A transcript of remarks by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, and Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal; delivered at Gen. McChrystal’s retirement ceremony at Fort McNair Washington, D.C., July 23, 2010
GEN. CASEY: The Casey-McChystal connections go back a long ways. Stan’s the fourth of six siblings, all of whom served in the military or married someone in the military. So I’d just to take a moment to recognize the immediate family who’s here.
First of all, the brothers, Peter, David, Scott and Bill, where are you? Wave your hands.
Great, nice to see you. (Applause.)
Sam is Stan and Annie’s son. Sam and his fiancée, Stacy—I hope I got that right—wave your hands. There you go. (Applause.) If that’s not right, Stacy, work it for everything it’s worth. And, of course, Stan’s best friend, Annie. (Applause.)
I know you’ve got many more family and friends here, Stan, so I’m going to leave that to you.
Today, we honor a magnificent soldier and leader and one of the Army’s most experienced and successful officers. Stan has had a truly remarkable career in both peace and war.
So I must admit I found it interesting when I looked at Stan’s officer records brief; something that it was clear that Stan has not looked at since he was a second lieutenant.
The officer records brief is the Army’s documented record of a soldier’s career, and it has a box on it where it tracks the officer’s dwell. That’s the time they spend at home between deployments.
According to Stan’s most recent brief, he has accumulated 415 months and 11 days of dwell. Now, even using Casey math, that’s over 34 years at home. So either Stan’s deployments have been so secret he couldn’t share them with us, or we couldn’t quite get him into the fight. But I think it’s the former and not the latter.
The reality is that Stan has done more to carry the fight to al-Qaeda since 2001 than any other person in this department and possibly in the country. His vision, his innovative genius, his ability to bring disparate organizations together and his unrelenting drive and commitment to defeating the extremists that threaten our way of life have kept al-Qaeda off balance around the world and kept this country safe.
Stan, we are in your debt.
Now, usually when I lay out an officer’s career, I normally talk about how many corps and divisions they’ve served in, but Stan’s career has been unique.
He began his formative years as a paratrooper in 82nd Airborne Division following his graduation from West Point in 1976. His first battalion was the Red Devils of the 1st Battalion 504th Parachute Infantry.
But jumping out of planes didn’t seem to be exciting enough for Stan, so he volunteered for Special Forces, qualified and commanded a detachment in the 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg before he headed off for the Infantry Advanced Course.
After a tour in the United Nations Command in Panmunjom, Korea, he returned to Fort Stewart, Georgia, and the 24th Infantry Division for company command.
It was following this company command in 1985 that Stan chose the path that he would follow for the rest of his career. He was accepted into the 3rd Battalion 75th Rangers, and he has been a leader in our special operations community ever since.
Along the way, he mixed challenging assignments in the Rangers, Joint Special Operations Command and the 82nd Airborne Division with broadening experiences at the Naval War College, the JFK Center of Government, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the joint staff.
He left lasting contributions at every level. As a major, during the liberation of Kuwait, he delivered the highly successful special operations actions into Iraq. As the commander of the 2nd Battalion 75th Rangers, he spurred the beginning of the modern Army combaters program.
And as the chief of staff of Combined Joint Task Force 180 in the early days of Afghanistan, he established the headquarters that came to direct Operation Enduring Freedom.
While serving as the vice J-3 in the Pentagon at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Stan was selected to deliver the daily Pentagon press and Hill briefings on the war. Now, candidly, he didn’t have to put up much of a fight for that, but he took the job and did it magnificently.
It was as the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command where I believe Stan made his greatest and most lasting contributions to our Army and to this country. He personally oversaw the successful hunts for Saddam Hussein, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other key al-Qaeda leaders.
He brought the intelligence community together in support of his operations by sheer force of will and unrelenting commitment to the mission.
Thinking back to 2003 and 2004, no one had really done the kinds of things Stan’s folks were required to do. So he wrote the book and pulled the interagency together in support.
