John M. McHugh

George C. Marshall Awards and Leadership Seminar Address

delivered 19 April 2011,  Lee Chapel, Washington & Lee University, Lexington, Virginia

Audio AR-XE mp3 of Address


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

This is a day of firsts for me. I'm -- I'm a recovering politician. I was--I was involved actually for forty years and I've spoken in a lot of places, but place of worship has never been one of them. So that's a first and usually that happens to people after they hear me speak not before. So, I -- I'm honored by this opportunity and let me say that to General Cody or as I always called him, "The Vise," sir thank you for your mostly accurate introduction. I'm not sure everything nice you said about me is -- is warranted, but I deeply appreciate that.

I had a lot of opportunity in my seventeen years on the House Armed Services Committee to work with General Cody, most of which occurred during his tenure as the Vice Chief of Staff and he did a lot of good things. He earned a reputation, deservedly so in being one of the most active, pro-active Vice Chiefs of Staff we ever had. I learned a lot from him and I benefited greatly from the things that he did and he continues even after 36 years in uniform to continue to contribute as his -- as his activities here in support of this great program so directly attest to. So, Dick thank you so much for all you do and all you continue to do.

And obviously I want to thank The Marshall Foundation, yeoman for certainly this program. The great opportunity it provides to bring these tremendous leaders of the army of tomorrow together, but of course beyond that for the -- the great things that you do each and every day; A: In remembrance and teaching the histories of one of the most amazing men that ever walked the face of the earth in my humble opinion and helping all of us learn the lessons that looking at his life and his contribution can -- can bring to us.

Let me say to the cadets, you are blessed and special, maybe not in that order. I want to congratulate you for just being selected the, a part of this incredible program and I -- I assume and I hope you know the high honor that has been placed upon you to come to this revered place, this place where history is just seething, where you can feel it. And to think about all that has gone before in the military history and the political history of this country. And how you are poised to make similar history in the future.

Now I've seen the schedule that you're going through and I think it's fair to say that you've been on a pretty world wind pace and you've heard a lot of great leaders talking to you about their perspectives, talking to you about how they look at and view the army of today, and maybe to a certain extent judge the army of tomorrow. And I know there was value in each of them.

But I -- I just want to tell you how really happy I am to have the chance to hear from our brand new Chief of Staff of the Army. General Dempsey's on his way, he's probably there now down range in the theater, a place where he served as a Combat Division Commander with such honor and distinction. And it was with great pride that I had the chance just last week to swear him in as the 37th Chief of Staff of the United States Army.

I'm going to venture in to the understatement area and say that General Marty Dempsey's credentials to be our Chief of Staff are to put it, mildly impressive. He has a career long deserved reputation as being a creative thinker, a thoughtful leader. He's a consonant problem solver at a time when we have some problems that need to be solved. And I'm looking forward so much to working together with him, to look at and hopefully overcome the challenges that this army, your army faces in the days and weeks and months ahead.

Having said all those nice things I will make one observation. I know he's, General Dempsey's, a West Point graduate. Now I don't want any of you to be worried about that cause our previous two Chiefs of Staff, General Casey and General Pete Schoomaker both are ROTC candidates, so it was time to throw West Point a bone, right?

Now General Dave Huntoon here is Superintendent, a great leader, a former Director of the Army Staff. All in good fun, Sue, all in good fun. And Major General Mark MacDonald our Cadet Commander and I thank you both for helping to shape our leaders of tomorrow and future.

But we are at West Point of sorts. This is the West Point of the South, here at VMI. And most importantly for this event, the alma mater of the truly great American George C. Marshall, one of the as I say greatest military leaders, not only in our nation's history but I would argue in the history of the world. And the man that Winston Churchill dubbed, "The Organizer of Victory." And if you know the history of that, Winston Church and George Marshall didn't always agree on everything, but the fact that such a great leader like Winston Churchill recognized the contributions, the great achievements of George Marshall is high testament indeed.

