Allison, thank you for that introduction. On behalf of the entire Department of Defense, let me thank you all for all you do and have done to support our troops.
Brad Avery, I understand you recently returned from Iraq as part of a USO tour. Thank you for going. And I’m sure everyone here is looking forward to your performance.
I have to admit, this is the first time I’ve ever been a warm-up act for a member of a Grammy Award winning band. I can add a little embarrassment with Bono visiting the other day. I thought U2 was a plane. I appreciate the warm welcome. Too often when I’m asked to attend events here in Washington, the first thing my hosts do is often ask me to please raise my right hand. And then ask if I’m actually going to tell them the truth.
Of course, you expect that kind of thing in Washington. A city where those who travel the high road of humility encounter little heavy traffic. The only place in the world you can see a prominent person walking down lover’s lane holding his own hand. Where people say, “I’ll double-cross that bridge when I get to it.”
As Allison said, I’ve been at the Pentagon for just over a year – which brings to mind President Truman’s comment about Washington. He said, “For the first six months, you wonder how the hell you got here. For the next six months, you wonder how the hell the rest of them ever got here.”
Happily, I think your experience today has been quite different. And I hope you’ve had a chance to see the Pentagon and learn more about the Department. I hope we were able to provide you with some new tools and ideas that will help you with your mission.
During my time as Secretary of Defense, I have had the opportunity to travel all over the world and meet with our men and women in uniform, at every level, from privates to four-stars. I’ve also met with the families of these extraordinary service members. In all of these encounters, I feel honored to serve alongside them; humbled by their extraordinary sense of duty and dedication and their willingness to risk life and limb in defense of our nation; and blessed to live in a country with so many brave men and women.
As Americans, we owe them so much. And as only Americans can do, I believe that our citizens – you – have risen to the occasion – a far cry from the last time we were engaged in a controversial war in the 1960s and1970s. You see it in airports all over the country, where soldiers are met with standing ovations by passengers in the terminal. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it myself. There are free meals and rounds of drinks. And, above all, simple thank yous. The appreciation is real, it is heartfelt, and it bridges any political divide.
And while we’re all united in our admiration of those who have volunteered to serve our nation during these challenging times, it takes a special kind of person to devote part of their life to actively making the lives of our troops better – both during their deployments and when they get back.
Looking over the groups represented here at this America Supports You summit, I was struck by a number of things – the diversity of the geographic areas you hail from; the range of activities you do to support our troops; and the collective magnitude of what has been accomplished by citizens like you. Citizens who have felt a call to support your fellow Americans in a time of need, with gestures large and small. Whether that is:
- Sending care packages to troops or providing school supplies and toys for Iraqi children;
- Creating education scholarships and finding job opportunities;
- Helping veterans navigate the maze of government bureaucracy;
- Supporting the families of the fallen and those recovering from injuries;
- And countless other activities to improve the lives of men and women who have served our nation with honor and distinction.
For those whose lives you have touched, every gesture, no matter how small, has a tangible impact. Your work plays a vital role in uplifting spirits in the face of dangers and stresses on the battlefield and at home.
It is noble work – done not to garner publicity or get invited to the Pentagon. You do it because you feel, like I do, a deep pride in a new generation of Americans who, when faced with extraordinary challenges, have answered a call to duty, honor, and country.
These days we hear a lot about how our society for the most part is not involved in the war effort – that most citizens are not directly affected by the ongoing conflicts. There is an element of truth to those claims. But in making them, there is also a tendency to overlook all the good work that is being done on behalf of our troops – the work being done by organizations such as yours and by compassionate and selfless citizens across the nation.
And so, from the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of all our men and women in uniform and their families, thank you for everything you have done and will continue to do in the future.