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“Hope Is Not A Method”

June 2024
23min read

The general responsible for remaking the American Army in the aftermath of the Cold War knows a great deal of history, and it sustains him in a very tough job.

It is dawn in Washington as Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, walks quickly from his helicopter at Andrews Air Force Base to board the jet bound for Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Waiting for him there is a classroom full of the Army’s most successful and promising officers, colonels, and lieutenant colonels newly chosen to command brigades and battalions. Some of these officers will have fought in Grenada, in Panama, in the Gulf War, or all three. It is possible they will have to lead their soldiers in some other conflict before they leave command. Sullivan wants them to know who leads them.

Sullivan’s manner is natural, easygoing, and informal. But his message is serious. He wants his new commanders to know what he expects of them. He wants them to take to their new commands his own vision of the Army as an enduring American institution—where it has been and where it is likely to go. In a little more than an hour, he will describe the national-security policies that guide him and his subordinates. He will discuss frankly the reductions in strength and budget the Army faces in the aftermath of the Cold War. And he will state in no uncertain terms what he expects, and what the American people expect, from their Army. Along the way he will employ historical allusions and references in a manner that could be expected only from one who has steeped himself in historical study, and he frequently mines the history of the Civil War for stimulation, for inspiration, and for insights into dealing with the problems that now face his Army and its men and women.

The Army that Gordon Sullivan leads has not always been so fortunate, so expert as the military force the American public saw on television during the Gulf War. When Sullivan received his commission in 1959, his army was a draftee army in the deep freeze of a Cold War. Then, the backbone of American defense was the “strategic triad” of nuclear forces, and the U.S. Army was on the back-side of an ambiguous war in Korea, its share of the defense budget slipping to make way for more nuclear forces. One Army Chief of Staff, Matthew Ridgway, had already retired prematurely to protest the neglect of the Army, and another, Maxwell Taylor, was making no secret of his dismay over defense policies in the waning days of the Eisenhower administration.


The worst was yet to come. In 1962 Gordon Sullivan was on the leading edge of a new wave of American soldiers being sent to the Republic of South Vietnam, where he served twice during the sixties.

When that war was over, the Army was an institutional wreck, and Sullivan was one of those who put it back together again, rising gradually in rank through the seventies and eighties. By 1988 he was a major general commanding the 1st Infantry Division. Two years later he put on his fourth star as the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, and in June 1991 he was selected to be the thirty-second Chief of Staff of the United States Army.

As this interview was conducted, the U.S. Army once again faced the prospect of reducing its size and withdrawing from Europe. The presidential transition was well under way, and along with it the inevitable uncertainty over the practical shape of future national policy. As Sullivan is keenly aware, the new world order presages a new world for the United States Army as well. He leads what is arguably the best army the United States has ever had: more than half a million strong, technologically sophisticated, confident in its orchestration of military power. But this is an institution under stress, one whose traditional adversary has been replaced by a world of uncertainties. Faced with momentous change, Sullivan must steer the Army toward another century in the nation’s history.

“To be a successful soldier you must know history,” wrote George S. Patton. The general responsible for remaking the American Army in the aftermath of the Cold War knows a great deal of history, and it sustains him in a very tough job.

As the Army’s Chief of Staff, Sullivan looks back at a line of predecessors that includes John J. Pershing, George C. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Omar Bradley. Photographs of these men line a wall in Sullivan’s official residence, but they are not merely the adornments of office. Neither is the history of the army that he leads. Sullivan draws moral inspiration and practical insight from the merger of that history with his own. How his personal history joins with official history and guides his stewardship of one of America’s largest institutions is the subject of this interview.

Of the millions of American soldiers who have taken an oath to the Constitution, very few have become Chief of Staff of the Army. How do you explain your own personal history to yourself?

