Small Wars Journal

SECDEF Robert Gates, 10 Oct 07 AUSA Speech

Wed, 10/10/2007 - 7:56pm

Full transcript follows:

Association of the United States Army

Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Washington, DC, Wednesday, October 10, 2007

First, I would say welcome to Washington. A city where those who travel the high road of humility encounter littler traffic. Where people often say, "I'll double-cross that bridge when I come to it." Where you can see prominent people walking down lover's lane holding their own hands.

The story Peter told about my wanting to be a doctor is true. I often tell people my decision to join CIA probably saved countless lives.

I returned Saturday night from visiting five Latin American countries, including Peru. My visit there reminded me of the perils facing hosts when receiving foreign dignitaries. Some years ago, a European foreign minister, a notoriously heavy drinker, was visiting Peru. He was at a formal event, and he was drunk. Music was playing, someone in a long, flowing gown passed him. The foreign minister asked this person to dance. The individual turned on the drunken minister and somewhat haughtily replied, "First, you are drunk. Second, this is not a waltz, this is the Peruvian national anthem. Third, I am not a woman but the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima."

I leave tonight for Russia, where all visitors for decades have assumed they were being spied on. Often, visitors have been a little too paranoid. Such as the time Canadian hockey player Phil Esposito was in Moscow and he and his roommate decided to find the bug in their hotel room. They searched high and low to no avail. And they flipped the rug back and found there the supposed bug inset in the floor. With great effort, they unscrewed it only to hear a thunderous crash. They had undone the anchor of the chandelier in the room below them.

Despite the travel, different time zones and different so on, perhaps the most difficult, confusing aspect of this job for me is closer to home. It may also have vexed some of you at some point and that is navigating the Pentagon -- in every sense of the word. General Eisenhower learned this the hard way shortly after World War II when he tried to return to his office -- by himself -- after eating at the general officers' mess. Eisenhower later wrote: "So hands in pockets and trying to look as if I were out for a carefree stroll around the building, I walked ... and walked and walked, encountering neither landmarks nor people who looked familiar. One had to give the building grudging admiration; it had apparently been designed to confuse any enemy who might infiltrate it."

Newsman David Brinkley used to tell a story of the early days at the Pentagon. A woman told a Pentagon guard she was in labor and needed help in quickly getting to a hospital. The guard said, "Madam, you should not have come in here in that condition." She answered, "I wasn't in this condition when I came in."

I'm honored to be invited to this important forum, and to be with an organization that has done so much to support soldiers and their families. In fact, AUSA was one of the very first speaking events I accepted back in January.

I should start by saying that even before assuming my current job, the state of the Army was one of my chief concerns. Since then, I've had to sign orders extending deployments and sign letters of condolences to the families of the fallen. And then there are the visits with the wounded at Walter Reed, Bethesda, Brooke, Tripler, and at Landstuhl. To be honest, before I went to Walter Reed the first time, I dreaded it, not knowing how I or the wounded would react. But people told me, "No, they'll lift you up." And they were so right.

Through it all I have never forgotten that we are talking about individuals -- America's sons and daughters -- and not numbers on a press release or a web page. To me it's not institutional, it's very personal.

Just a few days ago we swore in a new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen. One of the things that convinced me that Admiral Mullen was the right man for the job was when he was asked, as Chief of Naval Operations, what his top concern was. He didn't start talking about a new air craft carrier or submarine. He said: "The Army."

That says a good deal about Admiral Mullen and the priorities of the leadership of the Department of Defense.

These past couple of days you've heard from much of the Army senior leaders about their plans and goals for the service. Today, I'd like to offer my perspective on where the Army stands, and where it needs to be headed as it resets from the current conflicts and reshapes itself for the future.

I would like to frame the discussion in two ways:

- First, what America owes the Army after six years of war; our first protracted conflict with an all-volunteer force since the American Revolution.

- And second, what the Army owes America -- as it prepares to defend this country's freedom and interests in the decades ahead.

The U.S. Army today is a battle-hardened force whose volunteer soldiers have performed with courage, resourcefulness, and resilience in the most grueling conditions. They've done so under the unforgiving glare of the 24 hour news cycle that leaves little room for error, serving in an organization largely organized, trained, and equipped in a different era for a different kind of conflict. And they've done all this with a country, a government -- and in some cases a defense department -- that has not been placed on a war footing.

As a result of this stress, there has been a good deal of concern about the condition of the Army, leading some to speculate that it is "broken." I think not.

On numerous occasions, skeptical reporters have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan amazed at the high morale and discipline they see in our soldiers. Recruiting has been no small challenge, but targets are being met. The high retention rates continue to be nothing short of remarkable, especially when considering that those most likely to re-enlist are those most often deployed. For all that is given up to be in this line of work, our soldiers gain something that few can claim -- they know that they are defending our country and shaping the course of history. That's no small thing, and it is a source of great pride.