And this event, this seminar in the series of programs that you're in, is a testament to Marshall himself. And I would argue most importantly in his belief, his lifelong commitment to the creed that education and study is a means by which to advance ourselves, yes intellectually but also through the national security and military preparedness channels as well.

And I'll just cite to you a speech that he made before the American Historical Association. It was just a few years before the United States entered into World War II, when he declared that understanding and appreciating world history was as he put it, "Important to a sound view regarding military policy." But even more importantly, he said are the lessons of history. See, Marshall cautioned that historians have been more inclined to record the victories and the glories and they overlook what he called "wasteful sacrifices."

He noted few Americans have ever learned that this nation had enrolled 400,000 men in the Revolutionary War to defeat an enemy of 45,000. Or he said that we employed a half a million to fight the War of 1812 against an opponent whose strength never exceeded 16,000 at any one place.

Now Marshall's point, it seems to me, wasn't to denigrate the incredible efforts of the Revolutionary War or the struggle of the War of 1812, the glory or the sacrifice of those seminal conflicts in American history, but rather to use them as a lesson to say from every victory there are lessons that are equally important to learn, that may not be on the front page of the newspaper, that may not be in the first chapter of the history book.

And it seems to me that, that lesson holds value even today. And it relates a little bit to what I'd like to speak to you in the time that you so graciously given. Over the last 19 months roughly, the time I've been the 21st Secretary of the Army, I made it a point everywhere I go to visit with soldiers and their families across the Army, whether they're deployed, whether they serve in the camps and posts and stations located all across this great, fruited plain. And the one thing I have heard consistently in recent months is the question, "What is my future in the United States Army?"

And if it isn't that, the question takes a little bit of a different attack and says what's the future of the United States Army itself? See soldiers listen and they're listening now and they're hearing things that cause them concern. Things like the draw down in Iraq, things like the planned phase-out in Afghanistan. The uncertainty -- uncertainty of the economy, that all of us live in. The tightening of budgets that you've heard about and that we're going to continue to hear about for the foreseeable future.

And that's led a lot of our soldiers, a lot of their families, probably a lot of you to ask the question not only whether they want to continue to serve, but if they'll be able to serve even if they wish to. Because those soldiers, again perhaps like some of you, volunteered to serve at our -- at our country at a time of war.

Now, for me that says a lot about you as individuals. It talks about your character. It talks about your character and courage. It tells me you are exactly the kind of people we need and we want to have to win the conflicts, yes of today but to prepare more effectively for tomorrow and the uncertain future that those soldiers are talking about.

Now, some facts. In Iraq and Afghanistan right now, the United States Army has provided authorities and flexibilities to our young officers in a way that's unprecedented. And they have responded brilliantly. And whether they're forward in Iraq or Afghanistan, today's O3s and O4s are making split decisions on the battlefield that in the past and not so distant past were reserved principally for O6s, sometimes even Brigadiers.

And so the question that we as your senior leadership are asking ourselves is, how do we keep those great young leaders today out there making such weighty decisions and exercising that authority, how do we keep them interested in the army? Especially when they come home, away from the conflicts of today and into an era of what we understand in all likelihood will be of significant constrained resources?

They fear that just as has happened historically, as Marshall would question and challenge us to do in the past, that we'll slash budgets. We'll cut procurements. We won't buy the equipment that we need. We'll devastate end-strength. We'll create what has now become a very real hollow force.

So what do we do about that? Cause those realities are out there. Well I would say the answers are not simple and obviously those are the things that we were looking at very hard. But I think there's some things that are self-evident.

First and foremost, especially as we consider the future for leaders like yourselves, we have to reaffirm our ongoing commitment to leader development. And that means opportunities for education and training that probably haven't been available to many soldiers in the current fight. And when they were available, a lot of soldiers were bypassing them because they have not been seen as a path to promotion. We've got to change that.

Now just recently on February 25th, the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made some headlines up at General Huntoon's campus at West Point on the beautiful Hudson. And he made a speech and those headlines popped up after the Secretary observed and recommended that any future Secretary of Defense that recommended engagement in Asia in a land war should as he put it, "Have his head examined." And the army should rethink its heavy structure, rethink its allocations to our formations of heavy forces.

