First of all, General Carpenter, thank you for that very kind introduction. I think in [front of] this audience it probably is not necessary to say what an amazing job Ray Carpenter has done -- and, as Acting [Director of the Army National Guard], he's outlasted a lot of the permanent cadre that have populated the Pentagon in recent times. Frankly, in my two-plus years now, were it not for General Carpenter I'm not sure how we would have navigated some very difficult terrain.

He's been there … he has represented the interests of the Guard … fiercely, and absolutely appropriately when it was required … and has been an invaluable source of input and information to me and I know I speak as well of the input and appreciation of the three Chiefs [of Staff of the Army] -- now, I've had trouble keeping Chiefs of Staff, I'm starting to take it personally [laughter] -- but Ray Carpenter's been an incredibly important part of the team and I thank him for all of that. [Applause]

I also have to thank all of you for getting me out of the Pentagon this morning on this beautiful November day, if only for a short time. For those of you who've been to the Pentagon -- you can understand my appreciation. The building has five sides -- thus the name, Pentagon; but inside, with the people, it's got about a million angles [laughter] … and then some.

President [Dwight] Eisenhower had to give the Pentagon grudging admiration; he said "it had apparently been designed to confuse any enemy who might infiltrate it." [laughter]

I think that's a pretty fair description, and it's not just the architecture -- it's how people do business, it's the attention to detail -- I'll put it euphemistically that you see in the Pentagon. There is a DOD manual -- and this is absolutely true -- that defines what a "front page" is.

I'm going to read it to you: "If the document has no front cover, the first page will be the front page." [laughter] Leaving nothing to chance, it goes on [laughter]: "If it has a cover, then the front page is defined as the first page you see when you open the cover." [laughter] And just to erase all confusion and doubt, it ends by saying: "in some documents, the title page, the first page, and the front page may be the same." [laughter]

So, God love you for inviting me here for a time. [laughter]

It's also a great time of year, not just [because of] the weather, but obviously in a few days, we'll have the opportunity in this nation to pause and to remember the service and sacrifice of those who have fought our nation's wars, who have, for more than two centuries, preserved our liberties and our freedoms.

It's really a day that America should also be reminded that our sons and daughters are still in harm's way -- and not just in Iraq and not just in Afghanistan, but, in fact, in some 80 countries across this planet -- doing the hard work of freedom … quietly … effectively.

And, as we commemorate Veterans Day, we should thank, too, a segment of our population that doesn't receive a whole lot of thanks, but -- make no mistake about it -- whose selfless service makes it possible for the men and women of the military who do wear the uniform to go out and protect this nation at home and abroad. By that I mean out Military Families.

On November 1st, we kicked off National Military Family Month. President Obama put out a proclamation that I'd like to read in part, and it says: "just as our troops embody the courage and character that make America's military the finest in the world, their family members embody the resilience and generosity that make our communities strong … To these families, and to those whose service members never come home, we bear a debt that can never be fully repaid."

So, this morning, most importantly, I want to thank each and every one of you for your incredible service, for what you've done for this nation in donning the uniform of the [National] Guard. But, please accept too, my thanks to your families -- your spouses, your children, parents, loved ones -- for the sacrifices that they make while you serve this great nation in uniform.

Over the course of the past few months, we've heard senior defense officials caution that the military risks losing its connection to American society.

I've witnessed, and I'm sure many of you have experienced, first-hand, the deep, heartfelt appreciation that this country has for its men and women in uniform -- spontaneous applause for the troops as they walk through airports, the surprise on a service member's face after learning a stranger has picked up their restaurant check -- there's no question in my mind Americans are deeply grateful for what you do.

That's not just anecdotal -- we can look at data, we can quantify it. A Gallup poll measured that the public's confidence in institutions in our nation ranks the military as the most trusted [institution] in the United States today. And, that's great news.

But, while there's appreciation, no question about it, there is concern. Concern that the depth of the military's connection to society as a whole is not what it has been in the past. And, we can quantify that as well.

We've all heard a lot lately from the protesters and pundits about Wall Street and the 99 percent versus the one percent.

But, I would tell you, the real one percent in this country that we should be talking about isn't a bunch of hedge fund managers or Wall Street bankers. I'm looking at the one percent. In fact, I'm looking at the less than one percent: The people who volunteered their service to America's military and came to our nation's defense, particularly in these last ten years of war.

Not only is this one percent a small segment of the population, there are those who understandably worry that it's an increasingly isolated part of the population, becoming increasingly apart from [the rest of] America.

