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Kansas State University
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Gen. Richard Myers
118th Landon Lecture
April 26, 2000

 

Why We Serve

 

Thank you President Wefald for that wonderful introduction. Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests and students here at Kansas State University. This is absolutely a distinct honor to be standing before you today. It is also a great surprise. I think if 35 years ago somebody said, " Dick, we see you as a four-star Air Force General standing on some stage at Kansas State delivering a lecture," I would have been the first one to start laughing. The loudest laughter, though, would have come from all my friends who know me quite well. They would have said there was no way. Some of them, many of them here, would have said, "What are you going to talk about?" So, it would have been a great surprise.

It is also a great pressure. As a senior officer you do a lot of speaking, but there is nothing like coming back to your alma mater to speak before some of your peers, your friends, your brother, your fraternity brothers, and young students here at Kansas State. I thought pressure was defined by going over and testifying in front of the Senate, and I did that a couple of weeks ago in front of the Senate Arms Services Committee--the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, chaired by our own Kansas State Alumni Senator Pat Roberts. Now that's my definition of pressure--when he is up there in his chair and you are down there at the table answering questions from Senators on your opinion or your advice. But that is nothing compared to the pressure I feel right now, I can guarantee you.

It is also a great pleasure to come back to Kansas State University, an institution that of course I love and admire; the people of the heartland who know hard work and high values; and my Kansas home. It will always be my home and it always recharges my batteries to come back to Kansas. As President Wefald said -- I married my first wife in the chapel just a few yards from this building. She is still my wife after 35 years, and that is a great tribute to her.

As I was preparing for this presentation, I was sitting in my office, and lo and behold a friend from my hometown in Merriam, Kansas dropped by. He said, "What are you doing, Dick?" I replied, "Well, I'm working on this presentation for Kansas State University." I told him, "I bet nobody in Merriam even remembers who I am or anything about that." He says, "Oh, no, they talk about you all the time back there in Merriam. In fact just the other day they put up a sign in your old homestead there where you were born and raised." I said, "Oh, what would that sign say?" He said, "I think it said 'Lenexa, 8 miles'." Just in case I was getting too big for my britches.

It is been said that in a brief space the generations change and, like runners, pass on the torch of life. Today in this brief space, we are graced with three generations who, carrying that torch of life, serve our nation. That's what I would like to talk to you about today -- why we serve. I will do that past, present, and future.

Our country's legacy of service goes back to even before we officially became a nation of the United States. The United States Army was formed over one year before our nation's birthday. Almost every generation of Americans since have served and paid the price to defend the precious give of freedom. From the Revolutionary War; to the Civil War; to World War I where Alf Landon fought in that war to end all wars; to Korea where we drew the line and laid the foundation for our victory in the Cold War; to Vietnam where we laid the foundation for the successes of our military today; to Desert Storm where we learned the responsibilities that we were going to have in the post Cold War era; and, lots of other smaller conflicts in between.

But, it was World War II that laid the foundation of the prosperity and the peace we all enjoy today and I would like to spend just a few minutes talking about that generation. If I may, how many in the audience served in World War II? I know we have at least one: Scottie. Look at the hands. Isn't that wonderful?

Tom Brokaw was absolutely right in naming you the greatest generation. You quite literally saved not only the United States, but also the world from tyranny. You exhibited great patriotism, great sacrifice, great skill, great courage, and uncommon valor time after time after time.

Mary Jo and I had the privilege to meet many of our World War II veterans during the numerous commemorations of the end of the war in the Pacific. We were stationed in Japan at the time and were able to travel around to many of these events. I really wish you could have been there too. Maybe some of you were, as a matter of fact. Maybe we met.

We saw thousands of veterans in places like Iwo Jima. Survivors from that bloody battle for Iwo Jima and Mt. Suribachi where over 7,000 Marines fell. In Okinawa where over 16,000 perished. In Hawaii and at the USS Arizona Memorial. During a ten-day long commemoration in Australia with all of the island nations of the South Pacific participating. These were very emotionally charged experiences for Mary Jo and myself, with a myriad of tales that would send chills up your spine.

But I would like to focus on a couple of examples of that greatest generation that are much closer to home. The stories I am about to tell will certainly embarrass these two who think their exploits were all in a day's, or a war's, work. The first person I would like to talk about is Scottie Lingelbach. Scottie was in Tom Brokaw's book. Scottie, stand up and wave to the crowd.

