Remarks as prepared for delivery by
Vice Chief of Staff, Army
General Lloyd J. Austin III
SMA's NCO and Soldier of the Year Awards Luncheon
22 October 2012
Good afternoon, everyone! It is wonderful to be amongst such a great group of outstanding Non-Commissioned Officers, Soldiers and Family members. I want you to know that I could not be more proud of you and your comrades serving today around the world. And, I am truly grateful for the opportunity to join you here this afternoon. You know, as I look out at the faces in the crowd here today and at the NCOs and Soldiers being honored at this luncheon, I am amazed at how young you all look!
A few weeks ago I was up at Walter Reed visiting Soldiers and I went into a room where a young Sergeant from the 3rd Infantry Division was recovering from surgery. His sister was there in the room, at his bedside. And, as we were chatting we talked a bit about the 3ID. He asked me what unit I'd been with…. and, I told him that I'd served as the Assistant Division Commander and helped to lead the invasion into Iraq in 2003. He looked up at me from his hospital bed and said, "Hey, Sir, I was nine years old when that happened in 2003!" And, I thought about it, and I realized, 'Wow'--that means that he was seven when we started fighting in Afghanistan. And so, here he is now a young man lying in a hospital bed recovering from wounds incurred in that same conflict. And, that really drove home for me how long we've been doing this…. we've been fighting since some of you were in grade school!
In fact, most of you joined the Army since 9/11. And so, you knew exactly what would be asked of you because, growing up, you watched these conflicts unfold on television and on the Internet. And still, you willingly raised your right hands and joined the Army because you wanted to do your part and serve your country. And, that says a lot about you and about the strength of your character. And, you are to be commended for your selflessness and for the many sacrifices that you have made over the years as a result of your service.
You know, I often tell people that the greatest assets of the United States Army aren't our tanks or our helicopters or our sophisticated weapon systems…. they are our people. You are what make ours the best and most powerful military in the world. And, over the past 11+ years, I have witnessed your determination and your remarkable courage and your winning attitude firsthand during multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether it was in the Karbala Gap, in Basra, Baghdad, in Kabul, the Paktika Province…. I have seen you do the most amazing things, seemingly impossible things…. and, I have seen you do them routinely. You have clearly demonstrated that our Warrior Ethos is not simply prose, but instead it is a way of life. And, there is nothing you won't do for one another…. even if it means risking or even losing your own lives.
You know, I often think back on the events of the past decade--and, the triumphs and tragedies…. as I'm sure many of you do. And, as I was getting ready for today's luncheon I thought back on one particularly difficult day. On June 6th, 2011, Iranian-backed militants attacked one of our forward operating bases located near Sadr City in Iraq. Just before dawn, they launched a series of rocket assisted munitions, killing five Soldiers immediately and a sixth who died 10 days later, and wounding several more. The camp was almost completely destroyed. Just an unbelievable amount of damage was done in a very short period of time. There was tremendous chaos and confusion. But, even more remarkable than the attack itself was the response by the Leaders and the Soldiers of that unit. Every one of them was a hero that day.
When I heard of the attack on the radio that morning I told the pilots and my Aide and my Sergeant Major that I wanted to go to that location immediately. And, when we got there I walked over to the battalion commander, recognizing that he and his unit had just gone through something incredibly traumatic. He was very much in control and very confident. And, he was probably wishing that I would get back on my helicopter so that he could focus on his Soldiers and the challenge at hand. But, I told him that--together--we were going to make this better. I said to him, "These are MY Soldiers too. And, we are going to bring the power of the United States Military to bear on your location." And, we did. Within a matter of hours, the Engineers, along with dozens of contractors and even some Navy Seabees, were on site helping to rebuild that camp. And, within just a few days, those Soldiers had better fortified positions…. they had replacement housing units…. new weapons, body armor, uniforms and all types of supplies. It was absolutely incredible to watch the entire team come together and help those Soldiers and that unit get through what was a terrible tragedy and emerge from it stronger and more confident and more capable than ever before. Indeed, on that day and the days that followed, the Leaders and Soldiers of 1-7 FA truly lived up to the unit's motto, which is: "Never Broken by Hardship or Battle."
And, while what occurred at JSS Loyalty was both tragic and extreme, the magnitude of the response was not exceptional. To the contrary, that type of teamwork has occurred routinely over the course of these wars. In everything that we've done we've supported one another. And, that, ladies and gentlemen, is what it means to be a part of a team and this is indeed a great team. No matter how long we've been fighting, no matter what happens--we have always done and will always do what is necessary to support one another and to ensure the team's success. And, again, this is a testament to the greatness of the people who make up our United States Army.