I reflect on it often. I think anyone in my position would ask that question. There are many reasons you can argue why I shouldn’t be the Chief. There are any number of things I’m not: not a West Point graduate, not a Ranger School graduate, not a Washington veteran. For the institution it is significant that someone from my background is Chief. It is evidence of the kind of army we have that careers are not preordained by school or family or assignments. But I have tried to do every job as well as I could and to think about my duties in a broad perspective. When I was the S-3 [operations officer] in a battalion, I tried to put myself in my commander’s shoes. Now did I do as well as I should have? I don’t know. And I was fortunate enough from the outset to work for very good people. In an institution that is essentially people, that is very important. One of my predecessors, Creighton Abrams, was fond of saying that “people aren’t in the Army. They are the Army.”

We disrupted them for a while. But when we left, it was like taking your hand out of a bucket of water.

When did you decide you were going to make the Army a career?

I may have even decided as a senior at Norwich University, where I was commissioned as a reserve officer. But I knew it was what I wanted after I got my first assignment—at Fort Hood, Texas, in 1960. I had very good relationships and very good experiences with noncommissioned officers. They taught me a lot. I liked what they represented. I went to the 2d Armored Division—George Patton’s old division, “Hell on Wheels”—and I was assigned to the 66th Armor. It had fought in North Africa and throughout northern Europe. The older sergeants remembered those early days of the Armor Corps and these battlefields. To be accepted as a soldier by them was important to me; it meant something. So I made my decision, and I competed for a Regular Army commission. I’m not sure how the competition went, to tell you the truth. I mean, I didn’t have to run ten miles or anything like that, but I did a couple of interviews, and I was accepted and sworn in at Fort Hood. So I had made my commitment.

And I found I truly loved being a soldier. I learned that about myself when I got to Korea in 1961, in a tank battalion in the 1st Cavalry Division. I found I just liked being with soldiers. I enjoyed the noncommissioned officers and my relationship with them as an officer. In those days the Korean War was still a very vivid memory. There were no families over there with us, and we lived in garrisons, camps really, and from there we spent a lot of time in the field policing the U.N. armistice—patrolling, manning outposts, checkpoints—and we were on constant alerts. We truly lived in field conditions, and it was great soldiering.

You went down to Indochina in 1962. South Vietnam is not known as a country congenial to tanks, so how did you end up there so early, before the rest of the Army?

I volunteered. In January of 1962 a message came to us in Korea, a secret message that asked for people to volunteer to serve in Vietnam. I knew where it was because I’d read Bernard Fall’s book Hell in a Very Small Place , about the siege of Dien Bien Phu, so I was familiar with the French experience in Indochina. I wasn’t married, and going there was something I wanted to do. I wanted to be a soldier, and if that meant going to Korea, or going to Vietnam, then that’s what I wanted.

First impressions?

That this was truly an adventure. It was fairly obvious to me the minute I landed at Tan Son Nhut—in January of 1963, I think—that this was a completely different country from what I had already experienced in Korea, and a completely different atmosphere. I was processed through in Saigon, and my impression was that things were truly very loose. I went on a bus and was issued a weapon. I could pick the one I wanted from any number of weapons—as I recall, I got a carbine, an M-2 carbine—drew some ammunition and some other stuff, and got on an Otter, and flew to Can Tho. It was all kind of casual, not much structure. There wasn’t very much “O.K., you’re going to do this, this, and this.” They said, “Here, we’re going to send you down to Bac Lieu.” So I went to Bac Lieu, to the ARVN 21st Infantry Division, and I landed at a dirt strip. On the tower, a little tower like a hunter’s tower in Germany, was a sign that said BAC LIEU INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: TWO FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL IN THE DRY SEASON, TWO FEET BELOW IN THE WET SEASON . That’s what Bac Lieu was like. I ultimately wound up as an adviser with the South Vietnamese Army. I was wounded in May 1963 and was sent back to the States for a little while. I went to Fort Knox, the Armor School, then to Europe for my first tour there. This was Europe of the sixties. The Soviets were the threat, and tank gunnery was king.