Thank you for joining us, Scottie. This was sort of a last minute deal, but I had already figured out I wanted to talk about Scottie because she has a Kansas connection that we will talk about in just a minute. If you have read Brokaw's book you know about that connection. Her only question about coming up here today was, "Gee, I live in Lawrence, I went to KU, I am a docent at KU, will they accept me in Manhattan?" I told her it could not be a better time to come to Manhattan. Basketball season's long over -- the Jayhawks did about as good as they were going to do and now it is time for football. I would suggest, Scottie, that maybe we should go over to the student union where we can get you a nice T-shirt that has "Wildcats" on it. At least until basketball season starts, you can wear that for awhile.

Scottie's story is a great one. She was attending KU, I think she started in 1940. In the fall of '41 she looked around and said, "Gee, all the men are gone." -- that's not the reason she went to serve, by the way. She was moved by a couple of things that were running through her mind. One was a cartoon that she saw in the campus newspaper that had a couple of WACs, the Women Auxiliary Corps for the Army, talking. One was commenting to the other in this cartoon, "You know, I'm going to be able to tell my grandchildren that I was more than a pinup during the Great War." So that moved Scottie. The other thing that moved her was the inscription that was over the door of her junior high school. The entrance to her door said, "Enter to learn, go forth to serve."

These two things were in Scottie's mind and she said, "I think I'm going to serve, too." So she signed up in the WAVES, the Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service with the Navy, and she was posted to the Pentagon where she worked on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She was an administrative officer there. If you read the story in the book, there are many interesting little anecdotes, and I won't go into those. She served there while her boyfriend from KU was over getting ready for the Normandy invasion. He made it through the landing but he was eventually wounded and brought back. They got married immediately in Richmond, Virginia and had a very good life going until he was taken very young by cancer. Scottie was left on her own.

As a woman in those days it was tough to get credit and tough to get good jobs, so she reverted to what she liked to do and that was teaching. Her whole point, I think, in teaching was to try to instill in her students that motto that she knew from her junior high days which was, "Enter to learn, go forth to serve." After her teaching days, she moved back home to Lawrence where she is still today. She leads a very active life. Scottie, we couldn't be prouder of your service.

Speaking about returning back home. When I go back home, I always visit my brother and his business. One of the first people you meet when you go into my brother's business is Don Tremain. Don was supposed to be here this morning, but at the last minute, he couldn't make it. Don has part of one arm, well most of one arm, missing. Over the years I've asked Don how did this happen?

Don was on the lead plane of a 1,000-plane raid on the Poesti oilfields in a B-24. He had been told by intelligence there would be no anti-aircraft guns over the initial points on your way to the target. Of course, over the initial points is where they got shot up very badly. Intelligence has not changed much today -- most people would agree with that that know anything about this business.

Don's job at the time was to dispense chaff out the back of the aircraft. Chaff was the metallic strips of tinfoil used to decoy enemy radar. He was dispensing that chaff out the back of the aircraft when one of the anti-aircraft shells went off nearby and the shrapnel severed his arm. He was bleeding very badly. So he took his belt, tied it around his arm, and most likely saved his own life.

They continued to the target, released their bombs, and then they went to find an emergency landing spot in Italy. They did not make it because they were leaking gasoline and hydraulics so badly and they landed short of the runway. The only person killed on the aircraft was the flight mechanic who was down below trying to lower the landing gear manually because They would lost their hydraulics. About 12 hours after the incident, Don Tremain found himself in a hospital being cared for. He says I remember the doctor telling me, "Son, we'll save that arm." But Don was smart enough to look at it and know. He told him, "There's nothing left to save. Just save me."

So, I think Scottie and Don, two people who are very unassuming, this was no big deal to them. This is just what you did. I think they are our real heroes, along with the rest of you who served in World War II and we salute you. It is their service and the service of every American before then that is the foundation of why we serve. We serve to preserve the hard-won gift of freedom we have received from those who served before us.

Franklin Roosevelt once said, "Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget, in time, that men have died to win them."

The next generation I want to talk about has not forgotten that men and women have gone before them to preserve the liberty they have and we have today. This generation is the current generation of men and women serving our country right now -- the soldiers, the sailors, the airmen, the Marines, the coastguardsmen, both on active duty, in our National Guard, and in the Reserves. They bear the burden of preserving freedom and I am inspired by their sacrifice, their convictions, their patriotism, their courage, their power and their professionalism. You should be too.

They are on the mountaintops of Bosnia and Kosovo. They are in the deserts of the Middle East. They are in the jungles of South America. And, of course, they are right here at home. In fact we have, I think, many folks here from Fort Riley. If you would all turn around and give these great troops back there a hand. Thank you all for being here today.

