Thank you very much.
General Tom Franks, thank you for those words and thank you for your superb service to this country.
I don't know how someone like Tom Franks ever managed to work his way up through that process -- and get four stars -- but we're darn lucky he did.
Clearly one of the best parts of my job as Secretary of Defense is to be able to get out of that office -- come to places like this and have a chance to look folks in the eye and say personally how much we appreciate what you're doing.
There's no question but that the folks in this room -- this hall, and others who are standing and defending freedom all across the globe are people who weren't drafted -- you weren't conscripted, you volunteered. You stepped forward and said that this calling is important and that you want to be a part of it. And indeed, it is important.
The attack on September 11th that killed thousands of innocent men, women, and children from dozens of countries of all religions was a jolt to the United States. They were devastating to be sure, those attacks -- yet if one thinks about it what took place was unconventional in its approach -- but conventional in what was done.
What we face today is something far worse. That is the connection between terrorist states and terrorist networks and weapons of mass destruction. Weapons capable of killing not just hundreds or thousands of people, but literally tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people.
It means that the 21st Century is a different time. It is a distinctly different security environment. Our Department of Defense, our country is in the process of transforming itself to fit those new threats and those new capabilities that exist in the world.
The objective, indeed your mission in the global war on terror, is to see that attacks of that magnitude, of that lethality don't happen.
Our task is to disrupt the terrorist networks, to deal with states that are providing haven for terrorists and terrorist networks, to do everything humanly possible to see that they do not get their hands on chemical, biological, radiation or nuclear weapons.
So let there be no doubt. You are what stands between our people, the American people, free people all over the world, and an evil that cannot be appeased, that cannot be ignored, and must not be allowed to win. You're doing a great job at it. It's appreciated. It's appreciated by me and it's recognized by the American people, you can be sure of that.
It certainly is not easy to be this far from home during a holiday season -- at any time, but particularly during the holiday season. It's tough on some of you to be sure, it's also tough on your families, and we recognize that. They suffer the same distance, they suffer the same separation, and it's important for all of us to recognize that they sacrifice and in a very real way they serve as well. So our gratitude goes to you, it goes to your families.
The President made a promise to the nation shortly after September 11th. He said that after the attacks on September 11th that we will not waiver, we will not tire, we will not falter, and we as a people will not fail.
And you're the ones that are delivering on that promise that the President made. Looking at each of you, I know that that promise will be kept.
So thank you for all you do. You have my best wishes.
What I'd like to do now is to see if I can persuade General Franks to come back up here so that the two of us can respond to questions that you might have.
What I will do as an ex-professional politician is respond skillfully to those I can answer, and I'll defer to General Franks the tough ones that I can't.
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