army and Under Secretary ... and Nelson Ford, our last Under Secretary. Nelson, it's great to see you over there. Several Members of Congress were all calling in here at the last second, so I'm not sure who made it ... but they're all great friends of the Gerens. So I'll recognize John Carter, Chet Edwards, Ralph Hall, Duncan Hunter, and Bob Livingston. Deborah, I know Mike [Mullen] is out and about traveling the world, but thank you very much for coming here to farewell the Gerens. From the Secretary of Defense's Secretariat ... Bob Hale and his wife ... and I think Jeh Johnson is also here. My colleague from the Joint Chiefs, Gary Roughead ... Gary, you look resplendent in white ... thank you very much for joining us. Past and present combatant commanders ... Kip and Joyce Ward are here ... and I think Barry McCaffrey is here with us. I'd also recognize Linda Odierno and Annie McChrystal ... thank you for what you and your husbands are doing for our country. Lastly, Sergeant Major of the Army Ken and Karen Preston ... thank you very much, Sergeant Major. And thanks to all of the close friends of the Geren family.
Now Pete Geren will tell you that he's never served in uniform, but that's not entirely true. In fact, he wore the uniform of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets when he played football there in the 1970s. I'm still really not sure exactly what position he played because when he got here I heard he was a center. Then last year, I heard he was a tight end. And this year, I heard he was a quarterback. So Pete, I think if you stay a couple more months you'd be an All-American. [Laughter].
In all seriousness, Pete is very candid about never having served in the military until now. What's interesting is that we in the military pride ourselves for being quiet professionals ... doing the right thing and doing it well ... without a lot of arm waving or fanfare ... just doing it because it's the right thing to do. I can think of no better way to describe Pete Geren. He's a man of character and integrity who has committed himself to doing the right thing ... regardless of how difficult it was. I would say that he's one of us - a quiet professional. I can think of no greater compliment for a wartime leader.
In fact, he continues an inspiring legacy of service. His dad was commissioned from the enlisted ranks in World War II and served in Europe with the 185th Infantry Regiment. Lieutenant Geren earned a Silver Star for gallantry in action in April 1945 in Germany. So you don't have to look very far to see how Pete first came to love the American Soldier.
Pete is continuing his legacy. It's worth remembering that he first came to the Pentagon just a few days before September 11th, and he served as a Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for four years. He served for several months as the Acting Secretary of the Air Force in 2005 ... until he came to the Army, where he was the Under Secretary for nearly 18 months. In March 2007, he was appointed the Acting Secretary until 16 July 2007 when he became our 20th Secretary ... two years ago almost to the day. When he came to Washington in 2001, Pete intended to stay here for two years and then go back to private life. Beckie, sorry ... I could have warned you. I told Sheila I was going to be in the Army for two years ... then get out and go to law school ... that's how it goes. That we're standing here now in July 2009 is a testament to Pete's dedication and professionalism. He's a man who has put his country first and a leader who has put Soldiers and Families first.
This evening, I'm going to focus on the last two years. And I must say, Mr. Secretary, you've held up far better than I have. When you came in, I was on a cane. Tonight, I'm on crutches. [Laughter]. In any case, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about what Pete Geren did for our service.
First and foremost, Pete has made a huge impact on our Soldiers, Families, and Civilians. His efforts in that regard are underpinned by his genuine belief that our people are the strength of the Army. That passion has enabled him to lead Soldiers and Families and to sustain them in a time of war. The things we point to today as illustrations of our absolute commitment to Soldiers are things like the Family Covenant, the Community Covenant, Warrior Care, and the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer. All of these things are things that Pete Geren made reality. He's further demonstrated his commitment through multiple visits to our posts and installations, to Iraq and Afghanistan, to Walter Reed and Bethesda, and to Arlington National Cemetery - a journey he made almost every week. He'll tell you that serving our Soldiers, Families, and Civilians has been his greatest honor.
As Secretary, Pete put us on a track to restore balance. As an Army, we couldn't do this alone. Pete was uniquely qualified to strengthen our relationships not only with the Department of Defense, but with Congress. In doing so, he connected us to the American people, garnering increased support when we needed it most.
We started to get a glimpse of what kind of secretary we had at the Association of the United States Army's conference in October 2007. It was Pete's first conference as secretary. Pete put the sacrifice and selfless service of the men and women of our Army in these terms: "These one million Soldiers and 500,000 Families are shouldering a burden for three million Americans and most of the free world." To drive home his point, he went on to quote Winston Churchill, who said of the fighter pilots who fought the Battle of Britain: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." While this was a great tribute to our Soldiers and Families, it also exposed us to the quality of the secretary we had.
This evening, I'd also like to invoke Winston Churchill to reflect on a side of Pete Geren that some of you may not see. It's a side that represents the best of civilian leadership over the military and reminds us why that principle is enshrined in our Constitution. In his book Supreme Command, Eliot Cohen recounts a story of Prime Minister Churchill returning from a visit to the field. When he got back, he queried the military leadership about why the British Army had banned regimental shoulder patches. In Churchill's mind, patches seemed a small price to pay for the benefits of unit cohesion and morale. So why had the Army banned them' The prime minister wanted to know.
The Army's senior leadership was shocked that the prime minister would involve himself in such a trivial matter. They responded, "Well, the Board of Trade believes it would be too much of a burden on the country's already strained tailoring facilities. It could actually hurt the war effort." "Rubbish," said Churchill, and he wouldn't let the matter drop. So he asked the Board of Trade. "No problem with us," they said. Back to the Army leadership ... more excuses ... more questions from Churchill ... more bad answers ... more questions from Churchill ... shoulder patches for the British troops. Political meddling, some would say. Wise and thoughtful civilian leadership, others would say. Churchill intervened because he saw that this was about more than just pieces of cloth. It was about maintaining the fighting spirit of an Army at war. And he wouldn't let the bureaucracy beat him.
When I look at some of the things Pete Geren has taken on during his tenure, I can't help but think of this story. Not to suggest to anyone we might have any bureaucracy in our Army ... but I think about Warrior Care. We let the bureaucracy beat us on that one. Pete led our efforts to restore it to an appropriate level. Sexual assault prevention ... Pete realized it would take a change to our culture to prevent sexual assault, and he has set us on a path to do that. Suicide prevention ... not satisfied that we had enough understanding of the challenges facing us, Pete chartered a landmark study through the National Institute of Health to better inform us - and the country - so we could better shape our responses to these difficult challenges. Pete Geren grabbed hold of tough issues and wouldn't let them go until he was satisfied that everything that could possibly be done was done. Pete, we're a better Army for it. I truly believe that our Soldiers and Families will be better served in the decades to come because of what you've done.
Beckie, we also owe you and the girls a debt of gratitude. You've been a long-time advocate of Soldiers and Families, and I know you've worked hard to sustain Pete and keep his morale up during his eight years here. So Beckie and the girls, thank you very much.
Pete, I'm proud of this Army, and I know you are too. After nearly eight years of war, it remains the most resilient, professional, combat-seasoned force that I've been associated with. It's the best in the world at what it does. We wouldn't be as good as we are today - or as prepared for the future - if it wasn't for your leadership. So thank you for your leadership, and most especially, thank you for your personal friendship.
I wish you and Beckie and the girls all the best. Good luck and Godspeed. [Applause].
And now, it's my great pleasure to introduce our Secretary of Defense, the Honorable Robert Gates.