April 19, 2011 -- Secretary of the Army remarks at the VMI Marshall Awards
April 29, 2011
This is a day of first for me. I am a recovering politician. I was in politics for 40 years. I've spoken in a lot of places. But a place of worship has never been one of them, so that's a first. Usually that happens to people after they hear me speak, not before. I'm honored by this opportunity and let me say to General Cody, or as I always call him, Vice.
Sir, thank you for your mostly accurate introduction. I am not sure everything nice he said about me is warranted, but I deeply appreciate it. I have had a lot of opportunity in my 17 years on the House Armed Services Committee to work with General Cody, most of which occurred during his tenure as Vice Chief of Staff. He did a lot of good things, and earned a reputation, and deservedly so, as being one of the most active and proactive vice chiefs of staff we've ever had. I learned a lot from him and benefited greatly from the things he did. He continues, even after 36 years in uniform, he continues to contribute, as his activities here in support of this great program so directly attest to. So Dick, thank you so much for all you do and all you continue to do.
And obviously I want to thank the Marshall Foundation. Known for certainly this program. The great opportunity it provides to bring these tremendous leaders of the Army tomorrow together; but of course beyond that, for the great things you do each and every day; and the remembrance and teaching the history of one of the most amazing men that ever walked the face of the earth in my humble opinion; and helping all of us learn the lessons looking at his life and his contributions can bring to us.
Let me say to the Cadets, you are blessed and special, maybe not in that order. I want to congratulate you for just being selected to be part of this incredible program. I assume and I hope you know the high honor that has been placed upon you to come to this revered place, this place where history is just seething - that you can feel it and to think about all that has gone on before, the military history and the political history in this country, and how you are poised to make similar history in the future.
Now I've seen the schedule that you've gone through, and I think it's fair to say it's you've been on a pretty whirlwind pace and you've heard from a lot of leaders talking to you about their perspectives, talking about how they look at and view the Army today and maybe to a certain extent, judge the Army of tomorrow.
And I don't always value each of them, but I just want to tell you how really happy I am you had a chance to hear from our brand new Chief of Staff of the Army. General Dempsey is on his way - he's probably there now, down range in the theatre, a place where he served as a Combat Division Commander with such honor and distinction. And it was with great pride that I had the chance just last week to swear him in as the 37th Chief of Staff of the United States Army.
I'm going to venture in to the understatement area and say that General Marty Dempsey's credentials to be our Chief of Staff, to put it mildly, are impressive. He has a career-long, deserved reputation as being a creative thinker, a thoughtful leader. He's a consummate problem solver at a time when we have some problems that need to be solved. And I am looking forward so much to working together with him to look at and hopefully overcome the challenges that this Army, your Army, faces in the days and weeks and months ahead. Having said all those nice things, I will make one observation I know he, General Dempsey is a West Point graduate. I don't want anybody to be worried about that because the previous two chiefs of Staff, General Casey and General Schoomaker were ROTC candidates. So it was time to throw West Point aboard, (correction) a bone, right' General Dave Huntoon, your superintendant, a great leader, and former director of the Army staff, all in good fun too, all in good fun. Ladies and Gentlemen, Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, our Cadet Commander, thank you both for helping shape our leaders of tomorrow and the future.
But we are at West Point of sorts. This is West Point of the South, here at VMI. But most importantly for this event, the Alma Mater, of a truly great American, George C. Marshall, one of the, I'd say, greatest military leaders, not only in our nation, but I would argue, in the history of the world; and the man that Winston Churchill dubbed the "organizer of victory". And if you know the history of that, Winston Churchill and George Marshall didn't always agree on everything. But the fact that such a great leader like Winston Churchill recognized the contributions, the great achievements of George Marshall is high testament indeed.
And this event, this seminar - this series of programs that you're in is a testament to Marshall himself and I would argue most importantly in his belief, his lifelong commitment to the creed that education and study is a means by which to advance ourselves intellectually but also through the national security and military preparedness channels as well. And I'd just cite to you a speech he made before the American Historical Association. It was just a few years before the United States entered into World War II, when he declared that understanding and appreciating world history was as he put it "important to a sound view regarding military policy, but even more importantly, he said, "are the lessons of history."
