Secretary of the Army Pete Geren
Marshall Awards Speech
Evans Hall, Washington & Lee University
April 17, 2008

AS DELIVERED

MG Rees, thank you for that kind introduction. Your service to our Nation began over 40 years ago, when you entered West Point in 1962. Over those decades, you have served in both the active duty Army and the National Guard - cavalry troop commander in Vietnam, commander of the 116th Armored Cavalry Regiment, service as the vice chief and acting chief of the National Guard Bureau. And now you lead the Oregon National Guard as Adjutant General. A remarkable career. Thank you for your service.

And to our Marshall Award winners - it is a privilege and an honor to address you tonight. And I want to thank the Marshall Foundation, Washington & Lee, and VMI for their support of this occasion and acknowledge the role VMI played in shaping the career of George Marshall. VMI is our nation's oldest state military college, founded in 1839 - an institution with a proud and rich history.

Since the graduation of its first class, VMI graduates have served our nation with distinction in every war our Nation has fought, starting with the Mexican War four years after its founding.

Two hundred and forty-eight VMI graduates have reached general or flag officer ranks. Seven have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Nearly 600 VMI cadets have been killed in action in our Nation's wars.

And VMI remains the only military college whose student body marched into battle - the 257 cadets who fought on the side of the South in the Civil War. They marched to New Market to turn back a Union offensive in the Shenandoah Valley - suffering 54 casualties with 10 killed in action -- 6 buried on the grounds at VMI.

In 1897, with many of the wounds of that war yet to heal, Pennsylvania's George C. Marshall enrolled at VMI, one of 14 Yankees among 82 rats in that year's class.

In 1901, that Pennsylvania Yankee graduated as the unanimous choice for First Captain of his class - and embarked on a nearly 60 year journey that shaped our Army to meet the perils of the 20th Century; he served as chief of staff of the U.S. Army and was one of the chief architects of the Allied victory in World War II. And, with the Marshall Plan, laid the foundation for our ultimate victory in the Cold War.

You the Marshall class of 2008, are part of the legacy of one of our truly great Americans. You are being recognized both for your outstanding performance in ROTC and for your potential as future Army officers.

Each of you was selected as the top cadets of your ROTC Units -- you have demonstrated outstanding leadership and academic achievement.

Together, you represent our Army's next generation of leaders. You are among our very best and our expectations of you are high. Today, our Army is the best led, best trained and best equipped Army the world has ever seen. Your job is to make sure we can still say that 20 years from now.

You are leaders who will lead our Soldiers during this time of war and in this era of persistent conflict and persistent engagement.

You will lead in complex and complicated times - under the Chinese curse of all those who are fated to live in "interesting times" - and much will be asked of you. You will be entrusted with our Nation's most precious resource - our sons and daughters - and our nation's most important mission - our nation's defense.

Napoleon told us, "There are no bad soldiers, only bad generals."

Your responsibilities are heavy - your charge is as old as our Army: lead by example, accomplish the mission and take care of your Soldiers.

Each of you has been given Forrest C. Pogue's four-volume biography of George C. Marshall. You would do well to study it. The many and varied challenges George C. Marshall confronted over his nearly 60 years of service to our Nation - you will find them all compressed into your military career, whether it be 5 years or 40 - perhaps even into a single tour in Iraq or Afghanistan. Clear-hold-build, Counter-insurgency, stability operations, combat, nation-building - winning a war, winning the peace - and laying the foundation for a sustainable peace - our Soldiers are doing all of that and more -- everyday.
That is a lot to ask of you - but that is what we are asking of Army leaders today.

George C. Marshall's career - it began before the Wright Brothers took flight and ended in the Space Age.
He began as you will - as a second lieutenant. And he told us, and I quote from him, "There isn't anything much lower than a second lieutenant" - come this May, you will be able to judge for yourselves whether that is true.

