The Honorable Pete Geren
Secretary of the Army Pete M. Geren kicked off the annual convention of the Association of the United States Army here today with emphasis on America's Army as "The Strength of the Nation" and promises to match Family members' quality of service with improved services and resources.

General Sullivan Aca,!" Chief Aca,!" thank you for your kind words. From the time you entered Norwich University as a cadet in 1955, you've served our nation with distinction. You've commanded every level, including the Big Red one, two tours in Vietnam, six years of senior Army leadership at the Office of the Pentagon, and Chief of Staff of the United States Army.

Thank you for your 35 years of active duty service, and your unsurpassed leadership of AUSA. Your career is a model of selfless and honored service to our Army, and to our Nation.

To all of you here this morning, and to all the members of AUSA around the world Aca,!" you represent and support the American Soldier and our SoldierAca,!a,,cs Families. You are a steadfast voice for our Army.

We are grateful for what you do every day for the entire Army Family Aca,!" and for our Nation.

General George Casey, 36th Chief of Staff of the United States Army, Mrs. Casey, Vice Chief of Staff General Cody, Major General Richard Rowe, Commanding General of the Military District of Washington, Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth Preston and Mrs. Preston, Soldiers, Families, Veterans Aca,!" it is an honor to join you today.

I want to take a moment to recognize some of the outstanding Soldiers before us this morning: the Soldiers of the Military District of Washington; the Third United States Infantry Regiment Aca,!" Aca,!A"The Old Guard;Aca,!A? and The United States Army Band Aca,!" Aca,!A"PershingAca,!a,,cs Own.Aca,!A?

The opening ceremony brings to life 232 years of Army history and service. Mark Murray, thank you for telling our Army story through those great Soldiers.

A wiser speaker than I might stop at this point, recognize those outstanding Soldiers, close my book, and say thank you, and sit down. You won't be so lucky. I'm just glad they've given us time to recover from that song.

Those Soldiers inspire us every time we see and hear them. Please join me in another round of applause.

Let me add my congratulations to each of the distinguished AUSA award winners we have just honored here today Aca,!" Lieutenant General Arter; Edward Dauksz; Major General Rees; Chief Warrant Officer 5 Anderson; Command Sergeant Major Pewther Aca,!" thank you for your service.

Lieutenant Colonel and Mrs. Chavez, and your children Aca,!" God bless you. You are a great example of Soldiers and Families taking care of Soldiers and Families. Our Army remains strong years into this conflict, because across the force, Soldiers and Families look out for each other.

And a heartfelt thanks to the Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech for your steadfast leadership during the dark days on your campus Aca,!" for this Nation.

And I want to thank President Bush for giving me this opportunity to serve as your Secretary of the Army Aca,!" this opportunity to work for Soldiers and Families, and thank President Bush for his leadership and steadfast support for our men and women in uniform during this conflict.

AUSA gathers us together in our Nation's capitol at a crucial time in the history of our Nation, and in the life of our Army. Yesterday, October 7th, we began the seventh year of combat operations in Afghanistan. We are four and a half years in Iraq.

This is the third longest war in our Nation's history, behind only the Revolutionary War and Vietnam. It is the only extended conflict since the Revolutionary War that we have fought with an All Volunteer force.

We have 280,000 Soldiers arrayed around the globe, from the Philippines to the horn of Africa, and Soldiers stationed in CONUS in support of the Northern Command, an ever-present reminder of the global reach of our adaptive and insidious enemy.

Our 150,000 Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan on the front line, and front of mind for all of us. They have urgent needs, and expect urgent responses from Big Army, to get them what they need, when they need it, to fight the wrath of the adaptive enemy.

This room is filled with partners in that effort. Civilians, contractors, and industry working together Aca,!" working together for Soldiers, whatever it takes. I thank all of you for what you do. Thank you for your partnership with the United States Army.

