Thank you all, please. I -- very gracious words, Tom. I'm not sure they were deserved, but very gracious. I am a recovering politician. I --

Frankly, I appreciate your standing, but normally in my political days, when people did that, they left, so I still get a little nervous. But as a recovering politician, I've spent a lot of the -- I guess about 18 months now, as the Secretary of the Army, going around and apologizing to people like General Bostick, who had to appear before me and testify; I'd never thought for a moment I'd actually be in the Pentagon working with them. So I've got a lot to make up for, but you always -- General, I assure you -- brought a very clear message about the remarkable men and women that wear the uniform of the United States Army and the incredible work that is ongoing in the Pentagon. And it has been a true joy and honor for me over these past 18 months to, in some small way, bring a little bit of added effort to that remarkable team. And speaking of teams, got a heck of a team in here this morning. And I want to thank you for the opportunity to join with you, however briefly, in helping to kick off what you all recognize is an incredibly important series of several days, and addressing one of the most critical challenges facing our United States Army.

And if there's any question about its importance, and I don't think there is, it could be erased very quickly by the array of very critical players to the United States Army, to the United States military, who will be here this morning, some of whom have joined you already and others who will join you later. I know the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Dr. Stanley, will join us a little bit later today; Tom Lamont, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs; I know Lynn Rosenthal, the White House Advisor, just joined us. Great to have you here, ma'am. Thank you for your great leadership. You heard from Lieutenant General Bostick, right in front of me; Lieutenant General Lynch is here, head of all of our installations. And Lieutenant General Chipman, our JAG, will also be here, if he's not here already. You'll be addressed later by the Chief of Staff of the Army, George Casey. The Command Sergeant Major, Raymond Chandler. And I know Katherine Hammack, Jo-Ellen Darcy, two of our most important Assistant Secretaries of the Army, if they're not here now, will be here later. Joyce Morrow, the acting TIG [spelled phonetically] is here.

Just on and on and on, and that's not by mistake. It is a recognition of the great work that has occurred historically through your efforts and will be continued here this week. And in that regard, I most of all want to thank you for being here, for taking time out of your schedule back at your posts, and camps, and stations, and time away from your units to help us address what I said is a very critical issue.

You know, it's hard for me to believe it's already been a year since I had the chance to appear before you last year, and one of the earlier efforts as still a relatively new Secretary of the Army. And I said something then that remains true today, and that is sexual assault prevention is of the gravest importance to this United States Army. Now, the good news about that is that you are here. All of you are dedicated to eliminating this threat. And it's a threat to our cohesion, cohesion of our units; it's a threat to our readiness, and as you know, it is a threat to our very humanity. And from my perspective, there is nothing more contrary to the basic values of being a soldier or a civilian within the Army family than sexual assaulting or abusing a fellow officer or any person, any person for that matter. And I can't even begin to imagine such a thing happening not just once, not just hundreds, but in fact thousands of times across our Army, as it did just the last year. And the fact that this sexual assault still occurs in our ranks is heartbreaking, and it's antithetical to everything we value in this institution. And at the risk of stating the obvious, it is simply unacceptable.

This reprehensible behavior tears at the fabric of our units; it devastates us and does so in hundreds of ways, some apparent, others not so much. And three years ago, this Army, all of you, recognized this problem for what it was. And that recognition led to the development of programs and initiatives to tackle the issue head on. All of you committed yourselves; you committed yourselves to helping this Army become a national leader in the awareness of what is, in large measure, an underreported crime, but also in the prevention of that crime. Now, I'm going to go out on a limb a little bit here and say I think it is rational to state that to this point, no other large organization anywhere in America has equaled the efforts and the comprehensive nature of the campaign that all of you have helped to construct. And I know it's been a hard road, a long three years, and I know at times it may have seemed like your efforts, SHARP, wasn't succeeding. And yet, here we are, three years after the laying of the foundation of that strategy, and we've had the first drop in reported sexual assault cases, a reduction of eight percent last year.

And I think it's fair to say as well that each aspect to the SHARP program has in its own way helped stunt the growth of this scourge within our ranks. And we've spent almost $54 million on the "I. A.M. Strong" Campaign, and we did it to educate soldiers, to prevent the acts from ever happening, and this specialized advocacy in Army-wide soldier awareness training has given us the ability to recognize and better prevent the problem from the ground up. And we brought new personnel on board to help; we've hired 27 specialized sexual assault investigators and 15 more special victim prosecutors and placed them throughout the Army at major postings. And these professionals have given all of us the means to better turn the tide against soldiers who we know at present continue to commit these crimes. Now, you take each one of these by themselves, it may not seem like a great deal, but together, as a program, as a plan that you have constructed, they have created a strong and a positive momentum. And that's good news.

