Innovation, Flexibility Core of Army Success, Gates Says

WASHINGTON, June 14, 2011 — Inno­va­tion, dynamism and flex­i­bil­i­ty must remain the hall­marks of the U.S. Army, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here today.
Gates spoke dur­ing a Pen­ta­gon cer­e­mo­ny hon­or­ing sol­diers on the 236th birth­day of the Army.

Gates, who recent­ly returned from vis­it­ing ser­vice mem­bers in Afghanistan, praised the spir­it of inno­va­tion in the Army. The les­son of his­to­ry is that lead­ers must encour­age such think­ing.

As an exam­ple, the sec­re­tary cit­ed the expe­ri­ences of D‑Day in 1944.

“One of the most dead­ly obsta­cles U.S. sol­diers faced as they pressed inland from the beach­es of France were hedgerows so thick and tough that allied tanks would ride, not through, but right on top of them, los­ing trac­tion and expos­ing their vul­ner­a­ble under­bel­lies to Ger­man fire,” he said.

Army Sgt. Cur­tis G. Culin, a cav­al­ry non com­mis­sioned offi­cer with the 2nd Armored Divi­sion, “had the bril­liant idea of fash­ion­ing iron bars, scav­enged from Ger­man anti-land­ing craft for­ti­fi­ca­tions, into tank-mount­ed hedgerow cut­ters,” Gates said.

Fol­low­ing the suc­cess­ful demon­stra­tion of the cut­ters, Army logis­ti­cians built and mount­ed the equip­ment on near­ly 300 Sher­man tanks.

“The rest of the sto­ry is Oper­a­tion Cobra, the U.S. Army’s suc­cess­ful advance through France,” he said. “That vic­to­ry was a demon­stra­tion of the great and abid­ing strengths of our Army — excep­tion­al adapt­abil­i­ty at all lev­els in the face of unpre­dictable cir­cum­stances, and the great trust and reliance placed in the inge­nu­ity of sol­diers of all ranks.”

The same spir­it of inno­va­tion and flex­i­bil­i­ty per­vades the Army today, Gates said. “The ground wars fol­low­ing 9/11 placed even heav­ier respon­si­bil­i­ties on young lead­ers,” he said.

From the ear­li­est days in Iraq and Afghanistan, our sol­diers down­range have been adjust­ing and impro­vis­ing in response to the com­plex and evolv­ing chal­lenges on the ground — often using new tech­nolo­gies to share real-time tac­ti­cal lessons with their com­rades.”

The mis­sions required sol­diers to be schol­ars, teach­ers, police­men, farm­ers, bankers, engi­neers, social work­ers and war­riors — “often all at the same time,” the sec­re­tary said. “And they have always risen to the chal­lenge.”

This spir­it allowed the depart­ment to pull Iraq back from the brink of chaos in 2007 and, over the past year, to roll back the Tal­iban from their strong­holds in Afghanistan, he said.

Gates also thanked Army fam­i­lies for their stead­fast sup­port of their sol­diers and each oth­er.

The service’s chal­lenge is to learn the right lessons from the past decade of war, Gates said. “This does­n’t mean assum­ing the next war will be sim­i­lar to the last — a com­mon and dan­ger­ous mis­take — but rather mak­ing sure the diverse expe­ri­ences and agili­ty of today’s young sol­diers are insti­tu­tion­al­ized, so our Army stands at the ready for con­flicts both fore­seen and unfore­see­able.”

The Army must avoid a gar­ri­son men­tal­i­ty — one that sti­fles inno­va­tion and is wed­ded to iron­clad pro­ce­dures. The ser­vice must embrace “the inge­nu­ity, cre­ativ­i­ty, and inno­v­a­tive spir­it of younger offi­cers and [non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers] so cen­tral to our suc­cess in com­bat,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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