On September 21st, we held a ceremony at the Pentagon to remember and reaffirm our commitment to our Nation's POWs and MIAs, and the Families they left behind. At the ceremony, Secretary Gates spoke eloquently of the challenges, and the enemy that confront us.

He told us that day, Aca,!A"Throughout our Nation's history, it has always fallen to the men and women of the Armed Forces to respond to aggressors and adversaries, to endure arduous and Spartan conditions, to risk life and limb on the battlefield, to make sacrifices that are, in the final analysis, both our Nation's tragedy and our glory.

Aca,!A"As in past eras, we have once again been called to duty in a conflict that is global in scope, and generational in duration. Aca,!A"The enemies we face today, and the ideology that inspires them, are in some ways similar to earlier foes. Their ambitions are global; their hopes, totalitarian. But they're also very different. They have no borders to defend, diplomats to negotiate with, or Armies, Navies, or Air Forces to defeat. Their instrument is terror Aca,!" their victims, the innocent.Aca,!A?

What type of organization, training and equipment and leadership do we need in our Army today, to defeat this enemy, to meet this challenge'

Over the next three days, you will hear numerous speeches, and you and I will participate in forums at which we will discuss training, transformation, modernization Aca,!" this conflict in which strategic communications often rival bullets as the weapon of choice.

We'll discuss important future combat systems, and the imperatives that are driving our decisions. We will share our predictions, our best guesses about the future.

But I want to narrow my focus this morning. I'm going to brag on our Army Aca,!" brag on our Soldiers and our Family members, our All Volunteer Force.

I'm going to share with you accounts of the extraordinary service of our Soldiers and Families, stories that too often today, fail to reach beyond the limits of personal communication.

Consider the inspiring story of heroism in Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith. He was killed in action in Iraq, April 2003. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in the spring of 2005.

As recently recounted by columnist Robert Kaplan, by June of 2005, two months after his posthumous award, the first Medal of Honor in the global war on terror, the story of Sergeant First Class Smith had drawn only 99 media mentions, while the alleged Koran abuse at Guantanamo Bay had drawn 4,000 mentions, and the court martial of Abu Ghraib guard Lynndie England had drawn over 5,000 media mentions.

Lynndie England is nearly a household name in America. Paul Ray Smith is known to too few. I cannot explain the why, and I won't even try. But the media silence about the service of our Soldiers and Families allows an inaccurate and jaded image of our Army and the war effort to form in the public eye and public mind.

So I'm going to talk about Soldiers and Families. And I will talk about what we have done and must to do to sustain the health of this magnificent force Aca,!" American's Army, the strength of our Nation.

And finally, I'll invite you to join your Army in a Covenant with Army Families. General Creighton Abrams told us, "People are not in the Army. They are the Army."

That quote is on the wall of the Army conference room in the Pentagon, to remind us every day of our highest priority Aca,!" the men and women who are our Army. Soldiers and Army families, Volunteers every one of them, shouldering the burden of war for our Nation.

The Soldier and the Army Family Aca,!" our All Volunteer Force Aca,!" a national treasure. Truly, the strength of our Nation.

The All Volunteer Force began in 1973, launched during a deeply troubled era for our Army. It was an experiment that many Aca,!" and I expect many in this room today Aca,!" thought would fail.

The Force has been molded and shaped over the last 34 years, in peace and war, wars hot and cold, and conflicts large and small. Coming out of every conflict, whether the calamity of Desert I, or the triumph of the first Gulf War, we have become a different Army Aca,!" a better Army.

Now, six years of war. It is a first for this band of Volunteers, and our Army is digesting the gulps of change that come with this, as with any war, and the profound changes that come with a long war. It is a different Army than 34 years ago Aca,!" different than six years ago. It is a better Army. It is stretched, but it is better.

The demographics of this Army are different from any Army so long at war. A million Soldiers, Active, Guard and Reserve, with the Reserve component shouldering the burden of battle throughout the conflict.

Over half of our Soldiers are married, with more than 700,000 children. Volunteers all, the strength of our Nation.