But while the Army certainly is not broken, it is under stress, and, as General Casey puts it, "out of balance."

So when one considers what the nation owes the Army, the answer is a good deal. And it starts with gratitude and appreciation for the service and sacrifice of soldiers and their families.

America has come a long way on this front from the late 1960s and early 1970s during our last protracted and controversial war. You see it in airports all over the country, where soldiers are met with standing ovations by passengers in the terminal. I've been there and seen it myself. There are free meals and rounds of drinks. And, above all, simple thank yous. The appreciation is real, it is heartfelt, and it bridges any political divide.

For those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, the country owes their families every care and benefit as they make the wrenching transition to life without a father or mother, brother or sister, daughter or son.

To the wounded we have a moral obligation to see that the superb life-saving care they receive in the theater and at Landstuhl is matched by the outpatient treatment that will allow them to transition smoothly to the next phase in their lives -- drawing on support that facilitates that transition, not impedes it. The lapses that have occurred in this area will not be tolerated nor repeated.

We are well familiar with the high pace of deployments and the strain this has placed on soldiers and their families. There are units like the 2nd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, now finishing up its 15th month in Iraq. Since 9/11 no other Army brigade has spent more time away from home.

But it is also important for the men and women of the Army to know that relief is on the way:

- While U.S. forces will play some role in Iraq for years to come, a reduction in the size of our commitment there is inevitable. Most of the serious discussion today is over how and when;

- The Army is expanding by some 65,000 soldiers, and I am prepared to support plans to speed up that process as long as we can do it without sacrificing quality;

- With strong bipartisan support in the Congress, tens of billions of dollars have been allocated to reconstitute damaged and destroyed equipment; and

- New programs and resources are coming on line to make the Army's covenant with families a reality.

America's ground forces have borne the brunt of underfunding in the past and the bulk of the costs -- both human and material -- of the wars of the present. By one count, investment in Army equipment and other essentials was underfunded by more than $50 billion before we invaded Iraq. By another estimate, the Army's share of total defense investments between 1990 and 2005 was about 15 percent. So resources are needed not only to recoup from the losses of war, but to make up for the shortfalls of the past and to invest in the capabilities of the future.

How those resources are used, and where those investments are made today will shape the Army for decades to come. We do not get the dollars or the opportunity to reset very often. So it's vital we get it right.

This will call on accountable and visionary leadership across the service and up and down the chain of command.

One of the Army's concerns you've heard about at this conference is getting back to training for "high intensity" situations -- a capability vitally important to deter aggression and shape the behavior of other nations.

It strikes me that one of the principal challenges the Army faces is to regain 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.

One of my favorite sayings is that "experience is that marvelous thing that enables 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 Army's 10-month Command and General Staff College assigned 30 hours -- about four days -- for what was is now called low intensity conflict. This was about the same as what the Air Force was teaching at its staff college at the time.

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: Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans, and more recently Afghanistan and Iraq -- the consequences and costs of which we are still struggling with today.

The work that has been done to adapt since has been impressive -- if not nearly miraculous. Just one example is the transformation of places like the National Training Center, where, 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 hundreds of Arab Americans employed as role players. The publication of the counterinsurgency manual is another milestone, and is being validated by the progress we've seen in Iraq over the past few months. 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.

Put simply, our enemies and potential adversaries -- including nation states -- have gone to school on us. They saw what America's technology and firepower did to Saddam's army in 1991 and again in 2003, and they've 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.

Indeed, history shows us that smaller, irregular forces -- insurgents, guerrillas, terrorists -- have for centuries found ways to harass and frustrate larger, regular armies and sow chaos. As one officer recently told the Washington Post, "the toys and trappings have changed," but the fundamentals have not.

We can expect that asymmetric warfare will remain the mainstay of the contemporary battlefield for some time. These conflicts will be fundamentally political in nature, and require the application of all elements of national power. Success will be less a matter of imposing one's will and more a function of shaping behavior -- of friends, adversaries, and most importantly, the people in between.

One of the challenges facing the Army will be how to incorporate the latest in technology without losing sight of the human and cultural dimensions of the irregular battlefield. For example, we have spent billions on tools and tactics to protect against IEDs. Yet, even now, the best way to defeat these weapons -- indeed the only way to defeat them over the long run -- is to get tips from locals about the networks and the emplacements or, even better, to convince and empower the Iraqis to prevent the terrorists from emplacing them in the first place.

In addition, arguably the most important military component in the War on Terror is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we enable and empower our partners to defend and govern their own countries. The standing up and mentoring of indigenous armies and police -- once the province of Special Forces -- is now a key mission for the military as a whole. How the Army should be organized and prepared for this advisory role remains an open question, and will require innovative and forward thinking.

