Veterans On Wall Street (VOWS)

Thank you, Lloyd, for that kind introduction.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day. Here in New York, here at Goldman Sachs especially, we’re celebrating Veterans Day already.

You can’t come to New York City without remembering the day our country was so viciously attacked, remembering all those lost in the World Trade Centers . . . all the first responders lost and all those courageous men and women in uniform who, without the least hesitation or second thought, saw their duty and sacrificed to defend all of us.

So I want to especially acknowledge Veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom here today. We’re forever grateful for your sacrifices.

Let me ask all the Veterans in the audience to stand and be recognized. . . . Thank you for your service to the Nation and your commitment to helping your fellow Veterans, welcoming them to your corporate teams.

On behalf of Veterans, I want to especially recognize Citi, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, and HSBC, as well as the more than 40 member banks on the Veterans on Wall Street team, for hosting this truly important event.

You know, my wife, Diane, and I come from families with strong traditions of military service. Diane’s father was shot down over Europe and survived harsh treatment as a POW. My father served in the Army Air Corps after World War II.

Diane’s uncle served in Vietnam, where he was exposed to Agent Orange. He still receives VA care. And Diane’s nephew-in-law is back from the Middle East, commanding a fighter squadron in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

I graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1975 along with VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, West Point’s 59th Superintendent General Bob Caslen, and 859 other young men.

I’m so proud of my classmate Bob Caslen for the terrific job he is doing leading our beloved alma mater. Bob, would you please stand?

Courage and Drive!

My time at West Point and then as an Airborne Ranger with the 82d Airborne Division instilled in me strong values and a lifelong sense of duty to country. Even after nearly four decades, simple words from West Point’s Cadet Prayer still guide me. That prayer encourages us “to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.”

So Veterans Day is particularly important for my family.

We should never forget the tremendous sacrifices Veterans and their families have made—and that Service members and their families keep making—on behalf of the Nation . . . right now . . . this very moment.

Three weeks ago, the country lost Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler in combat in Iraq—a somber reminder for anyone who needs it.

The day after tomorrow, President Obama presents the Medal of Honor to Captain Florent Groberg.

Here’s a great American story. Born in Poissy, France, Flo and his family immigrated to the United States, and Flo became a U.S. citizen. Because he believed he owed something to his country, as we all do, he joined the Army in 2008. Commissioned an infantryman and graduated from Airborne school and Ranger school, he was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division, the Ivy Division. On his second tour to Afghanistan and the Kunar Province, one of the hottest places in the country, he put his life on the line for his Soldiers. Because of his courageous actions, he saved the lives of many. And his team accomplished their mission.

Captain Groberg said, “We defeated the enemy that day. . . . No matter how bad you want to hurt us, we’re always gonna keep standing up and bringing it back twice fold . . . .”

Indomitable courage. Resilience and resolve. Grit. It’s the same character of our Veterans and the men and women defending us tonight.

It’s Veterans like Flo Groberg, like Seth Moulton, like Bob Caslen, like Command Sergeant Major Clark, like my good friend Sloan Gibson, and some 22 million more like them who have defended our freedom. They’re the ones who’ve preserved our opportunities to prosper.

So they deserve and appreciate our heartfelt thanks. But, we can do so much more to show our gratitude, in tangible ways.

I worked at Procter & Gamble for 33 years. Those three decades taught me about the importance of effective management, about the value of strong leadership. And I learned about what makes an organization a high-performance organization: a bedrock of clear purpose, strong values, and enduring principles supporting sound strategies, robust systems and processes, a high-performing culture, and passionate leadership.

I can’t tell you which strategies you need or which systems and processes are right for your particular business or industry. But I can tell you where to find passionate leaders forged in high-performing cultures. Among the ranks of our Nation’s Veterans.

They move mountains. And we should be moving mountains for them.

It’s for them that we’re transforming VA. It’s called MyVA, and the organizing principle is simple: make Veterans the center of everything we do.

Our five main goals are to improve the Veteran experience to be seamless, integrated, and responsive; improve the employee experience so we better serve Veterans; improve our internal support services; establish a culture of continuous improvement; and enhance strategic partnerships.

Improving Veterans’ experience and enhancing strategic partnerships are fundamental to
purpose here today.

We’re building vital networks of collaborative relationships across the federal government, across state and local government, and with both non-profit and for-profit organizations so, together, we can serve Veterans better.

Let me give you an example of the immense potential and power of partnerships. In June 2014, First Lady Michelle Obama reminded us, “Tens of thousands of Veterans who risked their lives for our country are sleeping in their cars, or in a shelter, or next to a subway vent.”

“We should be horrified,” she said, “because that’s not who we are as Americans.”

She’s right. It’s not who we are. As part of her Joining Forces Initiative, the First Lady announced the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness. These are powerful partnerships—Federal agencies working with states and counties and cities in true intergovernmental collaboration with local leaders on the ground. The coalition now numbers over 850 governors, mayors, and other state and local officials who are committed to ending Veteran homelessness in their communities in 2015.

Mayor de Blasio is on that team, along with 27 other mayors and community leaders in New York State. Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans is on the team. Mitch and his partners took charge—marshalled resources, collaborated with federal, state, and local institutions—and New Orleans put an end to Veteran homelessness in their city.

Together with over 2,000 partners across the country, we’ve made a substantial dent in Veterans homelessness, which has declined 33 percent from 2010 to 2014. Here in New York City, estimates are that there are some 1,650 homeless Veterans. That’s half as many as last year.

But we still have work to do.

Medal of Honor nominee Captain Flo Groberg put it like this: “Nothing can be accomplished without teamwork. I wouldn’t be here without the incredible acts of my team.”

Flo calls his fellow Soldiers “some of the greatest people I’ve ever met . . . .”

Indeed, they are. My partner Sloan Gibson asks a few simple questions about hiring Veterans. He asks if we can imagine any situation where we don’t need more people who put service before self, who can bridge differences to accomplish great things, who will persevere even in the face of daunting obstacles, whom we can trust implicitly to choose a harder right rather than an easier wrong?

I know business. I know Soldiers. And I know Veterans. I can’t imagine any enterprise that won’t thrive with them.

And that’s what I’m asking you to take back to your colleagues—all the ways you can super-charge your business while serving Veterans.

Our country’s in the longest war in its history. A quarter-million Veterans are returning to our communities this year after doing the heavy lifting for nearly 15 years. They and their families have made immense sacrifices. So ours is a truly sacred commitment. Fulfilling that commitment is why we’re here today.

So, thanks, again, to Goldman Sachs and all the Veterans on Wall Street sponsors.

Let’s roll up the sleeves.

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