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Farewell Ceremony in Honor of Deputy Secretary of Defense John J. Hamre
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Conmy Hall, Fort Myer, Virginia, Thursday, March 30, 2000

General [Henry] Shelton [Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff], thank you very much for your very kind and generous words; Deputy Secretary and Julie Hamre, thank both of you for your celestial voices and the great spirit that you have brought, not only to the national anthem, but to our lives; members of the diplomatic corps and Congress; Carolyn Shelton; Under Secretary [of Defense for Personnel and Readiness] Rudy de Leon, who tomorrow becomes Deputy Secretary de Leon; service secretaries and chiefs, and members of the Armed Forces; distinguished guests; Janet [Cohen]; ladies and gentlemen.

 

More than two centuries ago, with the fate of this young Republic and its draft Constitution in the balance, Alexander Hamilton described the kind of leader required to carry this nation through the ages, one who was dignified with so precious a trust, that he would hold the ornaments of his office to be of little value, but rather believe it his duty to do good for mankind. And Hamilton said, "He is to be regarded as a man of virtue and ability. His conduct would be guided by the sincerity of a man, and the politeness of a gentleman. In council, or debate, he would discover the candor of a statesman and the integrity of a patriot."

Well, today we celebrate just such a leader: a gentleman of virtuous heart, raised in the heart of America; a student of divinity, guided by faith and by the goodness of mankind; a patriot whose life embodies the shining qualities envisioned by Hamilton and the Founding Fathers, the first of the Greatest Generations; and, a statesman whose legacy will survive and endure, like Big Sur seacliffs, against the winds, the sun and all oblivion.

It was, no doubt, the hand of Providence that raised John Hamre to this high office as we marked the golden anniversary of this institution and we resolved to building nothing less than a new Department for a new century. John brought to this task nothing less than his remarkable blend of talent: at once a visionary strategist, peering through opaque windows into tomorrow and the pragmatic tactician, navigating the political shoals of today.

 

Indeed, in no small measure because of John Hamre’s passion, the individuals behind this institution stand together as never before. From many we are one. From diversity we are strong. From Active, Guardsmen and Reservists we are a superb and superior Total Force.

Because of his prescience, this Department stands better prepared for a world that is "mantled in mist." Our vital computer networks are more secure. Our industry partners are more able to harness the potentialities of a global market. And, our fellow citizens and their communities are better prepared should those who hold terror in a suitcase or a vial ever attempt to unleash the unthinkable on American soil.

Because of John Hamre’s persistence, that Revolution in Military Affairs is transforming the very way that our forces fight, and that Revolution in Business Affairs is transforming the very way our support "tail" sharpens our "tooth," with savings, as was noted earlier, of billions and billions of dollars.

And let me say that it was because of his relentless prodding, that this Department safely stepped into the Year 2000, handing skeptics, to borrow his words, "one of the most underperforming crises in history."

Now it is often said that only conundrums reach the desks of the powerful. But these challenges did not seek out John Hamre. He sought them out, and then he resolved, in the words of Tennyson, "To strive, to seek, to find and never to yield."

Of course, inseparable from John’s high achievements is his humble manner, a gentleman who is not enraptured by those "ornaments of office," but rather inspired by those he led. And if any of us were to seek a window into the heart of this man, you need look no further than his quiet acts of grace in the cemetery beyond these grounds: To his first official act as Deputy Secretary of Defense and to his final official act on his last day tomorrow, when, without fanfare or flourish, he lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown. The man that America honors today has honored America, and those who protect her, every day of his life.

 

And John, let me say again personally what an honor it’s been to serve alongside you. I would say that rare has been the day when I did not benefit from your counsel, your candor, your judgement or your friendship, and, of course, your Lake Wobegon humor. [Laughter.] And for that, I am forever grateful.

Chairman Shelton is fond of saying that, as warriors, we never want to engage in a fair fight. We always want it to be unfair and in our favor. John has taken those words to heart because in all of his endeavors he has had an unfair advantage called Julie. She has been with him, from a submarine’s claustrophobic conditions under the polar ice cap to and to Central America and to East Timor as they served meals to our soldiers at Thanksgiving. And like so many spouses, as Chairman Shelton has pointed out, she has been without her husband on so many occasions while John was fulfilling his duties to the nation. So Julie, on behalf of all of us, thank you for what you have given to our country and the sacrifices you have made. [Applause.]

Now, it has been said that the final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in others the conviction and the will to carry on. I have had the opportunity in so many days to look into the eyes of those that you leave behind, those who are in this audience today. I have seen the conviction and their will to carry on the work of this great leader. But I would like to suggest that as you continue carry out your tasks, I want you to be mindful of the words of another leader, those of Senator Bob Dole, when he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. They were the first words John Hamre spoke as Deputy three years ago, and they were the last words he spoke to Congress three weeks ago.

Senator Dole said, "It was an honor beyond the dream of a small town, and I felt something great and noble, because America is the hope of history. The moral challenges of our time can seem less clear, but they still demand conviction and courage and character. They still require young men and women with faith in our process. They still demand idealists captured by the honor and adventure of service. They still demand citizens who accept responsibility and who defy cynicism, affirming the American faith and renewing her hope. If we remember this, then America will always be the country of tomorrow, where every day is a new beginning, and every life an instrument of God's justice."

John, because of your conviction and your character, because of your faith and your honor and your idealism, our forces are stronger, our nation is more secure and America remains the hope of history. So John and Julie, thank you for all you have given all of us. [Applause.]