I'm just back from a great trip to Fort Lewis visiting Soldiers, leaders, Families, and taking part in the mission rehearsal exercise for the 34th Infantry Division, Minnesota National Guard ... the second National Guard division going into combat here. I was very, very impressed with what I saw there. They're ready to go.

Sergeant Major Preston, I see you brought a lot of your friends here with you today. [Laughter]. I don't know if it's me or what, but sergeants major just keep looking younger and younger. [Laughter]. Some of them get better looking. [Laughter]. Some of them. [Laughter].

Ron James and Mike Rochelle, thanks for the great work the G1 team has done ... not only putting on this program here, but in the whole Sexual Assault Prevention Program. And special thanks to Carolyn Collins and her team, who have done so much to put this effort together. [Applause].

I know Secretary Pete Geren talked to you on Monday when he opened the summit, and I really just want to reinforce his message. In the last month or so, I've been traveling around a number of our posts and installations ... not just Fort Lewis but also Bragg, Campbell, and Hood. And I just want to reassure folks here - and the sergeants major know this because they live it every day - we have the most professional, resilient, combat-seasoned force that I've been associated with in 38 years of service. [Applause].

But as I've been saying publicly for almost two years now, we are out of balance. I can see the stresses and strains on the leaders, on the Soldiers, and on the Families. And we continue to be - and will continue to be over the next couple of years - so weighed down by our current commitments that we can't do the things that we know we need to do to sustain this all-volunteer force over the long haul and to prepare ourselves to do other things.

I'll tell you what I've been telling the Soldiers and Families as I go around. The next 12 to 18 months, I think, are kind of the "hump months" for us. The drawdown in Iraq will begin at a faster pace here starting right after the elections at the end of this year. With this drawdown, we'll be further along with dwell time in 2011 than I thought we would two years ago. I thought we'd be lucky to get to almost one year out, two years back. If this drawdown is executed according to plan (and I have no reason to think that it won't) and the rest of the demand stays steady, then we'll actually get to almost two and a half years at home. That's a good thing.

One of the things I've been telling Soldiers ... we're working towards this ... but once we get down to about ten brigades, we're looking to go to nine-month tours. You all know it. You live it. Fifteen months is too long. Twelve months is too long to sustain for repeated deployments. Six months is too short for the operational environment. Nine is about right. That's where we can hopefully get.

I think it's also wise to remind ourselves that this is the longest our country has been at war with a volunteer force. So to some extent, we're in uncharted waters. I think what I see affected most is the Families. We had a session at the Army Family Action Plan meeting a few months ago. After I spoke, a woman stood up, and I talked to her during the break. This was really an upbeat session. Folks were really kind of "pumped up" with what they were doing for Families. But she stood up and said, "General, I want you to remember me. My husband is just back from his second tour. We know he's going back on his third tour in 12 months. And I'm weary." And she burst into tears. That's what's out there. There's a lot of pride in what's going on, but folks are tired. We ought not to sweep that under the rug. We ought to thank them for what they're doing, but ... understand that our folks are tired.

I mention this to all of you because sustaining our Soldiers and Families is - and will continue to be - our first priority. When it comes to sustaining this all-volunteer force, it's hard to overstate the urgency of preventing sexual assault within our ranks. In the vast majority of the crimes that I'm referring to, Soldiers are both the perpetrators and the victims. What that means to us is that sexual assault is a crime that threatens to tear us apart from the inside. It's a crime that stands in stark contrast to what strengthens us as an Army ... the values we uphold, the trust we place in each other, and the ethos that we live by: I will always place the mission first ... I will never accept defeat ... I will never quit ... and I will never leave a fallen comrade. The reality of Soldiers doing harm to fellow Soldiers is absolutely incompatible with the Warrior Ethos.

You know, five years ago, we didn't have a comprehensive sexual assault program for commanders. At the summit last fall, I described the situation that we faced back then. I was the Vice Chief of Staff. As we sought to put together a program to deal with sexual assault, what we found was that our bureaucracy consisted of a lot of different silos. Some people say "stovepipes." I like to say "silos." You think of those big silos on the plains of Nebraska with walls that are three feet thick. Nothing goes sideways. It only goes up. We have a lot of that around our Army.

So we decided to revamp the program, and we gave the G1 the job of integrating all of the different silos: policy, training, education, and accountability. But we found that we still had a long way to go. Looking back with hindsight being 20/20, I can see that we were way too process-oriented. We dedicated a lot of effort to the process of reporting the crime of sexual assault, but we wound up missing the crux of the issue ... preventing sexual assault to begin with. We weren't focused on generating the cultural change across our Army that would be based on mutual respect for each other as a "band of brothers and sisters." As I look back on that, I should have realized it then. That's what it's going to take to move this program forward across our Army.

So even though we were expending a lot of effort, what the reporting told us was that we still had an awful lot of work to do as an organization. In 2007 when the Department of Defense report came out, there were 2,700 cases of sexual assault reported across the department. Of those, 1,500 were in the Army. Our rates - as I looked at the report - were twice those of the other services. That's even more staggering when you consider that national experts estimate that only one in five sexual assaults are actually reported. Our folks came and said, "Don't get too excited about that, General. We just report better than the other services." Well, I just want you to know that I don't take any solace in that at all. That struck me as being a little off-base. So the Secretary and I sat down, looked at the data, and said, "We have to do something fundamentally different."

