Why? Well, some go for duty, some for honor, some for country, some for esprit de corps -- for the team, for the friends beside them.
But all of them have committed their lives to something important and precious.
Their lives are important and precious to me.
When I served on the Senate Armed Services Committee, I always tried to take into account these troops in everything that I did.
When I became Secretary of Defense last January, I pledged to protect and defend the members of the Armed Forces who protect and defend our country.
And my heaviest duty is to care for the troops and to employ them wisely.
And my highest privilege, I must tell you, is to engage with them every day, which I do.
When I walk into the Pentagon, I walk into a building that is filled with 23,000 people.
And I am inspired by them day in and day out by the kind of selfless dedication and hard work, and intelligence and competence, that they bring and sacrifice for the public good.
But I must tell you, it is a privilege that fewer Americans today enjoy.
And it raises some important questions.
How many Americans today have a family member or a good friend in the military? How many have come into close contact with a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine in the past month or so, and what were their impressions? How many know that on any given day we have troops in more than 100 countries, and sailors on every ocean in the world? And how many know exactly what they're doing there?
Fewer and fewer Americans are following what we're doing.
Fewer know that we spend approximately $250 billion on an annual basis to maintain a strong, ready, deployable, standing force.
This trend is somewhat understandable.
The U.S. military is smaller.
In the past ten years, we have cut approximately 800,000 troops out of our force structure, giving us the smallest force we have had since 1950.
The military is less dispersed across America today -- we have closed hundreds of military facilities.
The military creates fewer civilian jobs today -- we have cut spending on new planes, ships, tanks and arms, and we have eliminated nearly two million civilian defense workers.
The military is drawn from a smaller pool -- we no longer, of course, have a draft, and our volunteers tend to be people who are already interested in serving in the military.
And we're at peace, when the military activities seem less dramatic and they attract less attention.
It is this very existence of peace that tends to obscure the need to protect and nurture those who secure it.
For peace is often said to be like oxygen: When you have it, you don't think about it; and when you don't have it, it's all you think about.
Because we have peace today, we tend not to think about the sacrifices the men and women who serve us are making or the successes that they are achieving in order to ensure that we have peace today, and for tomorrow.
So, when the military, like any large, diverse organization, experiences problems, the problems tend to be magnified out of proportion.
And they distort the true picture of the military itself.
It is a picture which can change rather quickly.
Not long ago there were several prominent journalists -- students of military studies -- who were wondering if the Armed Forces were too good for America, whether their standards were too high, or too rigid, or out of touch with the new age and the new morality.
And there was speculation that perhaps the military is becoming too elitist, and they might look with contempt or disdain upon the rest of society.
Because, in general, military personnel are better educated, more disciplined.
They have higher standards than most of their civilian counterparts.
More recently, with the media fixation on the social issues that are facing the military, the critics are now asking different types of questions.
They are now asking, are the Armed Forces good enough for America?
It is important that we answer this question with a resounding, "Yes."
The military's social issues are America's social issues -- issues that are gripping corporations and communities across the nation.
Social issues are easier to grasp than security issues, and they are more sensational.
One TV reporter was quite candid when admitting that, if he can produce a story that has the word "sex" and the word "military" in the same sentence, he is almost guaranteed of making it on the evening news.
Which is not to say that the military is pure or perfect.
In an organization this large, this diverse, there are always going to be problems.
There are 1.4 million members of the military on active duty.
And if it were a city, the military would be the sixth largest city in America, just behind Philadelphia.
Would we define Philadelphia by the actions of a few law breakers? Would you allow a few problem students, if you had them, to define Kansas State University?
Being human, members of the military sometimes are going to fall short of the military standards.
As Adlai Stevenson once said, "It is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them." But while harassment and abuse and misconduct have occurred in the ranks, those breaches of faith are the exceptions and not the rule.
And as most service men and women are going to tell you, these incidents really don't paint a true picture of service in our Armed Forces, or the service that our Armed Forces are providing to people the world over.
Yes, we need to fight abuse and harassment in the ranks, and we are.
And, yes, we need to treat the ranks with dignity and respect, as General Reimer and Secretary West reiterated yesterday.
And we're going to demand that we measure up to our stated ideals.
And, yes, we have to hold the military to higher standards of conduct and values.
The military holds itself to higher standards.
The reason that our military is the best in the world is because they refuse to accept the least.
And so our challenge, it seems to me in peace time, is to prevent any chasm from developing between the military and the civilian worlds, where the civilian world doesn't fully grasp the mission of the military, and the military doesn't understand why the memories of our citizens and civilian policy makers are so short, or why the criticism is so quick and unrelenting.
