July 23, 2015 -- SecArmy remarks to the U.S. Army War College, Distance Education graduating class

By U.S. ArmyJuly 27, 2015

Secretary of the Army John McHugh Addresses USAWC Distance Education Graduates
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

I have to tell you, for what it's worth, that during my several visits to this place as Army Secretary, it really has become special to me personally but I think that is true for the Army as well. I believe - I trust - that at the end of your time here, Carlisle will hold a special place in your heart as well.

And on that note, I would be woefully remiss if I failed to add my thanks and appreciation to the dedicated staff and faculty here at the War College. They do so much for all of us, people like yourselves, and certainly as a result contribute immeasurably to all of our military services in producing great leaders.

I want to thank too the 66 volunteer partners from so many callings, so many backgrounds, from virtually every corner of this Nation, who travel here - at their own expense I might add - to share their experiences, their perspectives with all of you. And who, in so doing, have really added immeasurably to this unique experience.

As all of you as students should know, you will be - indeed you already are - their legacy. So do I know you'll do yourselves and them proud. All of us in senior military leadership, all the branches, all the services, look to you to do meaningful things with the rest of you lives, with the rest of your careers. I want to assure you the good folks here at Carlisle expect that of each and every one of you as well.

So, congratulations! You are almost through a critically important phase of your leadership development. You're at the end of, as the Commandant and I were speaking, a pretty remarkable two-year march. I also know that before you can graduate, you must also endure a speech by me. I hope I won't be an excessive test of your courage and stamina. If so - so it is … so I'll try to make this a brief and painless as possible.

Let me add, tomorrow -your graduation day - if you make it 24 more hours - if you can, include your families. I know a good number of your families will be with you here tomorrow. A phone call if they can't be here. A note. Some gesture. This is going to be a great day for you, but I know you recognize this is a great day for your families, for your loved ones, for the people who have supported you - who in many ways have sacrificed during your journey.

When I'm asked to speak at events such as this, frankly it is sometimes hard for me to pick a topic. It is not because the list of possibilities is too short. In fact, the list of possibilities is pretty staggering. The challenges facing all our military service today, all of the globe really - are numerous and in many cases, they're epic, and I think undeniably growing. And if I didn't believe that, I had a chance to review the list of the graduate level seminars many of you have been attending, and it certainly underscored that fact.

But nevertheless, I thought with your indulgence, I thought I might spend a few moments this morning talking not about constrained budgets, not about the international world order - or disorder if you will - not talking about the strategic necessity of intergovernmental relationships or any of a host of other things and important topics that all of you have been endeavoring to delve into.

Instead, I'd like to talk about something that I hope binds you all together - the timeless qualities of the profession of which all of you - I don't care what service you come from - are a part of. I should note that while my comments are inescapably going to be colored by my time as Army Secretary, I truly believe they reflect the timeless values that all the services have shared.

Over the past several years, as the United States military has transitioned from less of a war footing to more of a garrison footing - although to look at our deployments across the globe and the demand signals from our Combatant Commanders you might find that hard to believe - we, as an institution, have been spending a lot of time examining exactly what it means to be a professional Soldier, a Civilian. What it means to be a member of the Profession of Arms.

And I think along the way we have made some significant progress. We have done that I believe, because we have focused throughout the Pentagon on an institutional commitment to continuous self-improvement.

One example from the Army perspective is found in the revised publication that came out last week on the Army Profession. Perhaps some of you have had the chance to look at that. It now includes a chapter on what we call our Army Ethic. It is the first time in our Army's history, given all the history that we have endured, the first time we have defined an ethic in writing that has long informed and inspired all members of the Profession - all of you in this room, regardless of service, to motivate and guide your decisions and actions today and into the future.

To put it simply, the Army Ethic defines the moral principles that guide us in the conduct of missions, performance of duty and really, in all aspects of our lives.

Now our ethic is drawn from a lot of places, a wonderful fabric made from many threads. You can find it in law, institutional values, creeds, oaths, ethos and shared beliefs, and all that is brought together and embedded in our culture. It is intended to be inspiration. It's intended to inspire and to motivate all of us to make right decisions and to take right actions at all times. That ethic is the very heart of our shared professional identity, our sense of who we are, what our purpose is, in life and in how we serve the American people.

Like all of our sister services, the Army Profession is defined by its essential characteristics: Trust, Honorable Service, Military Expertise, Stewardship, and Esprit de Corps. It's the shared responsibility for all that you have learned intellectually in the past two years, your responsibility as members of the Profession, to not just develop yourselves academically, but to grow and strengthen those principles both within yourselves and within your services.

All of you pursue a truly noble calling. You contribute honorable service to the Nation. And in that tradition, you are citizens of Character, Competence, and Commitment. You have to exemplify the ideals that are inspired and set down in that ethic, living by and upholding that ethic as Trusted Professionals.

As leaders - as people in whom your services have really invested an incredible amount of confidence and resources and trust - it's as I said, now your strategic responsibility to be stewards, in a larger sense, of the profession. Strategic stewardship simply means you are responsible for setting priorities, for enacting policies, managing your resources, establishing programs, and designing systems that simply provide for your people, our larger military family.

As stewards of the profession, it is also your duty to strengthen these essential characteristics every day in all things that you do - every decision you make, every policy you sign, every order you give. And remember: whatever you do affects everyone within your ranks, those both above and below you. What you do matters, and is reflected in every rank, every grade, every components and cohort, throughout the force.

To state the obvious, the resources provided to our ranks are tight and getting tighter. Still, some things will come to bear: we are going to have less of everything - all of us, all the services - but we will still be called; we will have fewer forces, fuller platforms to cover the full spectrum of missions, but regardless, we will answer; we will be challenged by smaller budgets with competing, often equally urgent demands.

