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A. B. Wilson Communications

The Unknown Soldiers in Our Midst

This speech was given by Harry C. Stonecipher, President and Chief Operating Officer, The Boeing Company, Armed Forces Week, San Antonio, May 22, 2000

One morning long ago, a small band of volunteers in this town were asked to surrender a fort to a large army that had surrounded them during the night. They answered with a canon shot. In the furious battle that followed, every one of the volunteers was killed. Though the effort was doomed, the heroism of the volunteers has been an inspiration for generations of Americans. To this day – 174 years later – we "remember the Alamo."

This morning, I would like to join you in remembering another all-volunteer force that has played, and continues to play, a prominent role in San Antonio.

I am speaking, of course, of our All-Volunteer Armed Forces. San Antonio, or "Military City, USA," as it is sometimes called, is home to no fewer than five military bases. Your city has done a great job of integrating the military into the community. Your Armed Forces Week – sponsored by the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce – is one sign of that. What other city holds so many events to commemorate the military?

As I have heard it told, the story of how Armed Forces Week got started in this community is even more instructive. It began, almost defiantly, in 1970, when our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen were being shunned and spat upon when they returned from Vietnam. At that time, your community . . . and the Chamber of Commerce . . . took a stand, saying "We welcome the Stars and Stripes."

There is a great sense of partnership between the military and the political and economic leadership of San Antonio. In fact, that was one of the factors that led us to put our large and growing Boeing Aerospace Support unit here at Kelly.

We now have about 2,000 workers at Kelly. That is more than ten times the size of the force that W. B. Travis had under his command at the Alamo! But I must admit that it is still less than half of what Santa Anna had!!

Now, to return to the real theme of these remarks, the All-Volunteer Armed Forces that are with us today are doing heroic service. But they are operating under growing strain – performing all kinds of dangerous and difficult missions around the world with ever-diminishing manpower and resources. With good reason, our hard-working soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen have a growing sense of being out-of-sight and out-of-mind as far as the American public is concerned. In some ways, you – those of you in uniform – are truly the "unknown soldiers in our midst."

This is true even though recent polls indicate that the American public has more confidence in the military than any other U.S. organization or grouping, including organized religion, organized labor, the U.S. Supreme Court, the police, the computer industry and others.

But this high level of esteem and confidence has been a very mixed blessing. With it has come an increased disposition to use our military in a wide variety of short-term deployments to distant places. And, if you are looking for any sympathy for the frequent family separations and other hardships that has imposed on the services, forget it! The American public is simply unaware of any problems in this area. How, then, is one to account for this strange dichotomy, where our Armed Forces are concerned, between public appreciation and respect, on the one hand . . . and public indifference, or apathy, on the other?

I see a twofold answer to that question. I think that it is partly a matter of demographics, and partly a matter of our forces having had almost too much success in recent time. At the same time that our Armed Forces have been shrinking in size, they have allowed our country to project force with increasing precision, and with a decreasing sense of the kind of commitment that the pig, as opposed to the hen, is said to have in the making of ham-and-eggs.

Twenty-seven years have passed since the end of the draft in 1973. That’s an entire generation. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, the torch has been passed to a new generation, one with greatly diminished military experience and little understanding of and contact with those who serve. Less than a third of our Congressmen are veterans. That’s down from three-quarters or more a few decades ago. Neither the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, nor the Secretary of State is a veteran.

Most Americans who were teenagers when the draft ended have grown into middle age without ever having to serve. They have been exempted, in other words, from having to devote an extended period of their lives to the defense of their own freedom and security and that of their fellow countrymen.

This duty has been contracted out to a relatively small number of people who are both volunteers and professionals. I say "relatively small" because they constitute less than one half of one percent of our total population. There is now one person on active duty for every 202 citizens in this country. That compares to one soldier, sailor, marine or airman for every 84 citizens back in 1973, when the draft was ended, and to one service man or woman for every 11 citizens at the height of World War II.

Well, so what, many people would say. The Cold War is over, isn’t it? Peace has broken out.

That is the kind of reasoning that inspired a great many newspaper editorials in the early post-Cold War era. In late 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall but before Saddam Hussein became a household name, a sarcastic headline in the New York Daily News noted that the "Pentagon Needs a Few Good Enemies." In February, 1992, the New York Times accused the Pentagon of scare mongering in order to justify inflated defense budgets. In August of that year, the same newspaper was calling for air strikes in Serbia and the use of U.S. and allied military force in the Balkans.

Down through history, there are many examples of how the optimists have urged us to throw away our umbrellas with the first ray of sunshine. My favorite is from Time magazine in 1938. The editorial writer took note of the seemingly amazing fact that the U.S. military budget had risen to $492 million, or almost half a billion. Now that, according to some careful research of my own, amounted to a miniscule 0.6% of U.S. GNP at the time. Nevertheless, the editorial writer was thunderstruck. He demanded to know: "Where, how, and for what does the U.S. Army expect to fight?"

