Fort Riley, Kansas


Selected Speeches given by 1st Inf. Div/Fort Riley commanders

Veterans Day Remarks

By Maj. Gen. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr. | 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley commanding general | November 12, 2015

 Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, friends and families of the “Big Red One,” thank you very much for inviting me to speak on this solemn day. My name is Wayne Grigsby, and I am a Big Red One Soldier. That our community comes together to honor our nation’s service members like this is breathtaking. That each of you took the time to recognize the things that our young men and women do every day in the service of freedom means so very much to all of us. You owe yourselves a round of applause.

In the video that played before I came up here, you saw the history of the division, your Fighting First Infantry Division. A division that traces its history back to World War I, a division that witnessed the birth of Veterans Day and a division that celebrates far too many fallen heroes on 11 November every year.

Veterans Day hasn’t always been known by that name. It started off as a way to commemorate the armistice that went into effect in 1918 on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month between allied forces and German forces during World War I. President Woodrow Wilson declared Armistice Day in 1919, saying "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."

Armistice Day remained dedicated solely to World War I veterans until 1954. By then, our nation had seen the horrors of World War II and fought aggression in Korea. Congress recognized the need to celebrate all men and women who served their nation. That year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first "Veterans Day Proclamation" which not only encouraged citizens to recognize all those who “fought valiantly on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores to preserve our heritage of freedom,” but which also appointed the first Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs. Thus, in words and in deeds, our nation sought to recognize and care for our veterans.

These proclamations were spurred by the courageous actions of millions of men and women who valiantly served in the world wars. Soldiers like those who followed General Black Jack Pershing out of their training camps here on the wild Kansas plains, across an imposing sea and into the unmitigated hell that was trench warfare. Soldiers during World War I faced weapons the likes of which armies had never faced and a scale of death and destruction that the world had never before seen. Young men like Captain Alban Butler wrote home about the Big Red One’s exploits at Cantigny, the first WWI battle Americans conducted. He wrote, “there was hand-to-hand to fighting in and among the shattered buildings, but the final objective was reached on schedule time and two hundred and thirty prisoners were captured. Holding the village against seven counter attacks during the next three days was a far greater task than its capture.”

Others write of mustard and chlorine gas, the terror of flame throwers and withering artillery barrages. In spite of the dramatic technological changes, leaders adapted and overcame the new complexity of the battlefield to emerge victorious. But peace would not last.

Just 20 years later, war would again erupt in Europe, forcing a new generation to face the horrors of war. Again, the Big Red One led the charge. First Infantry Division led the first American operation, Operation Torch, when they invaded the coast of Algeria near Oran on November 8, 1942. By October 10, 1943, the Big Red One achieved victory in North Africa at the Battle of El Guettar, moved on to take their place in history in Sicily, the beaches of Normandy and across Europe. It was in the drive towards the German capitol that Staff Sgt. George Peterson, a platoon sergeant from 1-18 Infantry Battalion, demonstrated his devotion to his fellow Soldiers when saved his men near Eisern, Germany, in 1945. While gravely wounded, he advanced on three German machine gun positions, neutralizing all of them. As he was being treated for his wounds, he saw one of his men laying wounded in the open, pulled away from the medic treating his wounds and ran towards his Soldier. He was fatally wounded before reaching his Soldier, but his drive to protect his men at the cost of his own life is truly an inspiration. Of course, this is not the last time the nation would call on the Big Red One.

The Big Red One would be called first to fight in Vietnam. We honored our Vietnam veterans last week on the 50th anniversary of that conflict. Here again, the men and women of the Big Red One had to develop new tactics and overcome the harshest of environments. The Fighting First pioneered airmobile tactics, combined joint operations and counterinsurgency tactics in support of this conflict. Here too, our young leaders proved capable, leaders like 2nd Lt. Harold Durham, Jr., who understood that they were part of something bigger than themselves, who paid the final sacrifice to save their fellow Soldiers. Second Lt. Durham was assigned as the forward observer, directing artillery fire for the 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, during a patrol in Vietnam. When his battalion came under attack, he moved to an uncovered vantage point, so that he could call in effective fire. He was severely wounded by a land mine, but was moved to a secondary defensive position and continued to both call for fire from the cannons miles away and lay down fire with his own weapon to fend off numerous attacks. Again, he refused to stay under cover and moved to a place where he could see the enemy to better call for fire to protect his comrades. He was gravely wounded again, but never stopped calling for fire. His last act was to shout a warning to another Soldier as the Viet Cong approached. Second Lt. Durham died still clutching his radio handset. This commitment to was not unique to 2nd Lt. Durham. Generations of Big Red One Soldiers before and after him carry his dedication to duty.