A completely different subculture, the European Army?

Precisely. In many respects, what we knew of the war in Vietnam was what we read in the Army Times .

So in the sixties the vision of the next war in Europe was still the orthodox vision of war?

Very definitely. When I was at the Command and General Staff College, in some respects training for Vietnam was an afterthought.

At the Army’s premier school, Vietnam is an afterthought? How did you keep that straight in your own mind? You had had this experience in Vietnam, yet in the States all you’d see was an Army interested in the orthodox styles of war. You must have known something big was happening inside the Army—and the Army might not realize it.

Well, I got that feeling when I was at Fort Knox. But I was ordered to Europe and I went to Europe and I did the job that I had to do. So I guess I’m like any soldier, schizophrenic. They said, “O.K., go to Germany, and here’s your ground-defense plan. Here’s what you have to do.” You know: “Leave Ray Barracks, go here, do this.” Tank gunnery. And that seemed like what I should be doing.

You went back to the 1st Field Force staff in Vietnam in 1968. Had much changed in the five years since your first tour of duty there?

Oh, yes. When I was there the first time, there were only thirteen thousand of us. The big war hadn’t started yet. In ’63 I felt as if I knew almost everybody there—hard to believe, but we knew each other. It was just a completely different atmosphere when we came back. It was Tet of ’68. This was big-time stuff.

You got off the plane, you were met, you were briefed, you were prepared. You went to schools. There was a whole system; the Army was there. During my first tour in Vietnam, it was more up to me to ask myself, “What is it that you’re supposed to be doing? What are you expected to do here? How do you fit into the organization?”

There were just a few of us, and our job had been to work with the Vietnamese in the province. Well, O.K., work with them to do what? Rifle ranges: You set up a rifle range. How do you do that? How do you operate the radio? It was that kind of stuff, and then we went out on combat operations, and I’d be one of those guys looking for ways to establish control, a demonstration of government control in an area that was truly not under government control. As a matter of fact, in most of the areas that we went into, the government was Vietcong. They had school buses, schools with the VC flag on them. I mean, the South Vietnamese government was not in control.

Any discernible progress?

No. I certainly think we demonstrated that we were around. We disrupted them for a while. But when we left, it was like taking your hand out of a bucket of water.

That leads pretty well to the next question. The Army, like the country itself, had a difficult time coming to grips with the experience of Vietnam. You had returned from Vietnam; you had fellow professionals to talk with, to discuss your own experiences with. What happened?

I went to Armor Branch as a personnel officer in Headquarters, Department of the Army, in 1970 and stayed there until 1973. My associates in the other branches—Binnie Peay [now also a four-star general and Sullivan’s Vice Chief], Bill Carpenter [retired as a lieutenant general], Denny Reimer [now a full general], Carl Vuono [recently retired as a four-star and Chief of Staff of the Army]—all these people were working as assignment officers. We reinforced each other. This was a period when we reduced the size of the Army by half and started to build the new all-volunteer force, so we were busy. I wouldn’t want to overstate, but we were in the business of reshaping the Army after the war.

You were conscious of doing that?

Yes, we were very conscious of it because we were told to downsize the Army, and that is in fact what we were doing, reassigning people, deactivating units. We were the ones who were on the phone with those who were leaving and those who stuck it out. So we were putting the Army back together again. We were in the business of moving people out of Vietnam, bringing them back to the United States, and putting them in school, back to doing peacetime work with a wartime focus on Central European defense. In a sense we were the front men in the Army. You know, the Army was in bad shape, when you consider the events that went on in that three-year period—My Lai, the West Point cheating scandal, drug abuse, indiscipline and racial unrest in the European units, unreadiness in Europe.

It was not a happy time. I can remember days when people would come into the office—I’m sure some days myself included—very discouraged about what was going on. It was hard seeing decorated veterans who wanted to stay in the Army being forced to leave. I think, by the way, that we’re doing better this time, that we learned our lessons and are treating people with more dignity as we reduce the Army. Anyway, we were part of the Army’s changes in those days, and we saw where the Army was going.