Now the headlines, I would argue, because I've sat down and talked to the Secretary about it the next day, were largely a matter of misunderstanding, misinterpretation. Something I think the Secretary clarified to a large extent upon a speech that he made shortly thereafter at the Air Force Academy.

But here is my point, through all the commotion about those comments, I think one of the most important parts of the Secretary's speech were -- were overlooked. Because not long thereafter in that speech, the Secretary gave the cadets, I think, some terrific advice. And he said and I quote, "In addition to the essential troop command and staff assignments you, tomorrow's leaders should look for, opportunities in the past were off the beaten path, if not a career dead end; further study at grad school, teaching at a first-rate university, spending time in a think tank, being a congressional fellow, working in a government agency or becoming a foreign area specialist," the Secretary said, "Should be things that every future leader ought to think about doing." And he went on to note that that would require the institutional army, what we call the generating force to quote, "Not only tolerate but encourage you in that effort." End quote.

I believe he couldn't have been more right. In that regard one of the key projects, in fact the key project that I've undertaken as Secretary is to transform that institutional force, transform that force that can facilitate you accessing the things that Secretary Gates talked about in your future as leaders.

Now, why am I doing that? Because I like Secretary Gates believes that our best hedge against an uncertain future and Secretary Gates put it very well. We've got a hundred percent perfect record in predicting the future. We've always been wrong. Our best hedge against that uncertain future will be adaptive, innovative, thinking officers. Leaders, like you who can intellectually rise to any challenge, who will operate with confidence and competence in an environment of uncertainties.

People in this room are those who we have in mind. People like you who have already stood yourselves apart. Over the past nine years through conflicts and two theaters, the operational army, that sharp tip of the spear has changed ever so dramatically. All of you know what's caused that change. It's been the fundamental imperative of daily contact with a decentralized, adaptive, creative and extraordinarily deadly, deadly enemy.

But the institutional army, the generating force which prepares, it trains, it educates and supports our forces for the fight, looks pretty much structurally the way it did in the 1970s, more than three decades ago. Literally each day often hour by hour the operational army continues to morph as new threats arise. We have to be as equally adept, as equally flexible in our institutions and our processes, from personnel to training, to development, to material systems as they are in the operational army.

We have to be able to form a structure and perform in a fashion that empowers you, officers and leaders that doesn't just allow, but in fact helps you to reach your goals and to realize your objectives as an officer and as a professional.

Now, it's true. The institutional army like has happened on the battlefield has had its challenges since September 11th. Secretary Gates noted in those kinds of circumstances the most important thing we could do is produce the force, is to field the army. And we've been doing that. But we have to do more. We have to have an institutional army that's designed and driven by ideas and innovation and still with a determination that the best services and equipment, training and support to our soldiers, civilians and their family members are what are driving us every day. And doing it as an affordable cost.

There's some realities here. We're talking about an institutional change and for those of you who are studying those kinds of things back on your campus, you know how hard that can be. Institutions are just historically resistant to change, particularly when we don't provide the motivation to do things differently.

I saw a new problem even in Marshall's time after the war to end all wars and on the cusp of a second, the nation's military structure seemed content to march in place. Marshall found that out when he was struggling to amend and to change and restructure what was then the War Department. Major General Joe McNarney, who Marshall had asked to kind of work through the issues of that reorganization, told Marshall that the only way he was going to be able to do that is to not what we call staff if. Don't put it out, don't ask for concurrences and non-concurrences because if you do, you'll have nothing but numerous non-concurrences and interminable delay, bureaucratic stagnation.

Marshall happened upon a game changer, a little motivator called World War II and it allowed him to do the things he's, he necessarily needed to do to make the big difference. So we're looking for a game changer for ourselves. What motivations can we bring about to harness the change that we need, to make a better army for all of you.

