By Devon L. SuitsNovember 16, 2017
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. -- The Army recognized Sen. John A. McCain in a "Salute from the Chief" ceremony Tuesday for his efforts in strengthening America's national security, eliminating wasteful government spending, and assisting in government reform.
Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley presented McCain with the Outstanding Civilian Service Medal for his lifetime in service to America, both as a representative for the people of Arizona in the U.S. Congress and as a retired U.S. Navy captain.
"I will try to live up to your expectations of me, but we have a lot more to do," McCain said.
"Thank you for your service and thank you for your sacrifice," the senator said to a packed hall. "I promise after 60 years -- I'm not ready to quit."
Although he was grateful for the recognition, McCain gave credit to all the men and women who have served alongside him and said he was thankful for their inspiration, leadership and resolve.
A VOICE OF CHANGE
"We're here to honor an American patriot -- a true American legend," Milley said." One who has demonstrated extraordinary service to our nation and its people through life in and out of uniform."
As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee since 1986 and as the chairman since 2014, McCain has played a key role in the Army's overall readiness by providing the necessary resources to "fight tonight," the general said.
Previously, McCain advocated for and authorized the "2009 Army Temporary End Strength Increase," to improve the Army's dwell time during persistent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Army officials. Since then, the senator has advocated for a larger ground force to help meet the Army's requirements around the world.
"He understands the contributions of all the services to the joint force. He understands war. He understands that winning at war requires Soldiers and Marines to slug it out on the ground," Milley said.
In addition to an increase in resources, McCain has been a consistent voice of reform. He is determined to make the Defense Department and military services more responsive to the needs of the president, Defense secretary, combatant commanders, and the American people, Milley added.
Furthermore, the senator has made improvements to the military's acquisition processes by empowering each service chief to enact changes to the procurement process and help ease the burden, Milley said.
The senator has also been a "strong supporter to get rid of the continuing resolutions and the Budget Control Act so we can get some stability in the [Army's] long-term, predictable funding," the general said.
"He takes his duties and responsibilities seriously," Milley said. "He knows that he has Soldiers' lives in his hands and it is his duty to hold [flag officers] accountable. He has questioned and sometimes sparred with all of us: political appointees, combatant commanders, and service chiefs.
"He is not doing it for self-aggrandizement. He doesn't do it for praise or theater. Senator McCain cross-examines us for one simple reason -- he wants us to be better," the general added.
BRAVERY, SELFLESSNESS, HONOR
Growing up, McCain was a fan of history and literature. His favorite book was Earnest Hemmingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls," Milley said. The book tells the story of a man named Robert Jordan, a fictional American ex-patriot who abandoned all his comforts for a cause greater than himself.
"Senator McCain said to me, reading this book changed his young life, and from that point forward, he aspired to Jordan's courage and nobility,'" Milley said. "I doubt that pre-teen McCain had any idea how he would go on to display these characteristics consistently throughout his young life."
As the son and grandson of Navy admirals, McCain decided to join the family business. He enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy in 1954, launching his 22-year career as a naval aviator, the general said.
On July 29, 1967, McCain narrowly survived the first of several near-death experiences in the Navy. While in the Gulf of Tonkin aboard the USS Forrestal, a missile accidentally fired from a nearby plane and struck the fuel tanks on McCain's aircraft, triggering a massive fire that ultimately cost the lives of 134 sailors -- the worst Naval disaster since World War II, according to officials.
After the incident, McCain requested a transfer to support the USS Oriskany. In his new position, McCain pushed to strike a thermal power plant in Hanoi, Vietnam. That day came, and on Oct. 26, 1967, while on a bombing mission over Hanoi, his A-4E Skyhawk was shot down.
"It was a calculated risk, a risk that he begged his squadron operations officer to put him on," the general said.
Severely injured during the ejection from his aircraft, McCain would spend the next five and a half years as a prisoner of war in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton."
"He endured months and years of continuous, uninterrupted torture -- and years of solitary confinement," Milley said.
"[Even] when given the opportunity to escape that hell ... with an offer of early release from the North Vietnamese, he refused," he added. "He endured many more years of abuse and torture, but he kept faith. He kept faith with his fellow prisoners. He kept faith with the Navy, and he kept faith with the United States of America."
On March 14, 1973, McCain was released. He continued to serve until his retirement in 1981. His military honors include the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Believing in a cause greater than himself, McCain continued to serve the nation, winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from the First District of Arizona. After two terms in the House, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986.
Looking back at the senator's life and relating it to Hemmingway's story, Milley said: "Robert Jordan was brave, dedicated, capable and selfless. He risked his life, but never his honor.
"Senator John McCain has time and again demonstrated those same characteristics of bravery, dedication, extremely capable and selfless service. He has risked his life, and he has risked his political standing, but not once has he risked his honor."