By Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. PrestonJuly 27, 2009
Secretary Geren, General Casey, General Chiarelli, Mr. Popps, Ms. Morrow, Lieutenant General Huntoon, Lieutenant Colonel Gadson, all of our distinguished guests, General Officers, Commanders, Fellow Sergeants Major, our Army Civilians, Family Members and all of our great Soldiers, who are here today, welcome.
I always feel good following the chaplain, and in this case, Sergeant Major Marrero, so it's always good to follow behind Tommy.
I would also like to recognize and thank the Secretary's staff and friends who are here in attendance. Thank you for your support to the Secretary, but also thank you for your support to the Army team over the past two and a half years.
It is with a heavy heart that I join General Casey in saying farewell to our 20th Secretary of the Army. Secretary Geren has been a tremendous advocate for our Soldiers, our Army Civilians and their Families, while leading our Army at War, during one of the most challenging times in our Nation's history.
I've had the honor to spend a lot of time with Secretary Geren over the past two years. And from a personal note, to him, the Army is people - Soldiers, our Army Civilians and their Families - all serving their Nation with a desire to be part of something greater than themselves.
I've seen firsthand how Secretary Geren and General Casey worked as a command team. The synergy of these two leaders and their diverse backgrounds were the right combination for an Army at war supporting a Nation at war.
Today I thought I would highlight some of the Secretary's great accomplishments over the past two years, and do this through a series of stories and vignettes.
In Secretary Geren's words, the implementation of the Army Family Covenant and Army Community Covenant provided support to Soldiers and Families that was commensurate to the service they provided to our Nation. Both of these initiatives are a legacy of support that will endure with the Army throughout our history.
I had the honor to sign the first Army Family Covenant with Secretary Geren and General Casey at Fort Knox on the 16th of October 2007. And then the Army Community Covenant with the Secretary at Fort Benning on 17 April 2008. Seems like a long time ago when we were down there to sign the covenants.
But as General and Mrs. Casey said, the feedback from our Soldiers and their Families is that the Army has great programs, but the programs we have were not adequately funded. The Army Family Covenant commitment, resulted in funding doubling, from $700 million to $1.4 billion annually. This increased funding now supports and provides for increased Family programs, like child care for spouses while their Soldier is deployed, and much needed youth and recreational programs.
Karen and I had the honor to spend time with Family Readiness Group leaders last week in Alaska, who spoke of the success and the assistance, provided by the Family Readiness Support Assistants in each of their battalions. The dozens of support assistants assigned to those two deployed brigades are an example of the 1,029 Family Readiness Support Assistants hired across the Army. A small but critical piece of the Army Family Covenant.
The families in Alaska also spoke highly of the successful youth and recreational programs that provided their children outlets for stress. Especially important now during the summer months while school is out of session.
There was no doubt to these spouses, or the spouses they represented, that the Army cares and appreciates the sacrifices they make. The Army's support to those Soldier's Families in Alaska is more than just words of thanks, but deeds of commitment from Army leaders like our Secretary.
The Community Covenant fosters improved relations within and among our local communities to better support our Soldiers and Families. In El Paso, Texas, the Community Covenant resulted in the city hiring a military family liaison for every major school in the city with large populations of military children. In the words of Miss Patty Hughes, the President of the El Paso City School board, 'The military liaison sponsors military families and helps their children to adjust to their new school.' This initiative is a win-win for the Army because not only does the program help our military children, but the military liaisons hired are military spouses. And of course, increasing spouse employment opportunities is an important part of the Family Covenant.
The Secretary's concern for our Soldiers and Families took him to posts, camps, and stations around the world. He wanted to look our Soldiers in the eye and hear their stories of success and understand their concerns first hand.
I had the honor to join the Secretary in visiting many of the 36 Warrior Transition Units around the Army. And from Ft. Drum to Ft. Bliss to Balboa Medical Center to Walter Reed, in every case the Secretary met personally with the Soldiers and their Families. In open and candid discussions, some very candid, he wanted to understand how we as an Army were doing, in caring for their immediate and future needs, in all aspects of their lives, and not just medical.
In October 2008, Secretary Geren approached me with an idea he and General Casey had about declaring 2009 as the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer. He said to me that he wanted the year to result in substantive, positive impacts for the NCO Corps. He committed his support to additional funding for new initiatives and, at our request, his support in accelerating the implementation of existing NCO development initiatives. Programs designed to foster a lifelong learning culture, and add depth and capacity to our noncommissioned officers, and they've all been accelerated this past year.
Programs like the Army Career Tracker are now on-track to test as a pilot for the Army in November, with full implementation expected for 2010. Although piloted under the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer, the Army Career Tracker will provide lifelong learning opportunities for all Soldiers regardless of rank, our Army Civilians, and for all those Soldiers in all of our units and organizations across the Army. As this initiative comes to life, this will be another legacy to endure with the Army throughout our history.
As a way to inform the American people, members of Congress and our Government what a national asset they have in their noncommissioned officer corps, we nnow have senior noncommissioned officers assigned as legislative liaisons on Capitol Hill. We currently have three noncommissioned officers in one-year, fellowship programs and will rotate three additional senior noncommissioned officers quarterly through the Capitol Hill orientation program. As an early success of the program, it resulted in Senator Warner selecting one of our fellows as his Defense Fellow of the Year.
Mr. Secretary, on behalf of approximately 430,000 NCOs from all three components, thank you.
Putting aside the support to our Wounded Warriors, the huge contributions to our Families, the recognition of our noncommissioned officers this year, let me talk about equipment for our Soldiers. Our Soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq have the most modern, up-to-date personal protective equipment of any Soldier serving in the history of the world.
As a testament to our equipment fielding, LTC Christopher Cavoli, commander of the 10th Mountain Division's 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, said while deployed to Afghanistan, and I quote, 'During Operation Mountain Lion, I found myself praying for bad weather, the first time in my military career that I was actually begging for a cold front to come through. I knew my Soldiers could handle it, and the enemy couldn't. Our Extended Cold Weather Clothing System allowed my men to outlast the enemy on their own terrain. When the enemy was forced out of the mountains due to bitter cold to take shelter, that's when we got them.'
And now today, as I personally look back at the pictures of our Soldiers from the first year in Iraq, it's like looking at historical photos of Soldiers from the Korean War compared to how our Soldiers are individually equipped for combat today.
With 260,000 Soldiers currently deployed to 80 countries around the world, I am confident that we are giving them the best equipment possible. Mr. Secretary on behalf of all of our Soldiers in harm's way, again, thank you.
If someone was to ask me what type of leader our Secretary was in person, I would define him as a man who leads with his mind, and listens with his heart. I want to read to you a quote from the Secretary from a recent news article that in my mind, defines who the Secretary is as a leader.
The Secretary said, "For nearly 8 years, I have watched Soldiers go off to war and their Families stand with them. I always will remember that I had the privilege to work for them, when our Nation was asking so much of them - truly a privilege of a lifetime."
Sir, your contributions will live on in the annals of Army history. Your care, concern, mentorship and leadership will be missed. I am grateful to have shared a foxhole with you on the E-ring of the Pentagon and on the frontlines of the Global War on Terror.
From all of us here in this auditorium, and really from all across the Army, we wish you, Miss Beckie, daughters Tracey, Annie, and Mary, the best of luck and Godspeed as you transition to the next chapter of your lives.
HOOAH! ARMY STRONG!