Magazine article U.S. Department of Defense Speeches

Remarks to the Army Sergeants Major Academy (Fort Bliss, TX)

Magazine article U.S. Department of Defense Speeches

Remarks to the Army Sergeants Major Academy (Fort Bliss, TX)

Article excerpt

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Fort Bliss, Texas, Thursday. May 01, 2008

Thank you, Colonel Gentry, for that kind introduction.

I'd also like to thank the members of the foreign militaries who are with us, including some who took a year of English language-training in order to attend this course. Your presence demonstrates underscores the strength of our ties with allies and partners around the world.

It is an honor to be with you all as you finish up the United States Army Sergeants Major course, the pinnacle of our NCO education system.

My first encounter with NCOs came back in 1967, as Colonel Gentry mentioned, when I was a second lieutenant at Whiteman Air Force Base. It took me about a day-and-a-half before I figured out who really made the military run, or who certainly made us junior officers run: the noncommissioned officers. So I did what my sergeant suggested and the two of us did my job pretty well.

Since taking over as secretary of defense a year-and-a-half ago, I have developed an even greater appreciation of the importance of NCOs to our military. In February, when I made a visit to Iraq, and to our military, I had the chance to say a few words about the three Corps Command Sergeant Major Nell Ciotola. For 14 months he was the Corps' steel spine, the eyes and ears of its command. Without his leadership, and the leadership provided by all the other NCOs on the ground, none of the recent progress in Iraq would have been possible.

Whenever I travel--which is all too often I make a point of meeting with NCOs of all ranks for there is little doubt that they are the backbone of our military. You know what issues our men and women in uniform are thinking about, and you know, on a very personal level, what challenges the military faces. As I told the cadets at West Point a couple weeks ago, all in senior positions would be well-advised to listen to enlisted soldiers, NCOs, and company and field-grade officers. They are the ones on the front line, and they know the real story, I'm sure also that none of you is exactly shy about speaking your minds--and so I expect to find out in the Q&A session.

Today our nation laces great challenges, and much of the burden of facing them has fallen to our men and women who have volunteered to put on the uniform. Our country has in recent years asked a tremendous amount of you and those who serve with and under you and everyone has risen to the occasion.

Multiple and sometimes extended deployments, the stresses of battle, the wounds of war. both seen and unseen all of this has taken its toll on our troops and on their families. And yet, morale remains high--a testament to the extraordinary honor, courage, and resilience of those who serve, as well as the leadership and mentoring provided by the senior NCO corps.

That morale, however, is not something we can take for granted. I know I am preaching to the choir when I tell you that, as senior leaders, we must all be ever cognizant of stress on the force--stress that has been greatly increased in recent years. So. for the next few minutes, I want to tell you what the Department of Defense is trying to do to reduce this stress, and also what we are doing to improve quality of life for our men and women in the service.

Let me first start with the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. As you know, we have seen significant gains in Iraq. Our troops have fought courageously and now we are, I believe, in a very different place than a year ago. It is a much better place, but one with many challenges and perils still remaining. Still, the changes on the ground have allowed us to begin an initial drawdown of forces and also allowed us to begin to move from 15-month deployments back to 12-month deployments. My hope is that conditions on the ground will allow us to have additional drawdowns at the end of this year. In Afghanistan, we have seen that the enemy we are facing has not given up: there is little doubt that it will be a long fight. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.