Secretary Cohen, to you and Janet, thank you so much. It's been an unbelievable honor to be your Deputy Secretary. To [General] Hugh [Shelton; Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff], you and Caroline, I've watched and admired you so much during these years we've served together, and you typify everything that I love and admire so much in those who choose to put on the uniform of this country. I'm very grateful for having a chance to serve with you.
Let me also thank the remarkable men and women who are standing before you today. These magnificent soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and coast guardsmen are but emblematic of the two million Americans that have decided that their lives are so important that they're going to serve this country. I'm very grateful for what they've done.
There are many people here today who I should thank, more than I can really do by name. I would certainly like to thank the members of Congress that are here, and I know there are many that called me this morning to say they couldn't come because of some votes. I started my career with the Congress. I've always considered it to be the crown jewel of democracy and I'm so grateful of their support of me during this time that I was here.
I also wish to thank my colleagues from OSD and from the Service Secretariats, and especially the interagency colleagues that I've gotten to know so well during these years.
I'd also like to thank my extended family. I'm so grateful that you're here today, especially my friends, and especially my church family who has done so much during these last three years to hold me up.
Finally, let me thank Julie, my friend, my partner in this life. [The gift presentation] was really 25 roses for the years we've been married, Julie, not for the years I've been in government. We pledged to each other we'd stick together for better for worse. I said, "You're the better and I'm the worse," and I apologize for everything I've done, but I thank you so much for having stood with me here.
Three years ago during the second inauguration ceremony for President Clinton, the Reverend Gardner Taylor delivered a moving benediction to the inauguration. His words then are a fitting starting point for our comments today.
Reverend Taylor prayed, "We hold before thee this nation so richly endowed, so grandly blessed, and yet imperiled apparently often by the very richness of its diversity. Deliver us from pettiness of thought, from harshness of speech, from violence of action. Make us worthy of our history, of patriot sacrifice, of martyrs' blood. Give us ever greater dedication to the great defining words of our democracy -- liberty, justice, equality, opportunity."
It's this last sentence that defines the importance of this hour for me. "Give us ever greater dedication to the defining words of our democracy -- liberty, justice, equality, opportunity."
On almost every day since I became Deputy Secretary some event or development has caused me to pause and marvel at the transforming power of the American experiment. Countless countries proclaim these words, but no other country in history has been so moved by them. What propels America to send its finest young men and women off to distant lands to a cause that most other countries would choose to ignore? What moves America to mount a relief effort for millions of refugees continents away who are flooded from their homes? What motivates a country to send its warriors to patrol a demilitarized zone in Korea to stand against an irrational tyranny? What is it in the American spirit that covets no foreign soil except that which is required to bury its fallen heroes?
I believe that we do these things because of our destiny. America is propelled to act because it has placed at its civic heart an agenda of liberty and justice, equality and opportunity. Who among us today is not the fortunate son or daughter of this unique American experiment? I'm amazed every day that someone like me, a kid from a little nondescript town in South Dakota could end up serving as the Deputy Secretary of Defense. I love America, precisely because it gives opportunities every day for the little people like me.
American democracy is not about status, but opportunity. It is not about privilege, but about equality. Ours is a government not about power, but about justice. Our Constitution doesn't begin with the crass realism, "we hold these truths to be self evident that some people are rich and powerful." But it begins with a hopeful idealism. "We hold these truths to be self evident that all people are created equal."
America is a country worth defending because these are ideas worth fighting for. And when all is said and done, being the Deputy Secretary overwhelmingly is a journey of discovery back to our civic roots. I see it in the quiet professionalism of these remarkable soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and coast guardsmen who are standing here today. I see it in the pride of our civil servants who come to work every day wanting and trying to find a better way to support our forces. I see it in my colleagues inside DoD and in the interagency community that work every day and struggle with the most complex problems that this country faces. I see it in the Senators and the Congressmen who press us very hard, but it's always to support us when we deserve it and to correct us when we need it.
I now come to the end of my journey in government, more inspired by and more committed to these simple goals of democracy than at any time of my life. I must honestly say that I will not miss the burdens of this office. But I will always miss the privilege of serving America. No one could possibly serve as Deputy Secretary of Defense without coming to understand for the very first time the meaning of the phrase, "God bless America."
Reverend Taylor at the inauguration opened the ceremonies with a very brief prayer, and that is my benediction for all of you today. "Gracious God, before whose face the generations rise and the generations pass away, grant us this day that we may so conduct our lives and our affairs that it might be counted of thee worthwhile that we lived."
Mr. Secretary, my only goal as your Deputy has been that you and the President and the Congress and the American people might consider my contributions worthwhile. Everyone here today made that possible, and I will never forget what you've done for me and what you've done for this sweet land of liberty.
A new generation now steps forward. Rudy de Leon is your new Deputy Secretary of Defense. He was confirmed last night. He will be the best Deputy Secretary of Defense this Department has ever had. I ask that you pray for him and support him with all your heart as he embarks on this very rich adventure of service.
Thank you, and may God always bless America. [Applause and standing ovation.]