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
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
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. Thats 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. Thats 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
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, isnt
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
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
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 leaders
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 dont 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? Its
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 wouldnt have opened up a huge
Aerospace Support unit at Kelly if we didnt 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 dont 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
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.