Armed forces farewell tribute and retirement ceremony in honor of Gen. David H. Petraeus
As Delivered by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , Summerall Field, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va. Wednesday, August 31, 2011
ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN: Secretary Lynn, General Petraeus, Holly, Stephen, Anne, Mrs. Knowlton, ambassadors and members of Congress and other distinguished visitors:
It's a great privilege for Deborah and me to join you today at the grounds of the Old Guard. This is a place that both sanctifies our past and heralds our future. And I could not think of a more fitting location to pay tribute to the historic leadership and far reach of two national treasures: Dave and Holly Petraeus.
I know Dave and Holly are particularly pleased to have their children Anne and Stephen here to share in this occasion. Anne, a very accomplished Dickinson graduate like her mom, is currently attending graduate school at UNC. And First Lieutenant Stephen Petraeus, MIT class of 2009, recently returned from a highly successful deployment in Afghanistan, as Secretary Lynn shared.
When Stephen called his father in Baghdad to tell him he wanted to go into the Army, Dave's first reaction was a smart one. He said, "You better call your mother." (Laughter.) Then, Stephen told him, "Dad, I did. She told me to call you." (Laughter.) I'm glad my house isn't the only one that works that way.
Stephen, well done, and welcome back. But after hearing a little about the year you've had, I have to wonder if your big sister's plan to spend the next year as a grad student at Chapel Hill isn't starting to look pretty good right now. I am indeed honored to be here and honored to call Dave Petraeus a friend. When I first really got to know Dave in 2004, I was gratified to learn we had some important things in common. We were both voracious readers; we both realized that the lessons of Vietnam would forever permeate our perspectives; and we both made a good decision early in life when we married women blessed with a strong spirit of service and, let's be honest, a great deal of tolerance as well.
Dave at that time had just returned to Iraq and, after a few short months at home, was overseeing a herculean task organizing and training a new Iraqi army amidst a very challenging security environment. I was impressed with his energy, his innovative thinking and his results. And by the time he left in late 2005, he had grown the ranks to nearly 200,000 Iraqi soldiers and police: a force that would prove crucial to winning the peace in the years that followed.
And while this achievement by any measure would be considered astounding, I, frankly, wasn't that surprised, because by this time I knew, like so many before me, that when it comes to the art of the possible, there is General Dave Petraeus, and then there is everybody else.
I suspect it's been that way for a long, long time, for this was a young local boy who would sneak into West Point to play on its historic athletic fields, some say because they were the most beautiful along the Hudson. But I believe Dave already knew that this was where his true destiny awaited him.
His classmates remember him as strategic and measured and "Peaches," someone who would one day, and I quote, "run the Army in 10 years." And that was when he was in high school. On the soccer field, Dave was the pace-setter who, as a classmate remembers, was always good at seeing the next shot. Indeed, through his ability to see that next shot, to see around the corners most of us don't, Dave has over the last decade advised two presidents, changed the course of two wars, transformed our military and, perhaps more important of all – most important of all, reminded Americans once again that with the right ideas and the right leadership, almost anything is possible. Quite simply, General David Petraeus has set the gold standard for wartime command in the modern era.
But what elevates Dave above all the others is not just his ability to visualize the way to victory, but the will, the determination and the resilience to see it through. He has done this his entire life, from early successes finishing at the top of his class at West Point, Ranger School and at Leavenworth to equally impressive operational successes in company and battalion command, often at an age far earlier than his peers. When he led the 101st Airborne Division during the first year of Operation Iraqi Freedom, his employment of the counterinsurgency principles helped to make Mosul an early success for the coalition. It was said that no force worked harder to win Iraqi hearts and minds than the 101st Air Assault Division led by Petraeus.
