First and foremost, congratulations to all you new Marines. Family and friends in attendance, thank you for being here. I know that yesterday you got an opportunity to participate in Family Day and see your new recruits displaying some of the skills they’ve acquired here. There is a saying in the military that when you enlist a serviceman, you enlist a family. It is repeated so often it has become a bit of a cliché, but that does not make it any less true. In my nearly four years as Secretary of Defense, I have been deeply moved by the sacrifice, resilience and fortitude shown by military families, even through multiple deployments. Thank you for supporting your loved one’s decision to serve, especially in these dangerous and uncertain times. I’m sure you share my admiration of them and of their accomplishments here.
Now, to you new Marines: In a few minutes, I will get to observe some of the exercises and training you have completed in the last 12 weeks. It takes uncommon perseverance to make it through basic training – just as it takes uncommon patriotism to make the decision to join the military in a time of war. But then, as you know, there is nothing common about being a Marine.
From the Barbary Pirates in the early 19th century to Al Qaeda, our nation has faced fierce and unpredictable adversaries that would do us harm. And for the last two centuries, the Marine Corps has been our force in readiness, the “tip of the spear” taking on the Nation’s toughest missions. That is exactly what has been demanded of “our Corps” in the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, and what will be required of you in the years to come.
Coming together from across this nation, and in fact from 11 other countries as well, today you become part of a proud and mighty assemblage of warriors. Today you have earned the title “Marine.” As Secretary of Defense, one of the true pleasures of my job is visiting with the troops. In trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, I have seen the difference Marines are making on the ground in difficult and dangerous conditions. When I was at Camp LeJeune last year, an officer told me about one Marine unit whose next assignment was switched from Okinawa to Afghanistan. As a result, more than 100 Marines who had planned to get out of the Corps decided to re-enlist instead. That tells you a few things about United States Marines, above all, that if there’s a fight somewhere, Marines want to be in it. Indeed, as your training has proven, “every Marine is a rifleman.”
Basic training is only the first step of the journey on which you have embarked. When you leave here, and move on to your permanent assignment, you have the great responsibility of defending our nation and its interests – here at home and in distant lands. It is no easy task, but it is a vital one if the United States is to remain safe, prosperous, and strong.
For my part, I will do all I can to see that you have everything you need to accomplish your mission and come home safely because I feel a deep, personal responsibility for each and every one of you, as if you were my own sons.
Thank you for your service. You have my deepest gratitude and the gratitude of the American people.