The Association of the US Army (AUSA) presents the George C. Marshall Award to outstanding leaders annually. This year’s winner was Senator Rudman (R-NH). He gave a short, excellent speech. No spin here.
“Thank you, General Sullivan, for your generous remarks.
And I have to tell you what was going through my mind as you were up there speaking.
I kept thinking that my late mother and father would be very proud.
And my old battalion commander in Korea – from the 38th Infantry, Second Division — would be flabbergasted!
Then again, if you have ever read anything at all about the contribution that George Marshall made to this nation, one message is clear. Virtually no one truly belongs in his class.
It would have been honor for me to carry his boots, let alone an award in his name.
If you reflect on the arc of his life — and what it meant to this nation — it is just staggering.
Think about it. When Marshall started his career, he entered the Virginia Military Institute right down the road from here. And this Army was still being run by veterans of the Civil War. This nation was just a kid — barely able to keep itself in one piece.
Yet, by the end of his career – and through his vision — America had become the architect of peace in every corner of the world, the indispensable nation in the largest war in the history of humanity.
More important, we had laid the foundations of the modern Army and armed forces to provide global stability.
We had poured the cornerstones of global democracy.
And through his Marshall Plan we had planted the seeds of a global economy that would lift tens of millions of people out of poverty.
That’s a record that would leave anyone in awe.
You would be hard pressed to find any single person – uniformed or civilian, Roosevelt, Truman, and Churchill included – who did so much, so well, over such a long period of time, to get us to that point.
So, in the long sweep of history, I would go so far as to say that Marshall will rank up there with Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson and the rest of the founders. When you reach that level, it’s simply hard to imagine anyone but that one person who could have accomplished the same for our nation.
But the real value of this award is not just the chance to reflect on history. It’s an occasion to reflect on the man himself: the values, the traits, the character of this soldier & statesman.
If you read anything at all of Marshall’s writings, this comes through so clearly. The beliefs that he fought for are just as relevant for today’s Army — and for today’s leaders — as they were for his time. And I want tonight to talk just a few minutes about those:
Foremost, he believed in putting those at the bottom of the ladder – the ground troops, the infantrymen — at the top of his list.
From his time at Fort Benning, there’s a great story about him ripping an officer because the troops didn’t have blankets and stoves.
He called the officer on the carpet and said, “Get every damn one of those things tonight. Not tomorrow. Tonight. We are going to take care of the troops first, last, & all the time.”
“First, last, and all the time … ” That is the kind of commitment we owe the troops.
He believed that personal integrity conferred more authority than any ribbon or star ever could.
Marshall was a guy who almost never pulled rank to make a point. But he scared the living hell out of people.
Think about General Patton, who was no shrinking violet. Patton once said if he had to choose between facing Marshall in an interview or face a whole Nazi Panzer division by himself …. The decision would be easy: face the Panzers.
Marshall believed that he had a solemn duty to speak truth to power.
That’s something that you don’t learn in basic training.
In his very first meeting with President Roosevelt – one of the most popular and powerful Presidents and commanders-in-chief to ever sit in the Oval Office – Marshall, then Chief of Staff of the Army, had the courage to look him in the eye and say, “I am sorry, Mr. President, I don’t agree with you at all.”
His very first meeting! And I have to tell you, that takes more than guts.
He believed in being candid and direct.
Churchill was once arguing to delay the invasion of Europe in favor of an attack on Rhodes.
Marshall listened quietly for a long time, nodding, and then finally he exploded. He said, “You can plan all you want. But not one American soldier is going to die on that goddammed beach.”
He believed in extreme loyalty: the kind of loyalty that goes up & down the chain of command.
His view was that you select talented people, you put your trust in them, and then let them do their job.
In 1947, when it became clear after face-to-face talks with the Soviets that the Cold War was going to be a reality, Marshall came back to the State Department and called George Kennan into his office.
He told him that he would have to immediately set up a policy office and write a master plan to deal with the threat.
So, there you have Kennan, this brilliant guy who immediately sees 389 dimensions to the problem. And you have the grand strategy for the fate of the Western world hanging in the balance. It doesn’t get bigger than that.
So Kennan tells Marshall, “Mr. Secretary, I am going to need more guidance from you.”
Marshall paused for a few seconds. And then he looked at him and said precisely two words: “Avoid trivia.”
And that’s one of the things I have always loved about Marshall: he didn’t believe that anyone, regardless of rank, should take himself too seriously.
One time, General Walter Bedell Smith – in full uniform – came to report to Marshall’s house to give him a report. And it turned out that Marshall was out in the rain, picking corn in his vegetable patch.
After a few minutes in the rain and mud, Smith started to get a bit testy. And he said, “General, do I have to stand out here to make my report?” And Marshall said, “No, Smith. Of course not. Turn over that bucket and sit down.”
If there’s one idea – one lesson – from Marshall’s life that I could leave you with tonight, I think that would be it.
No matter how high or how low your rank, you should never let your respect for the privilege and prestige of an office distract you from what you’re there to do — to outweigh your obligation to speak truth to power.
In that spirit, I believe I would be remiss if I didn’t use this occasion to close with just a few words about the current state of this fine institution, the United States Army.
When I think about the history of the US Army, places come back to mind .. . Omaha, Bastogne, Porkchop Hill, Ia Drang &, of course, Baghdad. From my own experience in Korea, those places are notable for the courage & uncommon valor of the American soldier.
Regardless of one’s views about the wisdom of starting the current action in Iraq, I am deeply, deeply worried about its lasting impact on our Army – on all our armed forces, but the Army especially.
By almost any measure, we have asked too small a force to operate at too-fast an ops tempo with too little resources over too much territory. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, never have so many, owed so much to so few, for so long.
And this is doing damage to our Army – active, guard, and reserve – that will take a generation to repair. We are “taking it in the neck.”
You can say all you want about the theory of light footprints and high-tech warfare. But as far as I’m concerned, you can save that for the classroom. At the end of the day, if you don’t have enough boots on the ground, you have more instability, not less.
And for families all across this country, that means you have more kids coming home without arms and legs — not less. You have more honor guard funerals — not less.
That’s just wrong. It’s a tragedy. It did not have to be this way. And it’s time for us to put the issue right in front of the American people, on the kitchen table, rather than pretend it’s not there.
More than 60 years ago, at the height of WWII, Marshall stood before an audience just like this, pleading to get the resources that he believed were essential. This is a man who didn’t shrug at the casualty figures. He had them on top of his desk – and in front of his president — every week!
And he said, “Just once, in the history of this country, I’d like to see the American solider be given a fair break in the terrible business of making war.”
Classic Marshall. Direct. Candid. Loyal. Always on the lookout for the soldiers who are making the greatest sacrifice.
And I don’t think we could pay him any greater tribute today than to listen to his voice: “Just once … a fair break.”
As we leave here tonight, let us all take a moment to say a prayer for all of those brave young men and women who are willing to put it on the line for the greater good.