TRANSCRIPT OF SEC GATES AND GEN MCCHRYSTAL’s REMARKS AT FT. MCNAIR
Presenter: Secretary Of Defense Robert M. Gates, Army Chief Of Staff
General George W. Casey and General Stanley A. McChrystal July 23,
SEC. GATES: Well, first off, I would tell you that the weather here
today is worse than in Jakarta.
We gather today to say farewell to a treasured friend and colleague
and to pay tribute to one of the finest men at arms this country has
There are many distinguished guests and VIPs here today but none so
distinguished and none so important to General McChrystal as his wife,
Annie and son, Sam.
Like so many Army families since 9/11 and especially families in the
special operations community, they have endured long separations from
their husband and dad. And like so many families, they have done so
with grace and resilience. Our nation is deeply in your debt.
We bid farewell to Stan McChrystal today with pride and sadness.
Pride for his unique record as a man and a soldier. Sadness that our
comrade and his prodigious talents are leaving us.
Looking back at the totality of Stan McChrystal’s life and career, it
seems appropriate that he ended up in the special operations world, as
virtually nothing about this man could be considered ordinary.
Even as he rose to the highest ranks of the service, he retained his
trademark humility and remarkably low requirements in his trappings,
tastes and what we at the Pentagon call personal maintenance.
He had little use for amenities that tend to grow up around the rear
echelon, much to the chagrin of a few of his ISAF colleagues. To
Stan, fast food counted as fine dining, but neither fine dining nor
beer gardens had any place in his war zone.
In spite of or, perhaps, because of his no-nonsense approach to war
fighting, Stan enjoyed a special bond with his troops. They respected
his devotion to them as well as to the mission. And as evidenced by
all the uniforms here this evening, they remain just as devoted to
That’s because Stan never forgot about the troops most often in harm’s
way. Always keeping in mind the frontline World War II soldier quoted
by Stephen Ambrose, “Any son of a bitch behind my foxhole is rear
His fearsome exercise, sleeping and eating routines are legendary. I
get tired and hungry just reading about them.
At the same time, this consummate Ranger possessed one of the sharpest
and most inquisitive minds in the Army. A scholar who earned
fellowships to Harvard and the Council on Foreign Relations, a
voracious reader who, as one of his friends told a reporter, was prone
to spending his free time wandering around old bookstores and reading
about what he called “weird things” — stuff like Shakespeare.
The attacks of September 11 and the wars that followed would call on
every ounce of General McChrystal’s intellect, skill and
determination. Over the past decade, no single American has inflicted
more fear and more loss of life on our country’s most vicious and
violent enemies than Stan McChrystal.
Commanding special operations forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, Stan was
a pioneer in creating a revolution in warfare that fused intelligence
and operations. He employed every tool available, high-tech and low,
signals, intelligence, HUMINT and others in new and collaborative
As a lieutenant general, he went out on night missions with his teams,
subjecting himself to their hardships and dangers. After going on one
operation that resulted in a fire fight, some of his British comrades
awarded Stan the distinction of being the highest-paid rifleman in the
United States Army.
Night after night, intercept by intercept, cell by cell, Stan and his
forces first confronted and then crushed al-Qaeda in Iraq. It was a
campaign that was well under way before the surge when the violence
seemed unstoppable and when so many had given up hope in our mission
Stan McChrystal never lost faith with his troopers, never relented,
never gave up on Iraq. And his efforts played a decisive part in the
dramatic security gains that now allow Iraq to move forward as a
democracy and us to draw down U.S. forces there.
Last year when it became clear to me that our mission in Afghanistan
needed new thinking, new energy and new leadership, there was no doubt
in my mind who that new leader should be. I wanted the very best
warrior general in our armed forces for this fight. I needed to be
able to tell myself, the president and the troops that we had the very
best possible person in charge in Afghanistan. I owed that to the
troops there and to the American people.
And when President Obama and his national security team deliberated on
the way forward in Afghanistan, General McChrystal provided his expert
and best unvarnished military advice. And once we all agreed on the
new strategy, General McChrystal embraced it and carried out the
president’s orders with the brilliance and devotion that characterize
every difficult mission that he has taken on and accomplished
throughout his career.
