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Armed Forces Day, Joint Services Open House
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, Friday, May 18, 2001

Secretary [of Transportation Norman] Mineta, Senator [Max] Cleland and distinguished members of the House and Senate, Service Secretaries, the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Command Sergeant Majors and senior enlisted, ladies and gentlemen, and men and women of the Armed Forces.

[Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] General Hugh Shelton, I thank you for those very generous words, very kind words, but also for your courage and your selfless service to our country.

And our special greetings go to that extraordinary group of men and women who were manning the EP-3 and were just before us a few moments ago. We thank each one of you for your service to our country. Your squadron, VQ-1, has had three other incidents since its founding in 1952. Not all ended as well as yours.

On August 22, 1956, one of your planes, PR-2, was shot down by the Chinese just south of Shanghai; 16 brave Americans died. The plane commander was Lieutenant Commander Milt Hutchinson, and the co-pilot was a close friend of mine, Lieutenant J.G. Jim Dean.

On June 16, 1959, another one of your planes, PR-9, was jumped by North Korean fighters who strafed the plane, severely damaging it and wounding a crew member. The two pilots brought it down safely on a Japanese airfield. They received the Distinguished Flying Cross. And on April 15, 1969, a North Korean MiG-21 shot down another one of your planes, PR-21, killing 31 of the crew.

So you come from a distinguished squadron, and we honor you today and celebrate the fact that you've returned home safely to your families and to your country. And we should pause to remember the 47 shipmates who are still "on track."

[EP-3 pilot] Lieutenant [Shane] Osborn, thanks to you and your fine crew for your bravery and for your dedication to duty. We're proud of you all.

One of the great privileges of being Secretary of Defense is the opportunity to speak to the men and women in uniform on Armed Forces Day. The last time I had that opportunity was May 8th, 1976, 25 years ago. Back then, designer jeans were the rage, and "Charlie's Angels" was the top-rated show on TV. Today designer jeans are back, "Charlie's Angels" are back, and so am I. [Laughter.] And what a pleasure it is, as well as a surprise.

[Former Senator] Bob Dole, my friend here, remembers "Charlie's Angels" and designer jeans. We served together in the House some 35 years ago, I think.

But a great deal has changed in the last 25 years. It was a different world then, a world of confrontation and struggle between the state Ronald Reagan called "the Evil Empire" and the nation Thomas Jefferson promised would become an "empire for liberty." Thanks to the men and women of our Armed Forces and the perseverance of so many over four decades, liberty triumphed. Thanks to the noble work you do, we live in a world today of expanding freedom and growing prosperity.

We have much to be thankful for. But, as we've learned from history, "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance." The men and women here today and across the globe stand watch for liberty. You're the ones who wake up each morning and voluntarily put your lives at risk so that all of your fellow citizens can go about their days in peace and freedom. Whether at any moment you man an EP-3, a ship, a tank, or an office, each of you has made a conscious decision to serve. Your choice has been for the arduous life of military service. You work long hours, often in difficult circumstances, with extended periods of separation from wives, husbands, and children.

And it's because you stand ready to respond, at a moment's notice, if any should threaten our country, that our nation is able to contribute to peace and stability in this still dangerous and untidy world.

I see many of you have brought your children here today so that they can see the Armed Forces that you're so proud to serve. I want each of you young people to look up for a moment at your moms and dads. Take a good look. You're looking at American heroes. And we share your admiration for them.

You're serving in a challenging period, an extraordinary moment of opportunity, when, to be sure, the threats of the Cold War are behind us, but the new threats of the 21st Century are there, but still not yet fully understood. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them pose new challenges: terrorism, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, cyber-attacks. I suspect that future generations will look back at this time and judge that it was a time of transition--transition from the old, familiar, well-understood threats to new challenges from sources much less understood.

We may not know precisely who our adversaries may be or precisely what challenges they will pose, but we do know that challenges to freedom are unending. Your task is to defend your nation against the unknown, the uncertain, the unseen and the unexpected. You're building the Armed Forces for the 21st Century that must deter and defend and prevail against the threats of this new era so that we, by our vigilance, can extend the peace well into this new century. This will require a willingness to take risks and it will require innovative thinking. It also will require openness to new ideas.

Your government must return the honor that you and your families offer through your service by treating you with the respect, the admiration and the gratitude that you deserve. That's why President Bush is asking Congress for increased military pay and benefits and improved housing.

Our policies must recognize that we no longer have a conscript force of single men, but a proud, all-volunteer force made up of men and women with families, of single parents, and of dual-career couples.

Much time is spent debating what we can afford to spend on our armed forces. But we don't spend on you, we invest in you. The men and women of our Armed Forces aren't a drain on our economic strength; you safeguard it. You're not a burden on our economy; you are the critical foundation for its growth. Our peace dividend comes from the security you provide and the prosperity that you make possible.

Daniel Webster once declared that "God grants liberty only to those who love it and are always ready to guard it and defend it." We are a nation that loves liberty, and you are its guardians and its defenders. You are engaged in a truly noble calling. And President Bush and I, and the members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate are proud to stand with you and support you as we refashion our military for this new century.

For your service to our country, for your sacrifices you make and the risks you take to defend our nation, we thank you and we honor you. Thank you very much. [Applause.]