Desert Storm and Kosovo, Bosnia, and training missions in Germany followed for our proud division. We were called on to fight in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, exercising the counterinsurgency tactics honed in Vietnam to fight extremism in its homeland so that we would not have to fight it our homeland.

We were first again in Operation Iraqi Freedom, rolling across the scorching Iraq desert and again fighting a hybrid war to free the Iraqi citizens from the grips of a viscous dictator while also working to build Iraq security forces that could hold back the tides of extremism. One of our former Danger 7s, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Grinston’s actions demonstrate the capable leadership that characterized this conflict. At the time, he was a first sergeant in 1-7 Field Artillery. He earned a Bronze Star with V for his actions in an alleyway on “Market Street” in Bayji. His patrol was hit by an RPG, and he was the only one left unharmed to rally what was left of his men and hold their position until the rest of their platoon could come to assist. Three men died that day and two more were gravely wounded, but the unit rallied, recovered their casualties and launched an armored patrol that cleared the street, going house to house, eliminating the insurgents hiding among the civilian population. These Soldiers could have gone back to the relative safety of their patrol base and left the clearing operation to their Iraq Security Forces counterparts. They could have decided that it wasn’t worth the risk to go back into the narrow, maze-like street and make the enemy pay in kind for the deaths of their comrades. The Soldiers of 1-7 did what any Big Red One Soldier would have done — they fought. They did what Soldiers are meant to do. They took the fight to the enemy and emerged victorious.

Our Big Red One Soldiers were the first regionally aligned force to AFRICOM, using their years of security force assistance experience gained in Iraq and Afghanistan to professionalize security forces across Africa and to provide an extra layer of protection for our diplomats working on the continent. This challenging environment developed a new generation of bold and flexible leaders, comfortable in uncertain environments.

And today, we find the 1ID called back into Iraq first, in Operation Inherent Resolve, challenged to quickly stand up a training mission to ready the Iraqis for a counterattack to regain ground lost to ISIL. We led the coalition of over 60 nations in combatting the pernicious threat of ISIL’s brand of Islamist extremism.

There are common threads in all these stories. Big Red One Soldiers down through our long and storied history demonstrate the very best in all of us. They are Brave, Responsible and On Point for their nation. They showed flexible, capable and caring leadership. They overcame great odds to make missions happen, but another theme emerges as well.

After every major conflict in our history, our nation has chosen to reduce the resources allocated to our nation’s defense. It remains so today. As our military is forced to shrink and do more with less, we must do what we can to avoid the mistakes of our past. Gen. Milley, our current Chief of Staff of the Army, identifies four myths about modern conflicts that led to the idea that our Army can be reduced without consequence.

The first is that wars will be short. It is certain that none of us actually thought we would still have Soldiers in Afghanistan after 15 years or that we would be sending troops back to Iraq. However, we are. It would seem that every war our nation has fought was supposed to be over in a few short weeks or months. That is simply not the nature of war. Wars are complex, and while battles may be won in short order, it takes years to address the underlying political, social and cultural issues that lead to conflict in the first place.

The second is that wars can be won from great distances, from the air or sea using advanced technologies. This is a particularly seductive myth. If we can fight from far away, perhaps we can fight wars where there is no chance that we will lose one of our own. This is a fallacy. War is a political act, an act to impose our political will on an opponent through the use of organized violence. Politics are about people, people who are connected to the ground on which they fight. Our enemies will to fight is ultimately broken on the ground, thus, we need Soldiers on the ground. Soldiers who can employ the vast array of advanced weapons systems at their disposal, but ground troops none the less.

This might make you wonder about what type of ground troops we need. The third myth is that Special Forces can do it all. Our Special Forces troops are amazing at what they do. We could not fight the counterinsurgency fights we are engaged in without them. Their ability to target high level insurgents is invaluable, but they simply cannot fight these complex conflicts on their own.

