Welcome Ceremony Remarks

By Eric FanningJune 23, 2016

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(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Mr. Secretary and Chief -- thank you. And thank you to OSD Protocol, Army Protocol, all the folks at Ft. Myer, and the Military District of Washington. Chaplain, thank you so much for that moving invocation. It is wonderful to have you as part of this afternoon.

As I stand here on this beautiful, albeit warm, afternoon, all that's running through my mind is how long it took to get here. I had begun to worry that my arrival ceremony and my departure ceremony would be on the same day.

Regardless of when or where, as you've heard already -- we'd have these amazing soldiers standing in front of us now. I've been to countless ceremonies here, and never tire of it. I never imagined one day the parade would be in my honor.

Thank you to the men and women of the Old Guard. You do your Army proud, and you do your country proud. And you do it regardless of the weather conditions. Freezing cold or scorching hot like today. Today is a very special day for me and my family, and that's largely because of you.

Thank you.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for this opportunity, and all that I've learned from you.

Little did I know the journey you'd set me on when you asked me to be your chief of staff last year. In 12 frenetic months, I moved from the Air Force, to your office, to Acting-under of the Army, to Acting-Secretary of the Army, then, due to the vagaries of the confirmation process, back to your office again, all in one year. Now that the process is in past tense, I can say it was worth it.

Chief - we first met when you were being interviewed for your position, and while I was in vetting to be nominated for Secretary of the Army. Somehow you found out before it was even leaked publically that I was in vetting, and from that moment on we got together whenever we could to learn about each other, understand each other's priorities, and form a team that was strong before I even moved to the Army as acting.

I am incredibly grateful for your support, counsel and, most importantly, your sense of humor.

A lot has been written about my nomination and confirmation. Countless references to the historic first-of-a-kind nature of my appointment. Yes, it's true - I'm a first.

I'm the first … service secretary … who worked for his two fellow service secretaries while they were service secretaries. Ray Mabus and Debbie James, I know how you think, I know all your tricks and I know where you hide your money, and I'm bringing all that intel to the Army!

Nobody gets an opportunity like this without a lot of help, which is particularly true in my case. I actually initially resisted having such a large welcoming ceremony with so much pomp and circumstance, but eventually agreed for two reasons. First -- this is Army tradition. Protocol basically told me to get over it and show up. Second, I realized I needed such a big venue in order to invite all the many people I needed to thank for making this possible.

I realize that the more you include, the more you exclude -- but I need to call out a few people.

First, and foremost, my mother - Kathy. She taught me how to say thank you, so she should be the first I should thank. For health reasons, she couldn't be at my last welcome ceremony, when I was sworn in as Under Secretary of the Air Force. But wouldn't have missed this one for the world. She even came up for my confirmation hearing in January, sitting behind me and glaring at each senator who asked me any questions.

Senators Ernst and Sullivan are here -- I'm pretty sure they can bear witness. Thanks to the two of you for being here.

Mom had to wait a little while for this ceremony. She told me she bought a dress last year. Then returned it to buy something warmer as my confirmation process dragged on. Then returned that as winter came and went. When she bought the dress she's wearing now, she told me she wasn't getting another so I'd better get confirmed soon. Mom -- we made it.

I have three uncles who were career military officers. Here today is my Uncle Jerry Vitarelli, and my Aunt Barbara. Jerry was a military intelligence officer in the Air Force. I watched in wonder as a kid while they moved around the world -- all three of my cousins born in different countries. And all three of them are here today, Diana, Victor and Scott. Thank you for joining us.

The other two uncles were both West Point graduates. Jack Fanning, class of 60, who is no longer with us. And Rocky Ventrella, class of 1953. He couldn't be here today, but his daughter is here -- my cousin Joanne. Thank you Joanne for being here.

Uncle Rocky was a troop commander in the 101st and 82nd airborne divisions, a combat infantryman in the Big Red One in Vietnam, a Master Parachutist and a Ranger. My first visit to the Pentagon as a young kid was to get a tour with him when he was Chief of the Middle East Region for policies and plans in the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

During one of his West Point tours, he was assigned to completely reorganize the admissions department, turning it into a highly selective program, eventually emulated by the other academies. This is likely why the Chief of Staff of the Army had to attend Princeton.

Uncle Jack's assignments took him to Korea, the University of Michigan, Thule, Greenland, Ft. Leonard Wood, many times to Ft. Bliss, and also to West Point, where at one point he and Rocky were working there at the same time. Early in his career he served as an Aide-de-Camp to General Omar Bradley. My mother still talks proudly of meeting General Bradley up at West Point.

And all three of their wives, Barbara, Edith and Joan served all those many years as well -- as only military spouses can … through so many moves and so much time apart. They exemplify what we've all learned many times -- soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have a knack for marrying up!

My sister Erin is here, with her three children Zachary, Nicholas and Julia. This date was picked not around Secretary Carter's schedule, or mine … or the chief's … but around the kids' schooling! But that was a no brainer -- it wouldn't be right to have this ceremony without you here. Thanks for coming up. Now get out of my house!

And Ben Masri-Cohen -- Ben … nobody witnessed the craziness of the last few months more closely than you. Thank you for being the perfect antidote to a tortuous confirmation process.

