Thank you, Mr. Minister.
To all of the distinguished leaders that are here, those who are involved with the museum, the honorees, their families, ladies and gentlemen, it is for me a very profound honor to be able to come to the Auckland War Memorial and to have the opportunity to pay tribute to New Zealand's heroes, heroes of past and present.
I just laid a wreath, which you all know, at the World War II Hall for Memories. It is a truly moving emblem and a tribute to the great sacrifices New Zealand's families and their families have made over the last century.
It's also a reminder to me as United States Secretary of Defense, that our two militaries have fought together and bled together in defense of our way of life, whether in Europe or North Africa in two world wars, in the jungles of Vietnam, and in the mountains of Afghanistan.
This year, as many of you know, we commemorate 70 years since the United States soldiers and marines arrived in New Zealand during World War II. As war broke out in the Pacific, with New Zealand's forces battling in North Africa, the United States came to help its friend in need.
Over the course of the war, more than 150,000 American service members, 150,000, passed through New Zealand, which became an important staging ground for troops going to the battles of the Pacific campaign.
That experience transformed the relationship between our two countries, and laid the groundwork for enduring friendship between our militaries. It is a friendship that grew as our countries partnered to provide security in the Pacific.
And it has grown stronger and stronger over the past decade of war when a new generation of Americans and Kiwis once again stepped forward in defense of our way of life.
Today I am delighted to have the opportunity to recognize the contribution of five individuals to our shared effort in Afghanistan where New Zealand Defense Forces are continuing to make an important difference through the leadership of the Bamiyan Provincial Reconstruction Team.
In large measure because of the blood and sweat of the Kiwi forces, including the individuals we are recognizing today, Bamiyan was among the first areas designated for transition to Afghan security and responsibility.
When the transition is completed this year, New Zealand will be able to proudly say that it accomplished its mission. I am keenly aware, keenly aware of the heavy price that New Zealand has paid to achieve the successes.
And today my thoughts turn to the 10 New Zealanders who have given their lives over the last decade of war, including the five we lost just last month.
As Secretary of Defense, one of my toughest jobs is to write letters to the families of the American fallen.
I struggle each time for words that can provide comfort or try to help at a time of such heartbreak. But I find myself able to provide one piece of comfort to these families: that their loved ones died a hero and patriot…and they died fighting for those they loved and the nation they loved. And there can be no greater sacrifice. The same is true of the 10 Kiwis who have not returned home from Afghanistan.
This museum helps ensure that the sacrifice of these men and women will never ever be forgotten. But I want you to know that America will never forget that New Zealand has always stepped forward in time of need.
For that, you have our enduring gratitude, the enduring respect, and the enduring friendship of the United States.