Secretary of the Army delivers AUSA keynote
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Thank you Gordon and as always it's a great honor and a privilege to be here. And frankly it's great to be someplace where the phrase "Boots on the Ground" is not an insult. And just so we're clear about it. This Army, your Army not only welcomes but treasures this annual AUSA invasion. By God for us, the more boots, the merrier. So welcome. [Applause.]

It is a great thrill to have the opportunity to play the role of you so called keynote speaker.

For those of you of course who may have been here the previous five years you know this is my sixth consecutive appearance at AUSA, but, it's only the second time we've been here on Columbus Day. And that means it's a day where absolutely no federal business gets done, it's a holiday, which, pretty much makes it like any other day here in Washington [laughter].

But it is a federal holiday so we have to talk about it. I envy Columbus. I really do for a number of different reasons. Just one example-when he first got to America, there was no Congress. You lucky son-of-a…gun [laughter]. I kid my former colleagues but let's be frank, if Columbus had to operate then as we operate today we might still be waiting for the new world to be come real.

Can you imagine what it'd be liked? It'd probably go, "Chris we have some good news and we have some bad news. The good news is we can fund your trip. The bad news is we have to furlough the Nina and Pinta, and the Santa Maria is cut by 20 percent because of sequestration."

So I envy the good old days.

Now if I'm jealous of Christopher Columbus, think what my dear friend Navy Secretary Ray Mabus must be thinking. Here was a guy who couldn't tell you for sure where he was going, but somehow he managed to get them to buy him three new ships. And then there was Columbus.

Think about that for a minute. It's a Navy joke. Like everything Navy it takes awhile to show up. [Laughter.]

I couldn't help myself, you know, what better way to kick off a great Army day than with a little Navy humor.

And this is a great Army day because this annual event has proven tremendous value time and time again without exception. It's valued to the Army as a whole, to our Soldiers, to our civilians. And over the next few days, as we have in the past, we have a unique opportunity to work with people who truly care about this great Army and care about its future. And it gives us a chance to talk about many issues of great importance - not just from within ourselves, but with, members of Congress, their staffs, withacademia, across all of the services and of course, industry.

So I want to personally thank everyone who works so hard to make this event possible. And by-the-way, that inlcudes each and everyone of you here this morning, our greatest asset, the people of America. [Applause.]

So, Chief of Staff; Chief of the National Guard Bureau; my great under secretary of the Army, Vice Chief of Staff; Sergeant Major, an array of assistant secretaries; spouses; and Army leadership writ large, thank you for being here and being part of this celebration, as I said.

Some of you may have heard the President recently recite a common description of America as The Indispensable Nation. And if you look around the world today, it's pretty hard to argue with that.

But let's make no mistake about it, we are the Indispensable Army of that Indispensable Nation.

That's because the American Army, your Army, has the capability and the capacity of no other-that no other at any time -- at any place can provide. And if you question that, just take a look around the World today.

In Afghanistan, Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry and 10th Mountain Divisions are leading the effort to train and to advise Afghans so that they can take the fight to the Taliban.

In the Philippines, Soldiers from the Joint Special Operations Task Force are part of the Army's rebalance to the Pacific.

In Korea, Soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division are ensuring a more stable border in that volatile region.

In Ukraine, Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade joined our allies, recently, as part of exercise Rapid Trident. I'd be remiss if wouldn't note our Soldiers went to Ukraine at the invitation of the Ukrainian government, unlike the naked aggression displayed by Russian forces.

And more recently, Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division -- the Screaming Eagles -- and others from myriad Army engineer units deployed to Liberia and West Africa to fight the Ebola epidemic.

The Big Red One -- the men and women of the First Division Headquarters -- are deploying to Iraq to assist in coordinating the efforts of the troops our President has already sent to advise and assist the Iraqi Security Forces in the fight to degrade and destroy ISIL.

And those are just a very few examples.

Because today, across six continents, serving in some 150 countries around the globe, American soldiers are winning the peace, reassuring allies, advancing humanitarian missions, training and assisting old allies and new partners.

Yes, we are the Indispensible Nation, and when trouble comes, no matter where the challenge - they don't call Beijing. They don't call Moscow. They call us, the United States Army. And in spite of the predictions of many, the calls keep coming.

And while we may not know what the future holds, as the Chief recently said, "I don't see peace breaking out around the world anytime soon."

In order to answer those calls -- and answer, we must - we have to remain a robust, reliable and ready force -- not some hollowed out shadow of a former self.

And, as I've said, we must recognize that we cannot be the Indispensible Nation without the Indispensible Army; for as history has shown, airplanes and ships alone cannot win our wars or protect the peace. [Applause]. As important as they are, no Hellfire-equipped drone ever reclaimed lost territory. No Tomahawk missile ever conducted a ground counter-offensive. No bomber ever mentored or trained soldiers of an allied nation, building up capacity and credibility in the process.

