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Gen. Dempsey's Remarks at the 2014 USO Gala

By General Martin E. Dempsey
Remarks from the 2014 USO Gala   (Related Video)

Thanks—thanks very much. I’d like to begin by saying that I do not know the word to “Red High Heels”. (Laughter). I don’t know where she went, but I can’t believe she said that. (Laughter).

By the way, how hard is it to follow Kellie Pickler in terms of someone who demonstrates heart and passion and patriotism and compassion and commitment; I mean, she’s all those things. I don’t know where you are, Kellie, but—are you back there at your table? Nope, I don’t see her there. But how about we give her a round of applause, she might hear ‘em back. (Applause).

Well Deanie and I are honored to be back. This is one of the things, I think I mentioned this the last three years, when we put our calendar together for the year, there’s just a handful of things that we put on the calendar and we don’t let anybody knock them off, and this is one because as Kellie said, it is important. It’s important for the soul of the force and so my compliments to the USO, our congratulations to J.D. and Christine for becoming the leaders of this incredible organization, and you can count on us to be among your biggest fans, not only while we’re serving, but long after. So thanks for that.

Aisha said that the Commandant of the Marine Corps has the coolest name among the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Frank Grass, you might be on the other end of that, I don’t know. (Laughter, cheers). I mean, Grass? I love you man, but anyway. So every year, I throw somebody under the bus, this year, it happens to be your year. (Laughter).

Deanie and I over the last week—I tell you. One of the things that just continues to surprise me is the way emotions kind of wash over you as the Chairman, and I’m sure the service chiefs feel the same way.

There’s always something that captures your imagination, your heart, your soul. So just in the last week, including this event tonight which I’ll mention in a moment, a week ago I was up at West Point with my classmates celebrating our 40th reunion. Yeah, it was unbelievable. But one of the things we did was take a cruise down the Hudson River and it had been raining during the day, but the rain kind of blew off the—blew out the bad weather and what we ended up with was an unbelievably crystal clear fall night and we on this cruise, we saw the Freedom Tower in New York City, and we’ve all got some memories of that.

And all of a sudden, they announced, “Come out on deck” because we were about to approach the Statue of Liberty and we walked out on deck as a group, and look, you could probably do the math because it was my 40th anniversary, or 40th reunion, you could probably tell how old we are. But we walked out on deck, and I’m not kidding you—but the size, and the magnitude, and the majesty, and the beauty of the Statute of Liberty, it was just—it was awe-inspiring. And you think about what it stands for, for a bunch of us who were just telling lies to each other all week about who we were, and what we hope to be, it was just—and you kind of remember in those moments, as Kellie described, you kind of remember who you are, and it was just one of those moments, so that was on Saturday night.

And today, I went to the passage of command for the United States Marine Corps where the 35th Commandant Jim Amos, passed command to the 36th Commandant Joe Dunford. And I’ll tell you what, I’m really proud to be a part of the U.S. Army, but I also have the privilege of being the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. And if you could see the pride with which those young men and women stood tall and passed and reviewed and just were there at this ceremony to honoring their outgoing commandant and their incoming commandant, and the—I mean, it just made you want to stand taller and straighter. It’s pretty hard to stand straighter, at least at my age, but the point is the pride of the young men and women who serve is just absolutely inspiring.

And that’s why, J.D., and all of you who serve with the USO, that’s why you do what you do because you want to match their pride with your commitment. And it was just unbelievable.

And then here I am tonight. This is a trifecta for me; one week, three events, where you can feel good, not only about the military, but about the country. Yeah, you can. Now let’s give the country a round of applause. (Applause).

So I already mentioned J.D. and Christine and again, we want to welcome you to your position—by way, there’s nothing on this teleprompter (laughter). How come everybody else had something on the teleprompter? (Laughter). Anyway.

But J.D. and Christine, welcome aboard as we say, terrific, I also want to mention my teammates, the Joint Chiefs. Some of them are here tonight. I saw Ray—Ray Odierno and Jon, I know that some of the Vices are—the Commandant of the Marine Corps, cool name guy. (Laughter). And Frank, the not-so-cool name guy (laughter). But I could not be—honestly, I couldn’t be prouder to be part of that team, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We’ve got a lot going on, if you haven’t noticed. (Laughter).

And you know, if I’d had this conversation with you and with them four months ago, we wouldn’t be talking about insecurity in Europe, we wouldn’t be talking about this thing called ISIL, and we wouldn’t be talking about Ebola, and here we are. And by the way, the Joint Chiefs and the men and women who serve, we’re going to figure it out. We’re going to figure out what the country needs us to do and we’re gonna do it, and we’re gonna do it well, and we’re gonna keep the country safe. (Applause).

And you know, even while we’re sitting here tonight, besides the young men and women who are deployed on missions we already know about, we’ve got people packing their bags to go to Europe and reassure our allies, or go to Iraq or Kuwait to make sure this threat of ISIL doesn’t continue to expand, and to go to places like Senegal and Liberia to make sure this disease is contained and therefore doesn’t become a threat to the homeland. And that’s what they do. So the USO, I hope you don’t think we’re going to put you out of work, we’re not going to put you out of work. You’re gonna have some work to do and we’re proud to be partners with you in doing it.

I also want to make a special mention tonight to a couple who happen to be here with us and who I think get far less credit than they deserve for what they’ve done for their country, and that’s Lloyd and Charlene Austin who happen to be sitting at our table tonight. (Applause.)

