Thank you very much, Jack [Gansler; Under Secretary of Defense, Acquisition and Technology], for that kind introduction. Welcome to everyone. Senator [Daniel] Akaka, if you would just stand for a moment. You’ve been a true leader and it is great of you to come over to this side of the river. [Applause.] We also have our military leaders here, along with congressional staff and a number of family members. I would ask the family members to stand. [Applause.]
If you’re associated with our military, there is no surprise that they are committed to talking care of their people, taking care of their community and taking care of their resources, whether it’s a training area, a base, the air, water or land. So it is appropriate that we come together today and note these achievements.
To understand the importance of the work we celebrate today, I think it is useful to consider briefly its origins. Most people know that two centuries ago then-President Thomas Jefferson sent two young Americans on an historic journey to explore the vast western wilderness. Few, however, know that Meriweather Lewis and William Clark were Army captains, chosen for their aptitude as officers and their knowledge of nature. In selecting them, Jefferson created the first of what one historian called "a rich, almost uniquely American phenomenon -- the military naturalist."
Just last weekend, people on every continent celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of Earth Day. As a result, more people around the world share an appreciation for what Jefferson called "nature’s rich mantle" and so many of us have experienced what Lewis and Clark described as "the exhilaration of spirit" from the beauty and bounty around us.
Two weeks ago Saturday, I was in Fairbanks, Alaska. We were dedicating a new military hospital. We were breaking ground and the view from the rostrum -- the sun, the wind and the snow on the mountains in the distance -- was just spectacular. I think that personifies the military environment, whether it is Alaska or Colorado or the wilderness preserve at Cape Canaveral, which in about five minutes will be disrupted briefly by the launch of another space shuttle. Nonetheless, this notion of conserving the environment is an essential component of military leadership.
Yet few know that the successors to Lewis and Clark, the extraordinary men and women who stand before us today, bring the same message of environmentalism to the mission of national security. These dedicated men and women know that preserving that "rich mantle" is itself a journey of great diligence and determination.
United by their common dedication to our national interests and preserving our natural environment, today’s honorees come from vastly different places and have accomplished their missions in very different ways. They come from places like Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where the Army preserved more than 4,000 acres of pristine pine forest, showing that trees and training can co-exist. They come from Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, where they are using innovative solutions to protect water quality and keep toxins out of the environment. The come from Marine Corps Base Hawaii, where they have reduced hazardous waste by more than 70 tons, protecting the health and safety of all people of that beautiful island. And they come from the Navy’s Environmental Leadership Program in California, where they are pioneering the use of clean technologies to help make the world’s best Navy a better friend to the environment.
To all those who are being recognized today, and to the thousands of military and civilian workers who help protect our environment each and every day, the President, Secretary Cohen, and I offer our profound thanks. We join with you in the abiding belief that national security and environmental security are not mutually exclusive but, as the Secretary has said, mutually re-enforcing; that when we reduce our energy consumption, we increase funds to meet our military mission; that when we improve the health of the environment, we improve the health of our military families; and that when we secure our cultural and natural heritage, we help to shape a better future for this nation.
When, in the great tradition of Lewis and Clark, this nation launched its historic journey to the heavens four decades ago, we set in motion a chain of events that led to an unintended, yet miraculous, by-product -- the never-before seen view of Earth from space, that remarkable sight of a blue planet in the black void of space.
In that spirit, I congratulate each of you for the vital work you do to preserve our natural heritage. You have proven again that, as we strive for peace and freedom today, we can work to pass on a healthier, safer, and more beautiful world for the next generation to cherish.
For all that you have done on behalf of our nation, for the pleasure of joining you today, and on behalf of the President and the Secretary of Defense, I want to thank you very much. Thank you. [Applause.]