General Hugh Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Secretary and Mrs. Rumsfeld, and the Rumsfeld family, Nicholas, Marcy, Valerie and families; Secretaries [of State, Colin] Powell, [of Agriculture, Ann] Veneman, [of Transportation, Norman] Mineta, [of Education, Rod] Paige; former secretaries of defense one and all; members of the Cabinet, both past and present; members of our diplomatic corps; distinguished members of the 107th Congress, fellow members of the Joint Chiefs and ladies, our great command sergeant majors and senior enlisted advisers and ladies; combatant commanders, distinguished guests, fellow members of the Armed Forces and family members, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks so much to each of you for joining us today as we salute our secretary of Defense.
But first, let me thank the band and the Honor Guard for their outstanding display of professionalism and precision teamwork. They represent the pride and excellence of all the men and women of America's Armed Forces. Please join me in a big round of applause for them. [Applause.]
Today is a special day, indeed a very unique day for the Department of Defense. On behalf of our nation's great soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, active and reserve, I am deeply honored and have the distinct privilege of welcoming back to the Pentagon a distinguished public servant, a dedicated patriot, and a man of absolute integrity, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.
And I suspect that the secretary must be experiencing a bit of nostalgia since becoming the first man in the history of our republic to serve twice as secretary of Defense. America is truly fortunate to have Secretary Rumsfeld back as its 21st secretary of defense, and to have his wife, Joyce, return as our first lady in the department.
A graduate of Princeton University, Secretary Rumsfeld brings to this position a wealth of experience gained during a career that has spanned both the public as well as the private sectors. He has served the nation as a naval aviator, a congressman, a counselor to the president, ambassador to NATO, and White House chief of staff. And when he served as the 13th secretary of defense, under President Ford, he was the youngest man ever to hold that high office.
Secretary Rumsfeld was tested under fire as he led us through one of the most dangerous periods of the Cold War, and under his able leadership, America's defenses were strengthened. He proved by his actions that he understands the importance of maintaining a robust military capability as the best way to deter aggression, ensure stability, and prevent war.
Since returning to private life in 1977, he has held a number of top executive positions in the business community, but he's always stayed in touch with national security issues. For example, he served as the chairman of the commission to assess ballistic missile threats to the United States. His report, which was released in 1998, provided a comprehensive evaluation of this growing threat, and he certainly is alert to the destabilizing effect of weapons proliferation. Most recently, he served as chairman of the U.S. Commission to Assess National Security Space Management and Organization, and the results of that study were released earlier this month.
So it came as no surprise to any of us in uniform, for sure, that during the confirmation hearing, Secretary Rumsfeld demonstrated an impressive command of the complex range of national security issues. His in-depth knowledge of defense issues should be a great comfort to all Americans, both in and out of uniform, just as it should cause any potential adversary to pause.
[Sound of aircraft flying over.] That is not the fly-by we have planned for today. [Laughter.]
He is exactly the right man for the job in this new century. Secretary Rumsfeld's immense talents are now called upon as we face a new array of national security challenges -- more diverse, but certainly no less threatening than before.
And so, Mr. Secretary, and Joyce, our armed forces stand before you once again eager to follow as you lead this great department. We know the department could not be in better hands. Mr. Secretary, we welcome you, we salute you. [Applause.]
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, Secretary Rumsfeld.
Secretary Rumsfeld: General Shelton, I thank you for your warm welcome. The nation is grateful for the leadership that you and the chiefs and the senior enlisted advisers provide our country. I look forward to working with you all.
My thanks also to the band and the honor guard for that very fine performance and for the work you do for our country.
Distinguished members of the House and Senate, I see many friends here, and I appreciate your being here. I look forward to working with the members of the Senate and of the House very closely in the period ahead. Members of the diplomatic corps, Secretary Powell—thank you for being here—and the other members of the Cabinet.
Former secretaries of Defense and State, my friends Mel Laird, Jim Schlesinger, Cap Weinberger, Frank Carlucci, I see Al Haig's here, my friend Bob Dole from back when we were in the congress together so many years ago.
And Deputy Secretary de Leon, I'm grateful to you and other members of Secretary Cohen's team for staying on to lend us your experience during this transition period.
Distinguished guests, including many veterans who honor us by their presence. Men and women of the finest military in the world.
Earlier today, I was in the White House with the president, and he asked me to deliver a message, a message to every one of you who wears our country's uniform, and to every civilian employee of the Department of Defense. It reads:
"To the armed forces of the United States and the men and women whose work supports them: Your service in the cause of freedom is both noble and extraordinary. Because of you, America is strong and the flame of freedom burns brighter than at any time in history. Your country can never repay you for the sacrifices and hardships you endure, but we are grateful for the liberties we enjoy every day because of your service. As your commander in chief, I will always support you and your families so that this great nation continues to have the greatest armed forces in the history of the world. Thank you. George W. Bush, President of the United States." [Applause.]
