I am delighted to bestow what is without question our most prestigious civilian honor.
More than 700,000 employees work every day for the Department of Defense. We have a remarkable workforce that confronts what can only be described as extraordinary challenges. We also bear, along with those in uniform, a sacred responsibility to protect and defend our fellow citizens.
Among the tens of thousands of dedicated men and women who serve as civilians in this Department, a few rise to make enormous contributions.
We are here to recognize seven of them, selected from more than 50 offices eligible to nominate personnel for the Distinguished Service Medal and Doc Cooke Award.
The Department is, by nature, a large and complex organization, known more for its sturdy reliability than for bureaucratic agility. No one would mistake us for a dot.com. But it is nevertheless a place where individuals can have an outsized impact on how we do business, and how our country influences the world beyond.
One of our recipients saved the Department tens of millions of dollars through implementing process improvements he devised himself.
Another improved how we manage our financial workforce, enhancing the judgment and expertise of more than 7,000 employees. A third gathered and disseminated lessons learned, helping our Department catalogue hard-won knowledge and apply it to future decisions.
And our awardees today have directly contributed to the support of our war fighters. Their efforts led to the delivery of 2,400 imaging workstations to 80 locations worldwide, enhancements in the C-5 fleet—a cornerstone of our airlift capabilities—and the use of cutting-edge scientific techniques to detect underground tunnels, and to defeat those who try and use them against our forces.
We also honor a rising star who exemplifies the qualities that Doc Cooke displayed in 45 years of service under 15 Secretaries of Defense. Her efforts to integrate irregular warfare across the Department’s operations bear all the hallmarks Doc was known for: dedication, inventiveness, and an instinct, in the face of tremendous complexity, for how to make it all work.
In talking today about Doc, I can’t resist telling a story.
We all know of the enormous influence Doc had in life. Few know of how influential he was even in death. Doc’s funeral was held at a packed church in Springfield. I was there, along with so many he had touched in his long career. And there was a logistical problem that surely caused Doc to smile from above. Hundreds of people had crammed themselves in that church. And they all needed to travel to Arlington Cemetery for the internment.
I remember sitting there, thinking, “how are we going to make it all the way from here to Arlington.” Well, we made it. We made it because they closed 395. The Virginia State Police shut down the whole highway and stood watch as Doc’s funeral procession passed by. All of Washington saluted Doc that day.
He was a man who knew how to get things done. He would be proud of all of our recipients today. Each have employed their ingenuity in inspiring ways. All have an uncommon dedication to securing our national defense.
On behalf of Secretary Gates and our entire Department, I salute you.
You have made our department stronger and more agile. You already have the esteem of those you work with on a daily basis. Now, you have all of our esteem as well.