Thank you very much. Everyone here is a friend or someone we've worked with on some of the significant [personnel] issues along the way. The advantage of being the Deputy Secretary of Defense is that I have been able to short-circuit the budget process a bit [laughter] on a number of items of direct concern to me and of concern to the NMFA [National Military Families Association]. [Laughter.]
General [Wesley] Clark [former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe] talked about the [Department of Defense] schools. Even with all of the pressures he faced in Europe, changes that can only be described as revolutionary, he and Mrs. Clark really engaged in the schools. Our schools were the subject of a dinner in Rome with the Secretary [of Defense William S. Cohen], and Mrs. [Janet Langhart] Cohen, who then came back to talk to me about education issues that needed to be addressed.
I remember three trips to Schweinfurt where we did a number of focus groups and discussions with parents, teachers and commanders. As a result, we were able to make some changes and budget plus-ups. General Clark agreed that the priorities for our schools were [reducing] pupil/teacher ratios and full-day kindergarten. This year we were even able to add a few MilCon [military construction] plus-ups to go with it.
So we’re moving in the right direction. We now have the biggest pay raise in a generation, the restoration of retirement benefits, and now improvements in the medical program. This work has been done in partnership, and some key people from [Capitol] Hill are here. They've been our partners.
It's one thing to work an issue. It's another to work in the state dining room there [in the Capitol] where there’s a spectacular portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Despite the looming crisis, he’s sitting in a chair and he’s very thoughtful. Obviously, the burdens of the country are on his shoulders when that picture was painted. I'll always remember being cornered with my back to that picture by [Ms.] Sydney [Hickey; now-NMFA Board of Governors; then-Associate Director Government Relations]. [Laughter.] I was getting "NMFA 101." [Laughter.] And I was getting "Health Care 102" from Donna Hoffmeier [former Congressional staffer] over at the table. [Laughter.] Between the two of them, they were relentless.
But over the course of working with key members of Congress, I also worked with Charlie Abel [Staff Member, Senate Armed Services Committee], who I don’t see here. I’ll share with you one of my secrets. It was during a power dinner that we worked out the pay package and had a medical discussion. That is, Charlie and I went to California Pizza Kitchen in the Pentagon City Mall. [Laughter]. We really were able to work through it with the people at the table, which shows there is no limit to how much can be accomplished if people focus on the substance and don't worry about who gets the credit. My partners over here, I want to thank them for everything that they have accomplished as well.
Inspired leadership is what it's all about. Whether it's the CINC in Europe and his wife committed to his men and women, whether it's the Secretary of Defense who works budgets, or whether it's the NMFA at the hearings talking to the members, this is a critical time. We are moving in the right direction. We have, as General Clark said, balanced the budget. With that, there are dollars opening up for investments, and appropriately, for the heart of our capabilities—the men and women who wear the uniform. "Where your treasure is, there shall be your heart." Indeed, in our budgets military men and women and their families are where we find our treasures.
I thank my colleagues Bernie Rostker [Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness], Gail McGinn [Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Management Policy], General Courter [Director of Defense Commissary Agency] and my good friend Reverend Dick Carr, who will bring up some of these issues even as I walk into church on Sunday. [Laughter.] We've got seven-day-a-week coverage. [Laughter.] But it's truly a special award, and I am very grateful to the NMFA for the opportunity to receive it. Thank you. [Applause.]