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Intrepid Freedom Award (Videotaped Message)

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, New York City, New York, Thursday, May 24, 2012

I want to express my profound regret for not being able to accept this award in person tonight.  I had very much looked forward to coming up to the city I love, and to being aboard that great ship, the USS Intrepid. 

But I want you to know that I am profoundly honored by this award.  And I am proud to be associated with this organization and its noble mission of honoring the heroes of America’s armed forces. 

I know that many of those heroes are in the audience.  I’d like to acknowledge all the men and women from across the services who join us tonight, and all of the veterans – particularly those who served aboard the USS Intrepid. 

I also want to pay special tribute to the Fisher family for the extraordinary work done by the Intrepid Family of Foundations. 

The three Intrepid foundations – the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, the Fisher House Foundation, and the Intrepid Relief Fund – make a crucial difference in the life of our armed forces. 

They provide critical support to our troops, veterans, wounded warriors, and their family members in times of hardship, in times of need, and in times of heartbreak.

Through the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, Americans learn a timeless lesson.  It is the lesson that our freedom, our security, and our very way of life are made possible only because there have been those among us willing to fight and to die to make it so. 

Our men and women in uniform embody what makes America strong:  the determination to overcome any challenge, and the willingness to sacrifice for our children. 

The Intrepid museum also reminds us of the strong spirit of innovation that courses through the life of the military, a spirit which has always been and remains the key to a strong national defense. 

I’m talking about the ability to look around the corner, perceive new challenges, and develop ways to leap ahead of potential adversaries or competitors. 

To not only be able to fight, but to be able to anticipate how and where and against whom we might need to fight. 

These are the forces that led the military to develop the jet engine, to help send people and satellites to space, to build the Internet, and now to develop remotely piloted aircraft and automated vehicles.  

The story of this ship is the story of innovation in the face of crisis and adversity. 

As many of you know, the Intrepid’s keel was laid more than 70 years ago, only one week before our country was brutally attacked at Pearl Harbor.  It would go on to play a decisive role in defeating the Japanese Navy and securing victory in the Pacific.

For more than ten years, we have been in a different kind of war than what the Intrepid confronted in the early years of her life.  From networks of violent extremists operating across the globe to ruthless insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, our military has fought an adversary determined to attack our homeland.  But just as with World War II, we have made clear that nobody attacks America and gets away with it.  What we have done to Bin Laden and al Qaeda’s leadership sends a message that we will do whatever we have to do to protect our country. 

It has been a decade of great challenge, but also of great change, of innovation and adaptation for the men and women of the United States military.  Across the services our men and women have become vastly more networked, more capable and more effective at operating on the 21st century battlefield. 

This next greatest generation of heroes has exemplified the spirit of innovation and leadership that runs through the United States military.

These men and women, who have fought and bled for us over the last ten years, want to find ways to lead and to contribute to a better future for their children. 

As leaders in business and as leaders in government, we need to find ways to support them and their families – by helping those who are leaving the service find good jobs, by supporting their educational ambitions, and by helping them start a business. 

These are men and women who have been tested by war, who have demonstrated the greatest qualities of leadership, sacrifice, and innovation.  I have had no greater honor in life than to lead them as Secretary of Defense.  In them I see the best that America has to offer, and I see a hope for a better future. 

Thank you all for your support of them and thank you again for this award.

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