Remarks by Gen. Chiarelli for the National Infantry Museum dedication, June 18, 2009
August 4, 2009
Remarks as delivered by
Vice Chief of Staff, Army
General Peter W. Chiarelli
National Infantry Museum Dedication
18 June 2009
Fort Benning, Georgia
Good evening... I really appreciate the invitation to join you on this special occasion!
I realize it may seem unusual for a Tanker to be speaking at a dinner celebrating the new Infantry museum. However, I'm honored to do so; and, I believe the mix of branches represented in the audience tonight well reflects the collaborative nature of today's Army.
It's always great to visit the 'Home of the Infantry' at Fort Benning. As you all know, it bears a well-deserved reputation as one of the finest installations in our Army. And, that is precisely why it was selected as the site for the Army's Maneuver Center of Excellence. I'm looking forward to seeing the merger of Infantry and Armor take place. Infantrymen and Tankers have been fighting alongside each other for decades. It makes sense that they would train side-by-side as well.
I realize that many of you have been saturated by talk of BRAC over the past several months; and, for that reason I'll make just one brief comment... I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the installation and surrounding community for your hard work and strong support of this important endeavor. You've made numerous concessions and improvements in order to accommodate the expanding workforce, and we are deeply grateful for your efforts.
As I said, it's great to be here on this special occasion as you mark the opening of this National Infantry Museum. The Infantry is the Army's oldest branch... the 'Queen of Battle,' and it represents the largest segment of our Force - past or present.
And, that's really the purpose of museums - to preserve that all-important connection between past and present.
Look around the room this evening and you will see many of our Army's great leaders, including General Colin Powell, former Secretary of the Army Bo Calloway, and LTG (Ret.) Hal Moore. We marvel at what each of these men and others were able to accomplish on behalf of our Army and our Nation.
Meanwhile, this generation's Leaders and Soldiers are making history as we speak on the crowded streets of Baghdad and across the rugged, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. Hopefully, future generations will learn valuable lessons from their experiences in the same way we have learned valuable lessons from the experiences of past generations.
In particular, what the experience of the past seven-plus years has clearly demonstrated is that the nature of warfare has changed forever. What Chuck Krulak wrote about ten years ago has become a reality.
The strategic environment we operate in now is increasingly dynamic. In fact, the only thing we can know for certain is that the enemy will purposely go where we are not. Therefore, every Soldier must be versed and agile enough to operate across the continuum - from high intensity conflict to counter-insurgency to peace-keeping and stability operations.
The lines that have traditionally separated Soldiers' responsibilities on the battlefield have continued to blur. Today, every Soldier is a critical intel source, decision-maker, and diplomat.
In fact, the young men and women serving in our Army are asked to exercise a degree of maturity, restraint, and judgment - far greater than anything we ever had to do when we were their age.
Unfortunately, this increased responsibility and the prolonged demand on the Force have contributed to the immense strain on Soldiers and their Families. And, this has become more and more apparent in the number of individuals struggling with mental or behavioral health issues, such as depression, post-traumatic stress, and other types of anxiety.
Regrettably, the Army is also struggling with an increase in the number of suicides. Last year, 141 Active Component Soldiers committed suicide; that's a rate of 20 per 100,000 as compared to 19 per 100,000 for a demographically comparable segment of the civilian population.
Now, I know this is something we don't normally talk about at black-tie dinners. But, after eight years of war and no end in sight, I feel I must.
As many of you know, in late January, Secretary Geren and the Chief-General Casey, asked me to establish a task force to tackle the issue of suicides across our Force. And, as I began to dig into it, it became clear almost immediately that our mission extended beyond suicide - to improving the overall health and mental wellness of Soldiers and families - after repeated deployments in the context of nearly eight years of war.
Today, the Army is working hard to improve the overall health and well-being of our Force by raising awareness; enhancing and expanding available services; and - perhaps most importantly - by doing everything we can to eliminate the stigma associated with seeking and receiving help.
The stigma must be eliminated. We must change our culture after 8 years of war and ensure that Soldiers, regardless of their rank, get the help they need with the support of their chain of command.
Unfortunately, these challenges are not unique to this war. In fact, it's not widely known, but Sergeant Audie Murphy - one of the most highly-decorated US Soldiers of World War II, and recipient of the Medal of Honor - admitted that he also suffered from "battle fatigue" or what is now known as "post-traumatic stress."
After returning from the war, he was plagued by insomnia and depression. And, he became addicted to a sleeping pill called Placidyl, an addiction he eventually overcame. In the wake of his own experiences, Audie Murphy broke the taboo about discussing war-related mental problems, and he became an advocate for returning war vets on this issue.
Today, his overarching message still resonates... As important as winning this war - is making sure we take care of our Soldiers and their families, especially those who are struggling and need our help.
Tomorrow, the next class of recruits will graduate from OSUT, and become our Army's newest infantrymen. It is an exciting prospect. And, in the spirit of the Infantry motto: "Follow me!" this museum provides the examples that will inspire and motivate them.
Past heroes - like Audie Murphy and Sergeant York - provide today's generation of Soldiers with a reminder of the responsibility to carry on the legacy, standards, and traditions of the past. They serve as role models for Soldiers to emulate.
Earlier today, I had the opportunity to participate in two very special events. First, I was privileged to re-enlist three Non-Commissioned Officers. And, immediately following that ceremony, I helped to induct six NCOs into the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club - an elite group that includes many of our Army's top Non-Commissioned Officers.
I was honored to participate in both events, particularly during this - "The Year of the Non-Commissioned Officer." NCOs consistently make the impossible, possible. They provide the leadership that keeps our Soldiers trained and focused. And, as I told the group, it takes a special person to sign up to serve his or her country during time of war.
Our Army has a proud history... written by the courageous, patriotic men and women who have served our country for over 234 years. Tomorrow, a new generation of Infantry Soldiers will join our ranks, and they'll help write the next chapter - in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations around the world.
I'm confident the outstanding examples of leadership, duty, and commitment you and others have provided will ensure they'll continue to add to the rich legacy you see here in this museum.
Thanks, again, for the opportunity to join you tonight. And, thanks for your continued commitment to our Army and to Soldiers and their Families.