And not satisfied with just improving his own capabilities, Stan saw the utility in migrating these skills to our general-purpose forces, something he progressively did over time and something that has exponentially increased the effectiveness of our forces in prosecuting this war.
For me, working with Stan in Iraq was a privilege. I can honestly say that the work his team did against al-Qaeda made our success there possible. They applied continuous and progressive pressure against a constantly evolving network by building an organization that rewarded teamwork, innovation and risk-taking.
I watched Stan through the low lows of a just-missed target or lost comrade and the high highs of the Zarqawi operation. Throughout it all, he remained calm, focused and committed.
Although I do remember the night that we thought we had killed Zarqawi but still weren’t sure. Stan had the body brought to his headquarters compound for identification. We decided not to tell anyone until we were sure, so Stan went down to check out the body and called me.
He said, “General, we’ve been tracking this guy for two and a half years, and I think it’s him.” I said, “How sure are you?” He responded quietly, “I’m sure.” And that was the first and only time in our time together there that I heard his voice crack with emotion.
Following his time at JSOC, Stan was given a break as the director of the joint staff, the position he held when he was chosen by the president to head the International Security Assistance Force.
I’m going to leave the discussion of that period to Secretary Gates, but I believe that, in his time there, Stan began to establish the conditions for our long-term success.
When you ask soldiers about Stan McChrystal, what they think, here’s what they say. They say he’s a great leader. They say that, in fact, his people trust and respect him in a way that is truly remarkable. They say he’s a man of integrity and great personal courage. They say he’s always ready to laugh even in the most trying circumstances. And they say that he’s absolutely selfless.
These are the traits of a leader that we value in our Army. In over 34 years, Stan McChrystal has applied them as he selflessly dedicated his life to protecting this country.
And while his operational experiences span the spectrum of conflict, I can think of no officer who has had more impact on this country’s battle against extremism. He leaves a legacy of service that will be emulated for decades. (Applause.)
Annie, now, most of you know that Stan and Annie were high school sweethearts. And when folks think about Annie, the first word that usually comes to mind is “strength.” Not only is she a marathoner, but she has survived and braved the marathon of Army life.
This is a testament to your overall, amazing inner strength. And she’s needed that to navigate the last decade while Stan has committed himself to fighting this war especially since I’ve been told he’s developed a few idiosyncrasies along the way.
One story claims that Stan has lived on Zulu time for so long that, when he comes home, he has Annie change all the clocks in the house to Zulu time. Another is that he’s so accustomed to PowerPoint briefings that Annie has to slip him a slide if she’s wants to get something important to him.
Now, I am sure none of that is true, but if it were, Annie would figure it out. Annie’s been at Stan’s side throughout his career and, as importantly for our Army, she has been there for the soldiers and families and communities across the United States.
Her commitment has been a personal one illustrated by her visits to wounded warriors, her presence at family readiness groups and her volunteer work, including the toughest but the most rewarding of assignments, raising an Army family.
Annie’s contributions make it especially hard to say goodbye to the McChrystals. So, Annie, thank you for your courage, for your strength and for your commitment to the soldiers and families of our Army. (Applause.)
For 34 years, Stan McChrystal has been the man in the arena. His face has been marred by the dust and the sweat and the blood of combat in defense of this nation. He’s demonstrated the kind of infectious personal courage that has inspired anyone who served with him. He is a soldier to his core. Our Army and this country will miss him deeply.
There is a monument in Burma in a British cemetery to recognize the sacrifice of a British division in World War II. It says: When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today.
Stan and Annie have given their todays for 34 years so the people of this country and those in Iraq and Afghanistan can have a better tomorrow. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
And Stan and Annie, thank you for your service and for your friendship, and the entire Army family wishes you good luck and God speed. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, the Secretary of Defense, the Honorable Robert M. Gates.
SEC. GATES: Well, first off, I would tell you that the weather here today is worse than in Jakarta.
