Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. It's a tremendous honor to have the opportunity to pay tribute to this newest Medal of Honor winner.
I want to acknowledge all the senior leaders of the Department on the military and civilian side. I also want to pay tribute, obviously, to all of our Medal of Honor recipients who are here today. Thank you for your presence. A real honor to have you here at the Pentagon.
And I want to particularly thank all of the people who've come out to this ceremony to pay tribute to this hero, Clint Romesha, great American hero, great American patriot. And I want to welcome in particular his family, the Romesha family for coming here and joining all of us in paying tribute to the courage not only of Clint, but to the patriotism of his family and their willingness to support someone that had to put his life on the line.
It's been my experience that every warrior who's out there who puts his or her life on the line, behind them is a family that supports and shares in the many sacrifices that come with serving this country.
That love, that support, that sacrifice is provided by the families of our service men and women. And it is central to the strength of our military. We simply could not do the job that we are asked to do without the support of our families, without their love, without their willingness to sacrifice while we have to respond to the duty that the country calls us to perform.
Throughout America families quietly serve as a critical foundation for our nation's security. We could not protect this country, we could not keep it safe without those families that are willing to support loved ones who are called to duty.
So I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your sacrifice. I thank you for your love and all you have done on behalf of the great soldiers, warriors who have fought on behalf of America.
I've said before that I believe that a new greatest generation of Americans has stepped forward after 9/11, a new generation of patriots that answered the call to serve to fight our country's wars. This generation has endured enormous hardships and they have done it with unflinching courage.
I know that it wasn't too long ago that someone thought that, you know, we could identify one or two of those greatest generations that served this country. My view is that, frankly, every generation that puts their life on the line for America is the greatest generation. And that's true for those who have fought and died since 9/11.
They've dealt with lengthy separations from friends and family, repeated deployments time and time again, to austere battlefields in distant lands. They've witnessed the horrors of modern warfare, seeing their comrades in arms and closest friends horribly maimed and, yes, killed by the scourge of IEDs and the scourge of an enemy whose purpose is to kill Americans.
Yet, day after day they strap on their body armor, they shoulder their equipment, they picked up their weapons, they went back out on patrol in the streets and alley ways of Iraq and the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan. For ten long years they have fought because they believe that America is worth fighting for. That Americans still serve is a shining example for that world in which we have the most precious values of all: values of freedom, equality, justice and democracy.
Young men and women who have served and continue to serve on the front lines represent, I believe, the very best our nation has to offer. They exemplify a devotion to country before self. They exemplify a willingness to fight and, yes, sometimes to die in order to protect their fellow citizens. They exemplify a determination to keep our enemies far from our shores, far from our homes, far from our families.
And as part of that determination, the United States is committed to preventing Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for al Qaeda; prevent it or its affiliates from ever being able to reestablish a base from which to attack the United States of America. That's the fundamental mission that has us fighting in Afghanistan.
And that's why Staff Sergeant Romesha and his fellow soldiers in the Army's 4th Infantry Division were deployed to a remote outpost -- a tough place to be high in the mountains, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan. That's what brought them to that place on October 3rd, 2009.
That morning, more than 400 heavily armed Taliban insurgents hid behind trees and boulders on the mountain slopes that surrounded Combat Outpost Keating. There were no doubt confident in their ability to drown that small base in a barrage of heavy weapons and heavy fire, and then overrun the outnumbered defenders.
That the Taliban failed to overtake Combat Outpost Keating is, in those numbers, a testament to the bravery, the heroism and the warrior spirit of the 50 American soldiers who fought to save it.
They failed because of brave young men such as Clint Romesha, combat veteran who had already served two tours of duty in Iraq. And he distinguished himself above and beyond the call of duty on that day.
They failed because he and his fellow soldiers were determined to hold that post.
Clint later put it to a reporter, "That was our America right there. We owned that. And we weren’t going to let someone come and take it.”
Today, as we honor Clint's heroic actions, we also honor the memory of the eight American soldiers who died that day defending their post. The toughest thing -- I've said this often, and it's true -- the toughest thing I have to do as Secretary of Defense is to write condolence letters to the families of those who have given their lives for this country. And I struggle deeply to find the right words that can provide some degree of comfort to those families.
The message I try to send is that as tough as it is to lose a loved one, perhaps there is some comfort to know that they gave their lives for this country, and that they are heroes and that they are patriots, and that they will never be forgotten.
Now, as I prepare to step down as Secretary, I think above all that those letters to family members that I've written over the past 19 months, I think about each of those families that I wrote to. And I think about the lives that were cut short in the prime of their life, the promises, the dreams, the aspirations, each of those fallen heroes carried with them.
It is my fervent hope that they, along with all of those Americans who have given their last full measure over these past 10 years, are not simply regarded as a number, that they are remembered as individuals each with their own unique story, each with a family that they left behind, each with friends that miss them deeply. It is my hope that we will forever honor, and sacrifice, and carefully weigh, when we send American young men and women into battle, and know full well that when we do, we do it because we love the United States of America.
Clint Romesha, on behalf of a grateful nation, I want to thank you for your service and for your bravery, and for the fact that you fought because the United States of America and the safety of all of our citizens were at stake. You fought well. You fought bravely. And your courage is now a part of American history.
God bless you.
And God bless all of our men and women in uniform.