One of the men I admire most recently made some comments [on this], former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, when he received the Thayer Award at West Point, an award presented each year to an outstanding citizen whose accomplishments in the national interest really do reflect the motto of West Point, "Duty, Honor, Country."

Secretary Gate noted that the United States Army's people and basing are concentrated in just five states. And, he pointed out as well that, for example, the state of Alabama, with a population of less than five million, has ten [Army] ROTC host programs, while Los Angeles and its metro area, with a population of more than 12 million, has four. Chicago, population nine million, has three [Army] ROTC host programs.

Secretary Gates went on to say: "there is risk over time, of developing a cadre of military leaders that politically, culturally and geographically have less in common with the majority of the people they have sworn to defend."

Those are words worth noting. But, I'd also say, that's where you come in.

As I certainly don't need to tell you, the men and women of the National Guard and the Air National Guard are in every zip code in America. That means that you are in every city, you're in every town, village, hamlet and, unlike our major military installations, you're in every Congressional district all across this great land.

And whether you're on the job or at church or in the supermarket, you -- the members of the Guard -- are the military's connection to every segment of America society. You show all of this great nation the goodness of duty and honor and country.

Richard I, better known as Richard the Lion Hearted, as King of England, said after his victory at the Battle of Freteval, that "when one has a good reserve, one does not need fear one's enemies."

What is now the modern day National Guard was, as you know, already more than a century old when John Parker braced the Minutemen of Lexington with his famous rallying cry to "stand your ground. Don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here."

From its organization in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to Lexington and Concord, across every war and battle fought in this nation's history, this land has never feared its enemies because of people like you -- the men and women of our National Guard. [applause]

Never has that been more true, I would argue, than in the last decade. You have cemented your reputation that began as a strategic reserve -- invaluable in your presence and your availability, and now -- seasoned … effective … deadly as an operational force.

Over the past year, I've seen the men and women of the Guard up close in service to America. Whether fighting terrorists in the [Philippines], [keeping peace] in the Sinai and the Balkans, challenging nature on the banks of the Mississippi River, or leading patrols in the Korangal Valley, I haven't see Guard, or Reserve, or Active. I've seen only Soldiers and airmen. American Soldiers, American airmen.

And what I've seen has been extraordinary.

President Obama has put it pretty well: "Our troops have succeeded in every mission America has given them, from toppling the Taliban to deposing a dictator in Iraq to fighting brutal insurgencies. At the same time," he said, "forces trained for war have been called upon to perform a whole host of missions. Like mayors, they've run small governments and delivered water and electricity. Like aid workers, they've mentored farmers and built new schools. Like diplomats, they've negotiated agreements with tribal sheikhs and local leaders."

Looking toward the future, I will tell you it is critical we keep you engaged, we keep you in uniform, and keep you bridging that gap between military service and American society.

We need to make sure -- we will do everything we can to make sure -- that Guard units have the training, equipment and support that you need -- ensuring we are ready for any contingency, whether a theater of war, homeland defense or disaster response.

Yes, you've earned it. But, more than that, this nation and our nation's military need you there as you have been for [the past] ten years. [Applause]

This week's senior leader conference isn't just about celebrating the Guard and your 375 years of service to America, as important as that certainly is. It's also about the Guard's enduring value, and that's a point we're going to need to drive home each and every day and particularly in the weeks and months ahead as the budget discussions continue.

For a long time, the Department of Defense seemed to have every resource that it needed for whatever was wanted. But after ten years of war we're now in a shaky global economy and things are changing. We're under tremendous pressure, as you know -- and I know you've heard this week -- to do very dramatic things to spend our dollars wiser to reduce costs.

Turn on a TV, go on-line, read a newspaper -- you've heard it -- just as I have. The president, Congressional leaders are struggling everyday in search of ways to cut costs, to generate revenues, and reduce the deficit.

And as you know -- as you've heard -- some of that is going to inevitably rest at our doorstep. And I would argue, frankly, it should.

Just as I spoke earlier about ensuring our connection to American society, the budget problems that we face, we face as a nation. And that requires shared sacrifice across the entire federal government.

We're in this together.

But what concerns me, what troubles me, as I listen to and read some of the columnists, some of the analysts and part-time experts, is the suggestion that somehow America may not need a strong and decisive military. Maybe the Army has over and outlived its need. My impression is that the future, to them, looks more like "Transformers" than "Saving Private Ryan."

It's not a new debate -- we've had it after virtually every conflict.

In fact, back weeks before the attacks of September 11th, [2001], 82 of my colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee and I wrote to [then] Secretary [of Defense] Rumsfeld. We warned about using cuts in the Army and the military as a bill-payer for other things.

