Secretary of the Army Delivers Keynote address at AUSA Expo
Secretary of the Army John McHugh, delivers the keynote address during the opening ceremony at the Association of the United States Army's Annual Meeting and Exposition, while seated during recuperation from an injury, on Oct. 22, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

Good Morning.

Thank you, all, please.

[Introduction by General (Retired) Gordon R. Sullivan] It's with great pleasure that I welcome the Secretary of the Army, the Honorable John McHugh.

Thank you.

Gordon, I don't know if you can see or not, but I've got my Britney Spears microphone on here, and as Britney infamously said, "Oops, I did it again."

As many of you may know, this is the fourth opportunity, fourth honor, I've had to appear before this very august body, these marvelous opening ceremonies, and I think you have to admit, that's probably my most dramatic entrance yet. And I've been thinking really, really hard about a good story to match it; you know something along the lines of a hard landing after a jump with the Golden Knights…ill-advised entry in the Best Ranger Competition…something really Hooah. But, I have to be honest with you, there's no cool to say, "I fell off my bicycle."

It was a humbling moment. And if it wasn't, my dear friend and colleague Navy Secretary Ray Mabus certainly made it so when he came to my bedside at Walter Reed Bethesda and gave me a gift certificate for a set of training wheels. And I just want Ray to know, someday soon I hope, I'll return the favor. Maybe if he falls off one of his cute little boats, I can throw him a life raft. Maybe. No I will, I will. My aim's not as good as it once was, but I will. And truth be told, if the roles were reversed, I probably would have done much the same thing.

Now that I'm here, it's nice at last to have something of an advantage I've never had before, because usually, I'm over there standing while all of you are comfortably seated. And this is the first time I don't have to stand at a podium, so I just want to warn you, relax, because I might be here for a while.

So with that warning said, let me most importantly say thank you to Gordon Sullivan, to the great officers and folks of AUSA. Thank you, again, to each and every one of you for being here, for all that you do each and every day on behalf of our entire Army: our Soldiers, their families, our civilian employees. I can't tell you how much the effort that you bring and the support of that great Army is deeply appreciated.

And frankly, that's why I was so determined to be here today.

AUSA provides a critically important forum for the Army. A forum to share ideas, discuss critical issues that impact our future, and it gives us an important chance to spend some time listening -- listening and learning, not just from one another, not just from those within our ranks, but from those outside the Army who also know and care about us and have ideas and opinions that they wish to share to make us better. Now, you'll notice as you navigate the displays this year that the Army footprint is somewhat smaller. But I want to tell you that I firmly believe the impact of this get-together and the Army's driving value from it will be as great as ever.

And I also want to make very clear how valuable I personally consider this professional development forum to be for our Soldiers, family members and civilians. And that's why we're here. And that's why if you look into the front row this morning, you'll see great notables like Chief Ray Odierno, like my good friend and partner, Joe Westphal, the Undersecretary, Sergeant Major Chandler, the Sergeant Major of the Army, the civilian and military leaders who are here to show that they believe and value this organization as well. Now, while our footprint will be smaller, we are here and we've found ways to have people participate who matter. We've found ways to have even more people tele-participate, if I could coin a phrase.

Now, there's no question that forums and conferences in this town are rightfully under a lot of scrutiny. That's understandable. But often, the good gets mixed in with the not so good, the valuable sometimes mixed in with the less so. And I can't help but think that if other groups followed AUSA's lead -- if they opened their doors and not only invited, but encouraged, the media, the Congress, their staff, and other cross-sections of the public to participate as well -- all of us would be better off.

And there's a larger lesson here. Our reduced physical presence mandated by an imperative to find ways to do more with less is really a microcosm. It's a microcosm of a larger challenge and it's something I'd like to speak to you a bit about here this morning.

When the Chief and I go up as we often do together to Capitol Hill, whether it's before a national security official or defense committee, we often get asked a simple question at committee hearings, meetings with Congress, the media, etcetera. That question: What keeps you up at night?

Well, lately for me, that question's been pretty easy; if I roll over the wrong way, that keeps me up at night.

But, beyond that, it's not really that simple of a question, and it really requires a pretty complicated, even comprehensive answer.

And in the most basic terms, what keeps me up at night is our nation's economy. And how it already has and will continue to impact our budget. And for the Army, that means coming to terms with equal doses of reality and available resources. The reality is after more than 11 years of war, leaving one theater and now preparing to draw down in another, the Army is going to have to do its jobs with less. And the good news, as I mentioned last year, is I still believe very strongly, we can. And in fact, we've already started.

As I mentioned also at our last gathering, this isn't something that was simply dropped on our doorstep, something put upon us by sudden fluctuations in the stock market; the truth is, we've seen this day coming for some time. Most importantly, we've been given the opportunity and the time to get it right -- to plan, to prioritize and adjust force structure, equipment and training -- and we're doing it. We're also better integrating our reserve forces. Since America was first attacked in 2001, one of the most important things we've learned is how critical an operational reserve is to our ability to meet mission requirements. How we ensure that the reserve component -- both the Army Reserve and the National Guard -- remains a trained and ready force is paramount -- paramount -- to the Army's overall readiness and stability, and our nation's security.

And we're going to make sure we do that, and we do it right.

And on that point, I'd take this opportunity to announce a directive that I've signed that establishes a Total Force policy for the United States Army. Under this directive, we will man, train, equip active and reserve components in an integrated operational force. The purpose of it all is to provide predictable, recurring and sustainable capabilities. To put it another way, incorporating active and reserve components as a Total Force. This directive outlines a number of measures to make integration of those forces seamless: examining force structure options; establishing uniform processes and procedures for validating pre-deployment readiness; developing and implementing a unified personnel management and pay system; ensuring that our equipping strategy promotes procurement programs for a Total Force; facilitating opportunities for Soldiers to move between active and reserve component assignments throughout their careers; and ensuring equal standards for professional development.