And this man who is credited with many of the greatest successes of the 20th Century, considered his promotion to first lieutenant in 1907, "the most thrilling moment of my life" - a thrill each of you can reasonably expect to share with him. But there are big differences.

George Marshall spent 15 years as a lieutenant before World War I and 23 years as a staff officer, commander and instructor between World War I and World War II.

He had an advantage you likely never will have - an extended break between conflicts.

For you, it is likely that your career never will be free of war - it will be an era of persistent conflict and persistent engagement. You will not get an inter-war break. You will be changing tires on a speeding vehicle for most of your career.

Today I want to talk about three of the challenges you will face in this era of persistent conflict, separate challenges, but interwoven.
First, we must be a military that can "clear, hold and build" - all equally well - win the battle, win the war, and win the peace - build a sustainable peace. In the 21st Century, wars are not won when the enemy army is defeated on the battlefield - in fact, there may not be a uniformed enemy to fight at all. Instead, today, a war is won only when the conditions that spawned armed conflict have been changed.

That is asking a lot of our military - missions we have not sought for ourselves, but missions our nation has given us today and will in the future. Missions that are critical to the safety and freedom of our citizens and our allies.

We must be prepared for the full spectrum of skills that assignment requires - kinetic and non-kinetic - lethal and non-lethal.

And this brings us to the second challenge: strategic communications - an art, a skill that is essential to success on the battlefield of the 21st Century and on the homefront. By definition, non-kinetic - but in the hands of our enemy - lethal.

Strategic communications are essential to maintaining public trust and confidence in our military, recruiting our nation's finest into our military and sustaining the morale of our Soldiers - and their families, their families are essestial to defeating the enimies of the 21st century and maintaining - support for the war effort.
And third - sustain military families in this era of persistent conflict. We are a nation long at war. In this seventh year of combat operations, we are in uncharted waters for Army families, the linchpin of our All Volunteer Force.

Our Families deserve a quality of life equal to the quality of their service. Family support for the next decade will not look like family support from the last - it is changing and you will be part of that change - you must lead that change.

Back to Point Number One: "clear, hold and build" in a 21st Century context - developing leaders - officers and NCOs - who can succeed at lethal and non-lethal operations.

Recently, our Secretary of Defense, Dr. Gates, told us: "One of the principal challenges the Army faces is to regain its traditional edge at fighting conventional wars while retaining what it has learned - and unlearned - about unconventional wars, the ones most likely to be fought in the years ahead."

Dr. Gates continued: "These conflicts will be fundamentally political in nature, and require the application of all elements of national power. Success will be less a matter of imposing one's will and more a function of shaping behavior - of friends, adversaries, and most importantly, the people in between."

Our charge is to "dominate" land operations. How do you define, redefine, "dominate" in this security environment'

The Army we are growing in Afghanistan and Iraq today is redefining dominate -- is the Army we must retain if we are to do our job. The officers and NCOs of today's Army, shaped in the crucible of the complex strategic and tactical environment of Iraq and Afghanistan today, understand the gritty reality of what it takes to win today's wars.

We must capture and retain their hard-earned experience and wisdom. That experience and wisdom must shape our Army's present and future.

We need Soldiers who speak foreign languages, understand local cultures and empathize with and address the plight of struggling peoples.

In this century's conflicts, our Soldiers must dominate lethal operations, but be as comfortable working on a computer keyboard, debating in a village council meeting, recruiting allies among the local population, training indigenous forces, as they are capable of determining aimpoints for artillery targets.

Our Army understands that the way we fight has changed - and is changing, and you will become the leaders who will carry this dynamic vision into this century.
And, if we are going to retain the combat edge honed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and adapt as the future requires, we must be an institution that encourages Soldiers to ask hard questions, questions that make us uncomfortable - reward not only the Soldier who risks his life, but also the Soldier who is willing to risk a promotion - encourage those who afflict the comfortable.