First, I think it is important that Americans see the military very clearly, because it is serving all of America.
Second, the military has to continue to attract the best and the brightest people in our country, because people need to operate very highly complex and difficult technology to conduct dangerous missions.
We need the best and brightest in our military in order to carry out these missions.
I have the honor of helping to lead a capable military in a secure nation and my first obligation is to keep it that way.
So if there is a gap in understanding, let me try to close it by giving you an accurate picture of the military today, what they do and why.
And I'm not directing this so much at this audience, because you -- most of you, if not all of you -- know the contribution that our military makes.
But it is something that has to be said over and over again to a much wider audience.
One recent article noted that military service is often a story of personal sacrifice, of families uprooted, of births missed, of holidays spent far from home.
These hardships are all endured in a spirit of service.
Today the military looks very much like America, with men and women from every region, race, and religion.
We have more women at every rank, from privates to generals, who are shattering the glass ceilings and taking charge.
We have more people of all races breaking barriers, seizing the opportunity that the military affords to excel, the opportunity that every American deserves.
And as President Clinton said in his landmark speech on race relations, the best example of successful affirmative action is our military.
Today the people of the military are encouraged to expand their minds well beyond the military.
Almost half of our officers have earned their master's degrees or doctorates.
And when you re-enlist in the Army, you're given six months off to earn college credits.
I'll give you a more personal example.
There is a master sergeant named Marshall Williams who helps to run my Pentagon office with the
same smooth rhythm that he runs eight miles every morning before dawn.
By night he is studying for his fourth master's degree.
He is only a dissertation away from becoming Dr. Williams, although his six-year old son is
still going to call him dad.
He is one of the many remarkable, unsung heroes who make up our military.
Today's forces also give back to the communities that host them a great many contributions on their own time, just as many of you in this auditorium today do as well.
I'll give you a few examples.
A sailor just received an NAACP service award for reaching out through his church to a South African community that needed help.
A Marine is raising money to help abused children by running a string of marathons from North Carolina to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s grave site in Atlanta, every day for three weeks.
An Air Force sergeant in North Carolina operates an emergency shelter for homeless men.
And when a soldier returned to North Dakota from Bosnia this summer, he waded through flood waters
to rescue stranded neighbors.
These stories are not rare exceptions.
They are the rule.
Volunteerism is an American military tradition.
Military officials also contribute to our society in another way.
Like a business executive, many have run an office.
They've met a budget, and they cut costs.
And like a teacher, many have shaped others by sharing their ideas and their ideals.
The fact is that people leave the military better citizens than when they arrived.
And at a time when we're worrying whether society is giving young people a strong beginning and solid values, the military is doing precisely this every day.
And I have witnessed the tears of joy in the eyes of parents when their son or daughter finishes their basic training.
And they ask, how did you do this? How did you transform my son or my daughter in a period of eight, nine or ten weeks? How did you do it so fast and so well? I don't recognize my son or daughter any longer.
And they are amazed at the transformation that takes place in a short period of time.
And that is why the United States remains the best Armed Forces in the world.
This is not rhetoric.
It is a simple fact.
But there still are many who might question this.
Maybe on this campus; I doubt it, but some may.
Why do we have to maintain such a vigorous, vital and expensive military at a time when there is peace? Ultimately, the answer to that question that we have to be ready to fight and win wars or conflicts that we can't prevent through diplomacy.
And we have to be ready to maintain the peace by projecting stability and assuring our friends and deterring foes in what still can be a very dangerous and hostile world.
And so today's military provides for stability.
The soldiers in South Korea who sleep in their uniforms, ready to jump out of their bunks in an hour and arrive at the front line on a moment's notice.
The peacekeepers in Bosnia who face mobs of stone throwers who are incited by desperate local thugs.
The sailors who are manning destroyers who are threading the Straits of Hormuz keeping the lifeblood
of the world economy flowing freely.
The fighter pilots who live in tents in the searing Arabian desert who are patrolling the skies to
keep Saddam Hussein's war planes on the ground.
And the tank soldiers at Fort Riley on a two-week training exercise pulling all-nighters and
catching an hour's sleep next to their turret, preparing for the real thing if that call should
Today's military is also serving to shape the world for the better, to silence the wars of drums before they begin to roll.
In actions that are both sensible and selfless, they bring more stability to more regions, more democracy to more nations, and thus fewer threats to our interests.
Now why are these military actions so important today?