Over the last year, General McChrystal laid the groundwork for success
and the achievement of our national security objectives in that part
of the world. I know the Afghan government and people are grateful
for what he accomplished in a year as ISAF commander and the lives of
innocent Afghans saved, the territory freed from the grip of the
Taliban, for the new vigor and sense of purpose he brought to the
international military effort there.
As he now completes a journey that began on a West Point parade field
nearly four decades ago, Stan McChrystal enters this next phase of his
life to a respite richly earned. He does so with the gratitude of the
nation he did so much to protect, with the reverence of the troops he
led at every level, with his place secure as one of America’s greatest
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, General Stanley A. McChrystal. (Applause.)
GEN. MCCHRYSTAL: This is frustrating. I spent a career waiting to
give a retirement speech and lie about what a great soldier I was.
Then people show up who were actually there. It proves what Doug
Brown taught me long ago; nothing ruins a good war story like an
To show you how bad it is, I can’t even tell you I was the best player
in my little league because the kid who was the best player is here
tonight. In case you’re looking around, he’s not a kid anymore.
But to those here tonight who feel the need to contradict my memories
with the truth, remember I was there too. I have stories on all of
you, photos on many, and I know a Rolling Stone reporter. (Laughter.)
Look, this has the potential to be an awkward or even a sad occasion.
With my resignation, I left a mission I feel strongly about. I ended
a career I loved that began over 38 years ago. And I left unfulfilled
commitments I made to many comrades in the fight, commitments I hold
My service did not end as I would have wished, and there are
misperceptions about the loyalty and service of some dedicated
professionals that will likely take some time but I believe will be
Still, Annie and I aren’t approaching the future with sadness but with
hope and iPhones. And my feelings for more than 34 years I spent as
an Army officer are a combination of surprise that any experience
could have been as rich and fulfilling as mine was and gratitude for
the comrades and friends we were blessed with.
That’s what I feel. And if I fail to communicate that effectively
tonight, I’ll simply remind you that Secretary Gates once told me I
was a modern Patton of strategic communications. (Laughter.) Fair
So if we laugh tonight, it doesn’t mean all these years have not been
important to me. It means the opposite; that every day and every
friend were gifts I treasure and I need to celebrate.
But first, I need to address two questions that we’ve been asked often
lately. The first is: What are you going to do? Actually, Annie is
the one who’s asking me that. I’m thinking I’d be a good fashion
consultant and spokesman for Gucci — (laughter) — but they haven’t
The other question is always asked a bit tentatively. How are you and
Annie doing? We did spend some years apart, but we’re doing well.
And I am carrying some of what I learned into retirement.
First, Annie and I are reconnecting. And now, we’re up on Skype with
each other. Of course, we never did that all the years I was 10,000
miles away, but now we can connect by video link when we’re 15 feet
apart. And I think she really likes that. (Laughter.)
I was so enthused I tried using Skype for a daily family VTC —
(laughter) — where I could get updates and pass out guidance, but
there’s some resistance to flatter and faster in the McChrystal
The same is true for the tactical directive I issued soon after my
return. It’s reasonable guidance: One meal a day, early-morning PT,
the basics of a good family life. (Laughter.)
But I’ve gotten a few night letters, and Annie’s stocking up on
ammonium nitrate fertilizer — (laughter) — which is strange since
our new yard is smaller than this podium.
Although the insurgency is relatively small — one woman — she’s
uninterested in reintegration. (Laughter.) I assess the situation as
serious and, in many ways, deteriorating. (Laughter.)
Mr. Secretary, look at her. I’m thinking at least 40,000 troops.
Let me thank everyone for being here. This turnout is truly humbling.
Here tonight are my wife and son, my four brothers, two nephews,
mentors, comrades from countless phases of my career, and some special
guests whose service and sacrifice are impossible to describe with
But because this crowd is pretty big, for good order and discipline,
I’ve divided you all into four groups. Please remember your group
Group 1 are all the people who accepted responsibility for making this
ceremony work from the planners to the soldiers on the field. My
apologies for all the time you spend in the heat. You’re special
people. And in my mind, you also represent soldiers all over the
world. You have my sincere appreciation.