Did you ever think about quitting?

No, not seriously. Like any officer, I’d thought about civilian life, leaving to go make a million dollars or something. But I always felt that I had a job to do to make my particular piece of the world better, and I got on with it.

But let me go on to another point. On the other hand, was I divorced or alienated from society? No. When I left Armor Branch, I went to graduate school in New Hampshire, about eighteen or nineteen months at the university. Now, I don’t think the University of New Hampshire was known as a hotbed of dissent, but there were some dissenting students and faculty members. I was probed a little bit, but I truly enjoyed it. It was a very important experience in my life—one of the best. It taught me a different kind of discipline, handling the complexities of the broader world.

This is a fragile organization, Remember, it took us more than a decade to rebuild after Vietnam.

Here you were, then, in the early to mid-1970s. I don’t think the American public yet understands the scope of the reforms the Army undertook in those years. Of all the things the Army did for itself in those years, can you say on reflection what were the most important?

Looking back, I don’t think anyone back then knew exactly where it would all go, but I think Gen. [William E.] DePuy, the first commander of the Training and Doctrine Command, had a vision. What we were really doing was physically and mentally rebuilding the Army. That meant that we had to understand our role in defense policy after Vietnam, and how it focused once again on the defense of Europe. It meant we had to create a new fighting doctrine, and then we had to reform the whole training system and establish the relationship between operations and training at every level. I think the most important thing we did was—even though this may sound simplistic—the after-action review. We established a whole new set of standards to follow in our training. Then in after-action reviews, following every exercise or training event, we learned to pick it all apart, criticize ourselves—what went wrong, what was right, and why—and create new standards of performance in our units. All of that was threatening to us, but we learned, slowly, what it took to be modern professionals. That all started in 1974, and it took more than a decade to instill in the Army.

So the Army has a much more precise way of thinking about its business than when you first came into the Army?

Exactly. Hope is not a method. I started saying that back in the mid-seventies. When I was a battalion commander in those days and the focus was on tank gunnery, the notion was, if you could hit the target, all the rest would automatically follow. Well, the rest does not automatically follow.

Where did the sense arise that training tor battle in the future would have to be so much more precise?

It came out of the ’73 war, the Arab-Israeli War. The U.S. Army was greatly influenced by that war. The way it was fought represented the state of the military art at the time, a way for us to gauge our own shortcomings. We began being very precise in how we thought about the modern battlefield: “Well, tell me what it is that you are really going to do with these weapons systems.” You have these tanks and you have these TOWs [precision-guided antitank missiles], and how is all this going to fit? Gen. [Donn] Starry, commanding up in V Corps in Germany, made us take him out and show him on the ground just how we planned to bring all our weapons to bear. We envisioned enormous numbers of Soviet vehicles coming at us in the next war, and we were thinking about how we might cope with all of that. That, coupled with our new ideas about training, caused us to be very critical of ourselves and very precise about our intentions. It was a turning point.

There was a lot of criticism of the new fighting doctrines at the time, that they were offering a cookbook approach to welfare.

Yes, the chief complaint was that there was no room for imagination. But I think everybody knew that when you’re training an organization, you have to have a doctrine that isn’t changing all the time. There was a great deal of uncertainty that rippled back through the whole organization. Thankfully, most of the officers were not running around as if they had found truth, because I don’t think the Army at the time knew what truth was. No one was claiming to have found the touchstone.

About the after-action review, to bring ourselves to that point, we had to create a whole system that is intellectually linked. Everyone must understand what the doctrine is, how we intend to fight as an army, as units, and as collections of weapons and soldiers. I don’t believe that the Infantry School way back in 1959 was teaching what the Armor School was teaching in 1959. They just didn’t do the same things then. You were brought together as infantry officers, as armor officers, or whatever in your unit. Doctrine didn’t create the synthesis then. Synthesis is what we were trying to achieve in the seventies.

