Washington, DC
October 5, 2009
As Delivered

Gordon - General Sullivan - thank you for those kind comments. The fact of the matter is I'm honored to be here.

I'm rather in awe, frankly. I'm from a very rural part of New York state, as I think some of you in the audience may know. We go to county fairs and firemen's field days. This has been an amazing, amazing exposition. It speaks so highly of AUSA, the terrific work they do, but more importantly, of course, it underlined and underscored what 2009 is about in the United States Army - The Year of the NCO.

And says what I know all of us believe as well. The men and women who don the uniform of the United States Army are simply the greatest force for good the world has ever known.

I think you may understand, therefore, how truly honored I am to be with you here today, and how truly grateful and honored I am that President Obama afforded me this nomination and the opportunity to join an incredible Army team that starts, of course, with the Chief of Staff General Casey, the Vice, General Chiarelli, my very able good friend and, really, intellectual guide, my Under Secretary Dr. Westphal, and on, and on, and on.

This is a great moment. I want to thank Gordon Sullivan for his kind comments, and for his leadership. He has really taken forward the kind of achievement and integrity he brought to his years as Chief of Staff of the Army, and added to it in this great organization. AUSA - 60 years of working community by community, building those grassroots efforts to bring the Army message, extolling the virtues that we saw displayed upon that wonderful screen, of your United States Army.

I have to tell you that the days ahead, of course, are of great challenge. We find ourselves faced, it seems at times, by more crises than there are hours in the day in which to confront them. But I can tell you this as well: failure is not an option. We will, we can, we must succeed. And as more than 230 years in the history of this great U.S. Army has shown you, the men and women who put that uniform on will be equal to this challenge as long as we stand by them, as long as you in the AUSA and we in the civilian and military leadership provide them with the tools that they need.

We can talk about weapons platforms, we can talk about all kind of sophisticated, secret instruments of power that are so important to ensure that our men and women in uniform have the edge. But the reason we succeed as a nation today is not any more complex than it was in the days when our birth first occurred: the men and women in uniform, those who go out every day, who become involved - not for power, not for glory, not for money, but because they love this country, and they are willing to give whatever it takes to help it succeed.

I want to tell you one short story before I commit my honor and particular duties today to introduce our next speaker. During my tenth visit to Iraq, I had an opportunity to tour the main hospital in the IZ, in the international zone, and there were very few American Soldiers there. It was a time of decreasing violence, which of course, was a positive thing.

And as we were going through the emergency room, there was one American Soldier there - a 19-year-old Soldier, who, less than two days beforehand, had become what the medical people call a bilateral amputee. An IED had taken both of his legs. The surgeons told me they were working as hard as they could to save his left arm.

And I asked, as I looked at the tubes going in and out of that Soldier, and his terrible state of injuries, if it would be all right if I could place an Armed Services Committee coin into his one remaining good hand. And the doctor said, "Well, yes, but don't expect much. We have him heavily sedated prior to his being shipped back to Germany for a higher level of care."

So I took that Armed Services Committee coin and I squeezed it into his one remaining, good right hand, and I whispered a few words into his ear about how proud we were of him, how his sacrifice had done so much to make America safer, and how he had contributed to the freedom of literally millions of Iraqis.

And I stepped back, and almost on cue, that Soldier opened his eyes, and snapped me off the cleanest salute you've ever seen in your life.

When we ask ourselves, why do organizations like AUSA exist' We ask ourselves, why do we endeavor to try to contribute to that kind of sacrifice' The answer is simple. One word - heroes. Heroes that do things each and every day that escape notice of most Americans.

That's why it's important that you, in AUSA, and you in the defense industry base support, and all of us as American citizens stay engaged and try to make a difference, because heroes are sacrificing and making a difference for us each and every day, and that's why I am so damn proud to have this opportunity to stand with you.

God bless those heroes, and God bless this great country.

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Speaking of heroes, if you were to read the Armed Services Committee's oversight hearings in which the Secretary of Defense appeared at times, you may not believe it, but he truly is a hero of mine. In my job, I had to ask him tough questions. And in his way, he answered them all, and did it with style and grace.

Now I have to tell you, we all do it, I suspect - we kind of inflate our heroes in our minds. I've been there (at the Pentagon) two weeks now, and every day I go out expecting the Secretary of Defense to walk out the river entrance and to part the waters of the Potomac... he's not yet done that.

And it's with great sadness I learned that what I believed to be true (is not true), that when Dr. Gates wanted to change a light bulb, he simply held it up and the entire Pentagon turned around him. But you know what' He's still a hero.

This is a man who has devoted his life to public service. First he's an Air Force officer, and then for 27 years in the Central Intelligence Agency, rising from career officer to Director. And by the way, in case you don't know it, you can't do that. He's the only person in the history of the Directorate to make that achievement, and it speaks so highly to his skills and to his abilities.

He's served four Presidents of both political parties while at the National Security Council. He was Assistant to the President, and as Deputy National Security Advisor, he worked hard to make this nation safe.

Now, he took a sabbatical from public service in Washington, and went back to Texas to serve as President of the Texas A&M University and serving the public there, before heeding the call of duty again and returning.

And I can tell you, having known him in my days from the Armed Services Committee, and worked for him in my now broad experience of just over two weeks as the Secretary of the Army, he both understands and cares deeply about our Soldiers, about the men and women who wear our nation's uniform and, of course, our Families. And he works tirelessly to keep them and their families safe.

So ladies and gentlemen, it is my true honor and privilege to introduce to you your main speaker for this morning, our 22nd Secretary of Defense, the honorable Dr. Robert M. Gates.

Page last updated Tue October 6th, 2009 at 11:15