Thank you very much. [Commander, Naval Training Center Great Lakes, Vice] Admiral Rondeau; [Executive Officer of Recruit Training Command] Commander Kolar; [Chief of Naval Personnel, Vice] Admiral Ryan, [Chief of Naval Education and Training] Admiral Harms; [Commanding Officer of the Recruit Training Command] Captain Gantt. You kind of make me sound like I can't hold a job! [Laughter.]
Sailors, this is your first direct order from a secretary of Defense -- I see you're at ease, only I mean "be at ease" -- really at ease.
(Offstage Announcer: Recruit Division's attention. Stand at ease. [Laughter and applause.])
I am delighted to be here with so many outstanding young people, and their very proud, properly proud, parents, families and friends. I suspect that I know what some of you are thinking. You've been restricted to the base for 9-1/2 weeks, you've been standing in formation probably for an hour, hour and a half, and then here comes somebody from Washington, D.C. who's going to give a 30-minute talk. Wrong! [Laughter, cheers, applause.]
I will be brief, but I do want to say just a few words about your good work and the good work of this center and what it means to the United States at this crucial hour. And in a few minutes, after my remarks, I suppose you'll hear the call, "liberty call," which is not a bad thing to hear. Then you'll see your parents and your friends, understandably proud of your achievements. They've been clapping hard for you today, and I know you're proud of them, too. They've given you so much -- love, support. And I think that they, too, deserve our thanks, so why don't we reverse it and have all the sailors here applaud their parents, families and friends? [Applause.]
You're about to embark on a great adventure. You've overcome a number of obstacles on the confidence course, and within yourself. You passed the swimming test, I hope! [Laughter.] You've completed rigorous military, academic and physical training. Most of all, you've learned core values of this center: honor, courage and commitment. So you've gotten through battle stations, and now you're going to a real station, and you're doing it at a time of war.
As each person here knows, a shadowy enemy attacked our country. Just last Wednesday, I visited the World Trade Center, where thousands of innocent people were killed, many still lost in the rubble, the smoke still smoldering as they move the debris. And then we all know that new attacks could come at any time.
And today we remember that our nation has survived such challenges before, and it has triumphed. When Pearl Harbor was attacked about 60 years ago next month, more than 2,000 people died. Eight battleships were sunk or badly damaged. It was the deadliest disaster in our Navy's history. And suddenly we were in a world war, with massive forces threatening on both sides.
My father served on a carrier in the Pacific during that war. On his return to Chicago and civilian life, he received a letter from then-secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal. And I have that letter hanging on my wall in my office in the Pentagon. And the letter told of how the U.S. Navy rose from those ruins, crushed two enemy fleets at once and helped the defenders of freedom vanquish the forces of tyranny.
And today the U.S. Navy is coming to the rescue again. On ships, they're bringing U.S. aircraft to within bombing range of the enemy. Navy planes are flying over Afghanistan and imposing a price on those who would cooperate with those terrorists. And the message is clear: that we will root out and destroy the terrorists in whatever camp or cave or tunnel or country they may lurk.
On September 11th, the terrorists came to us, and now we are taking the battle to the terrorists. Some of you could soon be on a flight deck in the Arabian Sea, loading bombs on airplanes, refueling, fixing engines before the planes are catapulted off. Some of you may be preparing missiles to be launched at the enemy and destroying their deadly weapons.
No matter where you are -- the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the Pacific -- what you do will matter, whether in electronics or as a machinist's mate or a sonar technician. No matter what the task, you will be an outpost of freedom, helping to strike the enemy there before he strikes here. You will be defending not just the honor of America -- that is a worthy mission in itself -- but you'll also be defending your parents, brothers and sisters, friends from high school, neighbors. And you'll learn a lot about life on the deck of a ship -- more than you may think.
Years ago, Herman Wouk wrote a book called "The Winds of War," an epic tale of the U.S. Navy. One hero of that story was a career Navy man. He knew the ups and downs of war and peace.
He found inner strength when walking the ship at night. On clear nights, no matter how cold the wind or how rough the sea, he spent hours after dinner alone on the flying bridge. The broad, dark ocean; the streaming, pure air; the crowded stars arching overhead always made him feel what the Bible called the spirit of God hovering on the face of the waters.
In those waters, he felt a greater cause than himself. Like the sailors here today, he was willing to lay down his life for that cause -- the cause of his country, the divinely sanctioned cause of human freedom.
So hold up your heads high, do your duty, know that America is proud of you, and we thank you. We thank your parents for giving you patriotism, courage, and the dedication to voluntarily put your lives at risk.
I wish you fair winds and following seas. America is counting on you. May God bless each of you and our country. Thank you. [Applause]