Text of remarks by Army Gen. David D. McKiernan, former commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, delivered July 15, 2009, at Fort Myer, Va., on the occasion of his retirement.
It’s truly a great day to be a Soldier
I am humbled to be here today on this historic field, in our great nation’s capitol – with the Old Guard representing all the very best traditions of our Army—with so many friends who have taken the time to be here. Many others that could not be here today have written to me these past days and weeks with thoughts and expressions of lasting friendship that will stay with me forever...very kind words from my joint and interagency comrades—of all ranks - from those of many different nations, from civilians and family friends. All ages and professions...again, it is a truly humbling feeling.
Let me start off by putting something to rest. If you had asked me 30 days ago if I would be here today at my retirement ceremony, I would have said no...maybe in a bit stronger terms. Make no mistake – I was dismayed, disappointed, and more than a little embarrassed. But as so often happens in life, especially to those of us in uniform, I received some candid coaching that said “McKiernan, this is not about you. It’s about paying respect to your profession and to those around you who know you”...those in attendance today that developed me… allowed me to succeed…those who care about my family...those who are my role models...those that I spent so much time away from home under trying conditions...those that I had some hand in developing...those who are family and those who are my extended military family over the past 37 years.
Ultimately, my best friend in life...the love of my life...Carmen...reminded me that this day is not about me...it is a “we/our/ and us” kind of day...it is about the Army and those hundreds...no thousands...of people who have served together with me, shared experiences both good and bad, and shaped our lives.
So here we are today. The glass is more than half-full. As I told Secretary Gates a few weeks ago, I have served at several ranks above my wildest dreams and have had leadership experiences that will stay with me for every remaining waking minute of my life. There should not be anybody who I shake hands or share a hug with today that offers any condolences about recent events. Save any condolences for those who truly need them – the families, friends, and comrades of men and women who either will not return home or whose lives have been permanently scarred by war.
As a military, our sacred duty remains to fight and win our nation’s wars.
The campaign in Afghanistan will not be decided by any one leader - military or civilian—from any one nation. There are no silver bullets, no mere words that break an adversary’s will, no set time lines. We should know that as we approach our eighth year of war...a different kind of global war that doesn’t conform to boundaries, but a war like all wars that is characterized by brutality, suffering, and hatred. Events have taken many turns; mistakes have been made; our resolve continues to be tested. But we should remember one thing above all else: people and human will determine the outcome...and that won’t come without further human cost, extraordinary sacrifices by dedicated men and women, and without breaking the will of those that only offer terror, suffering and subjugation.
And as I take off the uniform I am confident that those who remain behind me are the best our nation has ever produced. However we define victory, or end states, or strategic objectives, they are the ones shouldering the load, and they will more than meet our expectations. It won’t be easy, it won’t be quick, and it will take our national support in all ways.
I am the luckiest soldier I know of. I was allowed to lead, develop, often times make mistakes, and ultimately be entrusted with large, joint formations in war. I have savored the responsibility and accountability that accompany authority. Allow me to quote Mathew Ridgeway, a quote I have borrowed from a letter that a great mentor of mine sent upon his retirement some years ago:
“I cannot conceive that God has granted any man a richer, fuller, more satisfying life than mine, for it was spent in service with, and for, that finest product of our civilization - the American Soldier.”
Ridgeway had it exactly right. Many of my coaches, mentors and leaders that allowed me to serve all these years are here today in the stands. Many more have come up on the net in recent days to express their best wishes and reinforce a special camaraderie. Likewise, to see young privates and sergeants develop into today’s first sergeants and command sergeants major, lieutenants and company commanders who are today commanding battalions, majors and colonels today commanding divisions and corps - knowing I am partly responsible for developing many of them - has kept a “fire in the belly” for this trooper.
It would take days to run through all the names - those who led and developed me and those who I was responsible for—but let me recognize, and thank, three soldiers who had a great impact on David McKiernan, the soldier. It should not surprise anyone who knows me that I choose to single out three non-commissioned officers, two of which are here today.
Much of my company and field grade years were spent as a cold warrior in 3d and 1st Armored Divisions. I had great senior leaders to go to school on, but then 1SG (later CSM) Rod Caesar showed me how best to communicate with soldiers and earn their respect...the Soldier that represents every segment of our society. Later as my Brigade CSM, Rod taught me patience...think it through, then act. Rod couldn’t be here today; he is hospitalized in bad shape in San Antonio. He and his wife Sue are in our prayers.
The second half of my army service has witnessed a post-cold war world that has proven, if nothing else, unpredictable. CSM John Sparks became my closest battle buddy and advisor at Fort Hood in the 1CD and Kuwait and Iraq in 3d Army. He epitomizes the Army spirit...the HOOAH of the Soldier…and I’d like to think some of that rubbed off on me. We entered the post-9/11 world together. While in retrospect it must seem like the planning, preparation, and attack that removed Saddam and the Baath party must have been easy, there is never anything easy in war. Many of my CFLCC and CENTCOM friends are here today and know all the effort that took - John Sparks taught me how to stay focused on all that is positive about our troopers. We knew the hour we crossed into Iraq that Saddam was gone; we didn’t know what would follow and who would lead, but CSM Sparks and I had all the confidence anyone could have in our Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Sailors and Civilians.
John and Janet Sparks are here today, First Team, CSM/Janet
And for these last three years CSM Iuni Savusa has been at my side across Europe and in Afghanistan. We have met with local tribal elders to heads of state. We have witnessed up close the courage, commitment, competency and candor of our men and women in uniform. We have maneuvered through a world neither of us completely understands, but Iuni has again reinforced that people are our centerpiece... They always will be. We equip the man, we don’t man the equipment. Iuni and Mareta Savusa are also here today - like so many, the Army has made us family for life.
Along this path of remarkable opportunity to serve as a soldier, I met and married my soulmate, Carmen, who has kept me straight, been my best friend, toughest critic and staunchest supporter. I was gone too often, focused on duty at the expense of family too often, and many times just plain inattentive. Perhaps there are some in the audience who can identify with those shortcomings. It’s payback time, and I fully intend to. One thing is for sure - we have been blessed with three wonderful children and now a grandson as well. While only Cadet McKiernan is with us here today, Michelle in Las Vegas and Michael in Afghanistan are also here in spirit. We are so proud of each of them.
I have only ever known the Army, as an Army brat and a soldier, so this next chapter in life will not be without challenges to say the least. But make no mistake about it—I will continue to be a soldier even out of uniform, and will figure out different ways to serve the Army and the nation in the years ahead.
And as I stand my last formation in uniform, I am reminded of the two criteria that Carmen and I felt were the right personal standards many years ago. We agreed that at the end of the day what counts most are reputation and the ability to look in the mirror and know you made decisions based on mission and taking care of troopers and their families. Reputation based on subordinates, peers and superiors alike. Decisions that you felt in your heart, brain and gut were the right ones. If those are two valid criteria for self-assessment, then I am okay...and I do feel okay today. I have served my nation and leadership with loyalty, to the best of my ability, and have I leave a resilient, battle-tested, well led army which I have never been prouder of.
God bless you, our great nation, and all the men and women who serve so proudly today, and the families who support them... And god bless all people worldwide who simply want freedom and equality…and let us never rest as an Army, as a service, or as a nation until those who oppose these ideals are vanquished.
You honor the McKiernan family by your presence here today - I hold each and every one of you in great respect. Thank you.