As General Shelton said, this is not my first tour of duty here. Since my last tour, a great deal has changed. Twenty-five years ago, Warsaw was the name of a military pact opposed to the ways of the West. Today Warsaw is the capital of a new member of NATO.
Twenty-five years ago, American freedom was menaced by the Soviet empire, and a wall cut not just Europe, but a world, in two. Today that empire is no more, the wall is down, and the Cold War is over.
Twenty-five years ago on this field, two old friends, Doc Cooke [Director, Washington Headquarters Services], and Andy Marshall were here at a similar ceremony. And today, well, they're here again. [Laughter.] Some things just don't change.
There's a story that dates back almost that far, to the early days of the Reagan presidency. A young GI on the front lines in Germany asked our ambassador there if he ever got to see the president. Our ambassador replied that sometimes he did. "Well," the GI said, "you tell the president we're proud to be here and we ain't afraid of anybody."
A few weeks later, the ambassador saw the president, and he passed along the GI's message. Not long after that, back in Germany, the GI was listening to American Forces Radio and the president's weekly radio address. And when he heard Ronald Reagan tell the story of a message sent by a GI in Germany through our ambassador, the soldier ran out of the quarters, down through the company area, shouting, "The system works! The system works!" [Laughter.]
On behalf of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and the civilian and military leadership here in the Defense Department, I make this pledge today to every man and woman wearing a uniform: We will work to make the system work, work so that you can serve with pride and know that service to our nation is a sacred calling, work so that America and her friends and allies are strong and secure, and work so that the cause of freedom will better bind the community of nations, seeking not conflict but common purpose.
President Bush takes office with three goals in mind: to strengthen the bond of trust with the American military, to protect the American people both from attack and threats of terror, and to build a military that takes advantage of remarkable new technologies to confront the new threats of this century.
Reaching those goals is a matter of mission and of mindset. Among the things we must combat is a sense that we have all the time in the world to get to the task that's at hand. There's a sense out there that we can't or we needn't act, because the world is changing; that we're in a transition period between the Cold War and the next era, whatever it may be; and that we can wait until things shake out and settle down a bit.
But it seems to me that the state of change we see in our world may well be the new status quo. We may not be in the process of transition to something that will follow the Cold War. Rather, we may be in a period of continuing change, and if so, the sooner we wrap our heads around that fact, the sooner we can get about the business of making this nation and its citizens as safe and secure as they must be in our new national security environment.
We enjoy peace amid paradox. Yes, we're safer now from the threat of massive nuclear war than at any point since the dawn of the atomic age, and yet we're more vulnerable now to suitcase bombs, the cyber-terrorist, the raw and random violence of the outlaw regime.
Make no mistake: keeping America safe in such a world is a challenge that's well within our reach, provided we work now and we work together to shape budgets, programs, strategies and force structure to meet threats we face and those that are emerging, and also to meet the opportunities we're offered to contribute to peace, stability and freedom. But the changes we make in our defense posture, the innovations we introduce, take time to be made part of a great military force. We need to get about the business of making these changes now in order to remain strong, not just in this decade, but in decades to come.
But today really isn't the day to speak of budgets, programs or policy. That will come soon enough. It's a day to renew our promise, the debt we owe the people who serve. The president and I believe the men and women who freely elect to wear the country's uniform deserve not only our respect but our support, and yes, our appreciation. And the men and women who serve this country in times of conflict deserve not only our thanks for their sacrifice, but our commitment to value every veteran.
To the proud professionals here today and around the world, let me remind us all, this department does not stand alone. We will work with the diplomatic community and the intelligence community, to arm our president with the options and the information and capabilities needed to defend American interests and to pursue every avenue to keep the peace.
I know, for my part, as I work each day with the enormously talented men and women the president has fashioned in his national security team, that we are members of the same team, serving the same end, committed to pooling our strengths and serving our president and our nation.
The president and Vice President Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, [National Security Advisor] Condi Rice, [Director of Central Intelligence] George Tenet—no one could ask for a finer group of colleagues in this critical mission.
I close with a thought that occurred to me as President Bush spoke on Saturday at the West Front of the Capitol about the qualities that make America special and exceptional. He talked about civility, courage, character—reminders that the strength that matters most is not the strength of arms, but the strength of character; character expressed in service to something larger than ourselves. And if that is an ultimate safeguard, then we indeed are a nation blessed.
One cannot stand where I now stand, one cannot look out at Arlington's row on row of headstones, without being powerfully reminded that the spirit of service and sacrifice still lives in this country. So my thanks to each of you for this welcome, and for sharing this ceremony today.
I accept the charge the president has placed on me with a sense of honor. I welcome this re-association with the men and women of the American military—Active, Guard and Reserve—who put service above self and country above all. Thank you very much. [Applause.]