(2,938 words)
Honorable Pete Geren
Secretary of the Army
Sergeants Major Academy
Battalion-level sergeants major
Fort Bliss, TX
07 Jan 2008

Thank you for that kind introduction.

I would like to recognize the foreign senior enlisted leaders who represent their countries here at the Sergeants Major Academy. For the 49 students, from 35 countries Aca,!" 4 of you here for the first time Aca,!" I would note that you are the latest in a tradition of international students who have studied here and shared your rich experiences with American NCOs. There have been 433 international soldiers from 59 countries who have graduated from this course. I know your presence here means a great deal to you, and it means a great deal to our country.

May the knowledge you gain and the friendships you make here help build partnerships that will endure and serve the cause of peace and freedom around the world.

I also would like to recognize the exchange instructors here at the academy. You come from other services and other countries, even as Army sergeants major serve as instructors in your services and in your countries. Your experiences and knowledge enhance the experience of the students. Thank you for your service.

And thank you to our Navy and Coast Guard senior enlisted leaders for your service to our country and your presence here. Today you all sit in classrooms and learn together. Soon, you will be part of the joint fight as the senior enlisted leader of Soldiers, sailors and Coast Guardsmen. The wisdom and leadership you gain here will help you advise and support your commander and grow and develop the NCOs and petty officers of tomorrow.

It is a privilege to speak to you today, at the pinnacle of our Non Commissioned Officers Education System, a place that demonstrates the commitment of our Army to the backbone of our Army, the Sergeants Major Academy.

In January 1973, the same year as the start of the All Volunteer Force, Class 1 of the Sergeants Major Course began with 299 students. Today, Class 58 is 663 strong.
This academy is recognized throughout the world as the capstone of the ArmyAca,!a,,cs development of NCOs Aca,!" the hallmark of the American Army.

Yet, itAca,!a,,cs more than just a Sergeants Major Academy Aca,!" more than just a place where you learn. It is a place where our Army learns from you Aca,!" a place where you, our most experienced Soldiers, help make our Army better through your input and the dialogue that takes place here.

The task of the NCO has remained unchanged -- lead from the front, in the field or in the classroom Aca,!" accomplish the mission and take care of your soldiers.

The key to Army our ArmyAca,!a,,cs success will remain keeping our focus on Soldiers Aca,!" and their Families.

Your journey to where you are today was deliberate Aca,!" both by you and your Army. Your development through the Army was deliberate Aca,!" from the Warrior Leader Course Aca,!" developing NCOs with only 2 to 4 years of service Aca,!" to the Sergeants Major Course Aca,!" you represent our very best NCOs. The service hash marks on your sleeves and combat tours youAca,!a,,cve completed make you part of the most experienced battle-hardened Army we have ever sustained.

What really sets you apart is the role you will assume once you complete your coursework here. ItAca,!a,,cs part of your continuing journey as Army leaders.

You will have a unique role when you leave here and return to the operational Army. Your charge makes you the foundation of the chain of support that ensures quality of life for our Soldiers and their families is equal to the quality of our SoldiersAca,!a,,c service.
Priority number one: we have 150,000 Soldiers in harmAca,!a,,cs way. TheyAca,!a,,cre the best-led, best-trained, best-equipped Soldiers weAca,!a,,cve ever put in the field.

All of you know that better than I, and you know better than I in ways I could never understand that, 24-7, those Soldiers are our top priority, and we will never take our eye off that ball. Wherever you work in our military, wherever you work in our government Aca,!" Soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or civilian Aca,!" that is our top priority.

And Big Army has the duty to get our Soldiers what they need when they need it, find the resources, cut through the bureaucracy, and make sure our systems respond to the life-and-death needs of our men and women in harmAca,!a,,cs way.

Every day in your job and mine, other priorities compete for attention. But our men and women in harmAca,!a,,cs way can never be crowded out of the front of our mind.

In maintaining the standard Aca,!" the best-led, best-trained, best-equipped military on the face of the earth Aca,!" our Army and your services have chosen you and brought you here.
Part of the curriculum here is the community involvement of Class 58 Aca,!" working with 24 community organizations that range from scouting to Habitat for Humanity. YouAca,!a,,cve spent more than 55,000 man-hours volunteering with these organizations.

Some of you will be selected as command sergeants major. Some of you will be serve as staff sergeants major.

Many of you will become the face of your command in the local community Aca,!" in the schools, in community activities and with the community leaders.

You will be in a position to help the community understand the Army, the needs and contributions of our Soldiers and their families, and the endless opportunities available to AmericaAca,!a,,cs young men and women in the Army.

An important part of the Sergeants Major Academy is the training for spouses that takes place here.

