Thank you. Good afternoon. Secretary [of Agriculture Ann] Veneman, welcome, and thank you for your leadership as the CFC’s National Capital Area Chairman. I know how you volunteered. [Laughter] When the President asks, it’s impossible to say no, especially for a cause like this one, and we appreciate your agreeing.
Some people may not realize this, but people from the Department of Agriculture, particularly from the Forest Service and the Food and Nutrition program, were among the first responders in New York City and right here at the Pentagon last September. Let me thank you, Ann, and the men and women of the Department of Agriculture for giving us help when we needed it so much. And thank you for what you do everyday to keep America safe. And, I would add … eating well. [Laughter]
Wilhemina Rolark [President and CEO of the United Black Fund]—your name is synonymous with CFC service and participation, and I don’t think a CFC kickoff would be complete without you here.
And a special welcome to Uncle Sam, whom we’re always glad to see at Pentagon. [Laughter] He’s a living legend who seems to grow taller every time he comes to this building. [Laughter]
I see many other distinguished people, but I’m not going to get in trouble by naming any more. But, I will single out one person who is here with us today in spirit.
And that’s Doc Cooke, a man whose lifetime defined the meaning of public service. And, over the years, he dedicated a great deal of that service to the Combined Federal Campaign. It couldn’t be more fitting that this year’s DOD campaign is dedicated to Doc. When I came back to the Department for my third tour here, Doc quickly signed me up for CFC. You see, I learned early on that whenever Doc asked for something, it was the prudent and smart thing to say "yes." [Laughter] If you didn’t, you could expect a visit from the man himself. And Doc, among many other things, was a master of the gentle arts of persuasion.
Now, I’m not the only one who thought so, apparently, because I’m told that Doc’s favorite photo had Doc seated in the chair of the Secretary of Defense with nine former secretaries standing behind him. That’s a photo, by the way, that Don Rumsfeld titled: "The Godfather and his Henchmen." [Laughter]
There’s no question—Doc was great at making offers you couldn’t refuse. And we all know that his single motivation was his concern for improving the lives of others, including the men and women of our Armed Forces and the people of our community here. From leading the Pentagon renovation project that literally helped save countless lives on September 11th to leading DOD’s participation in the Combined Federal Campaign, Doc was tireless and relentless.
In fact, I remember my own astonishment when I found out that in Doc’s 11 years as CFC Chairman of the Board, he had raised more than half a billion dollars. For those of you who aren’t used to numbers like that, that’s over 500 million dollars, and even here in the Pentagon, that’s "real money." [Laughter] We are impressed and gratified.
And I’m gratified to honor the memory of a true hero, and privileged to take part in a campaign dedicated to something that Doc Cooke practiced ever day without fail, and that’s helping others.
When we talk about helping others, America’s service men and women, who labor shoulder to shoulder with our dedicated civil servants, have been doing just that—on a heroic scale. They have elevated service to its highest expression in Afghanistan, along with other men and women who stand watch throughout the world and across our country in this war against terrorism.
While they serve us so faithfully and so well, the charities of CFC give gifts of education, nutrition, and life-giving support to those who need it—whatever the crisis, wherever it happens. And, it’s significant that almost every agency providing national and local relief following last September’s attack is part of this Campaign.
Last year, the generous people of this Department literally outdid themselves, giving over 12 and a half million dollars—a million and a half dollars over our goal. This year, our goal is $11.3 million. And I’m confident that we’ll exceed that goal as well.
How can I be so sure of that, and make such a bold prediction? Well, my optimism reminds me of a story, a story that goes back—Uncle may remember [Laughter]—to the early days of our republic. During the French and Indian War, another great American patriot named Ben Franklin left his civilian job in the Pennsylvania Assembly to don the uniform of the Pennsylvania Militia.
In typical fashion, Colonel Franklin approached his military career with the same zeal and penetrating intellect characteristic of so many of his other endeavors. He led his men by appealing not only to their reason but their self interest.
That approach came in particularly handy when the chaplain of Franklin’s company presented the colonel with a truly vexing problem. The men, it seemed, were not very interested in the chaplain’s sermons and prayers.
Now it was a fact that each man was promised a daily ration of four ounces of rum. So, Franklin said to the chaplain: "Reverend, it may be below the dignity of your profession to act as a steward of the rum, but I suggest that if you were to deal it out, and only just after prayers, you would have the men all about you."
Well, after recovering from the sheer … novelty of that idea, the chaplain evidently saw some inspiration at work, and was converted by its merits. So, he went ahead and followed Colonel Franklin’s suggestion.
And need I tell you that history records that attendance at the chaplain’s prayers improved immediately. [Laughter]
Right now, you may be wondering why I told you that story. Well, because it ties right in to my belief that we will exceed our goal. As Dr. Franklin himself once observed: It’s convenient that we are "reasonable creatures, since it enables us to find … a reason for everything we have a mind to do."
The people of this Department are nothing if not "reasonable creatures." History has proven, year after year, that they are reasonable and generous people who have a mind to give to a campaign that does so much to help so many.
Given that fact, I believe that this year’s Campaign will be another one for the history books--even without the chaplain’s rum. Thank you all in advance for what I know will be another great year. Thank you for the efforts that you’ve agreed to make, no matter how you volunteered. In Doc’s memory, let’s exceed that goal by another million and a half dollars. I’m sure he will love us for it. Thank you. [Applause]