SecArmy at Senior Civilian Army Profession Symposium
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Fort McNair, Washington, D.C.--

I want to tell you first of all how thrilled and happy I am that you all are here. I don't know if I am as happy as all of the people who report to you are that you are here, but pretty close. It really is a unique opportunity to bring you, our civilian senior leaders, together to talk about ourselves, to talk about this Army and our place in it. I would be remiss if I did not also express my deep appreciation for everything you do each and every day, not just helping, but leading this Army through the last several years particularly, which I think history will show have been amongst our more difficult certainly over recent decades. To put it very simply we could not have done it without you. I will tell you we have done a lot. We have surprised some people by how you have taken the unmanageable and managed it very, very effectively.

I will also say that these are not obviously the easiest times to be a federal civilian employee with pay freezes, pay compression, sequestration, furloughs, shutdowns, and on and on and on. By any measure it has been incredibly challenging. I think it is important for you to hear me say that all of us recognize the significant hardships that have been placed upon each and every one of you, have been placed upon your coworkers, and in very real ways have been placed upon your families.

We have a reality that we are dealing with. We have been asked to share a burden to help the Nation to regain our economic footing. I think that is appropriate. I do believe that DoD at large has been asked to share perhaps a bit larger share of that burden than the math would suggest is equitable. Nevertheless, we need to be a part of this. What really bothers me is the conversation I continuously hear that tends to portray the federal civilian workforce, not just here in DoD, but across the federal government, as somehow being a villain in all of this. As the President has said himself, it frustrates me when I hear people whether on Capitol Hill or Main Street or anywhere, as he put it, acting as if somebody is working for the federal government is somehow less important than someone working in the private sector, as if, as the President said, we don't have real jobs.

That is just the voice of ignorance. I don't mean the President. I mean what he is speaking about. Everywhere I go I attempt to make that point, to remind folks that not everyone who serves the national defense interests of this Nation puts on a uniform. The civilian workforce is a hugely important part of what it takes to field in our case this Army. Certainly it takes the leadership. It takes the teamwork to build an Army such as we have to build a Nation. That means the leadership that all of you have brought to this. It does not have a lot to do with what we call the Army Ethic, but I think to have the opportunity that uniquely exists here this morning to impart that sentiment to you was important for me. So thank you for allowing me that chance.

I am going to get off point here a little. At least it will seem that way. I want you to bear with me.

I have a quiz, and it is four-question quiz. It may seem simple, but I want you to think about the correct answers before you give them. I will try to bring this all back on point after that. Question number one is how do you put a giraffe in a refrigerator. You don't have to shout out the answer. Think of it in your mind. The correct answer is you open the door. You put the giraffe in it, and you close the door. That is pretty simple. There is a lesson there. In this Army it is imperative where appropriate that we think about the simple answers. We embrace simplicity, and try not to overcomplicate things. Form 5s come to mind when thinking about this.

Question number two is how do you put an elephant in a refrigerator. Well, if you said open the refrigerator, put the elephant in, and close the door, you would be wrong. The correct answer is look in the refrigerator, take the giraffe out, and then put the elephant in, and close the door. I see a couple of you nodding your heads. You apparently have young children and you have heard this quiz before.

Question number three: the lion king is hosting a mandatory animal profession symposium. (Laughter). All of the animals attend except one. Which animal is it that does not attend? You guys are pretty good. That is right, the elephant. He is still chilling in the refrigerator. Okay here is the last question. Some of you are doing very well, but others may need this last question to help you catch up. Question number four: your path is blocked by a river, but still you have to cross it because the undersecretary on the other side has demanded your presence. You see a sign that says the river is infested with crocodiles. How do you solve that problem? You swim across, because remember all the crocodiles are attending the mandatory lion king conference. (Laughter). The lesson from that is that managers learn from their mistakes.

I am told this is an actual test that 90% of the professional who take this test fail and fail pretty miserably. I am also told that preschoolers on the other hand seem to do very, very well, which is why I said perhaps some of you who had the answers have young children. I guess it also disproves the theory that most managers have the brains of a four year old.

There is another lesson here. Sometimes things that appear simple are not quite as simple as we may believe. When we talk about things like ethics, it seems pretty simple to most of us. We think of ourselves. We are ethical people. We have standards and measurements by which we guide our lives. We come by those things in a variety of ways, but it is the kind of glue that holds society together. If we went through person by person here, everybody would think about their ethical standards in a somewhat different way. That is okay, but as an organization, we really need to think of ourselves more as a single organization, as a single profession, which means it is better if we can come to the most common understanding we can as to what it means to be an Army professional, what it means to live the Army Ethic. We are not a profession simply because we say we are. It takes a lot more than that. It takes a little bit of thought. It certainly takes a mindset and culture.