In our All-Volunteer Force, not only are our Soldiers volunteers, but their Family members are, too. We enlist Soldiers Aca,!" we retain families. And as you, the Soldiers, prepare to embark on a new part of your Army career, so, too will your spouses.
The Spouse Leadership Development Program Aca,!" which includes international students Aca,!" speaks directly the importance of Family readiness.

Some may consider this issue tangential to your notion of service in our Army, but it is an issue that will impact the readiness of our Army five, 10 and 20 years from now.
It is one of several issues that will determine the health and sustainability of the All-Volunteer Force.

In our seventh year of combat, we are in uncharted territory with the All Volunteer Force Aca,!" and your experience and insight will be crucial to the continued success of the All Volunteer Force as we grow the Army and develop the next generation of leaders.
WeAca,!a,,cre in our seventh year of war in Afghanistan. In March, weAca,!a,,cll reach our fifth anniversary of war in Iraq. WeAca,!a,,cve never been so long at war with an All-Volunteer Force: never.

In the Army, the demographics of our force look different than any Army in history so long at war.

Over half of our Soldiers are married, and in Army families, we have over 700,000 children.

We never have had to sustain an All-Volunteer Force so long at war; we never have had to sustain the Families of an All-Volunteer Force so long at war. We owe our Families a quality of life equal to the quality of your service. If our families are not ready, our Soldiers cannot remain ready.

You, the Army leaders of today are going to build the family support systems we need for an All-Volunteer force in an era of persistent conflict. With your leadership, we will get it right.

All across our Army, officers and enlisted, commanders and Senior NCOs have committed our Army to take care of Army families, through the public signing of the Army Family Covenant. Together, we will ensure that we sustain the national treasure that is the All- Volunteer Force of Soldiers and Families.

We now are seeing the fruits of much labor -- and you see the impact in the residential community initiative, improving housing for families Aca,!" but it is a journey, not a destination; itAca,!a,,cs a dynamic journey, and itAca,!a,,cs a responsibility for all of us. And we will make life better for all our families in big ways and small.

Another family issue, an issue that grows in importance with each passing year, is how we can better accommodate the jobs, careers and ambitions of service membersAca,!a,,c spouses.

The career ambitions of our spouses must be accommodated or we will lose a significant number of Army families.

If we fail to accommodate the ambitions of spouses, we will foreclose an Army career as an option for many families, and we cannot afford that.

With a virtual economy, career opportunities for spouses exist that did not exist before. National and international companies also offer opportunities, but those opportunities will not turn into realities on their own; our leaders are going to have to work for ways to ensure that we provide those spouses opportunities that match their ambitions if weAca,!a,,cre going to keep those families in the Army.

In an All-Volunteer Force - our spouses, our volunteers, with increasingly higher expectations much different than 40 years ago Aca,!" much different than even five years ago Aca,!" we must keep those families in the Army; we must keep those families in our military. The quality of our All-Volunteer Force depends on them.

Another challenge for sustaining of our All-Volunteer Force is recruiting. ItAca,!a,,cs an assignment seen by many as not career-enhancing. That has to change.

The future of our Army depends on the strength of our recruiting Aca,!" and the strength of the NCOs you will help choose to fill recruiting positions in the future.

Every year, we recruit 175,000 new Soldiers into the Army, Active, Guard and Reserve. To just sustain our Army, we recruit a number of Soldiers equal to the size of our Marine Corps every year.

But it is a challenge and will remain a challenge. The future of our Army depends on the quality of those recruits, and every year those new recruits shape the future of our Army. There are many who are willing to drop our standards to meet our recruiting goals. We cannot allow that to happen. To keep that from happening, we need our best NCOs and officers working the towns and cities of America Aca,!" talking to our NationAca,!a,,cs young people Aca,!" bringing the best into our Army.

In an increasingly tough recruiting environment, we need our best officers and NCOs to assume this challenge for our Army.

This leads me to my next subject: strategic communications. ItAca,!a,,cs more than what you say or how you say it. ItAca,!a,,cs what you do and how you lead.

Dr. Gates said recently in a speech in Manhattan, Kansas, Aca,!A"Public relations was invented in the United States, yet we are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture.Aca,!A?

Dr. Gates does not mince words. He continued, Aca,!A"We are miserable at communicating about our freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals. It is just plain embarrassing that Al-Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America is. As one foreign diplomat asked a few years ago, Aca,!EoeHow has one man in a cave managed to out-communicate the worldAca,!a,,cs greatest communication society'Aca,!a,,c
This is a critical challenge for us in the military and for us in the United States. And this is not just an issue for Public Affairs professionals, but every leader in our Army Aca,!" officer and NCO.

The information-communication aspects must be considered in every significant decision and action a military leader makes: how the results of those actions would resonate with local, national and international audiences, how it would resonate with internal audiences Aca,!" with Soldiers and with their families.

