Stanley [Weiss, Chairman of Business Executives for National Security (BENS)], thank you for that very nice introduction. As Lyndon Johnson said on a similar occasion, I just wish my late parents were here--my father would have enjoyed it thoroughly, and my mother would have believed it.
This is such a distinguished audience; I think I see as many stars here tonight as we saw at the Oscars--at least two Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and my good friend Stanley Weiss, the chairman and founder and everything else--not everything else, but certainly for whom BENS has been a major work, a major part of his remarkable lifetime.
Senator [Max] Cleland, it's an honor to share a podium with you here tonight. Terry O'Connell told me just tell him that I told you everything that the two of us did in Walter Reed Hospital there for six months. And thank you for what you've done for our country. It's a remarkable record, and you continue to do it. [Applause.]
Thank you again, Sidney [Harman, Master of Ceremonies]. I know if Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld could be here tonight, he would like me to add a giant thank you from him to you, Stanley Weiss, and to [BENS President and CEO] Rich Hearney for everything that BENS has done over the years and that you're doing now to improve our nation's defenses, to mobilize support in the business community for a sane and sensible national security policy.
In fact our management initiatives that we're developing in the Rumsfeld Defense Department are so close to the findings of the BENS tail-to-tooth study that we've made that study a major subject of our preparation sessions for our future Service Secretaries. And I might add that we are looking forward to what I hope is going to be one of the most high-powered teams of Service Secretaries--that will really help us to move ahead on many of the initiatives that BENS has identified and has been pushing for a long time. I don't think I'll have any trouble asking for a round of applause for BENS. [Applause.]
I asked my speechwriter how long this speech should be and he said it should be as short as General Shelton is tall, and I'll try to do my best, but I will try to meet that high standard. But it is a privilege to be here tonight to join in honoring Hugh Shelton and to join in presenting to him an award named for another great soldier-statesman, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
I'm told that this is the first time this distinguished honor has been bestowed on a serving military officer, and in truth, Ike and Hugh Shelton have a lot in common. Both of them are men from small towns with great characters. Both of them are men from strong families who left those families to serve their country. Both carry deep religious faith in their heart, but not on their sleeve. Both men loved soldiering, but made their most lasting contribution not in battle but in the policy arena. And both of them believe, as General Shelton has so often said, that to lead is to serve -- nothing more, nothing less.
It's a long way from a farm in Speed, North Carolina, population 100, to being the principal military advisor to the Secretary of Defense and to the President of the United States, and there have been many impressive stops along the way -- two tours in Vietnam, a Purple Heart, leadership of Infantry and Special Forces units all over the world, leading the 101st Airborne Division into battle in Iraq, commanding the Joint Task force that removed the military dictatorship from Haiti, leading the U.S. Special Operations Command and finally, of course, serving as our nation's highest ranking military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
With those credentials, wherever Hugh Shelton goes in visiting our troops in the field or our sailors in the fleet, whether it's Kosovo where he was just this past few days, or Korea, they know that he is one of them -- a soldier who leads by experience and by example.
But our Chairman has some uncommon traits. While we've had distinguished men serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs before, I don't think we've ever had one who could have arrived at a BENS dinner free-falling from 10,000 feet and steering his parachute onto the roof of the Four Seasons Hotel. But I checked, General. Your sedan is outside in front; so if you came by a more conventional means, thank you.
It's also a pleasure to welcome Caroline Shelton here tonight. You've been a big part of everything your husband has accomplished in his distinguished career, and part of this award belongs to you and to your three sons who supported their father throughout. I know all of you as supporting family gave him the strength to keep punching in every fight. Thank you. [Applause.]
I've had the privilege in two months--it seems like pushing two years, it's been a busy time. I've had the pleasure of working closely with General Shelton now for two months, and it's been a wonderful experience. On top of his encyclopedic military knowledge and his impressive bearing, the thing that's set Hugh Shelton apart is that he exemplifies integrity. He is plain spoken, honest, someone who states his opinions clearly and without any artful dodging. And I guess I could add that that's rare anywhere, but it seems to be unfortunately rare here in Washington. Thank you, General.
He's fought tirelessly for our men and women in uniform, and thanks to his efforts our servicemen and women have seen significant improvements in their pay, their retirement benefits, and their medical care. In the past few years, like General Eisenhower before him, General Shelton has also been the voice of jointness, interoperability and balance.
In his farewell address Eisenhower reminded us that America had to maintain a balance between cost and benefits, between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable, between the action of the moment and the national welfare of the future. That might be, I suppose, the mission statement of BENS. It's been the mission statement of Hugh Shelton throughout his career. He has spoken loudly and clearly for the future when many around him were opting only for the present. So for me it is a personal honor to be here tonight to join the great patriots of BENS in presenting the Eisenhower Award to General Shelton.
Thank you, Hugh, for letting me join you. Thank you for the service you've given to me and to Secretary Rumsfeld. And thank you, above all, for your devoted service to our great country. [Applause.]