Fort Myer, VA
July 17, 2009
As Delivered

Dr. Gates and General Casey, thank you very much for hosting this and thank you for your very generous words, your kind words, I appreciate it very much.

Pleased that so many of our friends and colleagues are able to join us tonight. With the bright lights, it's dark out there and I'm not sure who is there. [Laughter]. I can tell by the laughter and the applause that there are people there. [Laughter].

I'd like to thank Congressman Hall and Congressman Edwards, Congressman Hunter, Congressman Carter for joining us. Thank you very much for being here.

General, Chief, Secretary Shinseki, thank you for being here, and I want to thank you and Patty. Please give our regards to Patty and thank you for all she continues to do for Soldiers.

Secretary Ray Mabus, thank you for being here. And my best wishes to you as you begin this journey in charge of our United States Navy.

Gary Roughead, Admiral Roughead, thank you so much for being here. I've enjoyed my time working with you over the years.

General Chiarelli and Beth, I believe I see you. Thank you so much. What a privilege it has been to work with you.

Sergeant Major of the Army Ken Preston, and Karen.

Members of the Old Guard, Pershing's Own, thank you for your outstanding performance tonight and how you represent our great Army all over the country and all over the world.

I know Secretary Hoffman is here. I appreciate his being here. Secretary Brownley. Secretary Ford. Thank all of you so much for joining us.

To all of our distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for being here. It means more to Beckie and me than I can say.

I've thought long and hard about what to say tonight. What do you say at a farewell'

As I reflect back on my nearly eight years in the Pentagon and my three and a half years with the Army, my mind and heart are filled with many poignant memories. Mostly of people. Wonderful and truly amazing people. And many experiences. Some joyous, some anxious, and some heartbreaking. People and experiences I will never forget.

I could reminisce for a long time, but I will spare you that. More than anything else, I just want to say thank you.

As I look into this audience there are so many I'd like to thank personally for the friendship and partnership we've shared over the last eight years.

Secretary Gates, thank you for providing me the opportunity to serve as Secretary of the Army. It's truly the privilege of a lifetime. And I'm honored that you'd be here tonight and host this for Beckie and me. And thank you for your extraordinary leadership in our Department of Defense and our nation in this time of war.

General Casey, George, what a privilege and pleasure it has been to work with you and with Sheila. Thank both of you for your friendship, thank you for your service. It has truly been a wonderful experience to share this partnership and service to our Soldiers with you.

Sergeant Major of the Army Preston, the senior non-commissioned officer in our Army who leads the NCO Corps that is truly the envy of the world, the envy of every military in the world, the backbone of our Army. Ken, thank you for your wise counsel over the years. Thank you and Karen for all you do for our Army.

I also want to thank Secretary Rumsfeld who couldn't join us tonight. I want to thank him for giving me the opportunity to serve on his staff and in other assignments in the Pentagon, including the privilege of serving as Acting Secretary of the Air Force. I learned much from Secretary Rumsfeld and I want to thank him for his service to our nation. Thank he and Joyce for their service.

I also want to recognize my friend and mentor, Lieutenant General Mike Maples. For much of my time in the Pentagon people thought my first name was Maples. [Laughter]. I want to thank him for being here, and his friendship.

And to my personal staff over the last three and a half years. Your wise counsel, your dedication and hard work, utterly selfless and tireless, thank you so much.

Beckie, the last eight years have been a little more action-packed than we expected. I want to thank you for your love and support and your great faith.

God blessed Beckie and me with three wonderful girls, three wonderful daughters, and I'm so glad they can be here tonight - Tracy, Annie and Mary. Thank you so much.

I could go on all night with individual thank you's, but I want to stop now and recognize and offer my thanks to all the men and women of the United States Army. Soldiers and Army Families, Army Civilians, an all-volunteer force, a national treasure. Secretary Gates and General Casey, thank you for the kind and generous works, but as you well know, the Army is a "we" organization, not a "me" organization. Nothing that the Army has accomplished over the last several years has been done without the work of many people - Civilians and Soldiers - pulling together, working together. It has been a privilege to work with that great Army team.

