What a wonderful day. What a beautiful, beautiful facility to be at. What a beautiful, beautiful set of airplanes. I love these things. I'm in them all the time, and I got a soft spot for the C-17. I assume a lot of you guys and gals do as well.
Let me start with some thanks. And the first thanks is a thanks from us who are in Washington who are trying to steer and protect this country. We know who really does it. So the first thanks is the thanks from us to you.
And the second thing I would like you to do is, [besides] looking in the mirror and thanking yourselves and saying, “I really am appreciated”, go home, and whether it's a spouse [and] children, or a mom, dad, or just a friend, whoever you're close to, whoever you call family, tell them that you were thanked today. And then turn around and thank them, because they support you, and it's their support which makes it possible for you to support this great country.
We owe you a lot. But in a way, you're lucky also because you get to do something that's bigger than yourself. You wake up every morning – you're part of something that's larger than you. In fact, it's larger even than this great nation that you serve, because the United States is still depended upon so much by everybody in the world for its security. So thank you for that.
Second, big thanks to Senator Graham. I have to say, on behalf of myself, Secretary Panetta, and everybody in the DoD leadership, that we count on the wisdom, the support, the counsel of the members of Congress who know defense, who care about defense, and who continuously communicate to the larger nation what we stand for, what we do, what we mean to them.
And Senator Graham is one of those. And so any decision that Secretary Panetta makes is discussed with, and informed by, the wisest members of Congress. Senator Graham is in that very, very, very small group with whom the Secretary of Defense and the President are continually conferring. And he's right: Our President at this time happens to be a Democrat; Senator Graham happens to be a Republican. Doesn't matter when it comes to defense. We can't have that in defense. Defense is something that touches us all, and we need to put things that divide us aside when we come to the mission of national defense.
What you all have done here at Charleston: We've been talking about it with your magnificent leadership today, of all three services, Navy, Air Force, and Army. All represented here. All part of one mission, one fight, working together doing such fantastic stuff. I've seen this now for going on four years, my time as Under Secretary and Deputy Secretary. Here, Senator Graham, of course, watching longer.
What you have done, and there are, you know, few things that are -- of the many, many things that you've done – that are signature Charleston contributions. One is flying MRAPs into Afghanistan. Two years ago, those early years, when we were trying to get them in, the new M-ATVs. You can go -- I was saying this earlier today -- you go, as I frequently do, to hospitals in Washington where wounded warriors come back, and I can't tell you the number of them who have said, “I'm here, I'm here, not in Dover, but in Walter Reed” – now closed – “Bethesda, because of the MRAP.”
And the MRAP was there when they needed it, because the integration was done over at SPAWAR, it was brought over here, and you all flew it out, so it was there on time. Or, it went down to the seaport, and made its way over, once we had filled up the logistics pipe via the air bridge.
That's history in the making. It's making our country secure and saving the lives of Americans at the same time. You all did that. And we are eternally grateful. And that's just one sign of the responsiveness to the wars and the whole team effort represented by Charleston and the Charleston community and their contribution to us.
I'm going to leave you with one thought that you should just stew on a little bit, because it's important. It's important to all of us, and we all need to think about it. And that is: What's next for us? What's the next challenge? What are the challenges in the security field that are going to define our future?
We have spent 10 years working real hard and doing incredibly well at the two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, thanks to the effort of many, including you, all those who raised their hands, and all those who didn't raise their hands but were part of things back here. We've done -- we've performed incredibly well in both of those wars. No other military could do anything like what we've done.
But you can see that that era is coming to an end. Iraq wound down. Afghanistan, we're still fighting hard, but you can see the end in sight. And so we all need to be asking ourselves, and you all here in the defense community in Charleston, so important to us: What's next? What's the next frontier? What's the next challenge? There are other parts of the world that pose new challenges; the Asia-Pacific theater. There are other new threats that weren't around 10 years [ago] when we started in Iraq and Afghanistan, like cyber.
And the skills and the people represented here, and in this community, that's been our privilege to visit with today, are going to be part of that future, because you have the skills that are going to be needed. You have the heart, and you have the reputation, and the record of performance that we're going to be counting on in the next phase.
So I congratulate you and thank you for what you've done so far. Please do that to your families, as well. And I want to congratulate you in advance for what you're going to do, what Charleston's destined to do, for our defense in the future.
I thank Senator Graham. He mentioned Representative Scott as well, whom I had the privilege of being with last night. Senator Graham was gracious enough to host us for dinner. A wonderful guy; knows us, knows what we do, knows our defense community very well, wonderful Representative for this area. So y'all are very lucky. You're very well represented by people who understand and care, who carry a lot of weight in what they say and do in Washington.
So I'm going to get a chance to, I hope, visit with many of you individually. But for any of you that I don't get to look in the eye and shake the hand, once again, thank you.