We gather today to say farewell to a treasured friend and colleague and to pay tribute to one of the finest men at arms this country has ever produced.
There are many distinguished guests and VIPs here today but none so distinguished and none so important to General McChrystal as his wife, Annie and son, Sam.
Like so many Army families since 9/11 and especially families in the special operations community, they have endured long separations from their husband and dad. And like so many families, they have done so with grace and resilience. Our nation is deeply in your debt.
We bid farewell to Stan McChrystal today with pride and sadness. Pride for his unique record as a man and a soldier. Sadness that our comrade and his prodigious talents are leaving us.
Looking back at the totality of Stan McChrystal’s life and career, it seems appropriate that he ended up in the special operations world, as virtually nothing about this man could be considered ordinary.
Even as he rose to the highest ranks of the service, he retained his trademark humility and remarkably low requirements in his trappings, tastes and what we at the Pentagon call personal maintenance.
He had little use for amenities that tend to grow up around the rear echelon, much to the chagrin of a few of his ISAF colleagues. To Stan, fast food counted as fine dining, but neither fine dining nor beer gardens had any place in his war zone.
In spite of or, perhaps, because of his no-nonsense approach to war fighting, Stan enjoyed a special bond with his troops. They respected his devotion to them as well as to the mission. And as evidenced by all the uniforms here this evening, they remain just as devoted to him.
That’s because Stan never forgot about the troops most often in harm’s way. Always keeping in mind the frontline World War II soldier quoted by Stephen Ambrose, “Any son of a bitch behind my foxhole is rear echelon.”
His fearsome exercise, sleeping and eating routines are legendary. I get tired and hungry just reading about them.
At the same time, this consummate Ranger possessed one of the sharpest and most inquisitive minds in the Army. A scholar who earned fellowships to Harvard and the Council on Foreign Relations, a voracious reader who, as one of his friends told a reporter, was prone to spending his free time wandering around old bookstores and reading about what he called “weird things”—stuff like Shakespeare.
The attacks of September 11 and the wars that followed would call on every ounce of General McChrystal’s intellect, skill and determination. Over the past decade, no single American has inflicted more fear and more loss of life on our country’s most vicious and violent enemies than Stan McChrystal.
Commanding special operations forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, Stan was a pioneer in creating a revolution in warfare that fused intelligence and operations. He employed every tool available, high-tech and low, signals, intelligence, HUMINT and others in new and collaborative ways.
As a lieutenant general, he went out on night missions with his teams, subjecting himself to their hardships and dangers. After going on one operation that resulted in a fire fight, some of his British comrades awarded Stan the distinction of being the highest-paid rifleman in the United States Army.
Night after night, intercept by intercept, cell by cell, Stan and his forces first confronted and then crushed al-Qaeda in Iraq. It was a campaign that was well under way before the surge when the violence seemed unstoppable and when so many had given up hope in our mission there.
Stan McChrystal never lost faith with his troopers, never relented, never gave up on Iraq. And his efforts played a decisive part in the dramatic security gains that now allow Iraq to move forward as a democracy and us to draw down U.S. forces there.
Last year when it became clear to me that our mission in Afghanistan needed new thinking, new energy and new leadership, there was no doubt in my mind who that new leader should be. I wanted the very best warrior general in our armed forces for this fight. I needed to be able to tell myself, the president and the troops that we had the very best possible person in charge in Afghanistan. I owed that to the troops there and to the American people.
And when President Obama and his national security team deliberated on the way forward in Afghanistan, General McChrystal provided his expert and best unvarnished military advice. And once we all agreed on the new strategy, General McChrystal embraced it and carried out the president’s orders with the brilliance and devotion that characterize every difficult mission that he has taken on and accomplished throughout his career.
Over the last year, General McChrystal laid the groundwork for success and the achievement of our national security objectives in that part of the world. I know the Afghan government and people are grateful for what he accomplished in a year as ISAF commander and the lives of innocent Afghans saved, the territory freed from the grip of the Taliban, for the new vigor and sense of purpose he brought to the international military effort there.