Now, more than ever, we -- this nation - need our Soldiers. [Applause.]

As I wrote in my submission for this year's edition of the Greenbook -- and I urge you to grab a copy, if you haven't already, since Gordon told me he doesn't want to drag any back to his office -- but as I wrote, it's been said that while history doesn't repeat itself, it certainly does rhyme.

Forty-one years ago, Gen. Creighton W. Abrams, and one of my predecessors, Secretary of the Army Robert Froehlke began the long, slow process of rebuilding, resizing and modernizing the United States Army after more than 12 years of heavy fighting in the Republic of Vietnam.

Faced with declining defense budgets and force cuts of some 50 percent from the Vietnam War high of 1.57 million in uniform, the two were tasked with creating a significantly smaller and more capable, "high risk" force, one comprised completely of volunteers.

Then, as now, many leaders routinely questioned whether such a force could fulfill its obligations around the globe and retain, at the same time, an adequate contingency for an unpredictable world.

Abrams and Froehlke often found themselves at odds with Congress over the size and role of the Army. The Army secretary rightfully argued that the Army was the bedrock of our nation's defense. "The Air Force is more glamorous than the Army," he once said, "the Navy life is cleaner than Army life." But he went on.

"Yet…there hasn't been a war fought where the foot soldier hasn't taken and held the ground."

Abrams was adamant that the United States should remain protected from terror and intimidation, and he believed a robust, lethal United States Army was the key ingredient in that calculation.

Hard to deny it sounds pretty much like the landscape currently facing our Nation-currently facing your Army.

Today, with the end of America's longest war in sight, it certainly seems as though as Yogi Berra famously once said -- it's déjà vous all over again.

The shrinking federal budget coupled with the Army's withdrawal from active combat in Afghanistan means crucial decisions are being made right now on Army end strength, modernization and readiness.

And our greatest asset, right now, as it has always been throughout our history, is our people, our Soldiers. And thanks to the magnificent Soldiers, officers and civilians of the United States Army, we are leading our way through our 21st century challenges. This modern, professional force tested and proven over more than 13 years of war continues to show that we are the greatest land power the world has ever seen -- the Indispensible Army of the Indispensible Nation.

And just as we have done in the past - as when Abrams and Froehlke made the tough decisions to sow the seeds for the Army we are blessed to have today - we will once more prevail.

As Gen Abrams liked to say, "It is our job to persevere in the atmosphere of the facts."

With the end of direct major combat operations in Iraq, and with our scheduled drawdown in Afghanistan well underway, we are seizing new, imaginative and innovative ways to manage smaller budgets and fundamentally reshape our Army. That's exciting work. Work we must embrace or others will decide our fate for us.

Now, I won't kid you, it hasn't been easy and it continues to challenge us at every turn. Having to generate sustained land power in new ways, amid declining budgets with fewer experienced Soldiers is difficult, to say the least.

But these are simple, simple if tremendously unpleasant facts to which our Army is adapting to at every echelon.

As we continue to shape the force of the future, we have two non-negotiables: the readiness of Army and the well being of our people.

That means that while we must ensure we can provide combatant commanders with versatile and trained forces, we also have to provide our Soldiers and their families everything they need to successfully win the fight of the day, as well as help them transition to a garrison or even civilian life, when necessary.

That means providing proper care and support to our Wounded Warriors. Harvesting and harnessing and retaining the hard-fought and eagerly sought - experience, judgment and talents of our battle-tested Soldiers, officers and NCOs, as well as the dedicated Army civilians who have supported them. At the same time, as an institution, it means we must regain our expertise as trainers after a time of extended conflict.

As I have so often stressed, as we make these changes we are committed to a guiding principle to keep things in balance: balance among readiness, end strength and modernization. Thanks to a thoughtful and appropriate mix of manpower, training and equipment, we are starting to achieve those balanced goals.

I'll tell you what I've already and repeatedly told Congress. This is the time for predictability, this is not the time for politics. We must have predictable, long-term funding in order to help keep America and her allies free from fear and intimidation and terror. If sequestration returns as scheduled in fiscal year 16, the tough choices and gains we've already made will be eroded and another round of indiscriminate cuts will gut our force to the point where we will be unable to meet the President's Defense Strategic Guidance. That's the simple fact-a decidedly unpleasant fact.

This extraordinarily capable, flexible, agile, combat-tested force rightly proud of what it's done and capable of doing anything we might ask of it, will be at risk of wasting away.

Let's make no mistake. Sequestration would require the Army to slash our end strength far below the 450,000 currently reflected in our fiscal year 15 budget. At that lower level, we would limit America's strategic options and pose unacceptable risk as even executing one prolonged, multi-phased major contingency operation would be in question.