In September 2008, we rolled out the Army strategy for preventing sexual assault: "I A.M. STRONG." The G1 has done most of the heavy lifting on the strategy, but it's clearly leader's business. The Secretary, the Sergeant Major, and I are all personally involved. And you need to know ... this program has the full support of the leadership of the Army. It is our program. We intend to see it through.

But we also know that success in any program of this size and scope is going to require buy-in across the Army because - believe it or not - there are limits to what you can do in the Pentagon. It's true. [Laughter]. The Army staff can develop policy and spend money, but, without the aggressive leadership of our Army senior leaders, the cultural change that we seek just won't occur.

So we kicked off Phase One in September with the organizing theme of "Committed Army Leadership." You've had some of the senior commanders and sergeants major brief you over the last couple of days on what they've accomplished and what they're doing to lay the groundwork here for progress.

As you know by now, this summit begins Phase Two. We've labeled this phase "Army-Wide Conviction." We're building to a point where all of us take ownership ... from the Army senior leadership to the Soldiers in the ranks. "Army-Wide Conviction" means you taking ownership of this program.

When it comes to preventing sexual assault, no one should feel comfortable with being a bystander who fails to intervene and act. We want the repugnance of the crime of sexual assault to strike a nerve with every single Soldier. We want to go on the offensive against a crime that undermines the strengths of our Army and a crime that fundamentally goes against our Warrior Ethos.

That's where you come in. I look around here. The room is full with sergeants major, and it's no accident that you're all here. The fact is, if we're looking to change the culture of our Army, there's no substitute for the leadership of our senior noncommissioned officers.

You heard me say before that our noncommissioned officer corps is the glue that is holding our Army together at a very difficult time. You all are the glue. That's precisely why we need you. It's the sergeants who interact with our Soldiers every day. Sexual assault reporting from 2008 indicates that the perpetrators and the victims both come overwhelmingly from the E-1 to E-4 ranks. That should tell you how crucial NCO leadership is on a daily basis.

With 2009 as the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer, we're reminded that sergeants have always been role models and standard-bearers for our Army. I remember my first platoon sergeant - then Staff Sergeant, now retired Sergeant Major - Tom Charo. He taught me the role of a noncommissioned officer. He taught me how to care about Soldiers. He taught me the value of attention to detail. And he taught me that nothing happens unless the NCOs are involved.

I keep in touch with him to this day. I was down at Fort Bragg doing a ceremony with the local community in Fayetteville a few months ago, and he came down. He'd heard about it. He was standing off to the side, so I called him up. He pretended to be angry, but he loved it ... getting up in front of the cameras and everything. [Laughter]. I thanked him publicly, and I said what I really believe ... that I would not be the officer I am today had it not been for Tom Charo. And any officer that you meet - if they're honest - will tell you that they are where they are because of senior noncommissioned officers who have moved them along and helped them.

It just reminds you of the influence that senior noncommissioned officers have across our Army. I ask you not to underestimate it because we're counting on your leadership. We know that the change we need won't be effected without you.

The other thing I'll tell you about Tom Charo is that we've kept in touch over the years ... but very sporadically. It wasn't until I got promoted to two-star general that I started hearing from him regularly. [Laughter]. Now he calls me up all the time - about once a week - and gives me advice about what I'm doing here. [Laughter]. Maybe you can take it a little bit too far, I don't know.

I said earlier that this is a magnificent Army and that we need to sustain our Soldiers and Families. Part of that involves preserving the quality of this force. As I said, our Army is the best in the world at what it does. It's that way because we actively extend opportunity and encourage diversity. I'm reminded of this because we just finished celebrating Women's History Month in March. As I looked at our history, I found that the story of women in our Army illustrates something that really shouldn't be surprising to any of us ... that people can accomplish amazing things when they're given the opportunity.

Women make up 14 percent of our force. They help fill around 90 percent of our military specialties. There is no denying that the health of this all-volunteer force over the long term depends on women's willingness to continue to answer the call to service. As an Army, it's our obligation to honor the call to service from anyone who answers that call. We can't do that without continuing to make progress and reducing the incidence of sexual assault in our ranks. We can't do that while any of us look the other way and fail to intervene in the prevention of sexual assault. I'll say this one more time. The crime of sexual assault is fundamentally against our Warrior Ethos.

Let me close by giving you a sense of where we're going. Secretary Geren discussed this goal when he spoke to you on Monday. As an Army, we want to reach the point where we see ourselves as a "band of brothers and sisters" and lead our Nation in the prevention of sexual assault. That's where we're headed. We know this is a long-term effort, but it's certainly within our reach.

To tell you how much it's within our reach to lead this country, let me just read something to you from President Obama's inaugural address. Here's what he said: "As we consider the role that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are the guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service - a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all."

As I sat in the audience a few months ago and listened to those remarks, the significance of the words struck me. Here was the President of the United States holding the men and women of his armed forces up to the American people as an example of what this country can be. I'd like to take that same thought and apply it to what we're doing with sexual assault. Just as our Army is recognized for its spirit of service, let us strive to be recognized as an example in preventing the crime of sexual assault. That's where we're headed as we transform this "band of brothers and sisters."

Thank you all very much for your attention. Thank you all very much for coming out to this conference. And thank you for what you're going to do to help us advance this program across the Army.