The second group — (applause). The second group is distinguished
servants of all nations who have taken time from your often-crushing
schedules to be here. And thanks for your years of support and
friendship. I got you out of the office early on Friday.
Group 3 are warriors of all ranks, and that includes many who don’t
wear a uniform but defend our nation with whom I have shared aircraft,
VTCs, remote outposts, frustrations, triumphs, laughs and a common
cause for many years. You are not all here. Some of you are deployed
and in the fight. Others rest across river in Arlington. Most of the
credit I’ve received actually belongs to you. It has been your
comradeship that I have considered the greatest honor of my career.
Finally, Group 4 is all those who’ve heard we’re having two kegs of
beer in the backyard after my ceremony. This group includes a number
of my classmates from West Point, old friends, most of the warriors
from Group 3, and some others who defy accurate description. Anyone
already carrying a plastic cup might be considered the vanguard of
Group 4. (Laughter.) Everyone here today is invited to join.
To Secretary Gates, I want to express my personal thanks, certainly,
for your generous remarks but more for your wisdom and leadership
which I experienced firsthand in each of my last three jobs. Your
contribution to the nation and to the force is nothing short of
Similarly, I want to thank the many leaders, civilian and military, of
our nation beginning with President Obama for whom and with whom I was
honored to serve. Whether elected, appointed or commissioned, the
common denominator of selfless service has been inspiring.
As COM ISAF, I was provided a unique opportunity to serve alongside
the professionals of 46 nations under the leadership of NATO. We were
stronger for the diversity of our force, and I’m better for the
My thanks, also, to the leadership and people of Afghanistan for their
partnership, hospitality and friendship. For those who are tempted to
simplify their view of Afghanistan and focus on the challenges ahead,
I counter with my belief that Afghans have courage, strength and
resiliency that will prove equal to the task.
My career included some amazing moments and memories, but it is the
people I’ll remember. It was always about the people. It was about
the soldiers who are well-trained but, at the end of the day, act out
of faith in their leaders and each other; about the young sergeants
who emerge from the ranks with strength, discipline, commitment and
As I grew older, the soldiers and sergeants of my youth grew older as
well. They became the old sergeants, long-service professionals whose
wisdom and incredible sense of responsibility for the mission and for
our soldiers is extraordinary.
And the sergeants major — they were a national treasure. They mold
and maintain the force and leaders like me. They have been my
comrade, confidante, constructive critic, mentor and best friend.
A little more than a year ago on a single e-mail, Command Sergeant
Major Mike Hall came out of retirement, leaving a job, his son and his
amazing wife Brenda to join me in Afghanistan. To Mike, I could never
express my thanks. To Brenda, I know after all these years, I owe
you. I also love you.
To true professionals like Sergeants Major Rudy Valentine, Jody Nacy,
Steve Cuffie, CW Thompson, Chris Craven, Jeff Mellinger and Chris
Farris, your presence here today is proof that, when something is
truly important, like this ceremony, you’re on hand to make sure I
don’t screw it up.
I’ve been blessed with the presence of old friends throughout my
career, friendships that began long ago at West Point, Forts Benning,
Bragg, Lewis or countless other locations and shared years of Army
life, moving vans, kids, laughs, disappointments, and each other’s
successes which grew into bonds that became critical on the
I treasure a note I received during a particularly tough time in
Afghanistan in 2007 from fellow commander, Dave Rodriguez, that quoted
Sherman’s confidence that, if he ever needed support, he knew his
friend Grant would come to his aid if alive. Serving with people who
say and mean such words is extraordinary.
I served with many. Many of you are here tonight. And not all the
heroes are comrades are in uniform. In the back of a darkened
helicopter over Kunar, Afghanistan, in 2004, a comrade in blue jeans
whose friendship I cherish to this day passed me a note. Scribbled on
a page torn from a pocket notebook, the note said, “I don’t know the
Ranger Creed, but you can count on me to always be there.” He lived
up to his promise many times over.
