Thank you for that very kind introduction. Contrary to what you may have heard, I am not the warm up act for Jon Stewart. As most of you are here to see him and not me, I’ll keep my remarks brief. Especially since I’d hate to knock Admiral Mullen off his perch as the reigning champion of late night comedy, at least in the Pentagon.
First I’d like to thank Bob and Lee Woodruff for all they have done and continue to do for our wounded warriors and their families.
To the families of our wounded warriors – you have sacrificed and suffered for our country in the most challenging ways. America is grateful and eternally in your debt for the care and support you provide every single day to our heroes.
To all the wounded warriors here tonight: I am continually amazed by your grit and your resilience. To be honest, when I first learned at the beginning of this job that part of my duties as Secretary of Defense was to visit the wounded at Walter Reed and Bethesda and Tripler and Balboa and all the other hospitals, I wasn’t sure I could handle it – or what I would say. Seeing firsthand the incredible sacrifice our men and women in uniform had made, I frankly wasn’t sure I could keep it together. But people kept telling me, “You don’t understand, they’ll lift you up.” And you have, more than you can possibly imagine.
To the supporters of the Woodruff Foundation and all of those in the private sector who in so many ways support our troops our wounded warriors and their families, thank you for being here and all that you do.
When I first took this job, four-and-a-half years ago, I made a pledge to myself, to Congress, to countless moms and dads, husbands and wives, that other than winning the wars we are in, my highest priority would be to provide the best possible care for those who were wounded in combat. That is why I was so concerned when – after only a few months in this job – I read in the Washington Post reports of sub-standard care and conditions in the outpatient treatment at Walter Reed.
Since then, we have worked to ensure that the incredible care our wounded receive on the battlefield, is continued long after they return home. To be sure, there is more work to do. But I am confident that with the commitment, and help, and advocacy of military leaders like Admiral Mullen and his wife Deb, and local communities and organizations such as the Bob Woodruff Foundation, this Department of Defense and this country will do what is necessary to continue to fulfill our obligation to our wounded heroes.
Because at the heart of our volunteer force is a contract between the United States of America and the men and women who serve in our military: a contract that is simultaneously legal, social, and sacred. An inviolable promise, that when young Americans step forward of their own free will to serve, they do so with the expectation that they and their families will be properly cared for. That eternal commitment is enshrined in stone, high on the walls of Abraham Lincoln’s memorial, that I run past every morning. His words echo through time, calling on us today to “care for him who shall have borne the battle.”
Every day in this job I have felt a deep sense of personal responsibility to our young men and women in uniform, as if they were my own sons and daughters. The debt owed by all Americans to those of you who have given so much, can never be fully repaid. You have my deepest gratitude and respect for all that you have given – and know that I along with many others here tonight and across the country will be an advocate for you for the rest of my days.
May God bless each and every one of you.