Recently, LTC Paul Yingling wrote a piece that appeared in the Armed Forces Journal - and sparked heated debate throughout the Army - ruffled some feathers - ruffled a lot of feathers. That is a good thing. We need more, not fewer, Paul Yinglings.

And on this point, George C. Marshall also can serve as our model. Many thought MAJ Marshall's career was at an end in 1917 when he publicly disagreed with and angrily lectured GEN "Black Jack" Pershing at 1st Division headquarters in France during World War I. He even grabbed the general's arm when he tried to disengage.

His anger and assertiveness did not draw a rebuke from Pershing - rather it earned his respect.

And rather than end Marshall's career, this incident launched his career - broke him out of the pack of his peers. Pershing made him a temporary colonel and added him to his staff - within two years he became his personal aide. And his assertiveness did not stop there.

In World War II, Marshall regularly sat at the conference table with President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, plotting strategy for the war effort. FDR labeled Marshall "the best man at the table."

Once, in response to an insistent Churchill's repeated demands that the Allies launch an invasion of the Greek island of Rhodes, the "best man at the table" looked straight at the Prime Minister and said, "Not one American soldier is going to die on that goddamned beach." And that ended the discussion of invading Rhodes.

Now let me move to the subject of strategic communications and share with you a recent quote from MG Rick Lynch, Commander of the 3rd I.D., speaking from Baghdad:

"Last night my dad asked if I was still in Iraq. He's not seeing it on TV because bad things aren't happening over here. It's less publicized. That breaks my heart, because I've got 20,000 Dog Face Soldiers working their butts off every day over here making great progress for the United States of America, and we just have to get that story told."
Well, it does more than break his heart. The implications of the media's silence on the success of our Soldiers are felt on the battlefront and on the homefront.

On the battlefront, news of our success encourages our allies, converts fence-sitters and discourages and even converts some of our enemies. At home, that silence erodes public support and the morale of our families.

I again will quote Dr. Gates:

"[P]ublic relations was invented in the United States, yet we are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals. It is just plain embarrassing that al-Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America. As one foreign diplomat asked a couple of years ago, 'How has one man in a cave managed to out-communicate the world's greatest communication society'' Speed, agility, and cultural relevance are not terms that come readily to mind when discussing U.S. strategic communications."

The enemy has learned this lesson and learned it well. With the 24-hour news cycle, communication satellites and the Internet, Al Qaeda has a reach around the world that dwarfs that of the major networks only a few years ago - and they are using it effectively.
And they are unconstrained by the facts - Secretary Rumsfeld used to remind us that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is getting its boots on - and in the meantime, Al Qaeda has spun its self-serving lie and broadcast it around the world. And, we are playing catch-up against the last lie while they launch their next.

We cannot get careless and retreat from our commitment to the truth - that is a given - but we must cultivate a sense of urgency in getting out the truth in the information domain comparable to that on the kinetic battlefield when responding to an urgent call for help from an embattled Soldier.

In the modern battlespace, our enemies use strategic communications to kill our Soldiers - we cannot yield that field of battle to them.

And on the homefront, devoid of good news, MG Lynch's father gets discouraged, so does the rest of his family and so does the American public.

And the impact is far-reaching - costing us support at home and abroad.

Recently, a newspaper columnist did a study of the 2005 press coverage of the posthumous Medal of Honor awarded to SFC Paul Ray Smith, the first Medal of Honor in the Global War on Terror, and compared it to the coverage of the court-martial of Abu Ghraib guard Lyndie England.

There were 90 stories about Paul Ray Smith and 5,000 on Lyndie England.

Lyndie England and her sordid story is known to most Americans and Paul Ray Smith is known to very few. That combination hurts our Army at home and abroad.

And, it does no good to blame the media - that will never solve the problem. We must focus on what we can do, what we can control.

We must embrace the media and it work for our Army.

As a leader - make the media your friend - use it to reach your Soldiers, their families, our allies and our enemies.

