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Farewell Ceremony for Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Joint Base Andrews, MD, Friday, June 21, 2013

Ash, thank you, and to you, Mr. Secretary, General Welsh, and honored guests, departing secretary, America's Mr. Fix-it, to the family, Gail, friends, past leaders, present leaders of this enterprise, and people who just stumbled in for the afternoon: we welcome you all.  And in particular, these men and women in uniform today, who are scattered around this hangar, we welcome you, and we thank you, and we thank your families for what you're doing, for what you will continue to do.

I have a prepared speech, Mike, but I will set it aside and attempt what all public officials should never attempt, and that is to go off-script, which my public affairs people are scared to death when that happens.  But I want to make a couple of comments about Mike Donley, and I cover some of the same things that were so beautifully covered with Mark Welsh's comments and Ash Carter's.

So let me begin this way, first, to thank you, Gail and to your family, as Mark and Ash have appropriately done.  Everyone here recognizes the family's role in anyone's successful life.  And so we recognize you today, just as we recognize Mike.

Teddy Roosevelt once said -- and I believe it's inscribed in one of those magnificent stone slabs out on Teddy Roosevelt Island -- that the two indispensables in life are character and courage.  I begin my remarks this afternoon about Mike Donley because I think that's where you begin with Mike Donley, character and courage.  And a person's life then flows from that and, as been noted by General Welsh and Secretary Carter, some of those accomplishments that Mike Donley is responsible for.

But one additional piece to all those accomplishments, which Mike Donley always noted, recognized, which is also an indispensable part of a successful life, personal and professional, and that is, it's a team business.  It isn’t one secretary, it is not one person.  It's not one service.  It's all of us.

And the test of leadership is, how do you bring that together?  How do you bring that value and that character and that courage and that talent and capability behind one common purpose to make the world a better place?  And that essentially is what the profession of arms is.  It's a profession of peace.

And it takes constant leadership.  It takes constant attention.  But it takes something else, and that is we all work from that special coin of the realm and it’s confidence and trust, and you earn that.  You're not born into anything with trust or confidence.  Our leaders here today know that.  And everything I have just noted, Mike Donley has lived that.  Those words are words that he has lived by and what he is known for.

Here's an individual who served five presidents, Republican, Democrat presidents.  Mike Donley has always understood, the one, again, Teddy Roosevelt indispensable in life, is that national security, our future, our country, is beyond and above politics.  And I suspect he was asked more than occasionally, how could you both work in the Bush White House and work as -- continued to work as -- Secretary of the Air Force under President Obama?

I don't know what his response would be or was, but I suspect it was very simple.  It's bigger than presidents.  It's bigger than politics.  It's about our country.  And if we had more of the Mike Donley attitude and sense of purpose in our country today, we'd probably all be a little better off, if we had that fundamental as the guiding purpose of responsible leadership in this nation.  That has been an element of Mike's personal life, as well as professional life, that I have admired.

I have not had the opportunity to work with Mike Donley that long, but the four brief months that I have had the privilege of serving this country as Secretary of Defense, there is one thing that I am absolutely sure about, when the books of history are written about Mike Donley's tenure.  The four months that I have worked with Mike have not been easy four months for the Air Force or for the Pentagon.  I have been impressed, inspired by -- he has never shied away from taking the big issues on, straight up, how do we fix it, I'll take responsibility.  That's a pretty special element of anyone's life.  And that goes back to how I began, the first element of Teddy Roosevelt's indispensable parts of a life are character and then the courage to live that character and implement that character.

I will miss him.  As Mark and Ash have noted, and everyone in this hangar knows, the Air Force will miss him.  The Pentagon will miss him.  Our country will miss him. 

But when Mike and I spent some time alone in my office this week, I gave him notice that he would not be completely untethered from us reaching him -- not at all hours, Gail -- I don't think -- unless it really gets bad, but -- that's a resource he, like so many of you sitting here today, are resources not only that this country has invested in, but we don't want to lose.  You will have a different life.  You deserve a different life, I know.  But it is not a life separated from the future of this country.  And we all recognize that.  And we will find you wherever you are at that apartment complex out in California on the beach -- and I know you have big plans for him, doing that -- but, Mike, it has been for me personally a great privilege to be part of your team.

And I also note that the Air Force, even though I was probably never smart enough to be in the Air Force -- and I don't want any of my Army friends to be upset with that remark -- I didn't have any choice, actually.  The Air Force has been a very big part of my family, starting with the fact that my father served in the 13th Army Air Force in World War II and was a radio operator, tail gunner on a B-25 in the South Pacific for two-and-a-half years.  And I don't know of anything he was more proud of during his lifetime than his service in the Army Air Corps and his association with then what became the United States Air Force.

My brother, Mike, one of my brothers, is a commercial artist, illustrator, and led the Air Force Secretary's Artist Guild for many, many years.  And as Mike and all of our Air Force leaders know, the Pentagon and locations around the world are filled with the Air Force Artist Guild's paintings of various scenes that reflect on great historical, defining moments in our history that were brought about by the actions of some of America's greatest men and women and leaders, and many of those capture Air Force, Marines, Army, Coast Guardsmen, Navy, and their greatest accomplishments.

And I can tell you -- I think as I have Mike -- that my brother, Mike, did that for 14 years.  Each of these artists contribute a painting once a year, gratis.  Nothing that he's been more proud of over his career, than that association with the Air Force.

So, to you, Mike, to your family, we wish you well.  We know that your transition to a life that will be fulfilled because of not Mike's title or who he represents, but who he is.  And in the end, that's all we have, is who we are.  And that is much shaped by, at the end, your family, and your friends, and your past accomplishments. 

And so, we will miss you.  You know that.  But as I have already noted, you won't go far.  Mike Donley, thank you.  Thank you.

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