The same is true for mastering foreign language -- a particular interest of mine -- and building expertise in foreign areas. And until our government decides to plus up our civilian agencies like the Agency for International Development, Army soldiers can expect to be tasked with reviving public services, rebuilding infrastructure, and promoting good governance. All these so-called "nontraditional" capabilities have moved into the mainstream of military thinking, planning, and strategy -- where they must stay.

Finally, there is a generation of junior and mid level officers and NCOs who have been tested in battle like none other in decades. They have seen the complex, grueling face of war in the 21st century up close. They've lost friends and comrades. Some have been deployed multiple times and want to have a semblance of a normal life -- get married, start a family, continue their schooling.

These men and women need to be retained, and the best and brightest advanced to the point that they can use their experience to shape the institution to which they have given so much. And this may mean reexamining assignments and promotion policies that in many cases are unchanged since the Cold War.

In closing, I should tell you that when I speak to Army leaders I make it a point to ask them to communicate to their subordinates not only the thanks of a grateful and admiring nation, but also our pride in what they have accomplished.

The story of just one unit explain why.

The 1st Brigade of the First Armored Division, the "Ready First Brigade," had been based in Germany for more than 60 years, most of that time preparing to beat back a Soviet invasion across the Fulda Gap. It was deployed to Iraq in 2003, and extended after the Sadr uprising in 2004.

Last year -- before there was a "surge," or a "new way forward," or a new counterinsurgency manual -- they were sent back to Iraq, this time to Ramadi. The city was controlled by insurgents and Al Qaeda, and was written off as lost. The brigade commander was told: "fix it, don't destroy it." It was up to him, his staff, and his soldiers to figure out the rest.

And so instead of patrolling from large bases, the Ready First Brigade set up small combat outposts in Al Qaeda strongholds -- where troops led by sergeants and lieutenants and captains cleared and held neighborhoods one at a time. The enemy would not go quietly -- and responded with an onslaught of roadside bombs, mortars, and ambushes. Among the hundreds of stories of heroism that emerged from this period was of Sergeant David Anderson. He saved the lives of several soldiers on September 24th after they were ambushed and hit by multiple IED attacks. He would later receive the Silver Star for his efforts.

One of the Brigade staff officers was Captain Travis Patriquin. He spoke several languages, including Arabic, and he grew a mustache to fit in. He became the expert on the neighboring tribes -- local power brokers going back hundreds of years who had been largely shunned up to that point by our military.

Like any self-respecting army officer, Patriquin had a Powerpoint presentation. It was called "How to Win in Al Anbar by Captain Trav." But instead of charts and graphs, this presentation used stick figures and simple stories to teach soldiers how to deal with Iraqi tribes -- a relationship where "shame and honor" meant a good deal more than "hearts and minds." At this young captain's direction, the brigade courted local sheiks over cigarettes and endless cups of tea -- outreach that, combined with Al Qaeda's barbarism, helped spark the "Anbar Awakening" that has garnered so much attention and praise in the past months.

Over time, Ramadi was taken back from Al Qaeda and given back to its people. These gains came at no small cost. During its tour, this brigade would suffer more than 95 killed and 600 wounded. One of them was Captain Patriquin. He did not have a chance to see his ideas and efforts bear fruit, but no doubt would have been proud to have seen what the hard work, courage, and ingenuity of the soldiers had started: A city liberated. Al Qaeda uprooted and reeling. And the tide turned, at least in this one important battle, in a conflict that will determine the future of the Middle East for decades to come.

It is soldiers and stories like these -- repeated in so many places and so many times -- that inspire us and make us proud and hopeful about the future of America's Army. Our country's defense could not be in better hands.

Thank you very much.


Having attended the AUSA conference, I appreciated the insights and conviction of our Secretary of Defense, and others, as they emphasized broader adaptation for unconventional warfare. However, I continue to be stuck by the seeming disconnect between this voiced emphasis and the focus on the exhibit hall floor on larger armor (with the obvious direction in flow of dollars). Being involved now 6 years in a program for transformation in offensive agility and surgical force of our foot soldier, it is disappointing that the tenor from technology leaders at the conference was yet "we are ready with our technology when you get traction with your Jake program, but I don't see the will to change in this area occurring...but do keep up your efforts. It is needed." With our nation this deep into a distinctly unconventional war, I'd say now would be a good time to come up with the will to change. Yet, I am sure that from the Secretary's position, it's a big ship to turn. We will do what we can to help at Operation American Agility.

I think he needs a new set of intro jokes, but the rest was pretty much spot on. Don't know when Congress will clue in that the military is a "Pay me now, Pay me later" kind of choice, with the later being much heavier. Probably never; we recognize this mistake from numerous previous experiences.