In a largely supportive and generous speech, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the annual gathering of the Association of the US Army that he continued to support the Army's modernization plans but reminded the service that it must find uses for the MRAPs bought for Iraq and Afghanistan.
To reinforce that message and to pound home the importance of turning out needed gear quickly, Gates told the overflow crowd at the opening of the AUSA conference, the M-ATVs that began arriving in Afghanistan last week arrived "only three months after the initial contract was awarded."
With some pride, Gates said Monday that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while placing enormous strain on soldiers and their families, had also wrought enormous change for the good in the fighting force. "Today's Army bears but a passing resemblance to the one we had eight years ago," he said, dismissing critics who fear that the service has become a "constabulary force." The Army of today "can deploy rapidly and operate more independently" while also ranging up and down the scale in the types of threats it engages.
Gates told the Army and assembled industry that the network must be the key to Army modernization, not platforms. In the long run, that sort of focus, combined with other efforts underway, should yield an Army possessed of "revolutionary improvements" in the ability of solders and US allies to know where they and their allies are and what the enemy is doing.
Finally, Gates may have offered a hint that the rumors of his departure floating around the Pentagon are true. "There's an old saying about the one-year mark in Washington. For the first six months, you wonder how the hell you got here. For the next six months, you wonder how the hell the rest of them got here. I might add that, after nearly three years, you start wondering how the hell you're still here," the secretary said.