July 28, 2011 - Secretary McHugh's Remarks at the Closing of Walter Reed Army Medical Center
July 29, 2011
Thank you all for being here. As you heard, there are so many distinguished guests here that I would cruise - to take a Navy term - into very dangerous waters if I were to try and name them all, and I will forego that challenge.
But, I do want to pay particular thanks and words of appreciation to Chairman Inouye and my former colleagues in the House - [including] Congressman Bishop - for their great work. [These are] rather busy times on Capitol Hill and yet they grace us with their presence here today. Gentlemen, thank you - not just for being here but for the great sacrifice and efforts you [make] on behalf of the United States military each and every day. We are so honored that you've joined us. [Applause]
I also want to express my personal thanks to be honored to take part in what is obviously a very historic moment. We gather here today for what I know in the mind and the eyes of the Army, and certainly for all of you, is a bittersweet moment, perhaps even one tinged with melancholy.
For more than a century, this place, this grand campus has symbolized the Army's unyielding commitment to the care and treatment of our Wounded Warriors.
Through all of that time it's been a place of healing, a place of hope, and just as its namesake Major Walter Reed's work in helping to eradicate yellow fever illustrates so well, it's been a place of never-ending innovation, scientific and medical achievement.
Since President Obama afforded me the great honor of being nominated as the 21st Secretary of the United States Army, like so many before me, I have made regular visits to two venerable institutions - two institutions that, for me, serve as a constant and important reminder of the real cost of military service and the real cost of war.
One - Arlington National Cemetery, where I attempt to attend every funeral for those Soldiers who are killed in action in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And the other? The other's been right here, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
While no one - no one - can come away from the funeral of a young Soldier without feeling the overwhelming sense of loss and hurt that is in the soul of their Families, here, the emotions run so much in a different vein.
Here, it's impossible to walk away without having been uplifted by the determination, the sheer grit of those who are under the care of the professionals at Walter Reed. Those warriors, those heroes who have endured traumatic injuries and often horrific pain, yet through all of that, maintain their fighting spirit - the spirit that has always been the heart and soul of the American Soldier.
I have to tell you, just before each visit, on the 20 minute or so ride from the Pentagon, I always wonder to myself, what can I say to lift their spirits? What thoughts, what hope can I possibly impart that will ease their worry and brighten their day?
But in truth, each time ... after each visit ... it is they that do the lifting. Their courage, their strength is an incredible source of inspiration and it's a never-ending reminder of the price, yet ultimately of the triumph, of freedom.
Even from the hospital bed that they soldier, these brave men and women retain their commitment to the Warrior Ethos - to never accept defeat, to never quit.
And I find as well in each visit that that spirit doesn't just reside in those warriors alone. It courses through all of your veins as well; it guides your hands. You, too - those who work here, and have over the years - live that Ethos to never leave a fallen comrade, giving all to save and improve their lives.
Despite the loss of limb or the pain of their wounds, thanks to you, they have never lost themselves.
They have been helped on their journey to recovery thanks to places like Walter Reed, thanks to places here in support of that - like Malone House; allowing the wounded and their families to come together, to provide the support, the love and the care that only a child or spouse can render.
The leaders and workers of Walter Reed Army Medical Center have always looked for new ways to aid in the recovery of our wounded, from groundbreaking prosthetics to irreplaceable emotional support.
And that is truly what Walter Reed has always been about. Not bricks, not mortar, not buildings, not grass ... but spirit and hope and compassion.
As you've heard, this is certainly not the first time Walter Reed has changed its address during its storied history. Granted, since the early days as the hospital at Washington Barracks - today's Fort McNair - the move that lies before us is undoubtedly the largest. But this campus has seen big changes and small as well since opening its doors first in 1909.
Despite what you may have heard, as despite how I undoubtedly look, I was not there for the original dedication, but even so, I assume the relocation to this campus was not quite as complicated as the one we are on track to complete by this September.
Now, I've never seen a NASCAR pit crew change the tires of a racecar while it was still racing on the track, but that's pretty much what all of you have been asked to do. The pace during this time hasn't slowed nor will it, and the work has and will continue - even while you've had to combine critical treatment in one corridor, you've at the same time been packing up and getting ready to move in the next corridor.
That we are even at this point is, in my eyes, truly amazing.
But miracles are what this facility truly has been about - what the doctors, nurses, administrators, workers and patients seem to specialize in, each and every day, year in and year out.
Now, I know that in the Joint world, we are supposed to put aside individual service pride on behalf of the greater good - we're honored to have so many Navy representatives here today - and on behalf of that greater good we will do that ... after today. [Laughter/Applause]
But when I was thinking about this move, it seems to me that there's really one primary reason that the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center will be housed at Bethesda. For all the great people ... for all the great things they do ... the Navy had the real estate - which is kind of ironic when you think about it, given that they're supposed to be out on ships somewhere. [Laughter]
But I would argue that the Army's got the people [applause]. And, I want all you Army folk to make me a promise: even while we work together - and we will - hand-in-hand on behalf of the care and treatment of our Wounded Warriors, make the extra effort to help those Navy guys [and gals] understand what it means to be on land and caring and doing a great job and I think everything will be alright. Hooah? [Hooah! and applause]
But in reality, and this is a serious, serious issue: the work of this hospital and the truly remarkable work of Bethesda Naval Medical Center have equally storied histories [applause]. And I can think, truly, of no better way to ensure the continued compassionate care of our wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coastguardsmen and women, than by bringing together, uniting the best, the brightest, the most caring people to treat our men and women in uniform regardless of the color of that uniform. This is, in that measure, a good move and a good day. [Applause]
Winston Churchill once said: "Fanned by the fierce winds of war, medical science and surgical art have advanced unceasingly, hand in hand.”
To all of you I would say, as the fierce winds of war continue to blow on our men and women in uniform, the spirit of Walter Reed, the spirit of all of you, continues to advance medical science and surgical art with kindness, ingenuity, and unwavering devotion to duty.
These doors may close, the address may change, but the name, the legacy, and most importantly the work and the healing will endure. [Applause]
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this great Army. [Applause]