Remember, too, that in the seventies we were not only building America’s first large-scale volunteer force in peacetime but also rebuilding an NCO corps devastated by Vietnam. The sergeants I had respected at Fort Hood fifteen years before were gone. So we were not just learning as officers; we were learning—inventing—a new system and teaching it to our sergeants all at once. Training to standards, doctrine, leader development, volunteer soldiers—I don’t think we could see it at the time, but in retrospect it is clear that the foundations for a great Army were being put into place.

The Cold War is over. You are well aware with your knowledge of history that after every war the United States has in effect demobilized. After World War I the armed forces demobilized about 95 percent. After World War II, despite the development of Cold War tensions, about the same. You and the other service chiefs face the same situation now. To your mind, what are the biggest problems before you now, future problems that will dominate your life for the rest of your tenure as Chief of Staff?

First of all, there is this propensity to take the services apart after a war. This has almost always resulted in unreadiness, and we paid the price in blood. That vision animates me, inside the institution, and it gives me strength when I speak outside the institution. It gives me a focus. Outside the institution I’m able to tell people that the defense of the United States of America is a shared responsibility. We in uniform have a role to play, you have a role to play, and so do our elected officials. I think the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the other Chiefs have been successful in articulating that.

Now inside the organization that’s the focus I’ve been able to provide. It really began with General Vuono [Sullivan’s predecessor as Chief of Staff]. We made a basic decision that we would cut forces to maintain readiness and said whatever we keep, we’ll keep trained and ready. Essentially that says to the Army that we’re not going to retain structure simply for the sake of retaining it, that as the budget goes down, structure will come down in a balanced and managed way. That’s always been an issue in the Army. In 1960, when I went to the 2d Division, it was like a training center for individual recruits. I don’t want that to happen again. What I keep, I will keep trained and ready to fight, to do whatever it’s asked to do.

So the question for you is partly the velocity at which the reductions are going to occur.

This is a fragile organization. I have to be careful of the pace. We need to be steady because as an institution the Army is remarkably fragile. Remember, it took us more than a decade to rebuild it after Vietnam.

It’s a large institution. Not only do we have the soldiers who make it up, the National Guard and the Army Reserve, family members, civilians, but we also have the structure and the facilities. The whole being is fragile. Remember, this is a married army today. This is not an army that you can call up and release tomorrow. It’s a different army.

These are sociological and economic problems with which the great majority of your predecessors never had to contend.

Oh, they certainly faced major challenges, but not in recent years, not in the memory of most soldiers now serving. If you are an officer or noncommissioned officer, and you have less than fifteen years of service, you came into the Army at a time when it was on the up ramp. You have these expectations, and then you have a descending resource curve. I have a leadership challenge. Look, the management of this change is enormous, but it pales into insignificance when compared with the leadership challenge.

As we are talking on the plane now, you are flying out to Fort Leavenworth to speak to newly chosen battalion and brigade and division commanders, as you do several times a year—

And their wives. These people are the conduit. I will reach everybody in the Army, so every commander out in the field will have listened to me personally. There are some times when I think just the fact that I show up is significant. I was at Fort Leavenworth [as deputy commandant of the Staff College] when General Vuono was Chief of Staff, and there’d be days when, because of the weather or because of what was going on in Washington, you would say, “How in the hell did that guy make it here?” But that’s what we are doing here in the Army and any of the other services. We are leading people through a very difficult time.

Your staff officers probably bemoan and perhaps envy your knowledge of history. In the 1980s your own personal history and official history and the history of the future began to converge. To what degree does history play a role in the way you contend with the problems you have today?

