Good afternoon..... It’s great to be in New York… America’s city!
And, it’s great to be away from my office at the Pentagon. You see, I have a theory—that every day out of Washington, D.C. adds a week to my life…. Although a visit to New York may only add 3 or 4 days if you factor in the traffic!
Thanks so much to the Navy League of the United States, and particularly the New York Council, for your great support of this important project. I’ve been saying for many years—the sun never sets on the Navy League.
Thanks to the Governor and his staff, thanks also to Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council for their strong support, and thanks to the New York Chamber of Commerce and people across this great state who have embraced this ship….
I know he can’t be with us today, but I appreciate John Thain of Merrill Lynch for his service as Chairman of the USS New York Commissioning Committee…. Thanks to all the members of the committee….
And, let me also give a special welcome to the first responders from the New York Police Department, New York Fire Department, and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey….
Everyone in this country has felt a special connection with New York since the September 11th terrorist attacks. On the day the towers fell, all Americans were New Yorkers.
Yesterday, I joined President Bush and Secretary Gates as they dedicated the new 9-11 Memorial adjacent to the Pentagon. The site is a beautiful and lasting tribute to the one-hundred and eighty-four innocent lives lost when terrorists aboard American Airlines Flight 77 deliberately crashed the plane into the building.
That attack and the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center and the field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania killed almost 3,000 people—men, women, and children from more than 60 different countries. And, the only reason the terrorists killed that many was because they didn’t know how to kill 30,000, 300,000 or 3 million. But, make no mistake—they would have killed many more if they’d been able to do so.
And, they are still trying. Al Qaeda and other extremist organizations around the world continue to pose a very real threat to freedom. But, long-term they are no match for the strength and determination of the American people and our friends and allies.
A couple of months ago, I visited with hundreds of soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines in Iraq, Qatar, and Afghanistan. I saw firsthand the meaningful progress we’re making in that region. The men and women who wear the cloth of our nation are doing an outstanding job.
Today, our sea services led by the magnificent Navy and Marine Corps team are playing a key role in the war on terror. Over the past two years, Marines have helped dramatically improve conditions in the Anbar Province—once the heartland of the Sunni insurgency. Last week, American commanders formally returned responsibility for Anbar to the Iraqi Army and police force. United States Marines are making tremendous gains in Afghanistan as well.
Across Central Command, there are roughly 15,000 Sailors on the ground—that’s more than the number of Sailors at sea in the region. And, they’re executing a variety of important missions. In fact, naval officers are commanding 6 of the 24 Provincial Reconstruction Teams in remote, land-locked areas of Afghanistan.
I had the opportunity to talk with CDR Dan Dwyer, the Commander of the Kunar PRT—one of the best PRTs in one of the toughest provinces of Afghanistan. CDR Dwyer has shown that great progress can be accomplished through thoughtful teamwork with his counterparts from State, Agriculture, USAID, and, most importantly, the Afghan people.
In the past seven years, more than 50 million men, women, and children have been liberated in Iraq and Afghanistan. Democracy and economic development are beginning to flourish in expanding areas. And, al Qaeda is losing the war—not just on the battlefield, but in the court of public opinion as well. Muslims around the world understand that the religion of Islam is one of peace and they are rejecting extremists’ tactics and tenets.
On that terrible day in September of 2001—for only the second time in our nation’s history—the U.S. was attacked on our own soil. The enemy brought their fight to our shores. But, they were not able to defeat us. In fact, our country has emerged stronger than before. And, we are bolstered by the courage and dedication of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coastguardsmen and women.
As Admiral George Anderson, Chief of Naval Operations under President Kennedy, said: “The Navy has both a tradition and a future—and we look with pride and confidence in both directions."
Since 1776, six U.S. Navy ships have borne the name USS New York, including a gondola that fought in the Revolutionary War in the Battle of Valcour Island, a 36-gun frigate that served as flagship in the war against the Barbary Pirates, and a battleship that saw action in World War I and II. Coincidentally, this last ship had its keel laid in New York City on September 11th, 1911, exactly 90 years to the day before the World Trade Center was attacked.
In the future, the newest USS New York will carry on the proud tradition of those past ships and bring our message of peace through strength to the shores of our enemies. The ship, and her sister ships, the USS Arlington and USS Somerset, will also serve as living tributes to those who died at the World Trade Center… at the Pentagon… and in the field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
Six years ago, I stood on the deck of the USS Intrepid with, among others, Governor George Pataki; Mr. Tony Fisher, the Chairman & CEO of the Intrepid Museum Foundation; and Retired Rear Admiral Bob Ravitz, Co-Chairman and Executive Director of the USS New York’s Commissioning Committee.
At that naming ceremony, Governor Pataki declared: “The USS New York will ensure that all New Yorkers and the world will never forget the evil attacks of September 11th, and the courage and compassion New Yorkers showed in response to terror.”
A year later, Dotty and I were in Amite, Louisiana where workers melted seven and a half tons of steel pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center to form part of the ship’s bow. Four years ago, on September 10th, 2004, we participated in the keel-laying of the USS New York at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems in New Orleans, Louisiana. And, earlier this year, Dotty and I were honored to participate in the ship’s christening ceremony at Avondale Shipyards in New Orleans.
Dotty was named the ship’s sponsor, and so she had the added privilege of smashing the traditional champagne bottle on the ship’s bow. The ceremony was made extra special by the victims’ family members and the New York City police officers, firefighters, and other first responders who attended.
Next year, the USS New York will be commissioned here in New York. And, she’ll join the fleet as hundreds of Sailors and Marines are called to "Man [the] ship and bring her to life!" She’ll set sail and represent to the world the strength of our great country. And, the ship and her crew will serve as a reminder to all of the United States’ commitment to freedom.
The USS New York’s motto calls on us to “Never Forget”….
We will “never forget” what happened, and we make a solemn pledge to “never again” let this happen in America. Freedom for our people will forever remain our constant and the cause of peace our goal.
Thank you for your support of this important endeavor, and thanks for your strong and continued support of the brave men and women who wear the cloth of our nation and their families.
May God bless you, the United States naval forces, and may God continue to bless America!