The great irony is we may be the victims of our own success. As our Soldiers, officers and civilians have bent over backwards and squeezed everything they can to absorb the cuts we've had to make over the past several years, perhaps we've often made the very difficult look a bit easy. To some, it might seem as if we were able to accomplish these cuts so readily, then there must be room for more. Nothing could be further from the truth. But when you try to articulate things like risk and readiness -- the things our Soldiers grapple with each and every day - it is often not as clear to those outside the military certainly as I would like it to be.

Regardless, it's my job, it's our job, to keep telling the Army's story and dispelling such baseless notions.

Part of that story includes an explanation of where we are headed.

That the Army must change is a strategic and fiscal reality. We will get smaller; and, as a result, thousands of brave men and women will hang up their uniforms. Some will leave willingly, other fine Soldiers who have served honorably are being asked to depart. That's a tough reality for all of us, for I believe in the old adage that Soldiers are not "in" the Army. Soldiers "are" the Army.

Still, this drawdown in no way diminishes the dedication, sacrifice and patriotism these Soldiers have demonstrated by their service both in and out of the combat zones. "Once a Soldier, Always a Soldier" is more than a bumper sticker. It has to be. We are better Army for their service, and they will forever be our Army family.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of leading an American delegation to Belgium to commemorate 100 years since the outbreak of World War I. As the press described it, the dignitaries gathered on a forested hill overlooking the city of Liege, just a few dozen kilometers from the border where German soldiers took their first fateful steps, triggering a war which would engulf the world like none other before it. In the end, it was the American Expeditionary Force led by Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing -- America's Doughboys -- that tipped the tide of battle and secured victory for the Allied forces.

The speeches that day paid tribute to the fallen and included messages of reconciliation. But the remembrance was also tinged with frustration that the world today is not as peaceful as many had hoped after the sacrifices of a century ago.

As I look around the world today, I see no shortage of risk and instability. Russia's annexation of Crimea and its continuing provocative actions in Ukraine, the on-going Syrian civil war, the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, the proliferation of terrorist syndicates like ISIL, the downing of Malaysia Air Flight 17, the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, and so much more - should remind all of us of the complexity and uncertainty of the security environment that currently envelopes the globe.

Like my earlier trip to Belgium, my recent trip to Ukraine reinforced America's commitment to upholding peace and security in Europe. But that's not just our job, it's every freedom-loving nation's job. And as President Obama has said, the days of empire and spheres of influence are over. Bigger nations must not be allowed to bully the small, or impose their will at the barrel of a gun or with masked men taking over buildings.

We are blessed that there is one constant in all this uncertainty: the United States Army.

Even as we are safeguarding the nation, we must also serve as a model of professionalism, integrity and ethics.

Gen. Abrams' biographer wrote that the night before he left Vietnam, he had in all the sergeants major for drinks in his quarters. He told his senior enlisted Soldiers that "The longer I serve the more I become convinced that the single most important attribute of the professional officer is integrity."

I couldn't agree more. In order to ensure that we remain a trusted institution the Army must constantly evaluate ways to further develop our professional military force, and ensure that accountability exists at every level of command. I believe were making a difference. And make a difference we must.

As Secretary of Defense Hagel said earlier this year, "Ethics and character are absolute values that we cannot take for granted. They must be constantly reinforced."

One area of particular focus has been our ongoing commitment to preventing sexual assault.

Sexual assault is a crime and cannot be tolerated at any level. We have an obligation to do all we can to safeguard America's sons and daughters, as well as maintain trust between Soldiers, civilians, families and the Nation. The Army's leaders, at every level of the chain of command, are doing this through prevention, education, investigation and, when appropriate, prosecution.

We must take back our Army from those who harm or assault our Soldiers….who ignore our values or stain our honor….and, yes, who fail to lead.

After Gen. Creighton Abrams died, a small monument was erected in his memory at the Army War College. As his biographer wrote, "It was just a chunk of rock, really, but positioned so that every student could see it every day upon leaving the main academic building."

On that rock were these few words of Abrams's own: "There must be, within our Army, a sense of purpose and a dedication to that purpose. There must be a willingness to march a little farther, to carry a heavier load, to step out into the darkness and the unknown for the safety and well-being of others."

Today's Army has nobly lived up to that epitaph.

The remarkable success of our Army can be attributed to what Abrams once called a "weapon more effective than any arm or service or equipment, the weapon upon which the future of the Army depends--teamwork inspired by objective and selfless leadership."

Today, together, we will selflessly lead our way into the uncertain future before us. We will share uncommon lives and common challenges and do what our country requires of us. For, as Abrams said of his own Soldiers, you represent "those essential virtues of mankind--humility, courage, devotion and sacrifice."

Like Gen. Abrams, I'm humbled to travel in such gallant company.

So again thank you all for being here. God bless you. God bless American. And God bless this glorious Army that keeps us free. [Applause.]


Find the video of Secretary McHugh delivering his remarks at the below link from 27:20- 53:49.