It has truly been the privilege of a lifetime for me to work for Soldiers, to work for Army families during this time of war. Today our nation numbers over 300 million people. Only 1.1 million wear the uniform of the United States Army during this time of war. There are only 2.4 million in all the services combined - less than one percent of our population.

As General Casey noted, Winston Churchill remarked on the heroism of British pilots in the Battle over Britain as they stood up against attack after attack from the German Luftwaffe. He observed that, "Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few." That was true in 1940 and it's true today. Three hundred million Americans and much of the free world depend upon the courage and valor of 2.4 million men and women who wear the uniform of the United States military.

Much is owed by so many to so few. Tonight I want to say thank you to that few.

I was in the Pentagon on 9/11, and on that day I watched Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines go to the sound of the explosion. For nearly eight years I've watched them go off to war. I've watched many of you go off to war. I've watched your families stand with you.

I've been inspired by your service, and I have been humbled by the sacrifice of your families.

I'd like to share with you the story of one such Soldier and his family. His service, their service, reflect the values of our United States Army, reflect the heart and soul of the American Soldier.

The Soldier's name is Ross McGinnis. Tom and Romayne are his mom and dad, and his sisters are Becky and Katie. I had the privilege of spending a couple of days last summer with Tom and Romayne and Becky and Katie. They're from Knox, Pennsylvania. Ross was the youngest. He was Katie and Becky's little brother.

His dad told me that Ross never liked school all that much. He loved music, he loved cars, and more than anything else he loved basketball. He worked at McDonald's after school to buy himself a Ford Thunderbird. His teachers remember he was just a regular kid.

Katie called him a "crazy little brother" with a whole lot of energy.

Ross became a Soldier, but to Katie and Becky he was always their little brother.

Ross shared a birthday with the United States Army, June 14th. But that was all in his boyhood that gave any hint whatsoever of the Soldier that he would become.

This past June 14th our Army turned 234 years old - Ross would have turned 22. A good kid with a strong family. A mom and a dad, and older sisters who loved him dearly. But there was really nothing that set him apart until at age 17 with his nation at war, he joined the Army. Most don't, he did. That tells you a lot.

On December 4th, 2006 Ross was manning the 50 caliber machine gun on his Humvee on a patrol in Baghdad when an insurgent threw a grenade through the gunner's hatch. Reacting immediately, he shouted a warning to his crew members. Ross could have then easily jumped to safety. Instead he dropped down into the Humvee and covered the grenade with his body. He chose to give his life to save the lives of his four battle buddies. He was 19 years old.

He's buried in Section 60 in Arlington Cemetery, just a little down the hill from here to the south. On June 2nd, 2008, President Bush presented Ross' Medal of Honor to his mother and father at a White House ceremony. There was a ceremony honoring Ross in the Hall of Heroes at the Pentagon the next day. It was a very emotional event. There was an overflowing crowd and several speakers.

In the crowd were the four Soldiers that Ross saved: Specialist Sean Lawson, Sergeant Lyle Buehler, Sergeant Ian Newland and Sergeant First Class Cedric Thomas - men who are alive today because Ross gave his life for them.

Tom, Ross' father, was the last to speak. Previous speakers had spoken of Ross' sacrifice and emphasized the debt that we all owe to Ross and those who sacrifice for our lives and our freedom. His father got up to speak, last to speak. He was nervous before such a large gathering. He had a prepared speech. But before reading from his prepared remarks, he looked directly at those four Soldiers, apparently sensing the burden that they must carry. He spoke directly to them.

"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, for it was a gift. Ross gave you a gift."

He then turned to his prepared text.

Ross saved the life of those four Soldiers. His dad continues to look after them.

After the Civil War General Joshua Chamberlain, who shares the Medal of Honor with Ross, wrote about character. He told us that "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, who shaped his character, and you get a glimpse into Ross' heart that he helped mold. The heart of a Soldier. Ross McGinnis, an American Soldier. Tom, Romayne, Katie and Becky, an Army family. Volunteers in a time of war.

It has been the privilege of a lifetime to work for all the Ross', the Tom's, the Romayne's, the Katie's and Becky's of our United States Army and of our Army Family. So much owed by so many to so few, and the debt grows daily.

Thank you very much.

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