As long as we are doing polls, if I could ask you to raise your hand if you have a loved one or a family member who is serving in the military today.

This generation is carrying out our national security strategy of engagement all around the world. These fine men and women understand first-hand George C. Marshall's words that "the only way to win a war is to prevent it."

As you know, the military is an important part of our national instruments of power along with the economic, political and diplomatic dimensions. We have over two million men and women in uniform if you count all the active duty, the National Guard and the Reserves. We have 100,000 troops permanently stationed in both Europe and the Asia Pacific region. Also today, we have 42,000 folks deployed throughout the world supporting 17 major operations and numerous smaller ones -- all trying to do what Marshal knew was the best thing for the military to do: prevent conflict.

This certainly is not easy work. This is very often very lonely work and they are not going to get rich or famous doing it. It is frequently dangerous and requires great courage. You would be so proud if you could just see what they do day in and day out.

I have hosted many civic leader tours -- tours for prominent civilian, business and community leaders -- and after they see our military in action, the feedback is always the same. They have no idea what our men and women in uniform are doing for our country today. That service moves me very much and obviously moved the writer of this letter. This was after a civic leader tour when I was the commander of the Pacific Air Forces. We went to Alaska, South Korea and then Hawaii on one of the civic leader tours. A fellow named Skip Morgan wrote me about the tour. He's a mechanical contractor in Hawaii and he had never served in the military. He wrote me this letter after that tour.

He says, "Dear Dick, it's impossible for me to adequately express my appreciation for being included in the recent tour. A simple thank you falls too short. The trip was a spiritually moving experience in many respects. Seeing our military in a deployed situation revealed a professional force dedicated to noble principles and sacrificial service. Mottoes such as 'integrity first', 'service before self', 'excellence in all we do' -- integrity, courage, loyalty, dedication, team work, core values emblazoned on unit coins are obviously lived and practiced by those in your command. In a time when such values are often regarded as old fashioned, or inapplicable, or intolerant by some Americans, it was uplifting to see and meet such fine and talented people. I believe that without those high standards and goals these core values, our military could not be what it is today."

I do not know if that letter moves you, but that letter certainly moved me. I got that in July of 1998 and I keep it around to remind me of those many folks out there. Of all their service that, if you could just see what they did day in and day out, you too would be absolutely moved.

We can take an example of a young airman, just seven and a half-hours from here by car if you drive the speed limit, out in Colorado Springs -- everybody drives the speed limit, of course. A young airman flying our Global Positioning System. There are 27 satellites in orbit worth billions of dollars. At one time they were flown just by commissioned officers and the commissioned officers had to have technical degrees. Now, it is done mostly with young airmen with high school diplomas. This satellite constellation provides the position or location and timing signals essential to modern warfare, and modern farming right here in Kansas, and modern banking, as well as a host of other commercial uses. These folks are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year doing their duty. If you could go into their control room, I think you would be so proud of them.

Or we can go to the Balkans, to Bosnia. Mary Jo and I just got back from a trip to Macedonia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. We are there ensuring stability under UN Resolution 1244 so the UN can establish the civil structures needed for a lasting peace. Where, for the first time, an Army National Guard unit -- the 49th Armored Division from Texas -- is in charge of the head-quarters. You have got to bear in mind that these Army National Guard folks have temporarily given up, at least they hope, their regular jobs back home to serve six months in Bosnia.

I would like to tell a couple of stories. While we were in Bosnia a member of the Guard unit that was over there serving was with us on a bus. He was a lieutenant. During our conversation, I asked, "Lieutenant, what did you do back home?" He said, "Well, sir, I was in commercial real estate. In fact I have my own corporation. I'm the CEO of a commercial real estate corporation." I said, "I bet there's a big difference between CEO pay and lieutenant pay." He said, "Indeed there is, but let me tell you. This sacrifice over here will be well worth it if we can just stop the killing for only a few days." He continued, "I think we're making a difference. There is no amount of money in the world that can give you the feeling that I have now." So that's one of those members that had to give it up back home and go forward and serve.

If we go just a little bit south to Kosovo, our military's doing the same thing there -- trying to keep the Kosovar Albanians and the Serbs from fighting each other until the United Nations can put in the infrastructure that will lead to a lasting peace. This is not easy work. I know some of these soldiers back here, no doubt, have served their time in both of those places I just talked about, and they know these stories better than I. There are thousands of stories and I can only tell a few.

