Thanks very much, Mike. I really appreciate the kind introduction.
Ladies and gentlemen, leaders of the department, civilian employees, military officers and enlisted, let me just thank you all for coming out today and to be a part of my ability to say thank you. And I guess that's the reason I'm here, very simply, is to say thank you for your service, for your dedication, for your commitment, for the willingness of those men and women in uniform to put their lives on the line in order to protect this country.
I'm a believer that our fundamental mission here at the Department of Defense is very simple. It is to protect and defend the United States of America and to keep our country safe.
And because of your great work, because of everything you do, we can say with pride that we have kept our country safe. That's what it's all about, and that's something that I will be most proud of as I head back to California, is the knowledge that everything we have done has helped keep our country safe.
I want to acknowledge not only your great work, but I also want to pay tribute to the love and support of your families. As I've often said, none of us could do these jobs without having those we love support us in this effort. It's true for my wife and family, and I know it's true for your families, as well, and those you love.
Now, these are tough jobs. They take a lot of work. They take a lot of dedication. We face a lot of pressure. We face a lot of challenges. And sometimes it demands that we go off to the battlefront, long distances away from home, and yet throughout that, knowing that our families are there, knowing that they love and support us is what gives us the ability to do this job.
And so my deepest thanks go out not just to all of you, but to your families. They are part of our family. They're part of our Pentagon family. And I thank them from the bottom of their heart, of my heart for their sacrifice and for their dedication.
Over the last 19 months, I've had the privilege of working with many of you and meeting many of you. I've had the great honor of being able to go out and greet our troops in the battlefront, meet the commanders, great commanders that we have on the battlefield. I've come away from those experiences with a deep respect and admiration for all of the dedication and sacrifices that our country is willing to make in order to keep us all safe.
Every day, I see the people in this department working and fighting together as one family, united behind our mission of protecting our country. I know this can be a difficult place to work. This is one big bureaucracy. It's a big building. There are a lot of obstacles. There's a lot of red tape. In a building that's this large, just finding your desk can be a challenge. I'll never forget a few months after I came into the job, I was here at work on the weekend, left my office to see if I could find some food someplace, and spent the next hour trying to find my way back to my office.
Dwight Eisenhower once told the story of a woman who was pregnant who went up to one of the guards here at the Pentagon and she was very concerned that she might deliver her baby and wanted to know where she could find a doctor. And the guard said, “What the hell are you doing? You shouldn't have come into this office building that pregnant.” And she said, “When I first came in this office building, I wasn't pregnant.”
Despite these obstacles, one of the most rewarding parts of my job has been to see the people who are willing to fight to keep America safe. That's our number-one job. And I am so grateful for those that do that. I think we are as a nation strong because there are men and women that are willing to put their lives on the line in order to protect this country. That is our great strength; that's what makes us strong. And the fact that they're out there, the fact that they are exercising tremendous bravery, tremendous courage, and are willing to do everything they can to fight to protect this country, that is what makes America strong. That's what makes us strong.
I've often said if others who are in leadership positions in this town, they just look at the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to fight for what they think is right and just take a little of that courage, a little of that bravery, to take the risks that are necessary to solve the problems in this country, this country would truly be on the right path to the future. It's because of their example and their inspiration that I think this country is strong.
For the civilian workforce, I also want to pay tribute to all of you. You do everything you can to support our mission. You support our warfighters downrange. You don't get a hell of a lot of public recognition, but the fact is, your efforts make a difference. We could not do this job without the civilian workforce. You're the unsung heroes of this nation. And whether you're a contractor or a logistics specialist or an IT expert or an acquisitions manager or a food service professional or a force protection agent or one of the countless others working together as a team, you are an important part of our success.
I am forever grateful and proud of what we've been able to accomplish together. We've developed and become implementing a new defense strategy for our defense force of the 21st century that will sustain the strongest military power on Earth and strengthen our ability to meet our responsibilities and the challenges we face in defending our country and implementing fiscal discipline. I have never believed that we have to choose between our responsibility to national security and our responsibility to fiscal discipline.
We can do both. We have done that in developing a defense strategy that implements the key elements that we need for the future: agility, the ability to deployed quickly, the ability to be on the technological edge of the future, the ability to have force protection and force projection in the Pacific, in the Middle East, the ability to have a presence elsewhere in the world. We have rotational deployment capabilities that can exercise and train other countries and develop their capabilities so that they, too, can provide security; the ability to defeat more than one enemy at a time, the ability to invest in the future, invest in unmanned systems and space and cyber, invest in special forces, invest in the ability to mobilize quickly, invest in the ability to maintain a strong industrial base in this country so that we can have a strong defense for the future.