We said we supported the Secretary's efforts to ensure that we're prepared for the future, but we wrote as well, reduction in [the Army's] force structure to an extreme would clearly undermine that goal.

Not everybody agreed with us. A hometown or home-state newspaper of mine, called our position favoring "relics of the old 20th-century force."

And I concede [some of] their point, and there is no question we need supremacy in all forms, and to develop and use every possible technology -- the tactical superiority that's available to us to give you and your comrades everything you need when duty calls.

But, I would argue we don't have to do that at the expense of one service over another, of the Guard and Reserve over the Active, or of the Active over the Guard and the Reserve. We have to do this as we have fought over the last ten years -- as a team … brothers in arms … one team, one fight. [Applause]

I want to be clear in my everyday responsibilities as Secretary of the Army -- that's where my attention is directed first. But I understand as well, as I just said, we're not alone in this fight. We're not alone this march. And, we're not alone in our concerns.

And I can tell you nothing is more reassuring to troops on the ground that the thunderous ripping sound of a Warthog's 30mm cannon delivering lethal, precision, supporting fire. It's a huge, huge morale boost to Soldiers in need, it's a crushing blow to our enemies, and to boil it down to its minimum -- it saves lives.

And, in that regard, the Air National Guard has delivered a lion's share of such close air support time and time again; and deployed the 'Warthogs' to air expeditionary wings in both theaters, and done it magnificently -- to great effect, providing the decisive edge and saving the lives of Soldiers and Marines on the ground.

I've seen the precision and the skill of our Air Guard up close and personal in my now 19 trips to Iraq, first as a member of Congress and now as the Secretary of the Army. It was the Guard that got me in and it was the Air Guard that got me out confidently, professionally each and every time. And for a million soldiers who've deployed into those two theaters these last ten years, that's pretty much their story as well.

There's no question that the Air Guard provides our troops and our nation with a decisive, tactical edge. And it's an edge that we have to keep, even as we enter a new era of fiscal restraint. [applause]

We know that our budgets are going to get smaller. But we have to ensure that we don't hollow out our military -- and that means Active, Guard and Reserve.

We've heard, in the past, the arguments as I've mentioned: two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and most recently Desert Storm. And, after each of those conflicts, we did the wrong thing: we drastically drew down, we cut our forces, we significantly cut back on research and development, we drew down acquisition programs. And, in every instance, we were wrong. Lasting peace proved fleeting, as it always has, and -- as a Nation -- we were unprepared for the next conflict.

Secretary [of Defense] Panetta may have mentioned when he came and spoke to you this week, about his concern of this risk.

He said in a speech earlier this that that a hollow force is, what he called, "a paper tiger -- an army of barracks and buildings and bombs that either doesn't have enough Soldiers to accomplish its missions, or plenty of Soldiers that aren't trained or led well. In any case -- in every case -- a hollow force invites aggression."

And, as we continue wrestling with our budgetary realities, our military and our Nation must heed the lessons of history -- and do it as we decide the future strength and structure of our armed forces

It's not a new lesson. It's the same lesson that George Marshall warned about repeatedly, perhaps never so strongly as in a widely publicized address in New York, shortly after the allied victory in World War II

"Respect," Marshall said, "is an intangible. But consider what it might have meant to us in tangibles had we commanded the military respect of Germany and Japan in 1939."

Marshall spoke of the Axis nations' surprise not only at our willingness, but our capability and capacity to organize, to fight, and to win. Had they anticipated American willingness and American resolve, perhaps the world might never have known a Second World War.

But respect, he noted, "is fleeting, unless we bend our efforts to preserve it."

And I would tell you this morning, in closing, that that is our solemn obligation. Those of us who have the honor of walking into a building each and every morning where the word "hero" really means something have a duty and a responsibility to all of you: To ensure this nation's continued respect, built on the valor and sacrifice and bloodshed of our all volunteer force --Active, Guard, Reserve - the young men and women of the United States military who committed and recommitted themselves to defending this great nation after attacks on America are never left short-changed again.

We owe it to them -- and we owe it to you -- that we ensure our Nation's strength and our Nation's resolve is never again so challenged.

And if it is challenged, whether the threat is here at home or abroad, from Mother Nature or a determined enemy, our nation and our people can and do sleep sounder, more securely knowing that the Guard is "Always Ready. Always there."

So, thank you and God Bless you for what you do. Keep this nation safe, as you have for 375 years. Thank you very much.

Page last updated Wed December 7th, 2011 at 12:49