Secretary of the Army
Secretary of the Army John McHugh makes remarks at his Arrival Ceremony at Fort Myer's Conmy Hall, Nov. 2, 2009.

Fort Myer, Va.
November 2, 2009
As Delivered

Thank you all very much. Chief, Mr. Secretary, I deeply appreciate your kind words and I will say up front in all seriousness, I'm not sure what will be the more difficult challenge - and that is to serve effectively as the Secretary of the Army or to live up to your kind words. But I intend to do my best.

I have to give you both kudos for saying such nice things with straight faces and if you would talk to my former colleagues in the House, I'm sure you have a future in politics should you both so desire, but I hope not. And General Casey, let me particularly thank you for bringing up that "most beautiful" nomenclature. I said at the time and I've said in fact for seventeen years - Washington is an ugly town and if that award doesn't prove it I'm not sure what does. But thank you for that citation.

I want to recognize my many friends, my former colleagues and distinguished guests this afternoon already cited so graciously by the Chief and by the Secretary. Senator Inouye, thank you so much Sir, for being here.

My friends and former colleagues from the House of Representatives, you heard their names: Congressman Buyer and Calvert and Cole and Kirkpatrick and LaTourette - glad you got my parking place Steve. And Platts and Rogers and the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, my long-time friend and someone for whom I have so much admiration, Ike Skelton.

And two former members of the House and my fellow New Yorkers and dear dear friends Jack Quinn and Jim Walsh. I'm so honored that you'd make the effort to be here today.

A special thanks to my... the Army's current Under Secretary of the Army, Dr. Joe Westphal, my partner with whom I've enjoyed working with so much so far, and we're looking at doing our best in support of our men and women in uniform.

And as you heard, our former Secretaries of the Army Marty Hoffman and Pete Geren, and my colleagues, the Secretary of the Air Force Mike Donnelly and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. The Vice Chief (General) Pete Chiarelli and also of course the Sergeant Major of the Army Ken Preston. And those representatives and attaches as well as the Civilian Aides to the Secretary of the Army and our partners around the world, this is just an overwhelming event.

And it is truly humbling to be here at historic Fort Myer, to be on these hallowed grounds and honored by Soldiers in the oldest regiment in the Army and its first standing unit - the Old Guard. And the Soldiers on display and in formation here today represent the millions who have served and the over one million who continue to serve us so honorably, so bravely, so courageously today.

I also want to recognize the incredible work of my predecessor, Pete Geren. Pete's exemplary leadership, character, and love of Soldiers led to such tremendous improvements in our warfighting capabilities and probably in my mind - even more importantly - to quality of life for our Soldiers and their Families. And Pete, God bless you for that and thank you so much for all that you did.

Despite my struggles as a recovering politician, I have made enough progress to recognize that no one is afforded such an amazing opportunity to serve without the support, confidence and encouragement of so very many - more than I could ever name here today.

But I especially want to thank President Barack Obama and the Secretary of Defense whose faith and trust in my nomination truly moves me to my core. And as I told President Obama when we met at the White House the day he announced my nomination - I promise you I will do everything that I possibly can in every moment I am afforded not to let all of you, the nation, and most importantly our amazing Army down.

My dad, who is no longer with us, but who we all miss each and every day, was one of the most insightful people I ever knew - some people might say that he was crafty. He had a habit - I would call it a skill - of taking the most complex issues and distilling them down into a very very simple, basic observation. And I want to give you an example: on the complex debate of nature vs. nurture - of the influence of child and human development by families and by friends, my dad would simply shrug his shoulders and say: you plant tomatoes - you get tomatoes.

In other words, my dad believed we're all forged by the influence of those around us - family, friends - those who care and those who allow us to extend our vision to more distant horizons by standing, as was said earlier, on your shoulders. And I am blessed by both family and friends here today... cousins, second cousins, soon-to-be cousins, family who have traveled from as near as down-state Virginia and as far as Georgia and Pennsylvania and Tennessee and California - and I'm truly truly honored and thrilled that they're here.

But speaking of family, I do have to mention a few special individuals: my best friend growing up and my roommate first for 12 years when we were children and later, where we haven't figured out how long, when we were in graduate school - my brother Pat. And the three best things he ever did in his life. The first, Marti, my sister-in-law, his bride - and the two best things they ever did together - my nephew P.J. and the princess, my niece, Michaela.

And speaking of best things, the absolute best thing that ever happened in my life - my mom.

For more than 61 years I have been on this earth, I have been continuously stunned at the limitless love, insight and, I'm afraid to say, far too often the forgiveness that she has shown me. And I wouldn't be here, I wouldn't be on this earth without her labors; I could never have grown without her nurturing, and I could never have prevailed without her love. And simply put, she's mom and I love her.

Secretary Gates and General Casey have championed, and have talked a bit today about the challenges facing our Army and I just want to echo their words, and I want to continue the commitment that they have made, and make myself a part of it. We have indeed made significant progress in restoring balance, but we have to do more. In this era of persistent conflict requires continued flexibility and adaptability, but we have to as well ensure that we retain our ability to meet both current and future asymmetric threats. Our future readiness will require that we continue to modernize and adapt our institutions, and transform Soldier and leader development while at the same time, sustaining an expeditionary and campaign-capable force.

And in the Army, we must continue to address the challenges that are posed by multiple deployments and ease the stress and burden that too many Army families continue to face. And our mission #1 must be to ensure that our Soldiers and their families are provided a quality of life equal that is equal to their extraordinary sacrifices.

And I want to be clear: As Secretary, I am committed to securing and maintaining the fundamentals that keep our Army Strong: Strong Soldiers... Strong Families... and the enduring foundations that sustain them both.

Yes, the Army has numerous challenges before it. But facing daunting challenges is nothing new to this Army. In fact, it's a defining part of the great heritage and tradition that it shares with all.

For over 230 years, the Army has always been out front securing and defending our freedoms, and that must continue.

On a personal note, this is without a doubt, one of the most - if not the most - special moments of my life... a place in time I could have never imagined.

But an immutable truth exists in this building this afternoon: this is the mere turning of a page...just one page. In a glorious story that has extended for more than two and quarter centuries... one page that will undoubtedly serve as a prelude to many many more.

And as special as it is for me - this welcoming is less about me than it is about the Army traditions and culture that are embedded in this wonderful ceremony and these amazing troops.

Every arrival foreshadows a good-bye - and this page, my page - will turn as well. But, by the grace of God, what will not change... what must not change... is that long line of courageous individuals that when the nation's call has sounded, they've answered. When freedom was imperiled, when liberty was assailed, they have answered. When tyrants have threatened - wherever they have been - they have answered.

We gather here today, as I know most of you recognize, just a short walk from one of the most hallowed pieces of ground on the face of the earth - a place where nearly 250,000 modest, unassuming white markers bear silent witness to the lives, the sacrifices, the incredible - and I'm sad to say, too often overlooked - courage of American heroes...American Veterans.

From battles long past - to those still before us - those markers serve as the constant reminder that we owe them so much.

In my now just over six weeks since coming to the Pentagon, I have attended the memorial services of four such recently fallen heroes and I take no joy in knowing that by tomorrow evening, that number will rise to five. So-called ordinary people leading so-called ordinary lives all in pursuit of extraordinary purpose. I can never improve or add a single measure to what they have done.

But what I can do... what I pledge this day to do with every ounce of ability that I have, is to stand by them as they have sacrificed for us. God bless them - America's heroes. God bless this glorious Army, and God bless America.

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