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Our Army’s Campaign of Learning

November 7, 2009

Tonight I want to share with you some thoughts about the challenges confronting our Army as it moves into its ninth year of war and discuss a few of the major initiatives we’re undertaking in TRADOC [U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command] to address them. But I’d like to begin by establishing why what we do is so darned important.

Some of you may remember the picture of Lieutenant Rick Rescorla on the front cover of Hal Moore and Joe Galloway’s book, We Were Soldiers Once... and Young. It’s a very powerful image and there’s an equally compelling story that goes along with the photo. Rick Rescorla is at Landing Zone X-Ray during the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam and has just been asked, on day two of the battle, to get out of the relative safety of his prepared battle position, his foxhole, and close with and destroy the enemy.

As he moved out from his position, he was caught by a combat photographer, and the whites of his eyes tell you all you need to know about the intensity with which he’s moving. The way his hands are gripped firmly on his M-16 rifle, his posture, his demeanor and everything else about that picture is intensity in action. That’s because he’s moving into a situation he doesn’t really understand, and he doesn’t know what danger he might face in the next few seconds.

It is our enduring challenge as leaders to convince young men and women like Rick Rescorla to place their lives at risk for something larger than themselves. We must never forget that. We are blessed as a nation to have them, and we must rally around them and their families—we must be their “Verizon Network”—as we prepare them for battle.

Let me tell you something else about Rick Rescorla. He managed to survive this ordeal, came home from Vietnam, and after a very successful career in the Army, went to work for Morgan Stanley in New York. On September 11, 2001, he was working in the south tower of the World Trade Center when the planes hit. As you’d expect of someone with his background and experience, he immediately took control of the situation and began helping his fellow workers evacuate.

Meanwhile, he called his wife on the phone, which is why we know so much of this after the fact. She pleaded with him to get out of the tower. He replied, “I can’t. The people I work with are counting 2 on me. I have to get these people out safely.” So he perished on September 11, 2001. And earlier this year he was awarded a posthumous medal by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. Rick Rescorla believed that leadership was a lifelong commitment.

My message to you is that’s exactly the kind of men and women we have today—the kind who care more deeply about their country and their fellow Soldiers than they do about themselves. As we go through this week, we’re going to talk about emerging technologies and equipment, we’re going to talk about emerging concepts and doctrine, we’re going to talk about acquisition reform and leader development. We’re going to talk about a lot of things. But it all must link back to Rick Rescorla and his successors in uniform serving today in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere around the world. I know none of us will forget that.

I want to talk with you tonight about four emerging trends in the operational environment and how we must address them in our concept development, our leader development and our modernization strategy.