In pursuit of that let me spend a couple of minutes outlining how I see the landscape of things and what I hope we can all take away from today's effort. As I said, first we have to have that shared vision amongst all of us. It has to be uniformed and civilian because we are one Army. We are very proud of that profession. We have to reinforce guidance that we generate here today on how we live the Army Ethic.

When I say a dialogue, I really mean just that. It cannot be somebody like me or some other folks dictating to all of you. I cannot be you dictating to the folks that work for you or uniform to civilian or civilian to uniform. It really has to be a collective vision amongst all of us. Therefore, today particularly, we need your honest reactions. We need your very candid input, and observations, and counsel on how we can best integrate these principles throughout our professional development and efforts. As I said it really does have to permeate the entire Army civilian corps as well as military so that in the end we can understand most clearly and agree most broadly on what it means to be a trusted Army professional.

As we transition further into this 21st Century, given our undeniable inescapable uncertainties, the ones we are dealing with today, the ones we will continue to deal with down the road, it is important, I think, it seems to me, that at this moment we reaffirm our commitment to the Army profession and to the Army Ethic.

As trusted Army professionals, we strive to be honorable military experts, and servants, and stewards of the Army as a professional institution and do the right thing by the people who entrusted to us: those who wear the uniform, and joined and raised their right hand, and the people who work for us. That is our identity. That is who we claim we are. As we practice this profession with discipline and agility, we have to uphold that thing we call the Army Ethic and reflect a common understanding of why we serve and how we serve in defense of the American people.

Let me talk about those kinds of principles. First: why we serve. It is pretty simple -- Love of Country. It is why most of you certainly came to where you are today. It is love for our Army, love for our Army family, and the American people. We come, contrary to many, to preserve the peace, or as we put it today, prevent, shape and win, in a complex world. In other words, we are committed to do our duty to lead this Nation into a more peaceful environment and contribute to a common defense and defend American values as expressed, as Charles Snider mentioned, in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence: not to promote war, but to preserve peace.

Second: How do we serve? That brings us back to ethics, really. We do serve ethically. We demonstrate character. We serve effectively with professional competence and efficiently. We certainly have gotten a lot better at that in recent years. We provide responsible stewardship, taking care of our Army, our people, and our resources today, tomorrow, and always.

You have heard the Chief talk about it. He and I fully agree that trust is really at the foundation of everything this Army does. It cements our relationship with the American people perhaps most importantly. It is a thing I think that we always need to be particularly focused upon. It also means we share trust amongst ourselves with one another. The Army Profession, if executed correctly, reinforces that trust. There are pretty basic central characteristics: honorable service, military expertise, wise stewardship, esprit de corps, overcoming adversity, challenges and setbacks, and keeping that winning spirit, if you will. All of us here this morning, all of you, are senior leaders in the Army, senior leaders in the Army civilian corps particularly. All of us, and every one of us have the privilege and honor and the duty, really, to lead and strengthen, the Army profession, setting the conditions for success as we move forward.

This was an initiative that began last summer at West Point, where the Chief called together all of his senior general officers and began to talk about just these very topics: the Army Profession, living the Army Ethic. As the Chief understood, it is critical for us to have that shared vision. I had the opportunity to attend that event as a number of others here this morning did as well. The Chief and I discussed the immutable fact that, as I mentioned earlier, this just cannot be something believed in and imbued within the uniform side of it. It has to be something that we share. So that is what brings us here this morning. My vision, my hope, is that these sessions today can help motivate all of you, and us, and help guide us in our decisions, and everything involving the Army Ethic.

So we have put together a great program. As Carl again mentioned CAPE and the civilian leader national office folks have worked very hard to raise the bar on themselves and put together a program that I think you are going to find enjoyable. I know you will find it somewhat enlightening. You really have an opportunity today to generate very meaningful conversations about this profession, about your profession.

I am particularly excited that our featured speaker, Simon Sinek, has very graciously agreed to join with us. He did speak at the West Point forum, and I asked him that day if he would possibly come and share his thoughts with all of us. He has bent over backwards to make that happen. If you have not had the good fortune to hear Simon speak, I think it is fair to say you are in for a treat. I'm a big fan. You have a copy of his book. I have read it. I think you will enjoy it. I am very confident you will appreciate his comments about how great leaders and great organizations inspire their people and bind them together. His observations about why some teams in fact pull together and others don't are to me fascinating. I think you will find them that way as well.

So the bottom line, again, thanks for all you do every day. Thanks so much for being here. I will tell you over the last five plus years I have been enormously blessed in many ways. Nowhere have I been more blessed than having the opportunity to work as part of the great team that all of you are such an integral and important part of. Army Strong. Go Army! Beat Navy! Let's have a good day. (Applause).