It is truly a source of strength, and always has been. I grew up with it in Boston. Bunker Hill, Lexington—I can remember going to those places and feeling their power. When I commanded my battalion, I started to see that if I understood where the organization had been and the kinds of activities it had been involved in, and how it had wrestled with problems, combat or whatever, this would inform me and enable me to better inform and rally my soldiers. I became more attracted to history when I went to the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas, as the operations officer. The 1st Infantry Division, the Big Red One, which I later commanded, has a distinguished history as a division and has some of the oldest and most decorated units in the Army. The alumni are very active, and they helped me learn the power of history. Fort Riley itself is a historic place— a day’s ride north of the Santa Fe Trail and a day’s ride south of the Oregon Trail. Out there history is truly palpable.

So that’s how I got into it, a little at a time. Now, of late, I have become more and more involved with history. My interests have broadened. How did the Army cope over the years? How did the great captains of the Army cope with problems? Images are important to me: Grant’s statue in front of the Capitol building says one thing to me: determination. Chancellorsville—very stimulating to imagine. I think Lee had moral ascendancy over Mr. Hooker. He knew he wasn’t about to be beaten. Now, with the issues I’m wrestling with today, I think it would be very dysfunctional for the institution to go into defensive positions as Hooker did around Chancellorsville. For the Army today the question is rather, Where are we really going? We must, like Grant at Vicksburg, be able to see beyond one battle and to focus strategically, as a total Army, trained and ready.

With the power of information we will reduce fratricide, but we cannot fix it in any kind of absolute way.

Not just to protect the institution.

Right, our job is not to protect the U.S. Army; it’s to serve the nation. And I have to get that into the head of my organization. Grant’s 1864 campaign is very instructive in this instance. How did Grant have the mental courage, the moral courage, never mind the physical courage, to say, “O.K., I’m going to leave Hancock here, and I’m going to roll off down the Brock Road”? I believe he could do that because of his vision: “Because I’m reuniting the Union. Oh, yeah, I’m going to defeat Bobby Lee, but I’m going to reunite the Union.” That’s the power of a vision. History helps you form the vision, and it helps you understand the power.

I don’t think it ever truly leaves me. I think I’m always thinking about it, which I’m sure bothers my wife. I mean, you can’t be the Chief of Staff of the Army—or the CEO of anything—and plug in and plug out. You’re always into it. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of being.

Every time something comes up, my own process is to try to fit it in somewhere. Who wrestled with this before? What did he know? What did he not know? What did he expect to happen? How does it fit? What were the consequences? I don’t think people who know me would discount the power inside me of the image of Grant, the image of Lee at Chancellorsville. Hemingway wrote about a famous bullfighter who, if the bull looked at him in a certain way, could not kill him. He would turn to his colleague, and he would say, “You do it, Paco. You do it.” What happened at Chancellorsville was that Hooker said to someone else, “O.K., you kill him. I can’t do it.” As a result, he got beat. Lee had moral ascendancy.

Now, I’m not saying I have moral ascendancy, but the vision of what we are trying to do now doesn’t just say that the United States Army is going to wear black shoes, to have this kind of hat and that kind of tank. What it says is that the United States of America should have a total Army, trained and ready to serve the nation at home and abroad, and be capable of winning.

So the modern reflection of these images is that the Army should be a selfless venture.

Selfless service to the nation. That’s what this institution has been about for 218 years, even though some periods weren’t so great. My intention is to do what I can in my short time here to ensure that we continue to uphold that tradition. Every morning I walk by the pictures of my predecessors who lived in Quarters One [the Chief of Staff’s residence at Fort My er], when I go out with my dog to check the perimeter, and I draw strength from those faces, because most of them faced not only the rigors of battle but the rigors of Washington: the rigors of taking an army apart and the rigors of putting an army together, expanding it. Fm one of a long line of people.

What should the reader, in your opinion, take away from the Gulf War?