The strength of this Army depends on the strength of the Soldiers and the strength of their Families. And I'm telling you what you already know. This Army is battle-tested and combat-hardened. This Army has had its moment at Kasserine Pass Aca,!" Soldier and Family, this Army is strong.

These 1 million Soldiers and 500,000 Families are shouldering a burden for 300 million Americans, and most of the free world.

Winston Churchill said of British pilots and crew in the Battle of Britain, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

In this war, the debt of the many to the few grows daily.

Ours is a combat Army. Over 500,000 of our Soldiers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over 220,000 have deployed multiple times. Tens of thousands have served in other combat zones Aca,!" Grenada, Panama, the Gulf War, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo. We have a Medal of Honor recipient from Vietnam on Active Duty Aca,!" Colonel Gordon Roberts.

Over 539,000 of our combat Veterans remain in the Army. Their leadership and their experience shape everything we do.

Our Chief has spent 30 months in Iraq, General Petraeus leading our Forces in Iraq today 30 months and counting. Sergeant Major of the Army Preston served in the first Gulf War, Kosovo, and OIF.

Three-quarters of the Command Sergeant Majors in the Active component are combat Veterans, and three-quarters of the students in the Sergeant Major's Academy here are also combat Veterans.

In the 2008 War College class at Carlisle, there are 260 U.S. military officers from all the services Aca,!" 200 Army officers. 71% have served in Iraq, 34% have served in Afghanistan, and many in both. And one, Colonel Roberts, I mentioned a moment ago, in Vietnam.

General Scott Wallace, our TRADOC Commander, commanded the 5th Corps. Throughout our TRADOC schools, combat Veterans are teaching combat Veterans. The firsthand lessons of war are spread throughout this force. And for these Soldiers at war, the extraordinary has become ordinary Aca,!" just doing their job.

For actions in the current conflict, over 7,000 Soldiers have been decorated for valor, and over 15,000 have received Purple Hearts.

Let me tell you about one of these Soldiers. Private Stephen Sanford of C Company, Second Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division.

During the early hours of November 19, 2005, Private Sanford was on patrol when his platoon got a report that Iraqi police were under attack by insurgents in the Al-Sukar neighborhood of Mosul, Iraq. His platoon was the first to respond Aca,!" the first and second squads assaulted a terrorist safehouse.

Private Sanford's squad was held in reserve inside their Stryker vehicles. The first two squads suffered heavy casualties.

Private Sanford's squad was ordered to assault the house and evacuate wounded Soldiers trapped inside the kitchen. Rounding the corner of an outside wall, Private Sanford was repelled by heavy insurgent fire directed at him and his team leader. Sanford was shot in the leg.

He remained with his squad for a second assault. An explosion and heavy small arms fire knocked him and his team leader to the ground. After regaining his footing, Private Sanford put himself in the enemy's line of fire, to protect his disoriented team leader and allow other members of his squad to evacuate the wounded.

Private Sanford continued to engage insurgents while helping his wounded comrades get out of the building. He returned to the house a second time, to provide covering fire for the final withdrawal of casualties. As Private Sanford was helping to load the casualties into a Stryker, another Soldier was shot in the neck, a wound that proved to be fatal. Private Sanford immediately returned to the side of his fallen comrade and began CPR.

He was shot twice in the back while attempting to revive the Soldier. He returned fire, killing an insurgent. During the exchange, Private Sanford received two potentially fatal gunshot wounds in the leg.

He continued to return fire and help his wounded comrade until incapacitated by his own loss of blood. He was evacuated and expired in surgery twice, but was revived by his doctors, and recovered from his wounds.

Private Sanford placed the mission first.
Private Sanford never accepted defeat.
Private Sanford never quit.
Private Sanford never left a fallen comrade.

Last February, General Peter Pace presented Private Sanford with the Distinguished Service Cross. Sanford later recounted with a reporter the story about the ceremony.