For all of that I am reminded of Ben Franklin's oft-cited quote: we "must all hang together or surely we will hang separately." I have to tell you, despite materialistic challenges, budgetary challenges we will face, and I would argue that because of those very challenges, it is imperative that we - all the services - recommit to that common ethic. The thing that has through ups and downs carried this United States Military since its inception. And it is that thing that perhaps above all else, set the American military man and woman apart from most others on this planet.

It's within you, no matter what the budgetary reality, despite declining dollars and increasing risk, to remain strong. We are all confident as you leave this place, that you will lead through this. I have faith in you. I assure you military senior leaders have faith in you, and I know the American people do as well.

And speaking of faith, I know you took a staff ride last week to Gettysburg. Like most Americans, I consider Gettysburg to be hallowed ground, as I'm sure you found it to be as well.

Some eight months ago, I had the opportunity to take part in two Medal of Honor ceremonies, one at the White House and one later at the Pentagon, for Army Lt. Alonzo Cushing, a true hero of Gettysburg. Lt. Cushing, a United States Military Academy graduate, now lies in the West Point Cemetery in Section 26, Row A, Grave 7.

His mother had a simple request upon his death. She asked that his headstone simply read "Faithful unto Death." Faithful unto death.

As on the battlefield, on land, on water or in the air, it really is faithfulness which defines us all. It is certainly faithfulness that permeates the Cushing legacy. The faithfulness of an amazingly young but incredibly dedicated soldier to do his duty; the faithfulness of his Wisconsin family who was willing to share his life and to sacrifice their most precious gifts in service to the Nation; the faithfulness of fellow soldiers of his like Sergeant Frederick Fuger - also a Medal of Honor recipient - who fought alongside his lieutenant to the very end; and, finally, and in some ways most importantly, the faithfulness of a Nation to honor and never forget its most patriotic servants.

As I'm sure you found out and got a flavor for during your staff ride, all of those qualities and more were present on July 3rd 1863, at approximately 2:30 p.m., at the height of Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. As Artillery Commander in Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery, Army of the Potomac, Cushing "boldly stood tall" atop Cemetery Ridge at a place known as The Angle. At the start of the battle he commanded 126 men and six cannons. Before long, as the Confederate artillery took its toll, all - every one of his officers - had been killed and only two of his cannon remained. Cushing had been wounded in the abdomen as well as the right shoulder. Despite repeated appeals from his men to do otherwise, he refused to leave the field. When Rebel forces closed to within 100 yards of his position, Cushing was shot yet again and he fell dead.

His body was blackened by powder and soaked red by blood, but he still, even at that moment, epitomized the essential faithfulness of all the forces that day.

Like today's Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, Cushing and his forces didn't fight for empire. They didn't fight for domination or personal gain. They fought for a value. They fought for a common cause. They fought for one another. Simply put, they fought for things that they found worthy of their last full measure of devotion.

At Gettysburg, the very fate of our nascent Nation hung in the balance. And thanks to people, to soldiers, to heroes like Alonzo Cushing, and the faithful who followed him, our great American experiment was saved. And a united Nation preserved.

Today, your ranks - all of your ranks - are full of Alonzo Cushings. Just as it was at Gettysburg, it is essential that we have competent, character-filled leaders like all of you to guide them through their journeys. We must have leaders who are willing to face reality, battlefield or budgetary, and identify what needs to be done and then lead through the challenge, taking prudent but sometimes necessary risk.

As I've had occasion to walk around this incredibly storied institution, I really have become increasingly confident that enlightened leadership, more than anything else, remains our Nation's best insurance against risk in this world. Our commitment to developing leaders today, helps this Nation better prepare for a turbulent tomorrow.

The kinds of leaders - the kinds of service men and women - we require are those who are able to adapt to a shifting security landscape. These are the sorts of individuals who do not just react to change and uncertainty but lead through it. They do not just manage risk and the unknown. Rather, they embrace it to generate opportunity. People who know how to take incredibly complex problems and deliver options, not ultimatums.

Simply stated, I'm talking about well-trained and well-educated leaders and thinkers like we hope to find in all of you.

Together, all of you must selflessly lead us into the uncertain future that lies ahead. Through steady progress, you will share uncommon lives and common challenges and I am confident you'll do what this country requires. For, like those Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Civilians before you and those beside you today who have shared in this special journey, you represent those essential virtues of mankind--humility, courage, devotion and sacrifice.

In his first State of the Union address, President George Washington said: "I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain ... the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man."

As you celebrate this academic achievement, be ever mindful of your commitment to the Profession of Arms. Remember too, education is not the filling of a pail but it's the lighting of a fire - it's a commitment to lifelong learning.

If I can borrow a line from our Marine Corps brethren, "Keep your honor clean." Ethics matter. It's not just about adhering to what's legal, it's about living in ways that are right. As professionals, we all must do everything possible to maintain the trust of our warfighters, Civilians and Families - those who selflessly sacrifice alongside of you.

With your help, with your leadership, I know you can - and honestly you must - ensure our military maintains that trust through an uncompromising culture of accountability that exists at every level of command.

I would leave you with this final thought. When asked what one piece of helpful advice she gained, along her journey, ground breaking journalist, sports journalist Christine Brennan said it was her father's repeated mantra - "This ain't no dress rehearsal." It's true. As far as we know, this is the only journey we get through this life.

The reality is you'll leave this place to confront an ever and increasingly changing and challenging world. The good news is you now have the set of skills that sets you apart. I would urge you to use them to go out and do great things every day. Because from here on out, "this ain't no dress rehearsal."

Again, it's been an honor for me to be here. Thank you so much for having me. Best of luck to each and every one of you. And no pressure intended - our Nation's fate is in your hands.

Thank you. God bless you, and congratulations.