Today, our top priority continues to be the fight ongoing in Afghanistan. Some sixty thousand of our fellow Soldiers are still in theater, and they are doing an absolutely outstanding job. We are incredibly proud of them. And, we will make sure that they receive our full support until every one of them has returned home and the Army's mission in Afghanistan is complete. Meanwhile, we also remain committed to providing the right level of support to our Families and loved ones. The simple fact is that we could not have done all that we have over the past decade without their support and the outstanding support we've received from the American people. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.
After fighting for more than a decade you and your Families certainly deserve the opportunity to rest and to take it easy for awhile. However, the reality is that there is still much work to be done. And, we need you to commit the same level of effort and energy to the challenges facing us today and in the days ahead. Ultimately, we must do what is necessary to ensure that we have a Ready and Resilient Force for the future. For the reality is that we have not fought the 'war to end all wars' or waged the final battle. In fact, the world we live in is incredibly complex and volatile. And, the threats that we face around the globe are very real and unpredictable. And so, we must always be ready and prepared to respond when called upon.
We must also ensure that we're doing everything we can to take care of our Soldiers, our Wounded Warriors, our Veterans and our Family members. And, it's not just about the obvious wounds and injuries, like amputations and burns. Equally serious are the less apparent conditions of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress and depression and other similar ailments. Listen--what we are asked to do in this profession, the Profession of Arms is not easy. This is tough business! We are required to close with and destroy our Nation's enemies and that sometimes means taking human lives. And, many of you and your comrades have gone out on daily patrols for months at a time on multiple deployments. And, coping with this can be understandably difficult! And so, we have to change the mindset among our Leaders and Soldiers and get folks to understand that admitting as much and asking for and receiving help is a sign of strength! We should always strive to be better, to be stronger and to be faster, thus enhancing our individual performance on behalf of the team.
You know, I often make the point when I talk to audiences about this topic that if you're a police officer assigned to a department in a major metropolitan area--if you draw your weapon and so much as fire it--you don't have to hit anyone…. you are automatically going to receive a behavioral health evaluation afterwards. It's standard procedure…. it's routine. And so, we have to adopt this same way of thinking and make seeking help a routine part of our everyday lives. Likewise, we need to actively work to improve our resiliency and life-coping skills and help our fellow Leaders and Soldiers to do the same. Recognizing that more resilient Soldiers will make for better and more capable units and, ultimately, a more Ready Army.
And so, my challenge to all of you today is to go back to your units and organizations and lead this effort. You are among the very best in our Army and those you serve with look up to you -- and, they want to be like you. And, if you show them, through your actions, that this is a priority…. and you show them that you're taking it seriously--they will also. And, you should know that doing what is necessary to build individual resiliency and ensure physical and mental fitness is not an additional task or something that you should focus on only if there's available time. The most important thing that I want all of you to take from my remarks today is the absolute necessity of this endeavor. And, it will require all of our efforts--from 4-star generals down to the newest privates in our ranks.
And, I know that we can do this--we can make a difference and improve the resiliency of our Soldiers, our Families and units. After all, there's not a single challenge that our Army has faced in over 237 years that when our Leaders and Soldiers put their minds to it we weren't able to achieve success. And, we have faced some very difficult challenges over the years! And so, I am confident that through your efforts, we will emerge from these wars better, stronger and more capable than ever before.
All of you have much to be proud of. You have served your country honorably in a time of war. You have fought bravely, and sacrificed greatly and, in doing so, you have contributed immeasurably to improving the lives of people in Iraq and Afghanistan, while also ensuring the continued security and prosperity of America.
Back in January of 1961, in his Inaugural Address, delivered during another period of protracted conflict, President John F. Kennedy said, "In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger." This generation has shouldered this great responsibility well. Indeed, in the coming years, future generations will look back on the events of the past decade with tremendous pride and admiration for your service, your selflessness, as well as the many acts of heroism displayed on an almost routine basis.
That said, let this not be the end of our story. Let us forge ahead and write the next chapter as well! For it is the next chapter--the actions that we take today and in the days ahead that will ensure a Ready and Resilient Army for the future. And, this in turn will ensure that our Nation remains a truly global power…. safe, secure and prosperous…. with the greatest Army and the best Soldiers and Families in the world.
I am incredibly proud of each and every one of you--and your Families. And, I am proud to serve alongside you. You are the best of the best. And so, I challenge you to keep up the great work!
May God bless you…. may God bless and keep safe all those currently serving in harm's way…. and, may God continue to bless the United States of America, the greatest country in the world.