To all the many others here today, that I know from school -- all the way back to middle school, from work, from my neighborhood -- thank you so much for being here today.

I am incredibly honored to be here today. There are 1.4 million soldiers -- active, guard and reserve -- and civilians in the Army. That's a big number, but a very small percentage of the American population -- and too few Americans have an understanding of what their Army is doing.

They know about Iraq and Afghanistan, where many are serving valiantly today, and where too many made the ultimate sacrifice over the past 15 years -- many of whose final resting place is just behind these trees at Arlington National Cemetery.

But they don't understand the full impact that our Army has across our country and around the world. There are just over 15,000 Foreign Service members in our government. But today there are some 180,000 US Army soldiers outside the United State in more than 140 countries.They don't just fight for our freedoms. They represent us. Our soldiers are the face of America.

I saw this first hand just last week, when I traveled to Poland for Anakonda 16, a military exercise involving 31,000 participants from 24 nations.

I asked a 19 year old soldier what his biggest surprise was and he said, "support." He meant the support of the Polish people. Crowds of Poles turned out, flags waving, as their convoy moved across Poland. And when they took a Bradley fighting vehicle to a nearby town for a static display, that young soldier beamed with pride when he told me about the wave of children clamoring onto the vehicle for pictures.

And this isn't new, nor is it fleeting.

Think of the story we've all heard -- of the WWII cemetery in Margraten, the Netherlands. More than 8,000 Americans are buried there. To this day, every one of those graves is adopted and tended to by a Dutch family. In at least one case, five successive generations of a family have been involved in tending their adopted grave. There's actually a waiting list to adopt graves even today. 600,000 people a year visit that cemetery -- 40% of them are school children.

That 19 year old in Poland was thinking about the impact he's having today, without fully realizing that the impact of his and his fellow soldiers' presence will last for years to come.

And it happens all over the world.

When the problem is so big they can't think of who else can tackle it, they turn to the US Army.

When hurricane Sandy struck, who'd they call: the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps drained 286 million gallons of salt water in just 9 days, out of the New York City subway system.

In the 10 years following Hurricane Katrina, the Corps designed and built the $14.5 billion 100-year storm protective system for New Orleans, a feat of engineering that includes 133 miles of protections, 350 miles of canals, and a gated storm barrier that contains more concrete than the Hoover Dam and is visible from space.

Let me brag on the Corps a little longer -- few people how much the corps impacts their daily lives.

Just here in DC, they built the US Capitol dome, the Washington monument, the Lincoln memorial, the Library of Congress, and the Pentagon. Though I'm not sure we want credit for that last one.

360 million people a year visit Army Corps of Engineers land for outdoor recreation. This is more than the National Park Service.

They are the largest hydropower producer in the United States. They are leading the largest ecosystem restoration program - in the Florida Everglades - in the history of the world.

And when the Smithsonian finally displays its new T-Rex skeleton, there will be a sign that says, "On Loan from the US Army" -- and it's not even our only T-rex!

And the work of our one million uniformed soldiers -- active, guard and reserve -- is supported by an amazing 400,000 civilians. These civilians are often caught in the dysfunctional political vice of Washington, cynically described as paper pushers and bureaucrats.

But as former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates said, nobody suffers the bureaucracy more than bureaucrats who have to get up and fight it every day. They are vested in the mission and dedicated to doing what they can to support of those who volunteer to defend our nation.

They are scientists, inventors, teachers, technicians, maintainers, weapons experts. They help run our schools, our test ranges, our installations and our commissaries. And like them, I'm committed every day to do what is necessary to support our soldiers -- as individuals, and as an Army, to do what is asked of them -- because much is and much will be.

That means resilient soldiers who are fully trained and properly equipped.

To ensure they are resilient, we must redouble our efforts to eliminate sexual assault and suicide. We must ensure that everyone has access to behavioral health services, and that we eliminate the stigma attached with seeking help -- a sign of strength, not of weakness. And they must know we are taking care of their families when they are away from home.

We must make sure they are trained for the full range of contingencies, not just the kind of fighting we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. That means the kind of large scale, integrated, decisive action training that I witnessed in Poland last week.

And to make sure they are equipped in a way that always maintains a decisive advantage over any adversary, we must work to get capability to them more rapidly, and as efficiently as possible. We must find more ways to cut time and money out of our acquisitions processes, to better serve our soldiers, to be better stewards of taxpayer money, and to streamline the system for the many talented Army civilians who slog through the processes we put in their way. And we must find a way to better harness the innovation taking place outside the Department of Defense. As Secretary Carter has said, "the race now depends on who can out-innovate faster than anyone else."

Finally, we must continue to open up opportunities for those who meet the standards, but were previously denied the opportunity to serve. By leveraging diversity and creating an inclusive environment in which all our valued, we engender opportunities for people to be part of the greatest mission there is: Defending our nation's security. This is actually something the military does very successfully.

We rely on those diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and expertise to train, fight and win in a complex security environment. And if we don't embrace diversity and inclusion, if we don't live our Army Values and treat each other with dignity and respect, we threaten the very readiness that we are prioritizing.

Not many people know what an Army Secretary does. I've been asked if I wear a uniform. If I'm a general. How many words a minute I type. But my answer is always the same -- it's the best job in the world.

Thank you all for being here.

Go Army. Beat Navy.