To have shared so much with and been so dependent on people of such
courage, physical and moral, integrity and selflessness taught me to
Annie’s here tonight. No doubt she walked the 50 feet from our front
door in cute little Italian shoes of which we have an extensive
collection. (Laughter.) In Afghanistan, I once considered using
Annie’s shoe purchases as an argument to get Italy to send additional
forces. (Laughter.) But truth be known, I have no control over that
part of the McChrystal economy. (Laughter.)
But she’s here like she’s always been there when it mattered. Always
gorgeous. For three and a half years, she was my girlfriend then
fiancée and, for over 33 years, she’s been my wife.
For many years, I’ve joked, sometimes publicly, about her lousy
cooking, terrifying closets, demolition derby driving and addiction to
M&M candy, which is all true. But as we conclude a career together,
it’s important for you to know she was there.
She was there when my father commissioned me a second lieutenant of
infantry and was waiting some months later when I emerged from Ranger
School. Together, we moved all we owned in my used Chevrolet Vega to
our first apartment at Fort Bragg. The move, with our first days in
our $180-a-month apartment, was the only honeymoon I was able to give
her, a fact she has mentioned a few times since.
Annie always knew what to do. She was gracious when she answered the
door at midnight in her nightgown to fight Sergeant Emo Holtz, a huge
mortarman, carrying a grocery bag of cheap liquor for a platoon party
I’d hastily coordinated that evening and not told Annie about
following a Friday night jump. I got home not long after to find
Annie making food for assembling paratroopers. Intuitively, Annie
knew what was right and quietly did it.
With 9/11, she saw us off to war and patiently supported the families
of our fallen with stoic grace. As the years passed and the fight
grew ever more difficult and deadly, Annie’s quiet courage gave me
strength I would never otherwise have found.
It’s an axiom in the Army that soldiers write the checks but families
pay the bills. And war increases both the accuracy of that statement
and the cost families pay.
In a novel based on history, Steven Pressfield captured poignantly
just how important families were and, I believe, are today. Facing an
invading Persian army under King Xerxes, a coalition of Greek states
sent a small force to buy time by defending the pass at Thermopylae
and were led by 300 special, selected Spartans. The mission was
desperate and death for the 300 certain.
Before he left to lead them, the Spartan king, Leonidas, explained to
one of the Spartan wives how he had selected the 300 from an entire
army famed for its professionalism, courage and dedication to duty.
“I chose them not for their valor, lady, but for that of their women.
Greece stands now upon her most perilous hour. If she saves herself,
it will not be at the gates. Death alone awaits us and our allies
there but later in battles yet to come by land and sea.
“Then Greece, if the gods will it, will preserve herself. Do you
understand this, lady? Well, now, listen, when the battle is over,
when the 300 have gone to death, then all Greece will look to the
Spartans to see how they bear it. But who, lady, will the Spartans
look to? To you. To you and the other wives and mothers, sisters and
daughters of the fallen.
“If they behold your hearts riven and broken with grief, they too will
break and Greece will break with them. But if you bear up, dry eyed,
not alone enduring your loss but seizing it with contempt for its
agony and embracing it as the honor that it is in truth, then Sparta
will stand and all Greece will stand behind her.
“Why have I nominated you, lady, to bear up beneath this most terrible
of trials, you and your sisters of the 300? Because you can.”
To all who wear no uniform but give so much, sacrifice so willingly
and serve as such an example to our nation and each other, my thanks.
As I leave the Army, to those with responsibility to carry on, I’d
say, service in this business is tough and often dangerous. It
extracts a price for participation, and that price can be high.
It is tempting to protect yourself from the personal or professional
costs of loss by limiting how much you commit, how much of belief and
trust in people, and how deeply you care. Caution and cynicism are
safe, but soldiers don’t want to follow cautious cynics. They follow
leaders who believe enough to risk failure or disappointment for a
If I had it to do over again, I’d do some things in my career
differently but not many. I believed in people, and I still believe
in them. I trusted and I still trust. I cared and I still care. I
wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Winston Churchill said we make a living by what we get, but we make a
life by what we give. To the young leaders of today and tomorrow,
it’s a great life. Thank you. (Applause.)