It's very good news, and a direct result of the SHARP strategy that all of you helped create and to put into motion. And at long last, it seems we are indeed headed in the right direction. And it looks like the two phases, the first two phases of SHARP, prevention and conviction, are doing exactly what was expected, exactly what all of us hoped for. And I have to tell you, though, like you, I'm sure, I'm not satisfied. We need to do more. Last year's 1,689 victims, soldiers who reported being abused by our own, demonstrate to us that the battle is far from over. Now we need to take SHARP to the next level, phase three, and work our way toward achieving the cultural change that's necessary to build on the hard-earned successes and gains that have been realized to this point. So you're going to be asking yourselves this week, how can we do more' And I look forward to the answers and the approaches that you develop, but let me just add my two cents.

I think Congresswoman Niki Tsongas struck upon at least part of the answer in an opinion piece she authored recently in the Boston Globe. She said, "Commanders must take sexual assault prevention and responses seriously as the training of soldiers and other aspects of military life." That's saying it pretty well, it seems to me. And that's what I mean when I say we need to take it to the next level, need to do more. We have to energize aggressive green tab action, leadership from our leaders, challenging leaders at every level to retake ownership of the issue. It's going to have my focus and it should have theirs. And I'm telling you it will. Let's be honest, without leadership and commander involvement, little's going to change, and that's true in the Army whatever the issue. But it's worse than that, because if we don't now have the leadership involved, we risk at best complacency, and at worst, I think, much if not all the progress that has been made could well be lost.

Now, I stood before you last year at this SHARP summit and assured you we were going to succeed. I said that not because I was particularly smart or bold, but because I knew the heart and soul of soldiers. Soldiers take care of soldiers. That's just what they do. And I also told you as a great institution, this Army would get even better when every one of us considered this initiative an essential part of the daily mission. The leader who introduced me, Lieutenant General Bostick, put it pretty well a year ago. He challenged us to ensure, as he put it, "Our soldiers believe that it is their duty to prevent this crime before it ever happens." Because in true, soldiers will try, but they can't get there by themselves. Leaders must take them, and that's what this week is all about. Phase three will better ensure leadership action and success.

And I want to leave you with the image of what this important work is all about. So take for a moment, if you will, and imagine your sister, your daughter, a friend, is a soldier in today's Army. Perhaps she's freshly commissioned and reporting to her first unit, taking on a challenge few outside the military can ever imagine. Perhaps she's deployed, living and working well with her fellow soldiers, accomplishing the mission, earning the trust and rapport of her team. And think about her pride, her growing enthusiasm as she succeeds at doing work that really matters, as she helps fellow soldiers succeed and grow as well. Newfound maturity, more confidence, by supporting a mission and an objective larger than herself. Now imagine she calls you one day and everything about her, her confidence, her enthusiasm, her strength, everything she worked so hard to achieve has been shattered by a threatening, unwelcoming advance, a drunken groping, or a violent and savage rape. Now, that's a tough picture, but you compound it perhaps with a commander who mishandles the case or for whatever reason or worse yet, seems apathetic and careless. Ask yourself how you feel about that image as a soldier living the warrior ethos and Army values, as a relative, as an American. Now ask yourself about that event and how you feel when it happens 1,689 times throughout our army as it did last year.

Today, this week, all of you stand in a fragile balance between what is too often the image I just described to you, and the realization fully of the SHARP strategy, the key to being where we want to be, where the nation expects us to be, can be found both in the efforts, the planning you will do this week for phase three, and how aggressively those plans are implemented afterwards when you return to your units, to the soldiers who are counting on each and every one of you. SHARP is working. These efforts you have put forward over the last 36 months have made a difference and it's time now for the next level.

So here, today, rededicate yourselves. Let's all of us rededicate ourselves to this critical task. Let's push this fight in the right direction and eradicate the behaviors that enable sexual assault and harassment throughout this glorious army. Let's lay a foundation to ensure our army remains the incredible band of brothers and sisters it has always been, and with your help and your leadership, it will always be. Thank you for being here. God bless you. God bless this great army.