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Gen. Dempsey's Remarks at the 2012 USO Gala

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey, Washington Hilton, Washington, D.C.
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: Yeah, thanks very much. By the way, it’s 38 years, not 40 – come on, give me a break! (Laughter.) But thanks, Allison and Sloan. I have to tell you, that – you know, the emotion you show and the passion when you speak about the mission of the USO, what it does for soldiers and family members is just – it’s inspirational to me and to us. And so how about we give a round of applause to Sloan Gibson?

So I can’t see if Jordin Sparks is still here – I hope – are you still there? Are you there? (Cheers.) Oh, yeah, there she is. OK, great – it was – I – you know, I had to actually bow up and make sure people let you eat your dinner tonight. (Laughter.) For those of you that wanted to get to know her, your instincts are very good. She’s a terrific, terrific young lady, a great patriot, and we were honored to have her on the USO trip last year.

I’ll tell you though, that – you know, the one thing I would say about the whole experience was that even in the most extreme conditions of that trip, she sang almost as good as I did. (Laughter.) All right, she sang a lot better than I did. It was a great thing. And by the way, you know, this whole thing, this – that song that she sang at the end called “No Air” completely unsettled my paratroopers around the world – (laughter) – I mean, the worst thing you can say to a paratrooper is no air. (Laughter.)

You know what happens when there’s no air with a parachute? I mean, come on, Jordin, you’ve got to – you know, you’ve got to understand the audience that you’re entertaining here – (laughter) – no, it’s great. And by the way, it’s great – I know all of my predecessors have taken the USO entertainers overseas. And, you know, it’s an incredible thing, the way that the young men and women out there are doing the nation’s bidding in Iraq, and so thanks very much for that.

Seven decades of service by the USO. Unbelievable, really. (Applause.) And tonight, my team is here – you know, the joint chiefs – there’s a representative of each of the – of the services; there’s a representative of each of the service secretaries, and in a minute, I’m going to introduce my battle buddy, the secretary of defense. I’m going to – I’m going to give you three quotations from Yogi Berra tonight. (Laughter, applause.) You’ve got to love Yogi Berra. Come on, if you don’t love Yogi Berra, you don’t have any sense, actually. (Laughter.)

But by the way, while I’m talking about baseball, in this city – we’re in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. (Cheers, applause.) And somewhere out here is Lara Potter who is the community relations person for the Washington Nationals. (Cheers.) And if we don’t have the Natitude after this year in Washington – (applause) – we were so proud, really, of the Washington Nationals this year, you know. The way – and by the way, the way they embrace the wounded warriors and military members and their families – so I will give a shout-out to the Washington Nationals. And I’ve got my Natitude on tonight (cheers, applause).

So, a little story about Ted Williams. Now, Ted Williams was a Marine – you probably know that – and he interrupted – yeah, I know – and if I could – by the way, at a previous speech, I mentioned that he served, and then I get all this hate mail – (laughter) – from the ghosts of Marines past. And you know they’re out there – (laughter) – and they wanted to remind me that he just didn’t serve, he was a Marine. I got it, he was a Marine. (Laughter, applause.) And actually, he was incredible. You know, he interrupted his career to serve both in World War II and later in Korea. Incredible patriot – not a bad baseball player. (Laughter.) Red Sox, eh, I don’t know, I really can’t wrap my head around that. (Laughter, jeers.)

But here’s the thing about Ted Williams you need to know. As the story goes, later in his career, he’s up at bat. Young rookie pitcher on the mound, and the young rookie pitcher decides he’s going to paint the corners with his pitches on Ted Williams. He throws one and paints the corner. A perfect strike, really. The umpire says, ball one. He throws another one. Really a perfect pitch. Ball two. On the corner – ball two. He throws a third pitch – strike three on the corner, painted the corner, strike three – the pitcher charges into the umpire and says, you’ve got to be kidding. He says a couple of other things. He said, you’ve got to be kidding me – those were three perfect pitches. And the umpire says, young man, if those were perfect pitches, Mr. Williams would have swung at them. (Laughter, applause.)

Now, that was all about reputation. Ted Williams had a certain reputation. And you know what? So does the USO – 71 years of service that has created a reputation in which they and we should be very proud. Unbelievable. (Applause.)

So the other thing that this is – that was – you know, I gave you one quotation from Yogi. Second Yogi Berra quotation, he said, little things are big. I mean, you’ve got to love Yogi; little things are big – but think about that, and what the – USO does. You know, young men and women who are deploying – redeploying – families and wounded warriors, this event – you know, all the things they do – they’re not really big things when you really – you know, when you really confront them. They’re just little things. A smile, a place to feel at home – you know, a place to make a phone call. Little things – Yogi was right. Little things can really be big, and we’re awful proud of what the USO does to make little things big.

Now, tonight, we’re going to honor six of America’s finest, young men and women who have served their country and distinguished themselves in ways that I know all the service chiefs and the representatives here should be proud of. And so the third quotation from Yogi – the future ain’t what it used to be – (laughter) – we’ve all heard that one; that’s kind of the one that everybody knows about. But you know, that’s the truth in some – in many ways. In fact, I’m absolutely convinced the future ain’t what it used to be, but the future is bright, and it’s bright because we’ve got young men and women of the kind we can see here standing on the stage tonight. And so, you know, to Yogi, who’s still out there banging away and who says the future ain’t what it used to be, I say, that’s OK. We’re going to be fine with the young men and women that we have signing up to serve, and their families in our armed forces today. (Applause.)

And the last thing I’ll tell you – right now – right now, as you and I are sitting here enjoying this dinner, the young men and women serving in Afghanistan are just really waking up to a new day. And they’re going to strap it on – you know, they’re going to put on their rucksacks, they’re going to – they’re going to go out and they’re going to leave their forward operating base, they’re going to go out and do what we’ve asked them to do. And so I just ask that you keep them in your prayers.

But also, right now, as we sit here, America’s men and women in uniform – mostly National Guard and Reserve, but also active duty – are out there helping your and my fellow citizens recover from Hurricane Sandy. (Applause.)

And there’s one other thing I want you to know. My son – a year ago, I told a story about being a second lieutenant, really confused – I think that’s actually synonymous being a second lieutenant – no offense, but – I told a story about being a second lieutenant and traveling to Europe, really not knowing exactly what I was getting into, not really even knowing where I was going, to be honest, and going to a young woman in Frankfurt in the USO and saying, ma’am, could you please help me figure out where to go? She’s in this audience tonight, by the way, and introduced herself to me last week – well, actually, last year – but what I want to tell you is this: right now – right now, while Deanie and I are sitting here, my son is coming back from Afghanistan, and I know that somewhere along the way, the USO will help him make it home. (Cheers, applause.)

It’s a great team, and now I’d like to introduce a great teammate, the secretary of defense, Leon Panetta. (Cheers, applause.)