He said, as General Pace was pinning the Medal on him, General Pace's hands kind of shook a little bit. And General Pace said, "Sorry, this is the first time I've given out one of these." And Sanford replied, "It's OK, General. It's my first one, too."

The service of our Soldiers tells the story of this Army. Their service tells what kind of Army we are, and their service speaks for itself. And they speak pretty well for themselves as well.

A Battalion Commander was quoted in the paper recently. "I'm a Volunteer, and I'm a warrior. It's my job to fight." He captured the spirit of today's Army.

But our Army is stretched. We face readiness challenges in our non-deployed Forces. All of us here know that. And we're working to address those challenges.

And there are some who care deeply about the Army who are concerned, and ask if we're approaching the conditions that plagued the Army in the '70s.

The answer is an unequivocal "No". Re-enlistment rates are high, the quality of our Soldiers top-notch. Discipline is strong. We are deploying the best-led, best-trained, and best-equipped Soldiers we have ever put in the field.

Our Soldiers and Families believe in what they do. Our Soldiers and Families take pride in what they do. They understand the stakes. Our Soldiers want to see us grow the Army. They want the operational tempo to slow, and they want dwell time to lengthen, but our quality has never been better.

Ours is a combat Army. It's a strong Army. However, if we are complacent, if we ignore the lessons learned and warning signs of six years of war, the seams that are exposed in the crucible of combat, in the field or on the home front, our Army Soldiers and Families will wear down.

We will not let that happen.

For 500,000 spouses and 700,000 children, six years of war is uncharted territory. And we know the Family support systems from before September 11, 2001, are no longer adequate. We have incorporated the lessons learned from six years on the battlefield in supporting our Soldiers. We must incorporate lessons learned from six years on the home front in supporting our Families.

When a married Soldier deploys, he or she leaves behind a single parent household, and all the challenges of that family dynamic. When a single parent deploys, he or she leaves the child in the care of others.

One deployment is hard; two is harder; and three are harder still. Twelve months were hard; fifteen months are harder.

Our Family support systems, developed over the first 28 years of the All Volunteer Force, up through 9/11/2001, did not contemplate the operational tempo our Families are experiencing today.

Army Families hang together. They help each other out. But the challenge grows with each deployment. We are in an era of persistent conflict. We are an expeditionary Army. Our support must adapt to this new normal for our Families.

Our Army has recognized the strain, and has begun to move resources into the support of Families. We are listening to our Families, and we are acting on their guidance. We have much left to do, but we have made headway.

Since 2001, the public/private partnership of our Residential Communities Initiative has completed 20,000 new and renovated on-post homes. They are great homes in real neighborhoods. By 2010, 97% of all on-post Army Family housing will have been transferred to a private partner, a partnership to change Army housing into Army homes. We project by the end of 2013, our Soldiers and Families living on-post will be out of housing, and living in high-quality homes in vibrant Army communities.

Last summer, we moved $100 million into Family Support Programs, to hire a full-time staff, and expand childcare, respite care, and youth services. We will do more, and are reworking our [out] year budgets to sustain this increased level of investment in our Families.

Our Families are under stress, but they continue to stand behind their Soldiers and help those in need. In the Army, the bond of Family extends beyond bloodlines. Army Families take care of Army Families.

And we all should feel humbled by their service and their sacrifice. Our Families get no medals, but they are heroes, nonetheless.

Earlier, you learned about the remarkable service of Lieutenant Colonel Chavez and his Family. We also have the Family of Staff Sergeant Matt Maupin, Carolyn and Keith Maupin, here at the AUSA conference with us.

Carolyn and Keith are Matt's mom and dad. Matt has been missing in action for three and a half years. Every day, Carolyn and Keith live with the pain of the uncertainty, and the ambiguity of their sonAca,!a,,cs situation.

But they fill their days with helping others, helping Soldiers in harmAca,!a,,cs way just like their son. They run the Yellow Ribbon Support Center in Cincinnati, which was set up to build Internet cafes in Iraq, and they secured the donation of laptops so Soldiers could use them.