The operational reality is we've been a total force for more than a decade now. And this effort will ensure that we incorporate the lessons learned of the last 11 years, and make certain that everyone -- everyone -- is trained and ready, regardless of the mission.

Now you didn't ask, but another thing that keeps me up at night is wondering whether we're doing enough to reduce the size and cost of bureaucracy, to ensure that we're not needlessly expending resources that could otherwise be used for training, be used for equipment, for properly sizing our force structure.

And last year I used this forum to announce the creation of the Institutional Army Task Force. I said at the time their mission wasn't just to help us do more with less; they were tasked to apply proven, workable, creative solutions to help us do better and do it with less.

Also last year, I announced we initiated steps to streamline how we did service contracts -- contracts that account for 21 cents of every dollar the Army spends. As a result, we created a single focal point at each command and staff element, consolidated requirements generation, and aligned subject matter experts. Where we once had some 260 thousand actions, awarded by 225 different offices, carried out by thousands of different people, we now have six portfolio management centers, consolidating nearly half of all service obligations. And this past year, that effort netted us more than $330 million in savings.

And I tell you, I think that's good. That's very good. But we have more we can -- and will -- do.

From headquarters realignment to human capital management, we're continuing a top-to-bottom review that will make our entire Army smarter and more cost efficient. And these are critically important measures, measures that will streamline our structure, improve our effectiveness and make us organizationally better.

But this is the Army. We don't succeed simply through bureaucracy, we don't prevail only through wise spending, as important as those things are. The heart and soul of America's Army is today what it was on the battlefields of the American Revolution: It is our people.

And what keeps me up at night, too -- honestly, more than anything else -- are not the numbers on a ledger. Not by a long shot. What keeps me up is wondering whether the service and sacrifice of the American soldier is not only appreciated, but really understood. And understood at its core.

We've talked before about the less than one percent in the nation who serve -- the percentage of the American population who wear the uniform of the American Soldier. And in that vein, we can never forget as well another less than one percent -- the families who support and who care for them.

Now, after I fell off my bicycle and I broke my pelvis, I spent a little over three weeks as an in-patient at Walter Reed. And like many of you, I've had an opportunity on numerous occasions to visit the old hospital and now its new Bethesda location to visit with our remarkable wounded warriors. But, for all those visits, this time I was, as a patient, afforded an added perspective. I and was struck more than ever not just by the resilience and the valor, the incredible courage of our wounded warriors, but equally by the devotion, the sacrifice and the courage of their family members and their loved ones.

It's an almost universal fact: Behind all of our men and women in uniform is that loved one: a father, or brother, a mother, a sister, husband and wife -- someone special to that Soldier. And when you see them visit day after day, providing encouragement and support; when you see, as I did many times, a young bride pushing the wheelchair of a limbless soldier and you see the love in their eyes and devotion on their faces -- not complaining, not a sign of self-pity, even though they've been asked to bear a burden that would test the will, maturity and loyalty of someone twice their age -- you can't say it any other way: It's awe inspiring. It's remarkable.

And I look at them and I wonder, do we fully recognize the sacrifice they bring? Do we really appreciate what we've asked of them and our Soldiers? Are we doing enough?

That's something. That's the most important thing that keeps me awake. And I bet it does many of you in this room as well. Making sure we do everything we can to treat the wounds of our Soldiers -- the battlefield injuries we can see, and equally important, the battlefield traumas we often don't.

The Chief and I appointed our Vice Chief of Staff, General Lloyd Austin, to head up our efforts on the Health of the Force. And the good General has traveled across the Army, meeting with Soldiers and caregivers, briefing leaders and listening to those in treatment, so that we can better develop programs and methods to improve the health and healthcare of the entire force -- whether it's their physical or their mental well-being.

It keeps me awake knowing how many young lives we've lost to suicide, and determining whether we're doing enough -- or can ever do enough -- to see the warning signs, to reach out, to help, and intervene.

For more than two years, I've served as public-sector co-chair of the National Alliance for Suicide Prevention. My partner in this effort, the private sector co-chair, is former United States Senator Gordon Smith, an individual who lost his own son to suicide. And as I've sat through those meetings with dozens upon dozens of public and private organizations, I've come to know this: Suicide is important -- critically important -- to the military and the Army, but it's not unique just to us. Across the United States, in virtually every demographic group, there has been an increase in the rate and number of suicides every year for ten years.

We have to find solutions, we have to work together to make a difference.

Now, there's a lot of other things that keep me up at night, but before you think I need a sleep therapist, I'd just simply close with this thought from former Chief of Staff Creighton Abrams.

Abrams noted that people are the Army. And I'll quote here, "By people," he said. "I do not mean personnel. I do not mean end strength. I mean living, breathing, serving human beings. They have needs and interests and desires. They have spirit and will, and strength and abilities. "They have weaknesses and faults; and they have names. They are the heart of our preparedness…and this preparedness -- as a nation and as an Army -- depends upon the spirit of our soldiers. It is that spirit that gives the Army…life."

Yep, there are a lot of things that keep me awake at night; but there is something that always is stronger, something that always helps me sleep easier: It is the indomitable spirit, the selfless service, the remarkable courage of the American Soldier -- the strength of the Army, the strength of our Nation.

And that's why it's important for all of us to be here. That's why these kinds of events are critical. Because they bring together individuals and organizations who care about the American Soldier, who deeply value and appreciate all they have achieved on our behalf. And are willing to continue to fight for them in the future -- as they have fought and won for us.

So thank you. God bless you all. God bless this great nation and this glorious Army who keeps her safe.

Page last updated Thu October 25th, 2012 at 00:00