Thank you, Diane [Morales, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Material Readiness]. When Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld swore me in for my third tour of duty here in the Pentagon, he said, "We’re going to keep bringing you back until you get it right." [Laughter.]
We’re here today to honor some people who really get it right, and it’s a great honor for me to be able to share this day with all of you. And I bring you personal greetings from Secretary Rumsfeld, who would be here, but has to be at a crucial meeting on managing the war. He really is sorry that his schedule doesn’t permit him to be here, but he is very, very proud of the work that you and all of your colleagues throughout the services are doing.
As I understand it, these awards were originally scheduled for Kansas City. We’re glad to have you here instead. We get to see for ourselves one of America’s secret weapons in this war. And that is: the best maintainers in the world.
Secretary Rumsfeld and I both know that, without each one of you here—and without your fellow maintainers stationed around the world—the engine of freedom would grind to a halt. You keep America’s fleets running: our satellites, our radars, our ships, our trucks, our planes. And by the way, we spent a lot of time on the budget over the summer recognizing how old some of those systems are, and that makes your job even harder and even more important. But you do it with amazing skills and some amazing powers of deduction—powers of deduction that remind one of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes—I’m sure you’ve read Sherlock Holmes stories.
Holmes and his trusty lieutenant, Dr. Watson, were on a camping trip once. And in the middle of the night, Holmes woke up Watson and said to him: "Look at the sky. What do you see?" Watson looks up and says: "I see stars—millions and millions of stars." And Holmes asks: "Well, Watson, what do you deduce from that?" Watson thinks for a moment, then he says: "Well, astronomically, it tells me there are millions of galaxies; horologically, it tells me it’s a quarter past three; astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo; and, meteorologically," says Watson, "it tells me tomorrow we’ll have a nice day."
Holmes says nothing, and this drives Watson crazy, and he finally says: "Well, Holmes, you’re a great detective, what do you deduce from that?" And Holmes answers, "It tells me that someone has stolen our tent."
In fact, doesn’t that remind you of the great theoreticians who can’t see what’s right in front of their faces? But, you have to see what’s in front of your face, and getting to the heart of a problem, getting there fast, is not just a mark of a great detective, but the mark of great maintainer.
I think a bunch of you must have answered an ad once, something like this. "Wanted: loyal and dedicated men and women willing to work for modest pay in austere conditions. Job entails enormous pressure with the future of the nation and the free world in your hands. You must display skills in every one of the following professions: plumber, electrician, avionics, metallurgist, welder, heavy-equipment operator, technical writer, proofreader, meteorologist, troubleshooter, heating, ventilation and air conditioning expert, and, sometimes, interior decorator. Mind reading and foreign language skills desired, especially when deciphering operators’ complaints or instruction manuals [laughter]. Work involves long hours in dirty and greasy environments that can be blazing hot, freezing cold, or, sometimes, both. Most work will be accomplished behind the scenes, after hours, in the dark of night. Your work will be difficult and dangerous. But, you will have the unparalleled opportunity to work with all of the other men and women who answered this ad."
Well, let me say how grateful we are in this Department and we are as a country that each one of you not only answered that ad, but, by your presence here today, has obviously lived up to that description. We’re lucky that when you faced the choice of entering this profession or pursuing some other avenue, you applied the indisputable logic of that great New York Yankee who was a sometime philosopher, a man named Yogi Berra, who once observed, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." [Laughter.]
It’s our great good fortune that you took that fork in the road. And there’s been no greater need for your skills than right now. We need your dedication, your energy, your innovation, your pride in a job done right, at what may be one of the most important moments in our nation’s history.
All told, our military services support more than 300 ships, 100,000 ground combat and tactical vehicles, 1,000 strategic missiles and 15,000 aircraft. And that’s just the short list. Many of these systems, as you know better than I, have been around for decades. This may not be your grandfather’s military, but it could very well be your grandfather’s B-52.
From Germany to Iraq, from the Med and the Arabian Gulf, to Okinawa to Incerlik, from Washington to every continent on the globe, you keep all of America’s systems in good repair, you keep our readiness rates high. And those are going to be the keys to victory.
On the day of the memorial service here at the Pentagon, Secretary Rumsfeld said that those who were killed in the terrorist attack on this building on September 11th died for two simple reasons: one, because they were Americans; and, two, because they worked for the Department of Defense.
They were in a place of power—but they were citizens of a nation that has used its military might far differently from almost any other nation in history. We are freedom-loving people who want to support freedom for everyone throughout the world. Whenever freedom is threatened, or whenever crisis strikes somewhere on the globe, the world looks to us for help, help that can only happen through the marvels of our logistics system, and our maintainers who keep it ready and running.
Yogi Berra said something else once. He said, "It’s tough to make predictions—especially about the future." [Laughter.] I’m going to defy his wisdom and I’m going to make a prediction anyway. We’re going to win this fight. And that’s because we have all of you in it.
You represent the very best in a long tradition of men and women with the spirit, the know-how, and the innovation to lead America to victory once again. We’re glad to have the opportunity today to shine a spotlight on what you, and your fellow workers, do for our country, without fail, each and every day.
Back some 60 years ago, after the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, and America was drawn into the war that was raging around the globe, England’s great Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, observed in his memoirs that there were many "silly people … not only in enemy countries, that might discount the force of the United States. Some said [Americans] were soft, others that they would never be united. They would fool around at a distance…. They would never stand blood-letting. Their democracy … would paralyze their war effort… Now we should see the weakness of this numerous but remote, wealthy, and talkative people."
But, Churchill went on to say that he knew something of American history. He said, "I thought of a remark which … had been made to me more than thirty years before—that the United States is like 'a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate.’"
Today, as we honor you, we pay tribute to all the men and women who tend to all our high-tech multi-million dollar systems, along with all the nuts and bolts and the seals and the bearings and the rivets deep in the guts of this great boiler called America.
We know you’ve been tending this engine with all the pride and professionalism that define America’s Armed Forces. We know we can count on you to keep doing your part to make this great engine blaze again with untold power.
On behalf of the Secretary of Defense and all of us in this Department, we salute you for your achievements; we congratulate you on these richly deserved awards.
We thank you for all you do, for all that you will do, in defense of our great country. Thank you for everything you do for this Department and this great nation. [Applause.]