By Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray OdiernoMay 31, 2013
It really is great to be back here at the United States Military Academy. Of all of the trips as the Chief of Staff of the Army, my favorite is coming back here. The reason is because you are our future. I will talk about that tonight. I want to recognize some distinguished guests. General Jacoby is here, the Commanding General of NORTHCOM and his wife Grace. Chuck, I am so happy you could be here today. I know his son is graduating today. He is very proud of you all. Also Lieutenant General David Perkins, Commander of Combined Arms Center and also a former Commander of the 4th Infantry Division, his wife Ginger and their son Chad Perkins is graduating as part of this class today. I want to welcome all other distinguished guests.
As I said, it is an honor to be back here to speak to this Class of 2013. It is always great to come back to West Point. Even though it has been 37 years, I still get a certain feeling in my stomach when I get to the gate of the United States Military Academy. (Applause). Sometimes it is hard for me to believe that 37 years ago on June 2nd that I graduated from West Point. It has changed some, especially in regards to technology. In 1976 an apple or blackberry was something you ate, a tweet was a noise a bird made, and anything to do with yahoo got you 100 hours walking the area. (Laughter). By the way, I still have my trusty slide rule, though today you probably do not know what I am talking about. That was an essential piece of equipment for you to have in math and science and engineering as you were heading into West Point. There were no such things as calculators and other things like that. You had to be able to use the slide rule.
I want to thank Dave Huntoon for the warm introduction. He has led this great academy with distinction over the last three years. I am incredibly proud of Dave and the work he has done. By the way you are in great company. Back then Dave was a firstie when I was a plebe in E-3 a long time ago. Dave is one of the good guys. He led us; he mentored us; he made sure we grew as young people. I will tell you back in the early 70's, those people were very rare. He has carried that on in his time here as Superintendent. So, Dave I want to thank you so much for everything you have done for this Academy. It has been incredible. Thank you very much for everything. (Applause)
I also want to thank Brigadier General Clarke and Brigadier General Trainor for their leadership. They continue to develop and move this Academy forward. It is important that we continue to develop and I am very confident they will continue to do that as we move forward.
I also want to thank the faculty and staff that continue to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that each of you get a world class education. I would like to note that this year, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity ranked West Point as number three in the nation for schools with the best professors. This says a great deal about West Point. It also says a great deal about our young Officers who come back here and take their recent experiences from the field and come back here to help to teach the next line of leaders that come behind us. That is something that does not happen anywhere else in this country. I am very proud of that.
I would also like to thank every one of the family members accompanying the Class of 2013 this evening. Four years at West Point, and maybe for a few of you a bit longer than four years, but I won't mention any names (Laughter). This required the great support of your families and your friends. As all of us know this is a very different kind of education, one that requires sacrifice, one that requires internal strength and courage, but it also helps when you come in and bring values that are developed by your family. So once again let's give our families and friends a round of applause for encouraging us through four years at the Academy. (Applause)
Class of 2013, Defending the Dream, you have made it. Congratulations to all of you for making it to this day. Many of you thought this day would never arrive. It seemed particularly distant that last night of beast barracks when you packed up your tents at 2200 in the pouring rain, which did not stop until you stepped off for the march back at 0300. But you did finish. You marched back, and all the days after, and here you sit. You are about to become the newest Commissioned Officers in the Army and the newest members of the Long Gray Line. So based on that story, I would say it is probably appropriate that is a gray sky today. (Applause)
The last time I got the opportunity to talk to all of you was last November. At that time you were eagerly anticipating branch night. I talked to you about the Profession of Arms and what my expectations were of you as leaders of our future Army. Tonight I would like to take a few minutes to talk about the world today and the Army you are about to enter. Many of you probably sit here tonight and think that you missed out because the wars are winding down in Afghanistan and has ended in Iraq. Perhaps you are worried that you will not have the same opportunities to lead Soldiers in combat as so many of the classes that have come before you. First I will tell you as a Soldier who has seen too much war in my lifetime, I wish in fact that were the case, and that you would not have to go to war. I wish I could stand before you this evening safe in the knowledge that we are entering a new era in which armed conflict is a thing of the past. History has shown that simply will not be the case. Training and leading the Army in its next conflict will be your responsibility. I do not know where it will be, but it will be your responsibility.