Tell the stories of your heroes in your Army - and get it heard.

Every leader in our Army, officer and NCO, must embrace the challenge of telling the Army story, the American story. It is not solely the job of public affairs professionals - every one of you must accept the challenge. As an Army leader, it is your job.

On the battlefront or homefront, we are in a battle for the hearts and minds of our friends, enemies and neutrals. As leaders in our Army, our nation's military - join that battle - whether you are in Kansas, Killeen or Kandahar.

On the firing range, every Soldier is a safety officer - in the war of ideas - the wars of this century - every Soldier must be a public affairs officer.

And, third - we must sustain our families in this era of persistent conflict.

President Bush underscored the central role of military families in his recent State of the Union address when he said, "Our military families also sacrifice for America. They endure sleepless nights and the daily struggle of providing for children while a loved one is serving far from home. We have a responsibility to provide for them. ... Our military families serve our nation, they inspire our nation and tonight our nation honors them."

We are in the 7th year of war in Afghanistan, in March we marked 5 years in Iraq. This is the longest conflict our Nation has fought with an All-Volunteer Force.

And the demographics of our Army are different from any Army so long at war: over half of our Soldiers are married - with over 700,000 children in Army Families. When a married Soldier deploys, he or she leaves a single-parent household behind and all the challenges of that family dynamic. When a single parent deploys, he or she leaves children in the care of others.

In our All-Volunteer Force, our Soldiers are volunteers and so are their Families. The Soldier of today does not look like the Soldier of 2001. He or she is equipped, trained and led differently. The family support systems cannot look the same, either.

Over the last several months, officers and NCOs across our Army signed our Family Covenant.

GEN Casey and I also have signed this covenant, and it's been signed at more than 120 installations across the globe, including Europe, Japan, Korea, as well as medical commands, Reserve Components and National Guard locations.

We must ensure that this covenant remains a living document, shaped by responsive leaders responding to the demands of a dynamic and unpredictable future. You are those leaders.

Across the force, we will look to you to make family support a top priority, to craft creative initiatives responsive to the needs of your command, to make the ideals of the Family Covenant a reality, and use your leadership positions to shape support for Families that meets their needs in an era of persistent conflict.

Our Families deserve a quality of life equal to the quality of their service. The future of our All-Volunteer Force depends on it. It is an obligation we owe to our Families and it is a readiness issue. You are the leaders who will ensure the Covenant remains a dynamic compact with our Families.

In summary, we must be and remain an Army that can "hold and build" as well as we "clear." We must seize the communications domain and make it a responsibility and competency of every Army leader, officer and enlisted. And we must guarantee our Army families a quality of life equal to their service.

I will close: When you receive your commissions next month, you become a part of the legacy of GEN George C. Marshall, the legacy of a man hailed a giant all over the world. Quite an honor and with it responsibility Winston Churchill called Marshall "the greatest Roman of them all." Joseph Stalin said he would, "trust him with his life". And Harry Truman judged him then, "the greatest living American ... one for the ages."

Let me close with a quote from Marshall - drawn from his speech when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize - the only Soldier ever to receive that award.

George Marshall was commissioned into our Army 107 years ago - he has been dead half a century. But his words are as current today as when he spoke them in 1953.

In these few words he captures the essence of your strategic mission as leaders of the United States Army in this 21st Century. He told us:

"We must present democracy as a force holding within itself the seeds of unlimited progress by the human race. By our actions we should make it clear that such a democracy is a means to a better way of life, together with a better understanding among nations. Tyranny inevitably must retire before the tremendous moral strength of the gospel of freedom and self-respect for the individual, but we have to recognize that these democratic principles do not flourish on empty stomachs and that people turn to false promises of dictators because they are hopeless and anything promises something better than the miserable existence that they endure."

Cadets - George Marshall has charted your course. Thank you.

Page last updated Fri April 18th, 2008 at 19:55