Just a few short years ago, after we saw the crumbling of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Soviet empire, Francis Fukayama wrote a thesis called The End of History.
While Fukayama's thesis was overstated, it is true that today we stand at a pivot point in history.
On the one side we have momentous opportunity with flourishing markets and breathtaking technologies and brave new democracies.
And on the other side, we see these startling new dangers of rising ethnic conflicts, of regional aggressors, the threat of international terrorism, the threat of the use of biological and chemical warfare -- not overseas but right here at home.
And so it is our challenge, the American challenge, to move beyond this post Cold War mindset and to somehow reorient ourselves for a new century to really take advantage of the new opportunities and avoid the new dangers.
But underpinning all of this is the essential requirement that we remain engaged in world affairs to influence the actions of others, friends and foes, all of whom can affect our national well-being.
But there are some of us in this society who say, "look, time to pull back." We've done enough.
What does it mean to be a global power? Let's just take care of America.
Of course, we have learned the lessons of this century, that when America neglects the problems of the world, the world simply brings those problems to the doorstep of America.
We can't walk away from the world, because the world won't walk away from us.
So the road of isolation and apathy leads to instability and war.
No one understood the dangers of isolation better than Alf Landon, who devoted his lecture here some 31 years ago to a call for American leadership in the world.
He said, "We should respond to the new nationalism and other new challenges
in international relations in our continuing search for world peace."
Well, today the United States has greater opportunity and greater ability to influence world peace than perhaps any time in recent history.
And that great task is made more imperative by the fact that technology today has miniaturized the globe.
Think about it.
Technology has miniaturized the globe to the point where the world is not much bigger than a ball spinning on the finger of science.
Those vast oceans have been reduced to mere ponds.
Countries that were once distant are almost neighbors.
We can't afford to zip ourselves into a continental cocoon and watch the world unfold on CNN.
Centuries ago, Archimedes discovered the secret behind the lever, and declared "Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world." Well, today, we have earned the power of Archimedes.
The place where we stand is the sole global power of the world, a beacon of hope to free people around the world.
And from this position of strength and influence, we can move the world in a better direction.
How will we move it? What is our lever?
It is the persuasiveness of our ideals, which are being embraced the world over.
It is the creativity of the private sector, which is integrating the world in a way the government could never do.
It is the persistence of our diplomats, who reinforce our ideals in the cause of peace.
It is the power of our military to shape the world to respond to threats, not simply for the betterment of ourselves, but for the betterment of others.
And it is this military that is made up of people who are willing to give life and limb for the benefit of all us, that makes us the most powerful -- and I would add, the most envied -- nation on the face of the earth.
I recall reading a book many years ago, before I got into public service.
It was called The Recovery of Confidence.
It was written by John Gardner, former Secretary of what was then called HEW.
And there was a segment of the book -- a portion of the book -- that has stayed with me for a lifetime.
He said the problem in this country is that our institutions have become caught in a savage cross-fire between unloving critics and uncritical lovers.
You have to pause and think about what he was saying at that time.
That at one end of the spectrum we have people who are so critical of our institutions who see no redeeming features in them.
They are simply willing to tear them down with no recommendations of what to replace them with.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are uncritical lovers.
People who are so enamored with the status quo that they will do everything in their power to
nullify, blunt, stultify, any hope for change.
And what the call was for all of us to become loving critics, willing to stand by those ideals, principals, standards, which have served us well over the centuries.
But also open-minded enough to invoke change, embrace change.
Take in new ideas when we need new ideas.
To constantly replenish ourselves so that we don't have a situation where you have a stagnant pond, and you know a stagnant pond is death and decay.
But if you have a moving stream that is open at both ends, that you have life and regeneration.
Open at one end to take in new ideas and the other to slough off the old ones.
And so each of us, when we look at the problems that befuddle us, confront us on a daily basis, we have to look at them with this loving critic spirit in mind.
Let me close with a recollection by Stewart Alsop, a noted journalist who died some years ago, of a chance encounter he had with Winston Churchill back in the 60's.
During the course of dinner, they had some wine, and after dinner they had some champagne and perhaps even a touch of brandy.
At the end of this session, Churchill looked over to Alsop and he said, "America, America, a great and strong country.
But one that is willing, like a work horse, to pull the rest of the world up out of the slough of despair and despond." And then he looked directly at Alsop and he said, "But will it stay the course? Will it stay the course?"
And I can tell you that 50 years of history has answered that.
We have stayed the course, because that is our legacy.
And we will stay the course, because that is our destiny.
Thank you very much.