The Class of 2013 is not the first class to experience a drawdown during a time of strategic uncertainty. In many ways the Class of 2013 is closely aligned to that of my class, the Class of 1976, as well as the Class of 1915. During my time as a cadet, we were often taught about the Class of 1915, the class that stars fell on. 36% of that class became General Officers. General of the Army Eisenhower and General of the Army Bradley were two of only five in the Army to ever earn the prestigious Fifth Star. Upon receiving their commission in 1915, they entered the military one year into the First World War. The world and warfare were changing at a dramatic pace. It was a time of the nation states and alliances that brought together countries for a variety of economic and social reasons, but unfortunately also led them to war. New weapons were demonstrating at frightening levels the need for newer tactics on the battlefield. Neither General Bradley nor General Eisenhower saw any combat action in World War I. However, their experiences during those war years helped shape them and the Army for many years to come. Their leadership and professional skills evolved. They took that opportunity to prepare themselves, and as the world change again, they changed with it. When given the opportunity, they cherished and exploited that steadfast commitment to their profession, preparing them for leadership opportunities that would come in World War II.
You might know that World War I was the war to end all wars. World War II is when General Bradley, known as the Soldier's General, went on to command the largest formation of American Soldiers ever to serve under a Field Commander. He also served as the Chief of Staff of the Army and carried out two terms as the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His West Point classmate, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who despite being a Major for 16 years, a Major for 16 years, went on to serve as the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe and was our Nation's 34th President. He gave the order to execute Operation Overlord, with that famous D-Day Invasion that led to victory in Europe during World War II. He is also credited for establishing a new look policy of returns and scripting the Eisenhower Doctrine for the Middle East. I would argue that in changing their destinies during a time they did not have the opportunity to go to war, these two men rewrote history. It was them sitting right here, where you are sitting today when they decided they had choices.
As I sat here at the same place you are the night before my graduation, our country had just complete a long war in Vietnam, which only ended a year before. Military priorities were less important in a time when resources were going down. Our Nation's economy was struggling with inflation and unemployment. The lessons from Vietnam seemed clear to so many at the time. People predicted that never again would our country enter into a sustained conflict that would cost so much in terms of lives and resources.
Disciplinary issues, substance abuse and low morale were everywhere in our ranks and threatened our Profession of Arms. That was the Army my classmates and I entered in 1976. Leaders today like General Dave Rodriguez, General Stan McChrystal, Lieutenant General Bill Caldwell, Lieutenant General Dave Barno, Keith Walker, Guy Swan, and over 20 more, over 30 Generals came from the class of 1976. We moved from a draft only to an All Volunteer Force, but diminishing public support made this an extremely difficult endeavor for every fact the military requested for many years, especially the role of the Army. These were troubling times, as you can imagine, especially when compare to the high regard our Army is held in today.
Despite these challenges we went about the task of leading Soldiers. We had visionary leaders who knew we had to change following Vietnam, incredible leaders like General William DuPuy, General Don Starry, General Maxwell Thurman and many others. Over time, we developed doctrine, reinvigorated our training by standing up combat training centers. It was only after several successful operations like Operation Urgent Fury in Granada, Just Cause in Panama, Desert Shield and Desert Strom in Kuwait and Iraq that we began to re-earn the trust of the American people. We were fortunate that leaders of foresight gave us the opportunity to be a part of the evolution of a new Army, an Army that continued to grow in capability.
As we all know, September 11, 2001 changed our world forever, but we had an Army that was ready and capable. With security measures increased at home, we began to go after a terror network that did not operate neatly within borders of nation states. These groups and these people wanted nothing more than to destroy our way of life, and they still do today. A dedicated and selfless group of young American stepped forward, raised their right hands, and dedicated themselves to this Nation. We quickly took down terrorist training camps and toppled the Taliban. In Iraq we eliminated a cruel dictator and his destructive regime.
The leaders of our generation were instrumental in achieving these successes. We face an operational environment of asymmetric warfare, supplied by an unpredictable enemy, requiring constant adaption. Game changers included networked forces, biometrics, cutting edge intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, precision high value targeting. New models of warfare were developed, introduced and proved pivotal against an enemy that did not respect life, national borders, or liberty. In both Iraq and Afghanistan we removed oppressive regimes, provided hope for the future, and denied safe haven to those who threatened our nation's security. I believe the classes of 1915 and 1976 played a role and changed destinies. They pushed their parameter stow here they had been accepted as standard and surpassed any expectations.