They sponsor college scholarships and facilitate a support network for SoldiersAca,!a,,c Families. They collect and they distribute truckloads of gifts and supplies for Soldiers and Families.

And they stay in touch with others who have suffered loss, and with us here in the Army, inspiring us every day with their faith, and with their determination.

They serve as a funnel for the generosity of people across America Aca,!" Americans who want to help Soldiers, Americans who want to help our Families. Through their efforts, resources [poorer] in this Soldier and Family Relief programs.

Carolyn and Keith are people of modest means, with great big hearts, and they've touched the lives of thousands.

And I want to say this once again to Carolyn and Keith, and to the Families of our other captured Soldiers in Iraq. We will not stop searching for your loved ones: Staff Sergeant Matt Maupin, Specialist Ahmed Altaie, Specialist Alex Jimenez, and Private Byron Fouty.

We will never leave a fallen comrade.

Carolyn and Keith, our prayers are with you. Thank you for all you do for Soldiers.

Our Family heroes come in all ages and all sizes. I talked earlier about Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith, 3rd Infantry Division, who was killed in action in Iraq, and awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

David Smith is his 12-year-old son. Earlier this year, David and his mother were interviewed at Fort Stewart by Katie Couric. They walked together down the Warrior's Walk, alongside the trees planted to honor the heroes of the 3rd Infantry Division, including the tree honoring David's father.

Ms. Couric asked David if it wasn't hard to talk about his father's death. David, standing tall next to his mother, said simply, and these are his exact words, "I am doing this to help out all the kids who have lost a father or mother in the war. When I speak out and I go on the news, they probably see me Aca,!" that I have lost my father. Then they will feel better because they'll see that theyAca,!a,,cre not the only one whoAca,!a,,cs lost somebody."

Too many of our Families have lost which that which they hold most dear. 2,422 Army Families have lost a loved one. 5,000 children have lost a parent.

Our grateful Nation owes them a debt we can never repay, but we must do all we can.

For six years, we've asked much of Army Families. In this era of persistent conflict, we will ask more, and we must do more.

We owe our Families a quality of life equal to the quality of their service, but recognizing our limits Aca,!" recognizing that we may match their service, but never their sacrifice.

We owe Army families the benefit of lessons learned through six years of war.

The Soldier of 2007 does not look like the Soldier of the year 2000. He or she is trained differently, equipped differently, and led differently.

Family support in 2007 cannot look like it did in the year 2000, either. Not if our Army is to remain ready; not if our Army is to remain healthy; not if we're going to fulfill our obligation to him or her who have borne the battle.

Your Army is moving in the right direction, but we are not where we need to be, and it will be a journey Aca,!" an ever-moving target. It will not be a destination.

Today, formally, your Army pledges to do more.

To that end, General Casey, Sergeant Major of the Army Preston, and I, on behalf of our Army, have signed a covenant with Army Families Aca,!" the Army Family Covenant. .
With this Covenant:

- We recognize the commitment and increasing sacrifices that our Families are making every day.
- We recognize the strength of our Soldiers comes from the strength of their Families.
- We are committed to providing Soldiers and Families a Quality of Life that is commensurate with their service.
- We are committed to providing our Families a strong, supportive environment where they can thrive.
- We are committed to building a partnership with Army Families that enhances their strength and resilience.
- We are committed to improving Family readiness by:
* Standardizing and funding existing Family programs and services;
* Increasing accessibility and quality of health care;
* Improving Soldier and Family housing;
* Ensuring excellence in schools, youth services, and child care;
* Expanding education and employment opportunities for Family members.

I ask each of you to join your Army in committing to the principles of this Covenant.

Our All Volunteer Force, Soldiers and Army Families Aca,!" these few deserve the support of us all, the many.

I will close with a video tribute to Army Families Aca,!" Army Strong, Army Families.

(video presentation of Army Strong, Army Families)

Soldiers, Families, the United States Army Aca,!" the strength of our Nation.

Thank you very much.

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