10 May 2010

Petraeus' Speech To The AEI

Speech of General David H. Petraeus at the American Enterprise Institute. The full text of his speech of May 6, 2010 is here. Some excerpts:

As I saw it then--and as I still see it now--there are four steps to institutional change.

  • First, you have to get the big ideas right--you have to determine the right overarching concepts and intellectual underpinnings.
  • Second, you have to communicate the big ideas effectively throughout the breadth and depth of the organization.
  • Third, you have to oversee implementation of the big ideas--in this case, first at our combat training centers and then in actual operations.
  • And fourth, and finally, you have to capture lessons from implementation of the big ideas, so that you can refine the overarching concepts and repeat the overall process.

Now, as anyone who has been involved in transformation knows, change can be hard. It can be challenging. And it can be frustrating. Inevitably, all institutions resist change to some degree--even when all recognize that change is needed.

In my experience, big ideas don't fall out of a tree and hit you on the head like Newton's apple. Rather, they start as seeds of little ideas that take root and grow. The growth takes place primarily in discussion--spirited, freewheeling, challenging discussion ...


As all of you know, these troopers endure long separations from their loved ones; operate in cultures vastly different than our own; confront ruthless, barbaric enemies; and carry out complex missions under tough conditions. And I know that this audience agrees that they--and their families--deserve enormous support and admiration.

I can remember a time when members of our military did not always receive the support they deserved. Two generations ago, we were engaged in war in Southeast Asia. American men and women in uniform fought with skill and valor for the sake of the country they loved and took an oath to defend. Many of them bled, and more than 58,000 of them died. With every one of those casualties, a family and a community were heartbroken, mourning a loss that could never be recovered, whose grief could never fully be assuaged.

But those returning from Vietnam often were not treated as the heroes they were. Recalling that, those of us in the military today are thankful beyond words that the American people seem to have such high regard and affection for their men and women in uniform.

Working with those men and women every day, seeing them perform missions in the toughest of circumstances imaginable, I can tell you that the regard and affection accorded our troopers are fully merited.

In truth, the members of this audience are foremost among those who recognize and support those in uniform and their families. And so, tonight, I'd like to close by thanking all of you on behalf of all of us who wear the uniform for that tremendous support.

It has, needless to say, been the greatest of privileges for me to have served with our men and women in uniform for nearly 36 years. Indeed, I can imagine no greater honor in life than serving with them in defense of America and our interests around the world.

Our first president once captured very eloquently the feelings of those who serve our nation: "I was summoned by my country," he said, "whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love."

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