To the Men and Women of the United States Armed Forces: Tomorrow, 30 June 2011, I will retire as Secretary of Defense. It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve and to lead you for the past four and a half years. All of that time we have been engaged in two wars and countless other operations.
It has been a difficult time for you and for your families, from long and repeated deployments for those in all four services -- and the associated long separations from loved ones -- to the anguish of those of you who have lost friends and family in combat or those of you who have suffered visible and invisible wounds of war yourselves. But your dedication, courage and skill have kept America safe even while bringing the war in Iraq to a successful conclusion and, I believe, at last turning the tide in Afghanistan. Your countrymen owe you their freedom and their security. They sleep safely at night and pursue their dreams during the day because you stand the watch and protect them.
For four and a half years, I have signed the orders deploying you, all too often into harm's way. This has weighed on me every day. I have known about and felt your hardship, your difficulties, your sacrifice more than you can possibly imagine. I have felt personally responsible for each of you, and so I have tried to do all I could to provide whatever was needed so you could complete your missions successfully and come home safely -- and, if hurt, get the fastest and best care in the world.
You are the best that America has to offer. My admiration and affection for you is without limit, and I will think about you and your families and pray for you every day for the rest of my life. God bless you.