And when he returned back to the States after his second tour in Iraq, my good friend Pete Schoomaker, the chief of staff of the Army at the time, told him bluntly to shake up the Army, Dave. Dave took the chief at his word, setting out to do nothing less than recast the way our nation fights its wars. And in concert with General Jim Mattis, Dave assembled an incredibly talented and diverse team, drafting the counterinsurgency field manual, which would not only serve as the blueprint for our successes in Iraq and Afghanistan, but would also go on to become a best-seller. Only Dave Petraeus could take a military manual and make it a great stocking stuffer.
Dave encouraged not just physical but intellectual strength, charging this generation of young leaders to understand the true purpose of power as a force for good and that in sharing risk with those we protect, we build the trust and partnerships so crucial to success. But Dave did not just write the book on counterinsurgency, he put it in practice like no other under the toughest of circumstances. When General Petraeus took command of the Multi- National Force-Iraq in early 2007, it was a time of doubt, of chaos and of death. Around the nation and around the world, skeptics questioned whether yet another change in strategy or leadership could make a difference. And that change was hard. As our troops moved out into the cities and towns of Iraq, casualties were high and the fight relentless. Yet Dave never wavered, and even in the face of a tough fight in Iraq and a very tough political climate here in Washington, he rose above it all, as he always has.
On the morning of September 10th, 2007, as he prepared for what would be a historic set of hearings on the war in Iraq, Dave received a special message from a hometown friend: the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling. Dave later commented that this iconic poem, which happened to be his favorite, perfectly captures the qualities demanded of a good leader during tough times. Throughout it all Dave embodied Kipling's words "to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs" and most of all "to fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run." And as Dave magnificently performed his job, our troops did theirs.
Through every unforgiving minute, they adapted at every turn, embracing the counterinsurgency principles Dave forged. And after an extraordinary effort, hope returned to Iraq.
It was only natural, then, that Dave would rise to assume the reins at Central Command, executing the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy he helped design. And last summer the president would turn to Dave yet again, this time to lead our efforts in Afghanistan. While the circumstances of this request were unexpected, Dave's response was not. He promptly picked up his rucksack, ready to lead another critical mission at its most critical moment in history.
Afghanistan is now a more secure and hopeful place than a year ago, and while Dave would be the first to tell you that a lot of hard, deadly work remains, the progress has never been more real or the prospects more encouraging.
Yet no soldier fights alone, and although I'm certain Dave will soon thank his troops and his family, I too want to add my appreciation to those who have made his lifetime of service possible.
Holly Petraeus has known no other than military life. In 37 years of marriage, the Petraeuses have moved 23 times. I'm sure Holly hopes this next job will last a little longer, so she can finally take the movers off speed dial.
Through those many moves and long separations, Holly still managed to tirelessly advocate for military families and has been especially passionate in her efforts to protect the finances of our military families.
So this morning I join thousands upon thousands of our military families to say thank you, Holly, for your support and your sacrifice, and for reaching beyond the boundaries to make a difference for so many.
Anne and Stephen, I also want to thank you for the love and support you've given your dad, and for sharing him with the rest of us, especially as your dad has been deployed for the better part of this decade of conflict. I know he is deeply proud of both of you.
David, you've run the race well, swifter and surer than the rest, and you now stand among the giants not just in our time but of all time, joining the likes of Grant and Pershing and Marshall and Eisenhower as one of the great battle captains of American history. You've expanded our view of the possible, inspiring our military on to historic achievements during some of the most trying times America has ever known. And today you depart our ranks with the sincere thanks of a grateful nation. As you take the helm of the Central Intelligence Agency, your ability to see the next shot and around the corners will never be more important, and we are blessed that you will continue to serve and lead during these dynamic and uncertain times.
T.E. Lawrence, a man who knew a thing or two about insurgencies, once said, "All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night, in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes to make it possible."
David Petraeus has indeed been a dreamer of the day, dangerous to our enemies but no greater friend to those with whom he fought alongside and fought for. He's been a dreamer with a vision and a plan to get there.
Dave, you remain the brightest star in the constellation, and you will be missed by all of us. God bless you and the entire Petraeus family, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.