This story is about a patrol that was in support of the UN police force in Kosovo. The UN is trying to put in all the civil infrastructure: the courts, the prisons, fire departments, and the economic infrastructure to help these people dig themselves out of their conflict. This particular patrol was called to aid a police force that had gone to arrest a Serb man for having illegal weapons. He had some grenades, some rounds of 9mm ammunition, and some other illegal things. It was just an MP squad, so it was probably five, six, or seven folks that went down to this very small village. The only problem with this village was it was the end of kind of a dead end road in a box canyon. So there was only one way in and one way out.

The police hauled off the Serb and the military police were left there to watch the munitions until the explosive ordnance disposal team could get there to take care of it.

In the mean time, the Serbs rallied, upset that their cohort had been carted off by the police. Hundreds of Serbs came upon this patrol. They blocked the road into the valley to prevent reinforcements from coming in there. A helicopter tried to come in and reinforce and they threw rocks at the helicopter. And they started pelting this very small squad with sticks and rocks.

The way the Serbs do it, they put their women and children in front of the men, knowing that we won't harm the women and children. They tell me, and these folks in the back there from Fort Riley know it better, that if the Serbs were fighting the Kosovar Albanians they wouldn't put their women and children in front because the Kosovar Albanians would shoot the women and children. There's some real hatred over there.

This patrol decided they had to get out of town and they're backing out of town when the squad NCO was hit in the face with a rock. He dropped to the ground. The rest of the troops didn't know if he was dead or not. They didn't know what the situation was but the maintained their cool. It would have been very easy for them to resort to lethal force at that point. Up to then They would been using non-lethal means to try to control this crowd. They just picked up their comrade and just kept marching backwards. And if that doesn't tell you how professional our force is and how well trained and how well disciplined -- a situation that could have turned just absolutely ugly, -- I don't know what would. I know we have some great members of the press here, but you can imagine how they might have portrayed this incident if it had been handled differently.

I think you have to take your cap off to these folks that day in and day out try to preserve the peace for people that, at least for the time being, just do not want it.

Or we could go to the Middle East where we enforce the no-fly zones in Iraq under UN Resolutions 949 and 688. Over eight countries provide forces to do that in addition to 20 ships who are conducting maritime intercept operations enforcing UN sanctions against Iraq in the Gulf. We've got over 400 aircraft enforcing these two no-fly zones. And these pilots -- Air Force, Navy, and Marine -- pilots face constant threat of ground fire from both surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft gunfire. Since the first of the year they have dropped ordnance over 60 times in response to Iraqi gunfire. In fact, just yesterday as I were getting an intelligence briefing, one more time our forces responded. I do not know how well that is known. That we are so engaged over there trying to enforce the UN sanctions. And in maritime intercept operations, there have been over 170 boardings and a dozen diverts of tankers that are carrying smuggled Iraqi oil.

So, I think this also adds to the reason why we serve -- so we may share the blessing of liberty with other parts of the world and pass on to the next generation, and not just our children, the gifts of freedom that were passed on to us.

What about future generations? What challenges will they face and how can we be certain they will rise to the occasion?

A quote attributed to George Washington goes like this: "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by our nation."

I know we have some K State ROTC cadets with us today, as well as some high school students here from Linda Banke's class from Abilene.

These are our future generations. And as an institution we need to continue caring for our greatest treasure -- our people.

Like our country, our military is not made up of tanks or ships or airplanes. It is made up of people. Military service places huge burdens on those who serve and their families. But they actually ask for very little in return for their willingness to serve and, if called upon, their willingness to die for our country. They need nothing more than a sound quality of life, good health care, housing, and fair treatment and equal opportunity for themselves and for their families. We have a moral obligation to provide this. But they will not ask for it; and, they will not protest for it; and, they would not serve because of it. But they deserve it, nevertheless.

We also need to ensure that our forces can prevail in any mission that we order them to do. This means striking that fine balance between the current challenges we have around the globe promoting peace or our current readiness as we speak about it, and funding our modernization needs. Modernization so our people will have the best equipment to meet tomorrow's challenges. Modernization so no mother and father will ever have to lose a son or daughter because they tried to defend our freedom with the second best equipment in the world.

The challenges are many. They include new threats like cyber warfare and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- by this I mean chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons. More than 25 countries possess or are developing these weapons of mass destruction and at least eight times countries have already used ballistic missiles against their neighbors.

We have been blessed in this country with broad oceans to protect us and friendly neighbors that support us. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the missiles that deliver them to our cities could rapidly change all of that.

So now we talk about a concept of homeland defense -- a term not used in my 35 years of service until recently, and probably something not seriously thought about since before Scottie's service to our country.