Now there may be several, but two come immediately to mind. Number one, the very thing that soldiers are talking about and that is diminishing resources, fewer dollars available to build our budgets and number two is a new kind of enemy, one that we're seeing on the battlefield today, one that will cause us to look at how and why we field an army in different ways from the future.

Now let me start with number two. Now in my humble opinion, you can outfight, this army can outfight any enemy on the face of the earth. But we have to do more than just fight the enemy. We have to develop the thinkers of tomorrow to help plan, to help plot and overcome the enemy militarily of course, but intellectually as well. And our key challenge therefore is to make sure you have the education, training, the time necessary to keep you retained, challenged and inspired. And happily we've started to do that. We're underway as we speak. We've changed the way in which we do things, all things or at least we've started to look in that direction.

We began a series of what we're calling capability portfolio reviews, a systematic look and a systemic look at everything we do by class and function, from our missile programs, to our tactical vehicle fleet, to our civilian workforce and beyond, we're asking what are we doing? How much are we paying for it? And are there smarter ways to get that job done?

We're working to invalidate, modify, and in many cases outright terminate requirements ensuring responsible priorities for every thing from research, to development, to life cycle sustainment and acquisition and that includes by the way force structure, yes end-strength and training.

We recently completed a holistic review of our acquisition process. We are going to buy things smarter and quicker and we're going to buy them at the best possible cost. At the same time AMC, the Army Materiel Command and the ASA(ALT), the Acquisition Executive for the Army are currently engaged in a thorough review to rout out overlap and flatten out redundancies in our research and development programs, ensuring you're getting what you need for the future fight in the most timely and cost effective way possible.

I've directed the DUSA, the Deputy Under Secretary of the Army to review our so-called temporary organizations and task force to see if they're still meeting, see if they're even relevant to what we're doing and what we're facing both today and tomorrow. Because to paraphrase economist Milton Friedman, there's nothing in Washington so permanent as a temporary task force. And we ought to change that. And we're working to do that.

Now, I know that sounds like a lot of Pentagon talk, sounds like talk you've heard before and maybe it sounds like something you didn't care about then, maybe you don't care much about it now. But let me suggest to you that transforming the institutional army ought to be something as you sit here as our future leaders in uniform, and you should know as well that transforming the army is more than just pinching pennies or approving the bottom line. It's about doing things smarter, doing them better, and taking full advantage of the progress and technology, and all the office shelf availability of products that's out there waiting for us.

It's about best posturing ourselves for the upcoming era of operational and fiscal change, ensuring we are prepared to manage the future and preserve what over the last decade has become the best army on the face of the earth with no peer anywhere to be seen. And as we go about that, the army and our nation must heed the warnings and the lessons of a post-Vietnam war, most particularly.

It's the same lesson George Marshall warned about repeatedly, perhaps never so strongly as the widely publicized address in New York shortly after the allied victory in World War II. "Respect," Marshall said, "Is an intangible." Consider what it would have meant to us in intangibles had we commanded the military respect of Germany, Italy, and Japan in 1939. Marshall spoke of the axis nations surprise, not at our willingness, but our capability for organized to fight and to win. Had they anticipated that willingness and resolve, he suggested perhaps the world would have never known World War II. And he said too, respect is fleeting unless we bend our efforts to preserve.

That it seems to me is our solemn obligation, to ensure this nation's continued respect, build on the valiant sacrifice and bloodshed of those who have volunteered to serve. We must ensure that our nation's strength, our nation's resolve is never again so challenged. And to do that, to meet that moral obligation, we'll need your help and your leadership and your commitment.

And to achieve that alone, I want to make you a promise, if you commit and invest in us, this army, your army will heed George Marshall's wisdom to learn the lessons of history. We will manage the coming days of change and fiscal constraints in a fashion that preserves all about this great army that called you to its ranks, that retains its posture and its deserved reputation as the awe inspiring force that it has become. This is our duty to our great nation and it is our promise to us. And to all of you.

So congratulations on your selection. Thank you for allowing me the honor of being here and I hope you enjoy the rest of the program.

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

Research Note: Transcription by Diane Wiegand

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