Gates speaks at Pentagon on Army's 236th Birthday
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates addresses the audience during a celebration of the 236th birthday of the U.S. Army at the Pentagon, June 14, 2011. The Soldiers seated at the front re-enlisted during the event and received a personal collector coin from Gates.

WASHINGTON, June 14, 2011 -- Innovation, dynamism and flexibility must remain the hallmarks of the U.S. Army, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said at the Pentagon, June 14, 2011.

Gates spoke during a Pentagon ceremony honoring Soldiers on the 236th birthday of the Army.

Gates, who recently returned from visiting servicemembers in Afghanistan, praised the spirit of innovation in the Army. The lesson of history is that leaders must encourage such thinking.

As an example, the secretary cited the experiences of D-Day in 1944.

“One of the most deadly obstacles U.S. Soldiers faced as they pressed inland from the beaches of France were hedgerows so thick and tough that allied tanks would ride, not through, but right on top of them, losing traction and exposing their vulnerable underbellies to German fire,” he said.

Sgt. Curtis G. Culin, a cavalry noncommissioned officer with the 2nd Armored Division, “had the brilliant idea of fashioning iron bars, scavenged from German anti-landing craft fortifications, into tank-mounted hedgerow cutters,” Gates said.

Following the successful demonstration of the cutters, Army logisticians built and mounted the equipment on nearly 300 Sherman tanks.

“The rest of the story is Operation Cobra, the U.S. Army’s successful advance through France,” he said. “That victory was a demonstration of the great and abiding strengths of our Army -- exceptional adaptability at all levels in the face of unpredictable circumstances, and the great trust and reliance placed in the ingenuity of Soldiers of all ranks.”

The same spirit of innovation and flexibility pervades the Army today, Gates said.

“The ground wars following 9/11 placed even heavier responsibilities on young leaders,” he said. “From the earliest days in Iraq and Afghanistan, our Soldiers downrange have been adjusting and improvising in response to the complex and evolving challenges on the ground -- often using new technologies to share real-time tactical lessons with their comrades.”

The missions required Soldiers to be scholars, teachers, policemen, farmers, bankers, engineers, social workers and warriors -- “often all at the same time,” the secretary said. “And they have always risen to the challenge.”

This spirit allowed the department to pull Iraq back from the brink of chaos in 2007 and, over the past year, to roll back the Taliban from their strongholds in Afghanistan, he said.

Gates also thanked Army families for their steadfast support of their Soldiers and each other.

The service’s challenge is to learn the right lessons from the past decade of war, Gates said.

“This doesn’t mean assuming the next war will be similar to the last -- a common and dangerous mistake -- but rather making sure the diverse experiences and agility of today’s young Soldiers are institutionalized, so our Army stands at the ready for conflicts both foreseen and unforeseeable.”

The Army must avoid a garrison mentality -- one that stifles innovation and is wedded to ironclad procedures. The service must embrace “the ingenuity, creativity, and innovative spirit of younger officers and [noncommissioned officers] so central to our success in combat,” he said.

Page last updated Wed June 15th, 2011 at 09:14