Secretary [of Defense Donald H.] Rumsfeld thank you for those extremely generous words. You repeated the Vice President's candid observation that I have a habit of offering the Secretary advice, whether you want to hear it or not. I'm still not sure whether that was a tribute or a lament. [Laughter.] But I thank you for your words and I appreciate this opportunity to deliver my first speech to the Department, whether they want to hear it or not. Congressman Jerry Lewis, members of the diplomatic corps, members of President Bush's fine team. [Airplane flies over.] We're getting cheaper on the flyovers as we go.
Members of President Bush's fine team. It's been said that government is a team sport, and I'm proud and excited to be on this team. [Outgoing] Deputy Secretary [of Defense] Rudy de Leon, please let me add my thanks to those of Secretary Rumsfeld for your guidance and your counsel during this period. You're a consummate public servant and a living example of competence, civility, and bipartisanship. Thank you.
Of course Rudy and I follow a long line of distinguished Deputies to serve this institution, including Dr. John Hamre whom we thank for honoring us with his presence today. And [Former Secretary of Defense] Frank Carlucci who went on to even bigger things, but told me this was the best job he ever had. Thank you for being here.
[Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] General [Henry H.] Shelton, Service Chiefs, senior enlisted advisors, veterans, soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, not only those standing proudly before us on these grounds, but all those standing bravely for freedom and peace around the world. Distinguished guests, and so many friends and familiar faces, ladies and gentlemen.
As an academic and a scholar, I've been giving speeches for some time. Of course in recent years the audiences have been a bit smaller than this one. But in recent weeks something curious has happened. Suddenly the audiences are larger and they at least pretend to be listening. But I recognize that such attention, like the honors being afforded today, is a measure of respect, not for the person but for the position, and, in that spirit, I thank you all for being here today.
Just outside the Secretary's office is a tribute to one of the great military leaders of the last century. The Eisenhower Corridor honors a general who led the free nations of Europe in the Second World War, and a President who led a great transformation of America's military at the dawn of the nuclear age. And at the center of that exhibit are the unforgettable words with which General Eisenhower addressed the brave American and Allied troops who were about to land on the beaches at Normandy. "Soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Forces," he said, "you are about to embark on a great crusade. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and payers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you."
In the course of my life I have been blessed to stand with our men and women in uniform more than once, and I can attest that the great crusade of freedom did not end at beaches named Omaha and Utah. Two decades ago the world was split into two armed camps, and entire nations of liberty loving people struggled against tyranny, behind walls of oppression. I was proud to be able to help provide support to American forces as they stood with our allies to defend peace and keep the free world free.
A decade ago our hopes and prayers were realized beyond our wildest dreams. The power of our ideals of freedom and liberty swept away those walls and swung open the borders--perhaps the most remarkable and peaceful strategic victory in history. And I was proud once again to be able to help American forces during that time of transition as they fought and won a major war in the strategic Persian Gulf.
Today the United States and its allies and its friends enjoy a level of peace and security that we have not known for a long time, and our forces remain the finest in the world. But we risk this peace and we would betray the sacrifices of our predecessors if we become complacent or indifferent to the strengths that must be maintained as the foundation of that peace.
Some 14 decades ago as our nation approached its Independence Day, Americans fought Americans on a battlefield called Gettysburg. Generations later, a united and independent America is at peace with itself. Today threats are much smaller and much farther away, but the mission endures. In the words of Abraham Lincoln when he dedicated the cemetery at Gettysburg, "It remains for us, the living, to be dedicated to the unfinished work which they who fought have thus far so nobly advanced."
For us, dedicating ourselves to unfinished work means preserving and extending the peace well into the 21st Century. And America is led by a President who will do so with humility and with respect for the noble work of our men and women in uniform. At his first Cabinet meeting President Bush prayed, "Grant us a servant's spirit in our new positions." I can only add "Amen" to that. I share President Bush's belief that a strong American military is the foundation of a secure world for America and for all the friends of peace and freedom around the world.
And today we reaffirm our pledge to ensure both our strength and our security, and we do so on behalf of the soldiers standing guard on the Korean Peninsula, the sailors standing on watch in the Pacific, the air crews flying patrols over Iraq, and the Marines afloat and ready in the Mediterranean. And of course dedicating ourselves to unfinished work also means rededicating ourselves to our forces and their families who risk so much.
I mentioned Gettysburg. The losses from that battle are staggering even now -- some 51,000 casualties in just three days. But while such sacrifice is foreign to modern American minds, our men and women in uniform and their families make the ultimate sacrifice every day. In recent weeks our nation has joined our military families in mourning 32 Americans lost in training accidents in Honolulu, in Georgia, and in Kuwait.
Last weekend I was at Virginia Beach to help honor the 18 National Guardsmen of Virginia's 203rd Red Horse Engineering Unit who were killed when their transport crashed on the way home from two weeks of training. To see the pain of 18 families, of 33 children without fathers, the heartache of an entire community, is to know that our courageous forces and their families risk all on our behalf, and that the pain lasts a lifetime. Whether it's the loss of 51,000 or just a single one, is just as painful. We need to remember them and to support them every day with every fiber of our being.
Those men and women are fortunate indeed to have a leader who will see that we take care of those who take care of America. Secretary Rumsfeld, in another time you were the youngest Secretary of Defense ever. In a short time you will be the oldest. Those of us who have worked alongside you in recent months would add another word -- the busiest. In fact, Mr. Secretary, there are hundreds of people in this building who are just hoping that when you get some more appointees confirmed, you'll at least start to come in at 7:00, rather than 6:30, and maybe leave before 9:00 o'clock. [Laughter.]
Secretary Rumsfeld, thank you for the great privilege and for the trust and confidence that you and the President have placed in me. And on behalf of all Americans, thank you for the amazing energy and enthusiasm that you bring to this important job.
I began with the words of Eisenhower on that fateful day for freedom. Allow me to close by borrowing the words with which he concluded his inspiring message. It is the same message that we might send to all those men and women in uniform doing America's work around the world today. "Your task will not be an easy one, but the free men of the world are marching together. I have full confidence in your courage and your devotion to duty. And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking." God bless each and every one of you, and God bless America. [Applause.]