Thank you Suzanne [Clark, U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief of staff]. And I'd like to thank the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, not just for having us here to present these awards, but for helping to broaden opportunities for America's armed forces to partner with America's business communities all across the country. It is a strong and vital partnership.
It's always a dangerous thing at this point in any speech to single out particular guests in the audience and especially in a distinguished audience like this one. I would like to single out one of our awardees, Governor Jim Geringer, representing the State of Wyoming. Wyoming is not only a winner with our Guard and Reserve, it's a winner with our active duty forces as well. And, in fact, as I think we all know it's a winner with our Vice President who claims a certain connection to that great state. [Laughter]
As a matter of fact, it's a winner with my former boss and present boss because I had the privilege of working for Dick Cheney in my second tour at the Pentagon when he was Secretary of Defense. I've got a picture in my outer office which I enjoy very much from my swearing in with one Secretary of Defense on one side and a former Secretary of Defense on the other side, and the Vice President signed it, "Paul, Who's the best Secretary of Defense you ever worked for?" [Laughter]
I've been kind of thinking about how to answer that question. There are a lot of formulas that I got out of the State Department that work pretty well. There's one that I just got from Rumsfeld the other day in one of his famous press conferences. Something came up that was similarly delicate. He said, "How do I answer that question? Let me tell you, I'd answer that one very carefully." [Laughter]
In fact, I was reminded this morning that Secretary Rumsfeld, after he got out of the Navy, continued to serve as a Reserve pilot and flew out of Glenview, Illinois Naval Air Station. Of course we both work for a former member of the National Guard named George W. Bush. And I was thinking about the question of which is more difficult, landing a plane on a small carrier deck that's bobbing up and down in the middle of a choppy sea, or landing on a big airfield that never moves at all? I decided that's another one of those questions to answer very carefully. [Laughter]
But I am here to represent the Secretary of Defense and to convey to you his strong enthusiastic support for the Guard and Reserve, not only as a former reservist, which he is, but also as a former businessman, who himself employed many members of America's Guard and Reserve.
He wishes he could be here in person to deliver his thanks to the employers who help our Guardsmen and Reservists serve America, and he asked me to convey his very warm thanks to all of you.
Last November, just two months removed from the September attacks, I was privileged to see President Bush sign the proclamation designating National Employer Support for Guard and Reserve Week. This year I'm privileged to bring with me this year's proclamation signed by President Bush that will again give the week of November 10th the same designation.
In his remarks last year, the President observed that the terrorists had misjudged America. They thought the attacks would break our spirit, but instead "their attacks have had the opposite effect," as the President said, "for we're strong, we're united … we're determined, and all of us are ready to serve that great cause of freedom."
In the year since September 11th, our country's men and women in uniform have been serving this great cause bravely and with remarkable skill. They defeated a vicious and repressive regime in Afghanistan. In the process they have not only deprived the terrorists of one of their principal sanctuaries, but they've helped offer freedom another birth so that the people of Afghanistan this time, a country that has lost a million lives to war in the last decade, can go back to their homes and schools and have a chance for what we have in America.
Their noble work has produced another very positive result. Americans have come to appreciate more fully just how vital our Guard and Reserve are to our nation's security. America will always remember those who responded first on September 11th. From the very beginning our nation's Guardsmen and Reservists were in the thick of the action—from the streets of lower Manhattan and the walls of the Pentagon to a field in Pennsylvania.
The very next day, September 12th, more than 6,000 Guardsmen and Reservists answered our country's call, providing medical and technical assistance, securing our coasts, our borders and our airports, patrolling our streets and flying combat air patrols to protect America's skies in ways that we had never imagined we would have to do.
In fact, it's the first time in my memory that the people in Washington weren't complaining about aircraft noise overhead. It was a very reassuring sound. We knew who they were.
Today close to 58,000 service members from the Reserve Component are serving and they're part of more than 98,000 men and women called from their civilian lives to active service since last September. They've been flying combat air patrols in Afghanistan. They've been conducting vital and dangerous civil affairs missions in that country. They've been keeping the peace in Bosnia and providing logistics support to peacekeepers in Kosovo. They've been facing danger daily over Iraq, flying in Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch. They've been protecting Patriot missile batteries in Kuwait and in Saudi Arabia. They've been securing ports in the Middle East. And, of course, they've been taking on these challenging new missions here in the United States.
In fact there's no question that this is a time of enormous stress and strain on the Guard and Reserve. We're asking people to serve for longer periods in larger numbers with greater uncertainty than I believe we probably ever envisioned, and the force has responded with all that we could have ever asked of it.
In all these operations we've seen truly remarkable achievements by our citizen soldiers -- men and women who willingly give up the comforts of home to answer their country's call. And their service simply wouldn't be possible without the support they're receiving from their employers. At times it's an enormous challenge for everyone involved -- a challenge for our military members, a challenge for their families, and a challenge for their employers.
It's a dilemma, by the way, that we've faced since the founding of our country. When the winds of war were stirring in 1776, John Adams, a lawyer in Boston wrote to a minister in Boston, "We must all be soldiers now," he said. A few weeks later a young apprentice in Adams' law firm was drawn to the cause and told Adams that he wanted to enlist. Adams offered this young man slightly different guidance. He said, "We cannot all be soldiers." [Laughter]
You represent employers of a different mindset. Thankfully, there are not only many who can serve and do serve but so many that support them in that service. Hundreds of employers have extended continued medical care, made up salary differences, established support mechanisms for families and taken extraordinary steps to show support.
The five employers that we honor today offer outstanding examples of such support. They put America's interests above their own. I think it is especially noteworthy that these employers were chosen by the Guardsmen and Reservists themselves, those people whose lives they affect so directly.
The five recipients of the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Awards have representatives with us today. They are UPS Airlines, General Dynamics Land Systems, the Public Service Company of New Hampshire, AutoLiv Incorporated, and the great State of Wyoming. In each case these employers have been willing to bear financial hardships and organizational disruptions. They have done so in the words of one company manager, "because it's the right thing to do."
Monday I'll be going to Philadelphia to celebrate Veterans Day, where our nation's independence was declared. When the delegates were about to vote on the Declaration back in July of 1776, the President of the Continental Congress, that man with the famous signature, John Hancock, argued that they needed to make the vote unanimous. "There must be no pulling different ways," Hancock said. "We must all hang together." To that, Benjamin Franklin is said to have remarked, "Yes, we must indeed all hang together or assuredly we will each hang separately."
The employer support represented by these awards attests to the fact that as Americans we hang together. In these examples of support for America's security we see the very best of this country. We see men and women whose service and sacrifice, whose support back home, proclaim that America is a land where dreams are large, where hearts hunger to build a better world, where ordinary people achieve extraordinary things.
You are all freedom’s builders and it reminds me of the words of the prophet Isaiah who once said, "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 to build a better defense of our nation, I thank each one of you and your communities. God bless you, God bless those who sacrifice to serve our nation, and God bless America.
Thank you. [Applause]