As he now completes a journey that began on a West Point parade field nearly four decades ago, Stan McChrystal enters this next phase of his life to a respite richly earned.
He does so with the gratitude of the nation he did so much to protect, with the reverence of the troops he led at every level, with his place secure as one of America’s greatest warriors. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, General Stanley A. McChrystal. (Applause.)
GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: This is frustrating. I spent a career waiting to give a retirement speech and lie about what a great soldier I was. Then people show up who were actually there. It proves what Doug Brown taught me long ago; nothing ruins a good war story like an eyewitness.
To show you how bad it is, I can’t even tell you I was the best player in my little league because the kid who was the best player is here tonight. In case you’re looking around, he’s not a kid anymore.
But to those here tonight who feel the need to contradict my memories with the truth, remember I was there too. I have stories on all of you, photos on many, and I know a Rolling Stone reporter. (Laughter.) (Applause.)
Look, this has the potential to be an awkward or even a sad occasion. With my resignation, I left a mission I feel strongly about. I ended a career I loved that began over 38 years ago. And I left unfulfilled commitments I made to many comrades in the fight, commitments I hold sacred.
My service did not end as I would have wished, and there are misperceptions about the loyalty and service of some dedicated professionals that will likely take some time but I believe will be corrected.
Still, Annie and I aren’t approaching the future with sadness but with hope and iPhones.
And my feelings for more than 34 years I spent as an Army officer are a combination of surprise that any experience could have been as rich and fulfilling as mine was and gratitude for the comrades and friends we were blessed with.
That’s what I feel. And if I fail to communicate that effectively tonight, I’ll simply remind you that Secretary Gates once told me I was a modern Patton of strategic communications. (Laughter.) Fair point.
So if we laugh tonight, it doesn’t mean all these years have not been important to me. It means the opposite; that every day and every friend were gifts I treasure and I need to celebrate.
But first, I need to address two questions that we’ve been asked often lately. The first is: What are you going to do? Actually, Annie is the one who’s asking me that. I’m thinking I’d be a good fashion consultant and spokesman for Gucci—(laughter)—but they haven’t called.
The other question is always asked a bit tentatively. How are you and Annie doing? We did spend some years apart, but we’re doing well. And I am carrying some of what I learned into retirement.
First, Annie and I are reconnecting. And now, we’re up on Skype with each other. Of course, we never did that all the years I was 10,000 miles away, but now we can connect by video link when we’re 15 feet apart. And I think she really likes that. (Laughter.)
I was so enthused I tried using Skype for a daily family VTC—(laughter)—where I could get updates and pass out guidance, but there’s some resistance to flatter and faster in the McChrystal household.
The same is true for the tactical directive I issued soon after my return. It’s reasonable guidance: One meal a day, early-morning PT, the basics of a good family life. (Laughter.)
But I’ve gotten a few night letters, and Annie’s stocking up on ammonium nitrate fertilizer—(laughter)—which is strange since our new yard is smaller than this podium.
Although the insurgency is relatively small—one woman—she’s uninterested in reintegration. (Laughter.) I assess the situation as serious and, in many ways, deteriorating. (Laughter.)
Mr. Secretary, look at her. I’m thinking at least 40,000 troops. (Laughter.) (Applause.)
Let me thank everyone for being here. This turnout is truly humbling. Here tonight are my wife and son, my four brothers, two nephews, mentors, comrades from countless phases of my career, and some special guests whose service and sacrifice are impossible to describe with words.
But because this crowd is pretty big, for good order and discipline, I’ve divided you all into four groups. Please remember your group number. (Laughter.)
Group 1 are all the people who accepted responsibility for making this ceremony work from the planners to the soldiers on the field. My apologies for all the time you spend in the heat. You’re special people. And in my mind, you also represent soldiers all over the world. You have my sincere appreciation.