Information and space technologies have turned things upside down as well. Did you happen to see the pictures last week from CBS where they had satellite photos of Pakistan's nuclear test site? Those kind of photos with that kind of fidelity used to be carried around in locked briefcases in the Pentagon and showed to very few. Now they're available to anybody that's got a modem and a credit card.

All this has great implications for our national security and also our defense industry in terms of technology transfer and their international competitiveness. But that is a subject of a whole different talk.

What all this means to me is that we need our best and brightest working the tough national security issues and standing tall in places like Korea -- still technically at war with just a cease-fire and no peaceful resolution on the horizon; or India/Pakistan -- perhaps a situation that poses the greatest danger of nuclear conflict; or Indonesia -- the largest Muslim nation in the world and the fourth largest nation in the world, by the way. A delicate situation there where the government is trying to de-politicize the military and hold together 250 million people speaking over 200 languages and dialects that are located on more than 13,000 islands. Great challenges.

Or the Balkans, as we have already discussed; or the Middle East; or China/Taiwan. I was making this list and it just went on and on and on. Frankly, it makes your head hurt trying to figure out how you're going to deal with some of these issues and what should be our interest there.

So these and many new problems will face this new generation of military men and women.

It was just last week when we briefed the Taiwanese about our arms sales to Taiwan. This was a politically charged situation. On the one hand under the Taiwan Relations Act the United States is required to provide equipment and training for Taiwan so they can defend themselves. On the other hand, in our continued engagement with China, we've got to be very careful that we do not go too far and do something that would make that engagement much more difficult.

It was last week when some of my clever staff had scheduled a Chinese three star general into my office and then, 30 minutes later, a general from Taiwan. I said, "Isn't it likely they're going to meet somewhere in the hall here if we schedule them back to back like that?" Somebody agreed that was probably a bad idea, so we put them on separate days and it worked out very well. But that's the kind of thing we go through. I can tell you, there were some very tense times in Washington with the Congress as we worked our way through what is appropriate for Taiwan, what is inappropriate, and how do we work with the Chinese to understand our obligations under our foreign policy and under the Taiwan Relations Act as we went forward.

Just an example of the kinds of challenges that this young generation is going to have to face and my guess is they're only going to get tougher. But they're going to be met with sharp young folks. Maybe somebody out of Linda Banke's high school class or maybe some of our own ROTC cadets right here at Kansas State.

Is Cadet Haversrol with us today? Doug is the Cadet Corps Commander here of the Air Force ROTC cadets. He's from Stilwell, Kansas. He graduated from Blue Valley High School in 1996. And he'll be commissioned on the 12th of May. On the 13th of May he graduates from Kansas State University with a degree in criminology. Then he's off to Tindall Air Force Base in Florida to go to an Air Battle Management Course. Doug, we can't wait to get you in the service and start putting your talents and your creativity to work. We know you'll be a great addition.

It is that kind of individual, and there are many more here I know from the ROTC detachment, that will protect our future. I just singled out Doug because he's a leader on the Air Force side. We thank you Doug, for what you're about to embark upon.

It is our responsibility to this new generation that adds the final piece to why we serve.

So in this space, in this auditorium we have three generations -- three generations that speak to us. Three generations that remind us why we serve.

Albert Einstein said, "The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in its defense are the constitutional rights secure."

Now obviously Einstein didn't mean that everybody should go serve in the military. Just that they should somehow serve. But he also meant that the Constitution not only gives us freedoms, but also entrusts us with certain responsibilities.

Most people realize they need to serve a greater good. If you have read Tom Brokaw's book "The Greatest Generation" which we talked about earlier, you will probably remember that he said, "If there's a common lament of this generation," meaning the World War II generation, "that is it. Where is the old-fashioned patriotism that got them through so much heartache and sacrifice?"

Now, I don't know if I agree with that. I can still remember the crowds that poured out their hearts after Desert Storm when the troops and the fliers and everybody came home. And when I visit ROTC units like here at Kansas State University or elsewhere in the nation. Or the Air Force Academy cadets who were my neighbors until just recently when we moved from Colorado Springs. What I see are bright, enthusiastic young men and women, eager to embark on a career of selfless service.

I think it is up to us, in this brief space, as our generations change, and like runners, to pass the torch of freedom to them.

So again I ask, why do we serve? The answer is -- we serve because of each and every one of you. Because of what our forefathers and mothers have done before us. Because of what our young men and women are doing today. And, because of what our children will have to do tomorrow.

Thank you very much, and God bless.