You know if you value humility as a character trait, then there’s not many people I know who are as humble as Lloyd and Charlene Austin. And when you think about the portfolio given to him and the men and women who serve with him, it’s quite remarkable—he’s got really big shoulders—but it’s even remarkable that even he can bear the weight of what we’ve asked him to do. So join me in a round of applause for Lloyd and Charlene. (Applause.)

I’ve already talked about Kellie Pickler and what an incredible person, and Kyle, her husband. So she’s an extraordinarily successful and talented country western singer, and then kind of on a whim said, maybe I’ll try that “Dancing with the Stars” thing. I’m just glad she doesn’t want to give it a shot to be the Chairman because I’m not sure I could fight her off. She’s little—I mean, she’s little, but she’s mean as a snake, by the way.

And I want to mention one other person. And actually, I try to mention this person every year, and some of you have been here for this event in the past, and I apologize for being repetitive. But Mary Lou Austin, who is now—where is Mary Lou, by the way? (Applause.) So let me tell you about—I don’t know where she is, I might try to get her to stand up so if anyone could find her with a spotlight at some point. Mary Lou—where is she? Where is Mary Lou? Stand up! (Applause.) Oh you are standing! I’m sorry! (Applause, laughter).

Some of you heard this story, but when I was a second lieutenant on the way to Germany—it was January of 1975, and I was lost. I mean, I was—this was before sponsorship was a big deal. So they kind of give you a ticket to go to a place you couldn’t pronounce, and you know, I got off of the aircraft and I went to where we all go when we’re not sure where to go, and I went to the USO and Mary Lou was there. And she steered me in the right direction. And then I told this story, I don’t know, three years ago, and she came up to me afterwards and said, “It was me!” (Laughter). I thought that was so cool that every year now, you know, here you are. She’s down in Atlanta now.

But here’s the rest of the story. Last year, my son was redeploying from Afghanistan through Atlanta. Guess who he met? Mary Lou Austin. (Applause).

Last thing I want to say before I bow out off the stage here and we get the chiefs here to recognize the wonderful young men and women who are going to be honored here tonight is I want to mention the Army nominee here tonight has a special connection to me and Deanie. I don’t even think he knows it.

We had a—my son, class of 2000 from West Point had a best friend by the name of Tom Kennedy. Tom Kennedy was killed just about two years ago now in Afghanistan. And in that incident, there was a suicide bomber—suicide vest Taliban—and among the folks who made the situation less catastrophic than it could have been was Sergeant Andrew Mahoney who happens to be the Army nominee tonight. (Applause). He actually tackled a couple of the members from his team that were there and prevented them from being killed in that incident. So, you know, that’s who we are, right? I’ve never met him—I haven’t met him yet, but I’m gonna meet him here in a moment. But we’ve got a connection that I didn’t even know we had until I read the bio.

Okay, here’s the deal. People say to me, “What’s it like to be Chairman right now?” And it’s hard to describe, right? I mean, it’s actually hard for all of us to describe what it’s like to be serving just now when we are. But I found this little Irish ditty—hey, if any—can I get a drink of water before I try to bang out this Irish tune? Can somebody hand me a drink of water? Somebody back there’s gotta be listening. Ah, here comes the, by the way, this is the guy that put me in this position. I’ll never forgive you for this. Thanks sir, George Casey, 36th Chief of Staff of the United States Army. (Applause).

So I found this—it’s going to shock you when I say this—Irish ditty, it’s a little story about a bricklayer; it was a bricklayer and he was actually writing to his boss to explain why he wasn’t at work on this particular day. And it’s called “The Sick Note” and it’s—I’d describe it as somewhat analogous to what it’s like to be serving at this level at this particular point in time.

(Singing). Dear sir I write this note to you to tell me of me plight,
And at the time of writing, I am not a pretty sight.
My body is all black and blue, me face a deathly gray.
And I write this note to say, why Paddy's not at work today.

While working on the fourteenth floor some bricks I had to clear.
Now to throw them down from such a height, was not a good idea.
The foreman wasn't very pleased, he being an awkward sod.
He said I'd have to carry them down on the ladder in me hod.

Now, clearing all these bricks by hand, it was so very slow.
So I hoisted up a barrel, and secured the rope below.
But in me haste to do the job, I was too blind to see;
That a barrel full of building bricks was heavier than me.

So when I untie the rope, the barrel fell like lead.
And clinging tightly to the rope I started up instead.
While I shot up like a rocket, to my dismay I found,
That halfway up, I met the bloody barrel coming down.

Well, the barrel broke me shoulder as to the ground it sped,
And when I reached the top, I banged the pulley with my head.
Well But I clung on tight though numb and shock from this almighty blow,
And the barrel spilled out half the bricks fourteen floors below.

Now, when these bricks had fallen from the barrel to the floor,
I then outweighed the barrel, and so started down once more.
Still clinging tightly to the rope, I sped back towards the ground.
And I landed on the broken bricks that were spread and scattered 'round.

While I lay their groaning on the ground I thought I passed the worst,
When the barrel hit the pulley wheel, and then the bottom burst.
A shower of bricks rained down on me - I hadn't got a hope.
As I lay there moaning on the ground: I let go the bloody rope.

The barrel then being heavier it started down once more,
And landed right across me as I lay across the floor.
Well it broke three ribs, and my left arm, and I can only say;
That I hope you'll understand why Paddy's not at work today.
(Applause, laughter).

Thanks. On behalf of the Joint Chiefs, let me tell you how proud we are to be part of this ceremony tonight; how proud we are of the men and women who serve and serving our country—and serving our country side by side with the USO. God bless you all. Thank you.

(Applause, cheers).