The last myth is that armies are easy to regenerate. Send a few hundred thousand men and women through basic training, give them a few experienced leaders and you have an Army. That is not how it works. It takes 10 to 15 years to create a platoon sergeant, 17 to 20 to build a battalion commander, and at least 31 to build a general officer – and I’m not even sure that is long enough. We have to invest in leader development across the entirety of a leader’s career to create the kinds of capable, adaptable, and creative leaders that will fight our future wars.

With a resurgent Russia and recalcitrant North Korea, the threat of nuclear proliferation and Islamist extremism, cyber attack and a host of threats that we may not yet even fully understand, we cannot afford to walk into the future unready. We paid for similar mistakes in the past with the blood and treasure that are our young men and women in uniform. We sent them to fight battles that were won more by their sheer determination than by their training and technological superiority. We owe our current generation of warriors more than that. Our senior leaders recognize that we must remain prepared. Thus, they have set three priorities for us. They are readiness — which means having trained Soldiers who are ready to deploy with working equipment. Building the future Army, which means structuring and equipping the force to meet a host of threats from peacekeeping and security force assistance to fighting tank battles. And finally, taking care of our Soldiers — ensuring they and their families have the resources they need to be successful through a continuum of service from entry through to retirement and beyond.

At Fort Riley, we live the CSA’s priorities. Our world-class digital training simulators and unparalleled training areas give us the ability to not only practice training virtually to build confidence and competence in our leaders, but also allows us to put two brigades in the training area at a time and conduct battalion level live fire events at home station. That means that our Soldiers can reach a level of training at a much lower cost than anywhere else in the Army. Our new medical facilities and dedicated health care providers make sure that our Soldiers and their families are able to maintain their physical and emotional readiness. Finally, our award-winning deployment facilities mean that our Soldiers and equipment can be at ports across the nation in a matter of hours, allowing the Big Red One to be the first called when our nation needs us.

We are leading the way for the future Army. We have already deactivated two brigades, stood up our Division Artillery Brigade, and reorganized our Armored Brigade Combat Teams. Now we are the first division headquarters in the Army to begin fully integrating with our Reserve and National Guard partners. As the active duty component of our headquarters shrinks, we will be augmented with Reserve and National Guard Soldiers, exactly as we are when we deploy. This will allow us to train and operate in garrison as we fight and will make us more prepared for future missions.

Finally, there is no easier place to take care of our troops than in Fort Riley, Kansas. Not only do we have tremendous medical facilities, new housing and work facilities and caring leaders, but we have the best community support of any place that I have ever been stationed in my entire career. Your support is evident with the parade today. But that support is not reserved just for special holidays. Our communities stay connected with monthly luncheons, special events for our families, and consistent support for our deployment and redeployment ceremonies. Our partnership with K-State has provided our Soldiers and K-State students unique leader development opportunities and led to a Soldier for Life program that allows our Soldiers to leave the service knowing that they can provide for their families and reach their dreams.

I can’t thank you enough for helping us to make Fort Riley and the Big Red One the best place to live, the best place to train, the best place to deploy from and the best place to come home to in the Army. I would ask that you continue to stay engaged with our military community, and not just the active duty community. Remember the many veterans among you today who, while they may no longer wear the uniform, will always be Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen or Marines in their hearts. You can make a difference in a veteran’s life. We have scores of talented men and women ready to make your companies and your communities better. They are adaptive, confident servant leaders who are driven to excel – who doesn’t want someone like that as an employee or a neighbor? Our veterans continue to serve their nation as members of the Federal Service, as business and community leaders and loyal friends and neighbors. They will never forget the values that they learned through their military service and remain an inspiration to all of us. Abraham Lincoln said, “Honor the Soldier and Sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in field and serves, as best he can, the same cause.” Thank you so much for caring for your brothers and sisters today. It is always humbling to represent the Soldiers of the Big Red One at events such as these. We are all deeply grateful for time and work that went into putting on this beautiful parade and remain thankful for your continued support.

My name is Wayne Grigsby, and I am a Big Red One Soldier.

“No Mission Too Difficult, No Sacrifice Too Great!” “Duty First!”

Tag Speech; Veterans Day 2015