See Marshall cautioned that historians have been more inclined to record the victories and the glories and they overlook what he called wasteful sacrifices. He noted few Americans have ever learned that this nation employed over 400,000 men in the Revolutionary War to defeat an enemy of 45,000. Or, he said that we employed a half a million to fight the War of 1812 against an opponent whose strength never exceeded 16,000 in any one place. Now Marshall's point, it seems to me, wasn't to denigrate the incredible efforts of the Revolutionary War or the struggle of the War of 1812, the struggles or the glory and the sacrifice of seminal conflicts of American history, but rather to use them to as a lesson; to say from every victory, there are lessons that are equally important to learn that may not be on the front page of the newspapers, that may not be in the first chapter of the history book. And it seems to me that that lesson holds value even today, and it relates a little bit to what I'd like to talk to you about in the time you've so graciously given me.
Over the last 19 months roughly, in the time that I've been the Secretary of the Army, I've made it a point everywhere I go to visit with Soldiers and their families across the Army, whether they are deployed, whether they serve in the camps and posts and stations, located across this great, prudent plain, and the one thing that I've heard consistently in recent months is the question: What is my future in the United States Army' And if it isn't that, the question takes a little bit of a different attack and asks: What is the future of the United States Army itself'
See, Soldiers listen. And they are listening now and they're hearing things that cause them concern: things like the draw down in Iraq, things like the planned phase out in Afghanistan. The uncertainty, the uncertainty (repeated) of the economy all of us live in, the tightening of budgets that you all have heard about, and that we're going to continue to hear about for the foreseeable future. And that's weighing on a lot of our Soldiers, a lot of their families and probably a lot of you to ask, not only if they want to continue to serve, but if they will be able to serve even if they wish to. Because those Soldiers, again perhaps like some of you, volunteer to serve our country in a time of war.
Now, to me that says a lot about you as individuals. It talks about your character, it talk about your character (repeated) and courage. It tells me you are exactly the kind of people we need and we want to have to win the conflicts yes, of today but to prepare more effectively for tomorrow and the uncertain future that those Soldiers are talking about.
Now some facts: in Iraq and Afghanistan right now the United States Army has provided authorities and flexibilities to our young Officers in a way that is unprecedented. And they have responded brilliantly. Whether they are forward in Iraq or Afghanistan, today's 03s and 04s are making split decisions on the battlefields that in the past, and not so distant past, were reserved principally for 06s, and sometimes even Brigadiers.
So the question that we, your senior leadership, are asking ourselves is: how do we keep those great young leaders today out there making such weighty decisions and exercising that authority, how do we keep them interested in the Army, especially when they come home, away from the conflict of today and into an era of what we understand in all likelihood will be of significant constrained resources' They fear, that just as has happened historically, as Marshall would question and challenge us to do in the past, that we'll slash budgets, we'll cut procurements. We won't buy the equipment that we need. We'll devastate end strength; we'll create what has now become the proverbially hollow force.
So what do we do about that' Because those realities are out there. Well obviously those answers are not simple, and obviously those are things we're looking at very hard. But I think there's some things that are self evident.
First and foremost, especially as we consider the future for leaders like yourselves, we have to reaffirm our ongoing commitment to leader development. And that means opportunities for education and training that probably haven't been available to many Soldiers in the current fight. And when they were available, a lot of Soldiers were bypassing them because they have not been seen as a path to promotion. We've got to change that. Now just recently on February 25th, the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, made some headlines up at General Huntoon's campus at West Point on the beautiful Hudson. He made a speech, and those headlines popped up after the Secretary observed and recommended that any future Secretary of Defense that recommended an engagement in Asia in a land war should have his head examined, and that the Army should rethink its heavy structure and rethink its allocations to our formations and heavy forces.