Putting those elements together was the result of a team effort by both the military and the civilian workforce here, and I deeply appreciate their working as a team to put that in place. Because of the progress that we've been able to achieve, particularly with our troops, we've ended the war in Iraq, we've given the Iraqi people a chance to be able to secure and govern themselves. In Afghanistan, we're doing exactly the same thing. We're conducting a transition process, a plan put together by General Allen, who has provided tremendous leadership in that effort. We are on the right track in Afghanistan. And we will be able to transition over these next two years to a point where the Afghans themselves can govern and secure themselves.
We've put tremendous pressure on Al Qaeda, the enemy that attacked us on 9/11, and we have made very clear in going after Al Qaeda and the leadership of Al Qaeda that nobody attacks the United States and gets away with it. We will continue to pursue them wherever they go. We will make sure that Al Qaeda has no place to hide in the world.
I'm proud of the efforts we have made to expand opportunities to those that want to serve our country. If somebody wants to serve this country and is able to meet the qualifications of the job that's involved, then they deserve a chance to serve.
As the son of Italian immigrants, I've lived the American Dream. My parents worked hard. They didn't have a lot of education. They didn't have a lot of money in their pocket. But they understood the opportunity that America was all about. And if you work hard, if you dedicate yourself to something, if you have a chance to succeed, then, damn it, that's what being in the United States is all about, having a chance to succeed. Nobody guarantees success. But what we should guarantee is a chance to be able to succeed, if that's what you want to do.
And finally, many of you have focused daily on taking care of our returning veterans and our wounded warriors. Caring for our own is a sacred obligation. And you're enabling our nation to honor that commitment.
The toughest part of this job, as I've said time and time again, is having to write notes to the families of those that have lost loved ones in battle. There's not an awful lot you can say. The one thing that I've tried to say to each of those families is that their loved one loved them, loved their country, and gave their lives for everything they loved. That makes them a hero and a patriot forever.
Looking to the future, we have to stay vigilant, because we are going to face some severe challenges in the future. We’ll be in war in Afghanistan for a while still. We've got to confront violent extremism wherever it is. We still are confronting a war on terrorism, and we've got to be prepared to confront them wherever they are.
We've got the threat of cybersecurity, cyber warfare, which is a real threat in our times and can literally threaten to paralyze a country. That's a real threat. Cybersecurity is something we've got to really be concerned about, because it is the weapon of the future. We're going to have to deal with weapons of mass destruction and their proliferation. We're going to have to continue to deal with rogue states, like Iran and North Korea. We just saw what North Korea has done in these last few weeks, a missile test and now a nuclear test. They represent a serious threat to the United States of America. And we've got to be prepared to deal with that.
We also face the challenge of rising powers in Asia and elsewhere, continuing turmoil in the Middle East. If we're going to achieve progress in these areas, we depend on your skill, we depend on your determination to make our military the strongest and the most respected in the world.
And we also national defense in the United States needs the partnership and support of the Congress. This is a partnership operation in a democracy. And as you know, because our leaders in Washington have not yet resolved the key budgetary issues facing our country, we are facing a period of budget uncertainty that threatens across-the-board cuts in defense and in domestic programs.
I know that all of this uncertainty creates tremendous concerns for you and for your families. I understand that. I want you to know, my highest priority is making sure that we do everything we can to protect our most valuable asset at this department, and that is our people, you, our men and women in uniform and our talented civilian workforce.
I will continue in whatever capacity to urge the Congress to establish some budget certainty. There no reason why we should engage in a self-inflicted wound in this country. We have the strongest national defense. We've got the strongest technology. We've got the strongest men and women in uniform. There is no reason why we have to have this budget uncertainty of a legislative mechanism that was designed not to go into effect, because it was so onerous.
So you have my word that I will continue to fight for the rest of the time I'm in this office and wherever I go to try to urge the Congress of the United States to exercise the responsibility that they owe the American people to do what's right.
As I've said before, none of our military's great technology is worth anything without those who acquire it and maintain it and employ it. Our military strength is not just measured by our capacity to defeat aggressors or topple regimes with advanced technology. One of our greatest strengths is our ability to partner with other nations to uphold American values abroad and to sustain American leadership across the world.
We are the strongest military power in the world. The world needs our leadership. The world needs the United States of America to lead the world towards peace and towards prosperity. The work you do every day here at the Pentagon has a direct impact on our men and women who raise their right hand and take an oath to put their lives on the line for this country. It has a direct impact on the security of our country, and it has a direct impact on the security of the world.
My friends, it has been the honor of my life to have served with you in this position as secretary of defense. It's been the greatest privilege I've had in my almost 50 years of public service to be able to represent the people of this department to our friends and to our partners around the world. Because of your dedication, because of your expertise, because of your sacrifice, the United States military is the strongest fighting force in the world. And America will always remain the home of the free and the land of the brave. You will be in my heart forever.
God bless you, God bless the men and women of the Department of Defense, and thank you very much.