This leads me to the Class of 2013. On average most of you in this class were probably ten years old on 9/11. What is remarkable about you, and the Soldiers you will soon lead, is that you raise your hand and say you want to serve your country. You are less than 1% of our population as soon as you do that. That makes you very special to me. You are entering the Army at a time that the world is most dangerous I have seen during my 37 years of service. The threats are in the headlines every day, whether it is the aggressive behavior by North Korea or Iran, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, continued turmoil across the Middle East and North Africa, or the growing threat of cyber attacks. Let me remind you of the attacks very recently in Boston.
These threats make it a certainty that like the Class of 1915 and the Class of 1976, the Class of 2013 will also have opportunities to make your mark on history. However to seize that opportunity, it will require leaders of character and competence, committed to the Soldiers, the Army, and our Nation. We need your leadership and courage as you embark on this incredible journey of responsibility and meaning. Our Army must remain a trained and ready Force that is capable of responding to the global responsibilities of our Nation. In preparing our Forces for the future, we are starting from a position of strength. Since 9/11 we have grown a generation of experienced, combat-tested leaders and Soldiers. More than 1.5 million Soldiers have deployed and more than half a million have deployed 2, 3, 4 or more times. Over 4,800 Soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend this great Nation, and more than 35,000 have been wounded. These Soldiers have earned over 15,000 Medals of Valor, to include 7 Medals of Honor, 27 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 692 Silver Stars, and these numbers continue to grow today. Despite their achievements, they remain some of the most humble individuals you will ever meet, believing simply they were doing what Soldiers are supposed to do, doing what they are trained for, simply doing their duty.
This is the Army you will lead. These facts should not intimidate you. They should inspire you. Within these heroics are etched the stories of many members of the Long Gray Line. They, like you, were once new Second Lieutenants reporting to their first unit. Over time they took on leadership responsibilities of their Platoons, Companies, Battalions, Brigades, Divisions, Corps and Armies. They led their units with courage and integrity, inspiring their Soldiers by living up to the ideals of Duty, Honor, and Country.
Tomorrow you will leave behind your cadet gray for Army blue and begin to shape the Army for the future. You will formally enter the Profession of Arms. With this entry comes an expected standard of moral and ethical behavior. We are different from any other profession. We are trusted more than any other profession, and that is the way it should be because we are entrusted with greater responsibility. We are entrusted with saving lives and taking lives. That is an incredible responsibility, and with that must come greater accountability. As a professional organization, we must reinforce the ethics around trust and respect. The foundation of our Profession is centered around trust: trust between Soldiers; trust between Soldiers and leaders; trust between Soldiers, their families, and the Army; and trust between the Army and the American people. Soldiers, like everyone else, want to be a part of a high performing and successful organization. They want and expect high standards. They will look to you to inspire excellence. Our very democracy depends on people like you who are willing to step forward and defend this country by fighting for it if necessary. Your class motto is Defending the Dream, and that is what the Nation will call upon you to do throughout your careers. Your service and for some, your sacrifice, will allow every American an opportunity to enjoy the freedom and liberty that makes this country greater than any other in the world.
Long after I am retired, the class of 2013 will be making its mark on our Army and our Nation. I know you are ready for those challenges ahead because of what you have done to prepare yourself at West Point. Take the values of our honored institution and live by them everyday. Even though we cannot predict where or when it will be, our Army and our Nation will need those values and your dedication in the future.
In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt speaking at West Point's Centennial Graduation commented that "no other educational institution in the land has contributed as many names as West Point has contributed to the honor roll of the nation's greatest citizens, and of all the institutions in the country, none is more absolutely American."
Class of 2013, your journey and contributions to this honor roll begin tomorrow morning. Your friends, family, as well as the whole Army, are proud of each of you, and they believe that you will forever live the values of Duty, Honor, Country. The strength of our Nation is our Army. The strength of our Army is our Soldiers. The strength of our Soldiers is our Families. That is what makes us Army Strong. Thank you very much.