The second group—(applause). The second group is distinguished servants of all nations who have taken time from your often-crushing schedules to be here. And thanks for your years of support and friendship. I got you out of the office early on Friday.
Group 3 are warriors of all ranks, and that includes many who don’t wear a uniform but defend our nation with whom I have shared aircraft, VTCs, remote outposts, frustrations, triumphs, laughs and a common cause for many years. You are not all here. Some of you are deployed and in the fight. Others rest across river in Arlington. Most of the credit I’ve received actually belongs to you. It has been your comradeship that I have considered the greatest honor of my career.
Finally, Group 4 is all those who’ve heard we’re having two kegs of beer in the backyard after my ceremony. This group includes a number of my classmates from West Point, old friends, most of the warriors from Group 3, and some others who defy accurate description. Anyone already carrying a plastic cup might be considered the vanguard of Group 4. (Laughter.) Everyone here today is invited to join.
To Secretary Gates, I want to express my personal thanks, certainly, for your generous remarks but more for your wisdom and leadership which I experienced firsthand in each of my last three jobs. Your contribution to the nation and to the force is nothing short of historic.
Similarly, I want to thank the many leaders, civilian and military, of our nation beginning with President Obama for whom and with whom I was honored to serve. Whether elected, appointed or commissioned, the common denominator of selfless service has been inspiring.
As COM ISAF, I was provided a unique opportunity to serve alongside the professionals of 46 nations under the leadership of NATO. We were stronger for the diversity of our force, and I’m better for the experience.
My thanks, also, to the leadership and people of Afghanistan for their partnership, hospitality and friendship. For those who are tempted to simplify their view of Afghanistan and focus on the challenges ahead, I counter with my belief that Afghans have courage, strength and resiliency that will prove equal to the task.
My career included some amazing moments and memories, but it is the people I’ll remember. It was always about the people. It was about the soldiers who are well-trained but, at the end of the day, act out of faith in their leaders and each other; about the young sergeants who emerge from the ranks with strength, discipline, commitment and courage.
As I grew older, the soldiers and sergeants of my youth grew older as well. They became the old sergeants, long-service professionals whose wisdom and incredible sense of responsibility for the mission and for our soldiers is extraordinary.
And the sergeants major—they were a national treasure. They mold and maintain the force and leaders like me. They have been my comrade, confidante, constructive critic, mentor and best friend.
A little more than a year ago on a single e-mail, Command Sergeant Major Mike Hall came out of retirement, leaving a job, his son and his amazing wife Brenda to join me in Afghanistan. To Mike, I could never express my thanks. To Brenda, I know after all these years, I owe you. I also love you.
To true professionals like Sergeants Major Rudy Valentine, Jody Nacy, Steve Cuffie, CW Thompson, Chris Craven, Jeff Mellinger and Chris Farris, your presence here today is proof that, when something is truly important, like this ceremony, you’re on hand to make sure I don’t screw it up.
I’ve been blessed with the presence of old friends throughout my career, friendships that began long ago at West Point, Forts Benning, Bragg, Lewis or countless other locations and shared years of Army life, moving vans, kids, laughs, disappointments, and each other’s successes which grew into bonds that became critical on the battlefield.
I treasure a note I received during a particularly tough time in Afghanistan in 2007 from fellow commander, Dave Rodriguez, that quoted Sherman’s confidence that, if he ever needed support, he knew his friend Grant would come to his aid if alive. Serving with people who say and mean such words is extraordinary.
I served with many. Many of you are here tonight. And not all the heroes are comrades are in uniform. In the back of a darkened helicopter over Kunar, Afghanistan, in 2004, a comrade in blue jeans whose friendship I cherish to this day passed me a note. Scribbled on a page torn from a pocket notebook, the note said, “I don’t know the Ranger Creed, but you can count on me to always be there.” He lived up to his promise many times over.
To have shared so much with and been so dependent on people of such courage, physical and moral, integrity and selflessness taught me to believe.
