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Welcoming Ceremony for Deputy Secretary de Leon
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Pentagon Parade Ground, Wednesday, April 19, 2000

General [Richard] Myers [Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff], thank you very much for your generous words. And even though it has only been a few weeks since your welcoming ceremony, we want to thank you for your outstanding service on which the Chairman and I have already come to rely.

Deputy Secretary de Leon and Anne, Kerry and Libby de Leon, distinguished guests who have already been acknowledged. Let me add to that acknowledgement Senator Strom Thurmond who just arrived. Senator Thurmond, you, like this Pentagon, are an institution to whom we pay tribute today as well. Thank you for coming. [Applause.]

Let me add my congratulations to that of General Myers to the members of the Junior ROTC who join us from Columbia, South Carolina and whose impressive display reflects not only the shining future of America’s armed forces, but also reflects Rudy de Leon’s commitment to JROTC programs. So thank you for joining us today. It was a magnificent display. Thank you. [Applause.]

Janet [Cohen], ladies and gentlemen, thank you for appearing here on what we would call on a warm, Maine summer day [laughter], to officially welcome our new Deputy Secretary of Defense.

About a century and a half ago, determined Americans journeyed west in search of fortune in the gold fields of California. We see a reverse of that today as we celebrate the contributions of a latter-day Californian who journeyed East, not in search of personal fortune or gold fields, but rather, to offer a lifetime of public service.

One of those Forty-Niners who crossed the continent wrote of his generation. He said, certain men "will shine with that superior light which will attract the attention and homage of all around him." The man that we honor today is indeed imbued with that superior light, and his elevation to the highest ranks of this department demonstrates the homage that he has received from all around him during his very distinguished service at this institution.

Indeed, we have the pleasing and, I would say, somewhat paradoxical task of welcoming a leader who has helped guide this institution and department longer than most of those here today. For more than seven years, Rudy de Leon has observed the hails and farewells of dignitaries and officials on these grounds. All the while, his service has endured, a steady rock of unshakeable integrity and unquestioned intellect upon which the President and three Secretaries of Defense have truly relied.

Rudy, it seems, is drawn to organizations whose discipline and dedication to service mirror his own. Because before he served the interests of our military, he endured the intensity of a Jesuit education. And, of course, when he set out to chart his own path in 1974, the trumpeted call to public service was muted indeed, the idealism of the Sixties having paled into the glazed cynicism of the Seventies. But, against this self-defeating sentiment, Rudy de Leon’s fundamental optimism led him to the banks of the Potomac to serve his country.

And I would say that throughout his service, there runs a common thread, his extraordinary talent of guiding our military through extraordinary moments of challenge and change. Rudy de Leon, the key staffer on the House Armed Services Committee, helped to craft, as General Myers noted, historic legislation that continues to shape this institution. As Chief of Staff to Secretary [of Defense Les] Aspin, he oversaw the Pentagon’s transition to a new Administration and to a new post-Cold War military. Under Secretary of the Air Force de Leon, reformed and revitalized the C-17 and F-22 programs and helped lay the foundation for that Service’s change to an expeditionary force. And as Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, he dealt, each and every day, with the most difficult and delicate issues of social change in our military. And all who know him understand that Rudy’s first priority has always been the welfare of our forces and their families.

This remarkable record makes him ideally suited to carry on the legacy of [former Deputy Secretary] John Hamre. And for those of you who did not know, you could not miss his dulcet voice during the singing of the anthem. Thank you, John, for being here today. We need to continue to propel a Revolution in Military Affairs that is transforming the very way our forces fight and promote a Revolution in Business Affairs that is transforming the very way our support "tail" sharpens that fighting "tooth." In short, we look to Rudy to help ensure that this military remains the best trained, best led, best supported force in history.

And, of course, I think we should also acknowledge this morning that Rudy’s success is also a tribute to the support he receives from Anne and Libby and Kerry. So today we want to honor their patriotism and their patience and their sacrifice as he accepts this new challenge.

It has been said that the most admirable quality is a capacity to stay cool and to use your head in service of a cause in which you passionately believe. Today, we honor a man whose legendary capacity to stay cool, and to solve seemingly intractable problems, is exceeded only by his passionate belief in this nation and the men and women in uniform who serve it. Indeed, it might be said that despite his fiery exterior, Rudy is a man of supreme inner serenity. He has, if I am privileged to paraphrase Mark Twain, the calm confidence of a California Christian holding four aces. [Laughter.]

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my distinct pleasure and privilege to officially welcome a leader of unsurpassed skill and of unlimited future who will, no doubt, continue to serve this nation for many years to come, the nation’s 27th Deputy Secretary of Defense, Rudy de Leon. [Applause.]