[Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] General Myers has thoroughly and commendably recognized the many distinguished guests who join us today. But, let me add my personal greetings to Governor Johanns, Senators Exon and Karnes, [U.S. Stratcom Commander]Admiral Ellis, our honored veterans, and, most of all, the men and women here who serve us so faithfully and so well. Please join me in showing our appreciation.
Along with the big Air Force presence here on the plains of Nebraska, I’d point out how gratifying it is to have such a strong naval presence here as well.
I say that not just because of our Stratcom commander, Admiral Ellis, but because we have with us the commander of another seafaring force of legendary proportions—especially, as I understand it, with regard to the number of admirals on its rolls. I speak, of course, about the leader of the much-acclaimed Nebraska Navy—"Admiral" Johanns.
And, so, "Admiral"—Governor—permit me to tell what might be called a "sea story." It’s a story that is quite appropriate, all things considered.
Back in the old days of the Warsaw Pact, a lot of bittersweet political jokes came out of Czechoslovakia. This is one that I particularly liked. At an official dinner, a lady found herself seated next to the Czech Minister of Naval Affairs. She was somewhat surprised to learn of her dinner companion’s official position. She didn’t think Czechoslovakia had a navy, being a landlocked country.
So she said to the minister: "How can Czechoslovakia have a navy? You don’t even have a seacoast." "We don’t," the minister replied. "Then how can you have a Ministry of Naval Affairs?" she asked. "Well," he replied, "the Soviet Union has a Ministry of Justice. Why can’t Czechoslovakia have a Ministry of Naval Affairs?"
That’s a story a veteran of the Cold War like General Butler can certainly appreciate, too.
In all seriousness, it has regularly struck me how some of our great maritime states—like Indiana and Nebraska—continually produce leaders with such a broad and international outlook on world affairs.
And for that reason, perhaps it’s not an accident that the one command we have with a truly global responsibility is based right here in America’s heartland, on plains of Nebraska.
Governor, your Nebraska Navy is an appropriate reminder for today’s occasion—that we should never be constrained by traditional expectations and expected boundaries.
Throughout America’s history, we’ve been fortunate that great leaders and committed citizens have shouldered momentous responsibilities and have led us forward through turbulent times toward a stronger, safer and more secure future. Today, we mark such an occasion.
September 11th has taken its place alongside December 7th as a date that will live in infamy and the larger lesson we should draw from these attacks is clear: we must be prepared for surprise—from wherever it may appear and however it may threaten. A fundamental way in which we’ll remain prepared for uncertainty is through the commitment of the men and women of the new Strategic Command, who, today, shoulder a great responsibility on behalf of our nation.
As part of a fundamental and sweeping change that began earlier today with the stand-up of Northern Command, we charge you to rethink your traditional roles—with the same skill and professionalism that have themselves become legendary over the last half century.
Indeed, each day you must continue to remain vigilant in a mission that many would prefer to forget. That they perceive the threat to have disappeared is a mark of your success.
Your predecessors saw us safely through a period when super powers confronted one another in a dangerous balance of terror. Those days are gone, hopefully for good. But, there is no way to be certain of that. And we have seen new enemies emerge that present us with serious threats of a different but perhaps more lethal kind.
So, as we unite the capabilities of US Space Command and US Strategic Command, we charge you to assume a new challenge: we charge you to help us confront these new threats by ensuring that we’ve taken full advantage of the capabilities that result from the melding of two extraordinary forces.
We charge you to do everything you can think of to prepare for and mitigate newly emerging threats—even as you continue to manage our nuclear forces with the extraordinary care and vigilance that these awesome weapons require.
In so doing, you will help improve our ability to deter and dissuade our adversaries, and you’ll enhance our nation’s operational effectiveness and combat capabilities.
The brave men and women who fight for us today in Afghanistan and serve in other places around the globe are one of our first lines of offense—as they go directly to the source … rooting out terrorists and their networks where they live. As they defend us, they help prevent terrorist attacks before they happen.
What we do here today is another very important step in accomplishing our national security mission. As al Qaeda has demonstrated, our enemies operate in many countries and across many borders spreading their evil—they work tirelessly to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the technology to deliver them throughout the world.
The new Strategic Command, with its focus on space and information capabilities, will improve our ability to warn and defend against all manner of attack—nuclear and non-nuclear. In establishing this capability, we are, as Secretary Rumsfeld would put it, leaning forward, not back.
Here, today, you begin to effect a real transformation—a transformation that will improve our command and control, our intelligence and our planning—in short, a fundamental step forward to better meet the security environment that will define the 21st Century.
Much has changed since last September. But one thing that did not change was the American character. Throughout our history, from Valley Forge to Vicksburg … from Normandy to Anaconda, Americans have not only endured hardship, they have triumphed over it. In each of our conflicts, we’ve seen the sort of resolution and ingenuity that’s led citizens and soldiers alike to devise means to face an adversary more effectively—to bring peace more quickly.
That’s what we celebrate here today. American resilience, endurance and resolve—the qualities that led to this transformation … a new command structure and the men and women who will give it life. A new arrangement that will allow us to more effectively fight the war we wage and the wars of the future. It’s a declaration of our faith in our nation’s future, our shared commitment to a future that is peaceful and secure.
President Bush has told us that this war against terrorism will be a long, hard fight. But, the men and women of Strategic Command are ready, willing and able to carry on this fight.
Whenever I am fortunate enough to leave Washington to visit our men and women where they serve, I’m struck without fail by their proficiency, their professionalism, and above all, by their pride. It’s no less true here today. Admiral Ellis, these are America’s people, and they are also your people. Under your steady and wise leadership, I know that they will continue to serve all of us well, and we thank them for that.
There is no question that each one of you here will help shape America’s future. Each one of you here will help America and her allies win this war. And let there be no doubt—we will win this war.
Let me go back in time, and recall the reaction of England’s prime minister following news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Winston Churchill reacted to that attack, not with sorrow, but with great relief and even joy. As he wrote in his diary on December 8, 1941: "I knew the United States was now in the war up to the neck, so we have won after all."
He went on to write about "silly people," some in England and others obviously in Germany, who had "discounted the force of the United States. Some said they were soft, others that the Americans would never be united, they would fool around at a distance, they would never come to grips, they couldn't stand the bloodletting. Their democracy and their system of recurrent elections," these people were saying, "would paralyze the war effort. The Americans would be just a vague blur on the horizon to friend or foe."
"Now we would see" these people said, "the weakness of this numerous but remote, wealthy and talkative people." We haven’t changed much, have we?
But Churchill said, "I had studied the American Civil War fought out to the last desperate inch. American blood flowed in my veins. I thought of a remark, which Edward Grey [the British Foreign Minister] had made to me more than 30 years before [as the United States entered World War I]." Grey had said that the United States was like "a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate."
Well, the fire is lit. Thanks to you and your comrades throughout our armed forces, we are generating some truly awesome power.
As I stand here, I see the very best of America, men and women whose service and sacrifice proclaim that America is a land where dreams are large, where hearts hunger to build a better world, where ordinary people achieve extraordinary things … The words that I spoke to our Pentagon builders a few weeks ago apply also to you here today. For you are builders, too.
They are the words of the prophet Isaiah, who spoke, saying: "See upon the palms of my hands, I have written your name. Your walls are ever before me. Your builders outstrip your destroyers."
For helping us build a better defense for our nation, I thank each one of you. God bless you, God bless those who serve our nation. And God bless America.
NOTE: Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz referred to the mythical Nebraska Navy, which has inducted thousands of famous honorary "admirals" since its creation in 1931.