Former Secretary of the Army Pete Geren quoted Gen. George Catlett Marshall in accepting the Association of the United States Army’s highest award – the George Catlett Marshall Medal – named for the soldier-statesman, "We’re going to take care of the troops, first last and all the time."
Speaking Oct. 27. at the final event of the 2010 AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition, he termed the three-day program "the closest thing we have to a family reunion" but "our family is dealing daily with the pain of loss."
Geren said during his term in office, "soldiers and families were the best company in the world," because they were living in a "cynic-free zone." He added that in a way, life on Army posts seemed to be a living Norman Rockwell painting.
Having served for a decade in Congress and as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Geren returned to Washington to take a position in the Defense Department, shortly before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. "I saw soldiers run to the scene" [at the Pentagon] of the explosion to assist others. "My perspective began to change" of what military service and sacrifice meant.
When he was named first acting secretary and later confirmed as secretary, Geren said that from his office he could feel the weight of the responsibility and obligation he had to soldiers. His office view was of Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknowns.
"How different the history of the country would be, how different the history of the world would be without the American soldier – no monuments, no Capitol, no National Mall," the view he had while serving in the Defense Department. He said soldiers – less than 1 percent of the nation’s population – provide the defense and security to allow the United States to remain free.
Geren also recalled the actions of Spc. Ross McGinniss of Knox, Pa., who was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions Dec. 4, 2006.
When a grenade was thrown into the Humvee in which he was serving as gunner on a patrol in Baghdad, McGinnis dropped himself onto the grenade to save the lives of the four other soldiers in the vehicle.
At the Pentagon ceremony to recognize McGinnis’ heroism, his father said to the four surviving soldiers, "Ross gave you a gift" of being able to live their lives and they should not feel guilty about that.
It is "a Normal Rockwell painting stained with tears," Geren said.
Adding, "Character is found by the mother’s knee and the father’s side."