Annie’s here tonight. No doubt she walked the 50 feet from our front door in cute little Italian shoes of which we have an extensive collection. (Laughter.) In Afghanistan, I once considered using Annie’s shoe purchases as an argument to get Italy to send additional forces. (Laughter.) But truth be known, I have no control over that part of the McChrystal economy. (Laughter.)
But she’s here like she’s always been there when it mattered. Always gorgeous. For three and a half years, she was my girlfriend then fiancée and, for over 33 years, she’s been my wife.
For many years, I’ve joked, sometimes publicly, about her lousy cooking, terrifying closets, demolition derby driving and addiction to M&M candy, which is all true. But as we conclude a career together, it’s important for you to know she was there.
She was there when my father commissioned me a second lieutenant of infantry and was waiting some months later when I emerged from Ranger School. Together, we moved all we owned in my used Chevrolet Vega to our first apartment at Fort Bragg. The move, with our first days in our $180-a-month apartment, was the only honeymoon I was able to give her, a fact she has mentioned a few times since.
Annie always knew what to do. She was gracious when she answered the door at midnight in her nightgown to fight Sergeant Emo Holtz, a huge mortarman, carrying a grocery bag of cheap liquor for a platoon party I’d hastily coordinated that evening and not told Annie about following a Friday night jump. I got home not long after to find Annie making food for assembling paratroopers. Intuitively, Annie knew what was right and quietly did it.
With 9/11, she saw us off to war and patiently supported the families of our fallen with stoic grace. As the years passed and the fight grew ever more difficult and deadly, Annie’s quiet courage gave me strength I would never otherwise have found.
It’s an axiom in the Army that soldiers write the checks but families pay the bills. And war increases both the accuracy of that statement and the cost families pay.
In a novel based on history, Steven Pressfield captured poignantly just how important families were and, I believe, are today. Facing an invading Persian army under King Xerxes, a coalition of Greek states sent a small force to buy time by defending the pass at Thermopylae and were led by 300 special, selected Spartans. The mission was desperate and death for the 300 certain.
Before he left to lead them, the Spartan king, Leonidas, explained to one of the Spartan wives how he had selected the 300 from an entire army famed for its professionalism, courage and dedication to duty.
“I chose them not for their valor, lady, but for that of their women. Greece stands now upon her most perilous hour. If she saves herself, it will not be at the gates. Death alone awaits us and our allies there but later in battles yet to come by land and sea.
“Then Greece, if the gods will it, will preserve herself. Do you understand this, lady? Well, now, listen, when the battle is over, when the 300 have gone to death, then all Greece will look to the Spartans to see how they bear it. But who, lady, will the Spartans look to?
To you. To you and the other wives and mothers, sisters and daughters of the fallen.
“If they behold your hearts riven and broken with grief, they too will break and Greece will break with them. But if you bear up, dry eyed, not alone enduring your loss but seizing it with contempt for its agony and embracing it as the honor that it is in truth, then Sparta will stand and all Greece will stand behind her.
Why have I nominated you, lady, to bear up beneath this most terrible of trials, you and your sisters of the 300? Because you can.”
To all who wear no uniform but give so much, sacrifice so willingly and serve as such an example to our nation and each other, my thanks.
As I leave the Army, to those with responsibility to carry on, I’d say, service in this business is tough and often dangerous. It extracts a price for participation, and that price can be high.
It is tempting to protect yourself from the personal or professional costs of loss by limiting how much you commit, how much of belief and trust in people, and how deeply you care. Caution and cynicism are safe, but soldiers don’t want to follow cautious cynics. They follow leaders who believe enough to risk failure or disappointment for a worthy cause.
If I had it to do over again, I’d do some things in my career differently but not many. I believed in people, and I still believe in them. I trusted and I still trust. I cared and I still care. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Winston Churchill said we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. To the young leaders of today and tomorrow, it’s a great life. Thank you. (Applause.)