By Guv Callahan, Pentagram Staff WriterOctober 28, 2015
The U.S. Army bid farewell to John McHugh, 21st secretary of the Army, during a ceremony on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Oct. 23.
Family, friends and colleagues gathered under the sunshine at Summerall Field on the Fort Myer portion of the joint base for the proceedings, which were hosted by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.
McHugh was sworn in as secretary of the Army in 2009 and held the position for more than six years, making him the second-longest serving secretary of the Army in history. Prior to his appointment by President Barack Obama, McHugh served as a New York state senator for seven years and represented Northern and Central New York as a member of the House of Representatives for 16 years.
During his address, Carter called McHugh a "skilled leader and a selfless public servant" and "a decent and gifted man."
"To me, still waters truly run deep in John McHugh," Carter said. "He exemplifies leadership through heart and mind, through logic and strength and civility, throughout a consequential career. He's earned a reputation for examining problems and devising solutions in innovative ways."
Carter praised McHugh for remaining a constant through a time of great transition for the Army, including conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan amid drawdowns and budget reductions.
"As secretary, John offered the Army a steady hand, providing constancy through four secretaries of defense and four Army chiefs [of staff]," Carter said. "John managed the drawdown of ground forces from two all-in fights, where they performed magnificently. He did so in a way that honored the service and sacrifice they had made, and preserved the strength and the readiness of the force."
Carter also commended McHugh's work to maintain the quality of care at Arlington National Cemetery.
"John led sweeping reforms, ensuring that the final resting place for our nation's fallen heroes remains hallowed ground to honor and remember," he said. "It goes to show that in everything he did, John has always been, above all else, motivated by the people of our total Army."
Carter said McHugh was leaving the Army a stronger, more prepared force than when he came into the job six years ago, and thanked him for all of his work.
"Thank you for raising your right hand to serve," Carter told McHugh. "Thank you for your civility, your devotion to our people and for making the most professional land force on Earth even stronger, and from me, for our lifelong friendship."
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who was sworn in as the Army's top general in August, agreed that McHugh provided an important stability to the Army during his tenure.
"It's John McHugh, perhaps more than any other individual, who has brought stability to our Army in so many ways and in so many difficult times," Milley said. "You have never failed us. You have fought hard for America's Army ... and you have led us through a number of very significant transitions over time. You guided through an Army in transformation, downsizing us by over 100,000 troops, most importantly, with compassion and care."
He also thanked McHugh for his "genuine and deep concern for our troops and their families."
"You never failed to champion the Soldiers, the civilians, the families and the veterans of the U.S. Army," Milley said. "You have been a class act in every sense of the word."
When it was his turn to speak, McHugh expressed gratitude to both Carter and Milley, men McHugh said he has known for years.
"Every day has been a learning experience, and I hope I've learned by your example and grown through your knowledge," he told Carter.
And McHugh assured Milley that he and Eric Fanning, who was nominated to succeed McHugh as Secretary of the Army in September and awaits congressional confirmation, are the right men to lead the Army into the future.
"I look forward to watching you lead with your usual skill and determination and success," he told Milley.
McHugh said much has changed since he took over in 2009, with the force facing more threats with less money and fewer Soldiers.
"In 2009, the Army's base and contingency operations budgets totaled over $235 billion," he said. "Today, our combined funds are set a little bit over $150 billion, approximately a 36 percent cut for an Army still at war. In 2009, the active Army end strength was about 553,000 while today it has declined to just over 491,000."
McHugh called on the nation - Congress, the Obama administration, the Pentagon and the American people - to make sure that the Army has the resources it needs to continue to do its job.
"This Army has proven time and time again, it can, it will do the impossible," he said. "But in an era of growing connectivity and more adaptive, capable adversaries, even the greatest land force on the face of the earth needs support. It needs a predictable, reasonable level of resources. This is this nation's responsibility."