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Peace Through Strength Award (Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Simi Valley, CA, Saturday, November 16, 2013

Thank you, and thank you for your leadership and service.  Very, critical time in our nation's history, and also on the in world of national security and national defense.

And as I said today in my comments earlier, we appreciate your leadership in assembling this group of present day leaders, former leaders, American, supporters, people who care about the future of this country, have put their lives on the line and continue to do so.  And to the members of Congress who are here tonight, thank you for your service.

And I noted this afternoon all the members of the Department of Defense who are here representing the leadership in so many different ways, and the men and women of our uniformed armed forces, our civilian personnel, and their families all over the globe standing at the ready tonight to protect the interest of this country, we thank you.  And to Fred Ryan, thank you, sir, and to all who have put this evening and this day together.

It's a privilege, a great privilege, to be here tonight at the Reagan Library.  As we all know, Ronald Reagan was a unique American leader.  He understood the greatness and the goodness of America.  President Reagan thought deeply about the great issues of his time, and could communicate his thoughts simply and clearly, both in spoken and written words.  He wrote beautiful letters, and many of his speeches in longhand.  Today these speeches and letters are national treasures that are located here at this historic institution. 

I appreciated the opportunity to participate in today's forum.  This forum that addressed so many of the most vital aspects of America's national security and our defense enterprise that President Reagan cared so deeply about and helped shape.  And it's a privilege for me to participate in helping acknowledge two American leaders who have made so many important contributions for so many years to our country's national security.

I've known and worked with Carl Levin and Bob Gates for many years.  There are no two public servants more worthy of being honored with the Ronald Reagan Peace Through Strength Award than Senator Carl Levin and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates.

Like President Reagan, they are both sons of the Midwest.  Like President Reagan, they are men of their word, men who speak plainly, clearly and directly. 

For as long as I served in the Senate, Carl Levin was either the chairman of the Armed Services Committee or the ranking member of the committee.  Carl has served on that committee since coming to the Senate 35 years ago.  And he now presides over it, at a particularly important time in our country and in the world, a time of unprecedented change and challenge.

During our years together in the Senate, Carl and I forged a strong friendship.  I've always appreciated his straightforward style, his outreach, his informed advice and his civility.  One of the proudest accomplishments has been continuing the Armed Services Committee's tradition of bipartisanship, a rather quaint nation these days in Washington.

He's always been one of the Senate's strongest supporters of America's men and women in uniform.  Carl Levin is the kind of elected leader America will always need, the kind of leader who always does what he believes is the right thing for his country.  He puts his country first.

Bob Gates and Carl Levin are cut from the same cloth, especially when it comes to speaking their minds.  You may remember Bob Gates confirmation hearing for Secretary of Defense.  Not quite as interesting as mine.  The first question that Ranking Member Carl Levin asked him was, “Mr. Gates, do you believe that we are currently winning in Iraq?”  And Bob Gates replied with two simple words: “No, sir.”

At that moment, Bob's candor and straightforward style was exactly what our country needed.  It showed America what kind of Secretary of Defense he was going to be.  He had a sense of professionalism and integrity, that was respected by not only President Reagan, but all the presidents he served during his distinguished career.

He also had the privilege of working with all of you, either directly or indirectly, here in this building tonight.  And I had the privilege of working with Bob Gates when I was in the Senate.  And I always valued his honest and his clear assessments and wise counsel.

After I left the Senate, I served on Bob's Defense Policy Advisory Board, where I saw his willingness to make the tough choices and hard decisions, and says what needed to be said.

From the day he entered the Pentagon, he was committed to making sure that our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan had everything they needed to succeed.  He helped put more mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles in the field, more intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the air, and sped up medevacs to help save countless lives.

Bob Gates also advocated for soft power, as he also understood that America's hard power would always be important in helping shape enduring resolutions to global problems.

It's the kind if balance and strategic thinking that Carl Levin and Bob Gates built in their careers, and they built their careers on that strategic thinking and that balance.

And that embodied U.S. foreign policy under President Reagan, that vision of peace through strength, of strengthening our alliances, and using political, diplomatic, economic and military power in a balanced way to achieve America's global interests and ensure its security.

Like tonight's honorees, President Reagan knew he was and he knew what he believed.  He was immovable on the question of communism versus freedom.  And while he always spoke his mind, he was always willing to listen and engage, just like Senator Levin and Secretary Gates.  President Reagan called the Soviet Union "The Evil Empire."  But he also sat down with General Secretary Gorbachev, and worked out one of the most significant arms reductions treaties in world history.

President Reagan understood the need for America to engage, to understand our friends and our adversaries, to explore our options, and identify common interests.  He understood that great powers engage because they are as secure in their beliefs in purpose as they are humble and wise in their policies and actions. 

That spirit, balancing the need for strength with a desire for peace, is one that Carl Levin and Bob Gates have upheld, lived with, and been part of and led throughout their long and distinguished careers in public service.

These two national leaders represent the best of our American leadership.  Their legacies and the legacy of President Reagan will continue to help guide our nation as we confront the security challenges of the 21st century.

Because in its most basic sense, peace through strength is about optimism, is about hope.  It's the belief in what we can achieve together.  And it lies at the heart of America's foreign policy.

I'm reminded of President Reagan's second inaugural address, which profoundly captured that sense of optimism.  He said that, "We live in a world that's lit by lightning.  So much is changing, and will change.  But so much endures and transcends time." 

Today those words ring true once again.  Now, as then, the United States' purpose is to chart a new course in a world lit by lightning, a course that unites us at home, and gathers friends and influence abroad for the great project of building a better and freer world for all people.

Tonight we salute Carl Levin and Bob Gates, for their careers, for their contributions and what they have meant to the United States of American. Gentlemen, we salute you.  We thank you.  Thank you very much.

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