I think the Gulf War was probably the last war of an era and the first war of an era. I think it was a transitional war. You could have predicted what we’d do if you had paid attention to what we did in Panama: Overwhelming power simultaneously applied with our sister services would truly take the enemy apart. I’m not sure we’re going to fight another one like it, but I expect we will, though it’s hard to visualize at the moment. We will fight alongside the other services and other nations, but our level of war is evolving so that it is significantly higher than most of our allies'. When we do combined operations, we’ll have to capitalize on our strengths.

This enormous disparity or edge in military power places certain limits on the operations of the Army when it does go into action. Some reports I’ve seen suggest that our operations in the Gulf War were shaped in some way by an unprecedented concern over casualties, friendly and enemy. Is that true?

That is very hard to judge, and of course, it is inseparably intertwined with the unprecedented role of the media. I know that in December we started a major training effort because VII Corps was arriving, and we knew that VII Corps did not have the experience of XVIII Airborne Corps in Panama, with special markings, glint tape, things they used for friendly identification.

I do know that the level of expectations of the American people is clearly too high, vis-à-vis casualties at war in general. Because of this, I have been very careful to tell them in my testimony on Capitol Hill and publicly that we will do everything we can to ensure that we train ourselves and prepare ourselves so that we limit as much as possible the costs of combat. But friendly fire has always been with us—Stonewall Jackson, Lesley McNair—and I am inclined to speculate that what made the Gulf War experience different was that we could sort out virtually every casualty we suffered. With the power of information we will reduce fratricide, but we cannot fix it in any kind of absolute sense. To believe that we can is to fail to appreciate the nature of war itself.

You’ve been Chief of Staff of the Army since the summer of 1991. What do you know now that you wish you’d known the first day you took office?


How it all fits together. How Congress fits. How my colleagues and I fit with Congress. I think I understand all that better now. I think initially you try to do too much, and you try to zip around and be here and be there. I was a little bit too peripatetic there at the beginning. I needed more time to think.

You are known for your knowledge of and accomplishments in the field of higher military education. Would you discuss how you see its role in the future of the Army?

What kind of officer are we trying to create? You can find a metaphor in jazz. We’re trying to create Dave Brubeck. What makes Brubeck great is that he was trained and educated as a classical musician, but he’s also a highly skilled improvisationist. He often does not respond exactly the same, but the theme remains constant. In the same way, we’re trying to create officers like [Gen.] John Shalikashvili, who commanded the Kurdish-relief effort on the Iraqi border with Turkey after the Gulf War. [Shalikashvili was the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe when this interview took place, and has since been appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.] We’re trying to create people who can improvise within a theme, people you can tell, as we told Shalikashvili: “Go to southern Turkey, northern Iraq. Resettle the Kurds.” This officer has to know how to conduct peacekeeping, peacemaking, resettlement operations, diplomacy, humanitarian aid. How do you create an officer like that? How do you create a Colin Powell? It is critical for us to maintain a viable, capable, credible educational system in the Army, because this is truly where we grow our future leaders. I will tell the generals out here today that what I want them to pay attention to is the group with less than fifteen years’ service. That’s where I want them to devote their energy, because I need those young people to grow and to stick with us. I need steel in their backbones for the years ahead, and I want them to understand how to think. Not what to think, but how to think about holding this Army together so that we can serve the nation either on the battlefield that we understand or the battlefield we don’t understand—the battlefield of the twenty-first century.

And I can tell you this: When we’re asked to do something, the American people will expect us to do it without a lot of discussion about trend lines, total obligation authority, how many divisions I have. What they will expect is success. Nobody asked me how many people I had when it came time to go to Florida after Hurricane Andrew. Katie Couric didn’t ask me that. Or Wolf Blitzer. What they asked me was “What are you going to do in Florida?”

A last question: How would you like Gordon R. Sullivan to be thought of by your successors? When they look at your tenure as Chief, what would you like them to say?

That he did the best job that he could do in his time. And that he found some satisfaction in doing that and in being a soldier with them through these times. I would like to think that I may have given them something personal to enable them to better serve their country.


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