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Distinguished Civilian Service Awards
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, The Pentagon, Washington, DC, Tuesday, October 03, 2000

Doc [Cooke; Director, Washington Headquarters Services], thank you very much. Let me say you’ve been here most of those 45 years [that these awards have been given]. [Laughter.] I thank you for your commitment and attention to this cause and so many throughout this institution.

Deputy Secretary [Rudy] de Leon, who should be here soon. Secretary [of the Navy Richard] Danzig; [Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logisitics, Jacques S.] Gansler; [Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness] Dr. [Bernard D.] Rotsker; Alice [Maroni; [Principal Deputy Comptroller]; Bill [Lynn; Under Secretary of Defense, Comptroller and Chief Financial Officer]; Art [Money; Assistant Secretary of Defense, Command, Control, Communications & Intelligence] and so many of our distinguished leaders who are here this morning, good morning.

"We are not honored for what we receive. Honor is the reward for what we give." Today, we are privileged to honor eight individuals for what they have given, with their leadership, their talents, and, their time to this Department and to our country, and for what we as a Department have received—the finest force for freedom that the world has ever seen.

I see this almost everyday, [most recently] as we traveled to Asia. I returned from Asia where I saw our men and women in uniform doing what they’ve been trained to do. And [to see them serve] is to understand Justice [Oliver Wendell] Holmes’ description of his fellow Civil War soldiers. He said they were brave companions whose "hearts were touched with fire."

In Korea, I stood with airmen and soldiers at Kunsan Air Base, where, as they say, North Korean forces are only five minutes away by SCUD missile. And the "Wolfpack" – as they call themselves -- was there was howling and cheering. Their morale was sky high, a great testament to the leadership they have. They are there for a one-year deployment, unaccompanied. And I can tell you their morale couldn’t be higher.

In Singapore, I had occasion to visit with our Marines and sailors aboard the USS Germantown, and also took the occasion to go to the hospital to see a young sailor who had fallen off the USS Lincoln. He was onboard one night, and it was very stormy. He slipped and fell off the front of the ship as it was leaving Singapore. The ship was travelling about 32 knots, and it was nighttime. He had a light on his uniform that came on when he hit the water. But somehow, by accident or just because of vigilance, another sailor saw a light flashing in the turbulent waters, and said, "Man overboard."

They were able to get the helicopters out and rescue him at sea. He suffered a broken spleen. He was taken to a Singapore hospital, where I saw him, and had been on life support systems for a couple of weeks. His parents were there holding his hand as I went into the hospital to visit with him. He’s going to recover. It was a remarkable testament to the kind of professionalism and competence of our sailors and Marines who were aboard that ship -- to be able spot him and get those helicopters up and get him in those turbulent waters in matter of a few minutes.

These are things that are heroic in scope and scale that we rarely get occasion to be privy to. That was just one story of many that we see our men and women performing everyday. They are remarkable. Their hearts are touched with fire. They believe in their mission, they believe in each other, they believe that they’re making a difference; and, they know this nation supports them in everything they do. And as these awards attest, they have the support of an elite army of public servants whose hearts are also touched with fire.

The men and women that we’re honoring today represent the dedicated citizens who labor with such zeal to ensure those warriors in places like Kunsan and elsewhere have the weapons they need today, and will have the tools they will need tomorrow, and, they’ll have the quality of life that they deserve every day. We are here to support them. And as I have said on so many occasions in the past, you are the force behind the force. Our military men and women simply couldn’t do their job—they couldn’t be the best at what they do—unless you are the best at what you do. And I would suggest that there has been no greater need for your vision and vigor than today, as we confront the dramatic shifts, changes and challenges of the 21st Century.

The men and women that we’re honoring today are leading our response to this rapidly changing world by being willing to challenge conventional wisdom and comfortable assumptions. They are helping to shape our strategy in global affairs with their policy insights and skilled intelligence that allows our forces to meet the full range of contingencies the world over.

They’re saving us time and energy and money as leaders in the Revolution in Military Affairs; they have insightful counsel and innovative technologies that will provide the tools that our forces will need to fight the battles of the future.

They are supplying the ingredients for the Revolution in Business Affairs as well, streamlining our operations to make sure we make the most of our resources. And I would say that all of these ideas and achievements are going to endure for many years to come.

And so today we are honoring not only these men and women for their extraordinary accomplishments, but by extension, we are paying tribute to all the public servants throughout this institution for what they, and all of you, do. We acknowledge the profound debt that Americans owe to everyone who has chosen to devote their lives to the safety and security of this nation.

Now, I mentioned Holmes already. By this time, you’ve probably gotten familiar with the fact that there are two people I love to cite. One is Holmes, of course, and the other is Joshua Chamberlain. But Holmes is still my favorite, and let me close with him. He reflected on his Civil War experience and service in the regiment and he declared, "The best service we can do for our country and ourselves is to see so far as one may, to feel the great forces that are behind every detail, to hammer out as compact and solid a piece of work as one can, and to try to make it first-rate."

So for close to four years now, it has been my privilege to serve with those of you in this Department as you have looked to see as far as you may, as you hammered out a truly extraordinary work product, always mindful of the great forces—our uniformed men and women—behind every detail.

And so today, it once again is my pleasure to offer each of you finalists the recognition you so richly deserve and to present each of you with this Department’s highest honor for career service, the Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award.

And I want to say once again, congratulations to each and every one of you. Thank you for everything you do for this Department and for our country. I want to take each and every occasion I can to pay tribute to you because you go unrecognized for the most part, except for these ceremonies. I hope that the American people will understand that we are the best because you are the best, and want you to continue to serve in that capacity. [Applause.]