The State of the Army

Article excerpt

The following is the slightly edited speech given by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates at AUSA's 2007 Annual Meeting.

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 condolence to the families of the fallen. And then there are the visits with the wounded at Walter Reed, Bethesda, Brooke, Tripler and 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, Adm. Mike Mullen. One of the things that convinced me that Adm. 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 aircraft carrier or submarine. He said: "the Army."

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

These past couple of days you've heard from many 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.

* 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 reenlist 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 Gen. 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. …