Now the headlines, I would argue (because I've sat down and talked to the Secretary the next day) were largely a matter of misunderstanding, misinterpretation. Something I think the Secretary clarified to a large extent during a speech he made shortly thereafter at the Air Force Academy. But here is my point. Through all the commotion about those comments, I think one of the most important parts of the Secretary's speech were, were overlooked because not long thereafter in that speech the Secretary gave the cadets, I think, some terrific advice.
And he said, and I quote, "In addition to the central troop command and staff assignments, you, tomorrow's leaders, should look for opportunities in the paths that are off the beaten path, if not a career dead-end: further study at grad school, teaching at a first rate university, spending time at a think tank, being a congressional fellow, working at a government agency, or becoming a foreign area specialist," the secretary said, "should be things that every future leader ought to think about doing." And he went on to note that, "That would require the institutional Army," what we call the generating force, "not only to tolerate, but to encourage you in that effort." End quote.
I believe he couldn't have been more right. In that regard, one of the key projects, in fact the key project that I have undertaken as Secretary is to transform that institutional force, transform that force that can facilitate you accessing the things that Secretary Gates talked about in your futures as leaders. Now why am I doing that' Because I, like Secretary Gates, believe that our best hedge against an uncertain future, as Secretary Gates put it very well: we've got a 100% perfect record in predicting the future. We've always been wrong. Our best hedge against that uncertain future will be adaptive, innovative, thinking officers; leaders like you who can intellectualize rise to any challenge; who will operate with confidence and competence in an environment of uncertainties. People in this room are those who we had in mind. People like you are who have already stood your selves apart.
Over the past nine years, through conflicts in two theatres, the operational Army, that sharp tip of the spear, has changed ever so dramatically. All of you know what's caused that change. It's been the fundamental imperative of daily contact with a decentralized, adaptive, creative, and extraordinarily deadly, deadly (repeated) enemy. But the institutional Army - the generating force - which prepares, trains, and educates and supports our forces for the fight, looks pretty much structurally like it did in the 1970's - more than three decades ago. Literally each day, often hour by hour, the operational Army continues to morph as new threats arise. We have to be as equally adept, as equally flexible in our institutions and our processes from personnel to training to development to materials assistance as they are in the operational Army. We have to be able to form a structure and perform in a fashion that empowers you officers and leaders that doesn't just allow but in fact helps you to reach your goals and realize your objectives as an officer and as a professional.
Now it is true, the institutional Army like has happened to the Army on the battlefield has had its challenges since September 11th. Secretary Gates noted in those kinds of circumstances, the most important thing we could do is to produce the force - to field the Army. And we've been doing that, but we have to do more. We have to have an institutional Army that is designed and driven by ideas and innovation. Instilled with the determination that the best services and equipment, training and support for our Soldiers, civilians, and their family members are what are driving us every day, and doing it at an affordable cost.
There's some realities here. We're talking about institutional change. For those of you who are studying those kinds of things back at your campus, you know how hard that can be. Institutions are just historically resistant to change, particularly when we don't provide motivation to do things differently. That is not a new problem. Even in Marshall's time, after the war to end all wars and on the cusp of a second war, the nations' military structure seemed content to march in place. Marshall found that out when he was struggling to demand the change in the structure of what was then the War Department. Major General Joe McNarney, whom Marshall had asked to kind of work through the issues of that reorganization, told Marshall that the only way he was going to be able to do that was to not as we call it, "staff" it. Don't put it out. Don't ask for concurrences and non-concurrences, because if you do, you'll have nothing but numerous nom-concurrences and interminable delay - bureaucratic stagnation. Marshall happened upon a game changer, a little motivator called World War II. And it allowed him to do the things he necessarily needed to do, to make a big difference.
So we are looking for a game changer for ourselves. What motivations can we bring about to harness the change that we need to make a better Army for all of you' Now there may be several, but two come immediately to mind. Number one: the very thing that Soldiers are talking about, and that is diminishing resources, fewer dollars available to build our budgets. And number two is a new kind of enemy; one that we're seeing on the battlefield today; one that will cause us to look at how and why we field an Army in different ways for the future.
