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Farewell Message From Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 2006 – For these past six years, I have had the opportunity -- and, I should add, the privilege -- to serve with the greatest military the world has ever known.

To all of the men and women in uniform, all across the globe, I wish it were possible for me to meet with each of you personally today so I could look you in the eyes, shake your hands and express my heartfelt gratitude for your service, and to give you some sense of what you have given me -- pride in our mission and an abiding confidence in our country and in those of you who volunteer to risk your lives to defend us all.

As I complete my second tour as secretary of defense, I leave knowing that the true strength of our military lies not in our weapons, but in the hearts of the men and women in uniform, in your patriotism, in your professionalism, and your determination to accomplish the mission.

President Abraham Lincoln once said, and I quote, “Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.” That remains as true today as it did during President Lincoln’s time. I have seen countless examples of this resolve when I have met with those of you serving in this long struggle against violent extremists.

I remember visiting a base near Fallujah, where Marines had been engaged in some of the most intense house-to-house fighting since World War II. It was two days before Christmas. A staff sergeant asked me why there wasn’t a way he could extend his tour beyond his unit’s service limit in Iraq.

And, I think back to a young man I met at Bethesda naval hospital. He was in the very early stages of his recovery from multiple wounds suffered in Iraq. He looked up at me with a tube in his nose, and he said with force: "If only the American people will give us the time we need, we can do it. We are getting it done."

And a soldier I met in Afghanistan not long ago who said, “I really can't believe we're allowed to do something this important.” Well, I feel the same way. I can’t believe I have had the chance to be involved in something so important to the safety of the American people and the future of our country.

What you are accomplishing is not simply important -- it is historic.

When the cause of human freedom required men and women to stand on the front lines in its defense, you stepped forward to liberate more than 50 million citizens in Afghanistan and Iraq.

You captured or killed tens of thousands of extremists -- taking the fight to where they live, rather than waiting for the extremists to attack us again where our families live; and you helped alleviate the conditions that foster extremism in places like the Horn of Africa, the Philippines and elsewhere so that your children and grandchildren will not have to face the challenges that we face today.

This month has two important anniversaries -- the free elections of the Iraqi national assembly and the seating of the very first democratically elected president in Afghanistan’s long history. We all remember the images of Iraqis proudly raising their purple fingers in the air after voting in their first free elections and the images of the Afghan girls singing with joy as their new president took the oath of office. Those were historic chapters in the saga of human freedom, and you made them possible.

The long struggle we are in is complex; it’s unfamiliar; and it’s still little understood, leading some to believe that there is no need to go on.

The enemy is counting on us to falter and to fail. You are the ones who live the successes and who endure the setbacks of this struggle, who find your daily missions a personal test of will. And you are the ones who, above all, know that the cause of freedom is well worth the price.

In 10 or 20 years, when you are talking to your children or to your grandchildren, you will look back on your service and at what you have accomplished with a great sense of pride. You will know that you were part of a truly proud history. Indeed, you were the makers of that proud history and an inspiration to the generations that followed.

It has been the highest honor of my life to serve with you -- the men and women of the U.S. armed forces. You define the American spirit. You have helped millions triumph over tyranny, during this time of great consequence.

You have my eternal respect, and you will remain in my thoughts and prayers always. May God bless you and your families, and may God continue to bless our wonderful country.

 Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense

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