The best-kept secret in American public life today is the increasing utilization of the U.S. military in general and the U.S. Air Force in particular. While the U.S. Air Force is 40% smaller than it was during the Cold War, the actual workload that it is carrying, measured in days deployed, has risen by a factor of four.

No one anticipated the multiple roles that the U.S. would begin to play as an all-purpose Superman in the dangerous and unstable world that has emerged since the collapse of the Soviet empire. In 1999 alone, the Air Force was tasked to provide earthquake relief in Turkey and Taiwan, hurricane relief in Central America, lifeline support to displaced people in Albania, along with drug enforcement assistance in various parts of the world. And all of that was in addition to carrying out more than 35,000 sorties in Kosovo.

The high tempo of operations around the world is taking a toll on our service men and women. While the Air Force tries to limit annual temporary-duty rates to no more than 120 days a year, many units are spending far more time than that in overseas deployments. Exit surveys show that family separations are the leading cause for lower-than-desired retention rates for enlisted personnel. To make up for the shortfall, the Air Force is using paid advertising for first time to stimulate recruiting.

When I look at our All-Volunteer Armed Forces, I am astounded at all they have accomplished. I can remember what it was like back in 1973 when the transition was made. Respect for and morale within the services were at all-time lows. Within the next decade or so, the Armed Forces executed a complete "turnaround," as we call it in the corporate world. Only this turnaround was bigger, broader and more impressive than anything I have witnessed in four-plus decades of corporate management.

The hope was that a volunteer force would soon become a leader’s dream – being highly motivated, highly dedicated, and highly trainable. All that has come to pass – along with development of many outstanding leaders.

Today – and for some time now – our country has had the best damned army, the best damned navy and the best damned air force in the world.

It is absolutely imperative that we maintain the edge that our warfighters have achieved. Let us always pray for peace but be prepared for war. We still have seen and unseen enemies who watch for weakness. As Plato said, "The only people who have seen the end of war are dead."

Certainly, F. Whitten Peters, the Secretary of the Air Force, does not expect the tempo to let up anytime soon. "The Air Force is entering a new era," he noted in a recent report. "(It is) one in which . . . continuous temporary deployments of Air Force resources are the norm."

I would be exceeding my competence . . . as well as my authority . . . if I tried to tell you how the military budget should be set to accommodate the requirements of such an era. But clearly there is a need for higher spending levels. And just as clearly, the Air Force Association has been doing a great job of bringing that to the attention of our legislators in Washington.

I can promise you that we at Boeing . . . along with our partners and competitors in the defense industry . . . are working hard on many new or improved weapon systems that are designed to ease the strain and up the gain when they go into the hands of our warfighters. In Kosovo and Bosnia, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles have already shown that they can do a superb job of providing surveillance. Now we must go to the next step – and Boeing is working on this right now – of designing and building Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles, or UCAVs, that will do actual warfighting in the suppression of enemy radars.

But I don’t think that all of the answers we are looking for lie just in having more money and more innovative weapon systems.

Beyond all such considerations, I would welcome some new and even radical ideas on what we could do to bridge the growing gap between the civilian and military worlds. I would welcome some new and even radical ideas on what we can do to facilitate greater movement back and forth between those two worlds.

Should we have a new GI Bill with beefed-up incentives . . . for people who sign up for a tour of duty . . . to pursue college or graduate degrees upon their return to civilian life? It’s an idea.

We employ a huge number of veterans at Boeing – not out of altruism, but because we know they make great employees and they come to us with terrific knowledge about our products and (very often) our customer. We wouldn’t have opened up a huge Aerospace Support unit at Kelly if we didn’t think that way.

Can we improve conditions inside places of employment for our reservists? We have already done that at Boeing. When reservists are called into action, we not only guarantee them jobs upon return, we also make up the differential between their military pay and what they would have received with us.

I think that it is great that the Air Force is stepping up its advertising efforts. Maybe it is something you should have been doing a long time ago. Nobody can tell your story better than you can tell it yourself. Certainly, you don’t want to leave that task entirely to the press. Advertising is one medium for communicating with the American people and making them more aware of who you are and why you are an important part of the larger community.

It has always been my observation that the general public is fascinated with the military – if given half a chance to indulge its curiosity. That is something that many of you can capitalize upon, if you are willing to make the effort of going into the schools or out into the community to give speeches and talk about your experiences.

There is an old tradition in the military in many parts of the world that finds glory in defeat. We remember the Alamo for the heroism of the doomed volunteers. In Kosovo and Bosnia, one of the sides celebrates a centuries-old defeat at the hands of its enemies – the better, it seems, to nurse a grievance.

Our task, as I see it, is to build upon a more solid foundation . . . centered on a record of success . . . and a high level of trust and respect within the American public.

When you think about it, that is not a bad starting point.

In closing, then, let me just say that it is time for the unknown soldiers in our midst to stand up and be counted . . . not just in the field of battle, but here at home, where you are needed as well – for the benefit of your advice, counsel and wisdom.

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Andrew B. Wilson

26 Taylor Place Drive
St. Louis, MO 63108
Phone: (314) 361-1195

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