Now let me start with number two. In my humble opinion, you can out-fight, this Army can out-fight any enemy on the face of the earth. But we have to do more than just fight the enemy. We have to develop the thinkers of tomorrow to out-plan, to out-plot and overcome the enemy militarily, of course, but intellectually as well. Our key challenge therefore is to make certain that you have the education, training, the time necessary to keep you retained, challenged and inspired. And happily we've started to do that. We're underway as we speak. We've changed the way in which we do things - all things, or at least we've started to look in that direction.
We began a series of what we call Capability Portfolio Reviews. It is a systematic look and a systemic look at every thing we do by class and function. From our missile programs to our tactical vehicle fleet to our civilian workforce and beyond, we are asking what are we doing; how much are we paying for it; and are there smarter ways to get that job done. We are working to revalidate, modify and in many cases outright terminate requirements, ensuring responsible priorities for everything from research to development to life cycle sustainment and acquisition, and that includes by the way, force structure, end strength and training.
We recently completed a holistic review of our acquisition process. We are going to buy things smarter, quicker, and we're going to buy them at the best possible cost. At the same time, AMC, Army Material Command, the ASOL, the acquisition executive for the Army, are currently engaged in a thorough review to root out overlap and flatten out redundancies in our research and development programs, ensuring you are getting what you need for the future fight in the most timely and cost effective way possible.
I directed the DUSA - the Deputy Under Secretary of Army to review our so-called temporary organizations and task forces to see if they are still needed and to see if they are even relevant to what we are doing and what we are facing both today and tomorrow. Because to paraphrase the economist Milton Friedman, there's nothing in Washington so permanent as a temporary taskforce. And we've got to change that, and we're working to do that.
Now I know, that sounds like a lot of Pentagon talk, it sounds like talk you've heard before and maybe it sounds like something you didn't care about then, and maybe you don't care much about now. But let me suggest to you that transforming the institutional Army ought to be something that as you sit here as our future leaders in uniform, that you should know as well, that transforming the Army is more than just pinching pennies or improving the bottom line. It's about doing things smarter, doing them better, and taking full advantage of the progress in technology and all the off the shelf availability of products that are out there waiting for us. It's about best posturing ourselves for the upcoming era of operational and fiscal change; ensuring we are prepared to manage the future and preserve what over the last decade has become the best Army on the face of the earth with no peer anywhere to be seen.
And as we go about that, the Army and our nation must heed the warnings and the lessons of the post-Vietnam world most particularly. It is the same lesson George Marshall warned about repeatedly, perhaps never so strongly as the widely publicized address shortly after the Allied victory of World War II. "Respect," Marshall said, "is an intangible. But consider what it would have meant to us in tangibles had we commanded the military respect of the Germany, Italy and Japan in 1939." Marshall spoke of the Axis nations' surprise, not at our willingness but at our capability to organize to fight and to win. Had they anticipated that willingness and resolve, he suggests, that perhaps the world would have never known World War II.
And he said too, "Respect is fleeting, lest we bend our efforts to preserve it." That, it seems to me, is our solemn obligation - to ensure this nation's continued respect built on the valor, sacrifice, and bloodshed of those who have volunteered to serve. We must ensure that our nation's strength and our nation's resolve is never again so challenged. And to do that, to meet that moral obligation, we'll need your help and your leadership and your commitment. And to achieve that, I want to make you a promise. If you commit and invest in us, this Army, your Army, will heed George Marshall's wisdom to learning lessons through history. We will manage the coming days of change and fiscal constraints in a fashion that preserves all about this great Army that calls you to its ranks, that retains its posture and its deserved reputation as the awe-inspiring force that it has become. This is our duty to our great nation, and it is our promise to us and to all of you. So congratulations on your selection. Thank you for allowing me the honor to be here, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the program.