Thank you. Thank you very much. Nice to see you all.
Well, good morning to all of you and to the folks watching on the Pentagon Channel around the world.
Pete Pace, thank you so much for your able leadership. I hope you're prepared to answer all the tough questions. (Laughter.) You are. You're always ready.
This is September of '06 and it was just last week that we marked the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. It was a day that our country became engaged in a war that was so clearly not of our making.
As I was thinking about that day, it occurred to me that the day before that attack, September 10th of 2001, I spoke to a gathering very much like this one on the subject of transforming the Department of Defense, as fate would have it. Probably some of you were there. We talked about a number of things.
One thing I wanted to punctuate was that the Department of Defense needed to be rearranged for the 21st century, the new era, to be ready for a time when -- and this a quote from my remarks on September 10th, 2001 -- "a time when threats can arise from multiple sources, most of which are difficult to anticipate, and many of which are impossible even to know today." That was on September 10th.
If I think back, I was never asked a word about Afghanistan or al Qaeda in my confirmation hearings -- what would have been about nine months before that. And of course, the very next day we learned how true that was.
September 11th has a special meaning for those of us who were here, those who -- and I guess an awful lot of you were here -- remember the 125 of our fellow workers who came in that morning and never went home. Everyone here -- no matter where you were in the building that day -- you could feel it shake and smell the smoke fill the building and the jet fuel burning. A lot of you went out and helped evacuate people.
But the thing that I felt the most was the determination to deal with that problem and bring those who were involved to justice. And here we are, what, five years later, and I know that we've not forgotten.
I think I'd also mention that, if you remember, the Pentagon stayed open that day and the next day and every day thereafter. And ever since, those of us in the Department have understood and recognized that we have to treat every day the way we felt on September 11th and September 12th. And there's no doubt in my mind that because of that attitude here, that a number of attacks against our country or the American people have been thwarted, including last month's plot to explode the airliners that were on the target list to come from England to the United States.
There's no doubt in my mind that the American people are safer today than they were five years ago, in no small part to the number of things that have changed in how we approach, in this Department the effort, the Department of Homeland Security, and elsewhere in the government.
The process of transforming began, of course, well before September 11th. It's a continuum. It's a process that goes on and on, but it was certainly accelerated by the urgency that September 11th brought. A lot of people said, my goodness, there's no way you can transform the Department of Defense and simultaneously deal with a war on terror and go after al Qaeda. And of course, just the opposite has been true.
The sense of urgency from those attacks has caused the people in this Department and the world to understand the urgent necessity of changing how we do business and seeing that we do get arranged for the 21st century.
The hard work that's been done by the folks in this Department has led to impressive and historic shifts over these past five years. As I know all you know, we're adjusting our global posture in the world from really -- which was a downsized post-Cold War posture to something that is much more expeditionary, much more oriented to this new century and much more designed to deal with not defense in place from conventional attacks, but more designed to deal with the kinds of asymmetrical and irregular attacks that our country has been and inevitably will be facing.
We're changing our posture here at home as well, as a result of the BRAC process, and a process that ultimately will save billions of dollars for the taxpayers and, equally important, will assure that our forces are more joined, as they must be. The services are well on their way. They're not there, but they're well on their way to being able to operate as a single fighting force, not simply de-conflict one from another, but actually to gain the leverage and the power and the lethality that comes from functioning as a truly joined force.
The scope of these changes: BRAC alone involved hundreds of people devoting hundreds -- if not thousands -- of meetings at all levels, and tens of thousands of hours of effort. At the same time, people in the Department have been involved in fighting two wars in the two central fronts of the Global War on Terror, making adjustments and altering approaches along the way. Key changes in the Department have contributed to the successes that the troops have felt on the battlefield.
The troops have removed an al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan. They eliminated an ally of terrorists and a threat to regional stability in Iraq. And today they're helping Iraqi and Afghan security forces to stand up so that they can ensure that the democratic aspirations of millions of people -- some 50 million people in those two countries -- are not rolled back by the enemy. And a determined enemy it is.
Earlier this week, General Pace and I met with all the combatant commanders -- they were in from all around the world -- as we do two or three times a year. It's impressive, always, to meet with them and to review what the military is doing around the world. Consider just some of the recent operations:
- Under the Pacific Command, the USNS Mercy recently returned from a medical assistant deployment in East Asia where it cared for something like more than 60,000 patients, and performed more than 1,000 surgeries for the people in that part of the world;
- European Command and Central Command worked together very skillfully and expeditiously to evacuate nearly 15,000 American citizens from Lebanon -- halfway around the world, starting from scratch, and they did it within a matter of days. They actually evacuated a small city;
- And at the Central Command, troops assigned to the Horn of Africa provided disaster relief to thousands of people that were displaced as a result of the flooding in Ethiopia last month.
Each of these operations required thousands of DoD personnel -- the men and women on the front lines, to be sure, but many, many more here in the United States and elsewhere in the regions to support them. There's no other military on the face of the earth that could have succeeded in these humanitarian efforts so quickly and so professionally.
I know that at times it's difficult for all of us to see the larger picture, but I'm convinced that with the distance of a few years, we'll all be able to look back at this time and see that while a number of things that have been accomplished have been controversial -- and we understand that -- nonetheless, we are becoming a stronger, a better equipped, a more flexible and a considerably more capable force.
When you change the way things have been for a long time, there's bound to be resistance. It's human nature and we understand that. It always causes friction. It causes uncertainty. Uncertainty makes people uncomfortable. They're much more comfortable -- we're all much more comfortable -- with the known than with the unknown. And anyone who tries to change anything is certain to be second-guessed and challenged, but I guess that's okay. It's a good thing to have people force you to look at things from a variety of different perspectives. It's helpful to all of us.
And with all the challenges that come with changing an institution of some three million people, I know that there are a great many determined to help overcome those challenges. I've met thousands of men and women in this Department and I know they are devoted public servants who go to work each day dedicated to the defense of the nation.
Consider how fortunate we are to be privileged to serve in this Department here in the halls that George Marshall marched down, in the war rooms where liberations have been planned and fashioned, in the building where our enemy struck -- specifically because this is an institution of such importance to our country.
It is a high honor of my life to work with this great Department, to work with folks like Pete Pace and the combatant commanders and the people here who work so hard and so diligently.
And I know we all feel blessed to live in a country where citizens admire the military. It's interesting -- in so many countries that's not the case, and in this country, it is. You look at the polls; you look at where they rank different professions and different institutions of the country, where they rank the media or the Congress or the press or the business people or labor unions and all of those; the military always ranks near the top.
It clearly says something about the military, but it also says something about our country. And it seems to me that what it says is that there is an understanding about the men and women in the Department of Defense and the men and women in uniform that the work they do is historic. It's important. It's central to the success of our country and it is helping to make the world more free.
Thank you. (Applause.)
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