It impacts recruiting. It impacts the health of our families. It impacts public support of our military. It impacts congressional support.

And most importantly, as we remember our number one priority, it impacts the troops in the field, and it impacts the enemies who stand against them.

In the Army, we often see the press as the enemy. We must embrace the press and make it a friend.

Reporters have eyes that will see things that no leader will see without them. They offer you a voice that reaches into the barracks of your Soldiers, into the living room of Army families, and into the caves of Afghanistan.

The Washington Post uncovered the problems we had with Soldier care at Walter Reed. Those were problems that were hidden from Army leadership, but they were problems that were hidden in plain sight.

Because of the Washington Post, we are a better Army; because of the press, we do a better job of taking care of those who have borne the battle. As a leader in the Army, as a leader in every service, the press needs to be your friend Aca,!" and the press provides you an opportunity to tell America about your Army.

In my remarks today, I have focused on issues that rarely are the subject of articles in our military journals Aca,!" but issues that are the meat and potatoes of a successful Army Aca,!" an All Volunteer Force Aca,!" in our modern operating environment.

But let me close with another quote from Dr. Gates. He told us this at the AUSA conference recently. And I quote from him:

Aca,!A"It strikes me that one of the principal challenges the Army faces is to gain its traditional edge at fighting conventional wars while retaining what it has learned and relearned about unconventional wars, the ones most likely to be fought in the years ahead.

Aca,!A"One of my favorite sayings is that experience is that marvelous thing that allows you to recognize a mistake when you make it again. In the years following the Vietnam War, the Army relegated unconventional war to the margins of training, doctrine, and budget priorities. Consider that in 1985 the core curriculum for the ArmyAca,!a,,cs 10-month Command and Staff College assigned 30 hours, four days, for what is now called, Aca,!Eoelow-intensity conflict.Aca,!a,,c That was about the same as what the Air Force was teaching at its staff college at the time."

Dr. Gates continues, Aca,!A"This approach may have seemed validated by ultimate victory in the Cold War and the triumph of Desert Storm. But it left the service unprepared to deal with the operations that followed Aca,!" Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans, and more recently Afghanistan and Iraq Aca,!" the consequences and costs of which we are still struggling with today. The work that has been done to adapt since that time has been impressive, if not nearly miraculous.

Aca,!A"Just one example is the transformation of places like the National Training Center, which as one officer put it, the Army has cut out a piece of Iraq and dropped it into Southern California. Replete with a dozen villages and dozen of Arab Americans employed as role players.

Aca,!A"This work and these lessons in irregular warfare need to be retained and institutionalized and should not be allowed to wither on the bureaucratic vine.

Aca,!A"Put simply, our enemies and potential adversaries, including nation states, have gone to school on us. They saw what AmericaAca,!a,,cs technology and firepower did to SaddamAca,!a,,cs Army in 1991 and again in 2003, and they have seen what IEDs are doing to the American military today. It is hard to conceive of any country challenging the United States directly on the ground, at least for some years to come.Aca,!A?

But we must be careful not to misunderstand what Dr. Gates meant. He told us that we must Aca,!A"regain our traditional edge in conventional combat.Aca,!A? But, we cannot stop there. We will win this long war we are in today with capabilities that go beyond the ability to destroy enemy targets.

The Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan, defeated largely because of the help of outside allies, notably, the United States. We defeated the Evil Empire, but we didnAca,!a,,ct finish the job.

We allowed the freedom we had helped to create for the Afghan people to be hijacked by the least principled members of the Afghan society.
The Taliban took charge, and allowed Osama bin Laden to build a base from which we were attacked on 9/11. There are a lot of potential Afghanistans out there.
You as Army leaders will ensure that we have an Army that can win the war and win the peace.

For the American Soldier, battle is one but not the only instrument to extend the hold of civilization on the world. We need Soldiers who speak foreign languages, understand local cultures and empathize with struggling people. In the 21st century, our Soldiers must be as capable working on a computer keyboard and participating in a village council meeting, as they are fighting on an urban battlefield.

To win todayAca,!a,,cs and tomorrowAca,!a,,cs wars, we must develop leaders who understand the full spectrum of conflict, who can dominate a discussion of city development as well as they can determine pinpoints for artillery targets.

Our Army is an instrument of war. The most lethal the world has ever known, but it must remain an instrument capable of building a sustainable peace. An Army of Soldiers, Soldiers who are winning the peace in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who will continue to meet every challenge the future holds Aca,!" full-spectrum Soldiers, preparing for full-spectrum readiness.

Today you are senior leaders in the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped Army our Nation has eve put in the field. My job, your job Aca,!" our job Aca,!" is to ensure that we can still say that 5, 10 and 20 years from now.