General [Richard] Myers [Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff] and Secretary Cohen, thank you both for those very, very kind words.
Secretary Cohen, Aristotle once observed that the highest vocation was to serve the community. Throughout your service to this nation you have guided our men and women in uniform with the greatest of care and skill. So I am honored by the confidence you and the President have placed in me, and I pledge myself again to this highest of vocations. Thank you for your confidence in me.
Janet Cohen, the first lady of the Department of Defense, has been so helpful to me in terms of working the issues so critical to our men and women. She talks the talk. She walks the walk, and she makes a difference. Janet, please stand up, thank you very, very much. [Applause.]
Anne, Kerry and Libby, as always, thank you for being here. Also, I want to welcome my cousin, Mary Lou de Leon, who is a professor of Nursing at the University of Washington
Also, I would be remiss if I did not recognize long-term friends [General] Joe [Supreme Allied Commander Europe, designate] and Dede Ralston who are here. There is no surprise that in a younger life I wanted to be an astronaut. So one of the great heroes in my life was John Glenn. Another was the first American to walk in space, an astronaut named Ed White. He was killed on the way to the moon, but when I look at Joe Ralston everyday I see those same characteristics of a man who can push the envelope, have the Right Stuff, be an incredible gentlemen and a perfect leader for our times. Thank you for being here, and if you would please stand. [Applause.]
When Senator [Strom] Thurmond, an advocate for our Junior ROTC, took me to Columbia, South Carolina, there were those in the department who had questions about the program. But he took us there that day and we became believers. I think today on this parade field we have seen the young high school students from South Carolina with their discipline, with their commitment, and with their skills. Senator Thurmond, we are thankful to you for opening that door because with your leadership, and with the commitment of Secretary Cohen, we have expanded the Junior ROTC program much more broadly in our country, and we thank you for that. Please stand. [Applause.]
Former Congressman Sonny Montgomery and the other key congressional representatives who are here, you are the great pillars behind our people in uniform, without whom they would not be the fine force that they are. So thank you for being here.
Deputy Secretary Talbott, who is really helping to shape a new world, we thank you for being here today. [Applause.]
[Former] Deputy Secretary [of Defense John] Hamre; Service Secretaries and Chiefs, Members of the Armed Forces, and defense leaders, an extraordinary team of friends and remarkable public servants; distinguished guests; thank you for all being here today.
It has been said that "in a brief space, the generations change and, like runners, pass on the torches of life." Today, in this brief space, we are graced with three generations that reveal the purpose of our lives.
Among us are members of that Greatest Generation, our friends from the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home here in Washington who, a half century ago, quite literally saved the world from tyranny. They are Americans like John Tuggle, who survived the sinking of his PT boat and then waged guerilla warfare throughout occupied Philippines until its liberation; Mary Tropeano, who was there as a young sergeant for the preparations for D-Day and, later, for the liberation of Europe; Fay Steele, who earned 13 Air Medals and a Bronze Star for his valor in combat on a B-26 bomber; and John Wright, who fought in both World War II and Korea as a member of the legendary Buffalo Soldiers. To all the veterans who are here, for your sacrifices in war and for shaping a America in peace, I would ask that you stand so that we might honor your service. [Applause.] You are heroes of the 20th Century and we thank you for being with us.
Also joining us, as Secretary Cohen and General Myers mentioned, are members of the next generation of leaders, our Junior ROTC friends from South Carolina, who I first met on a trip to several high schools Columbia with Senator Thurmond. I invited them here because they are true models for their peers, driven by dedication and personal responsibility. They are young people of great optimism who give us great hope for our country. So again, we thank you, as we thank the Active Duty honor guards of the Military District of Washington, for inspiring us this morning.
These two generations, of yesterday and tomorrow, speak to us today, to our generation. For at the end of the day when those who walk the path of public service ask, "Why do we serve?" These inspiring Americans remind us of the answer. We serve to preserve the gifts of freedom we have received from those who came before. We serve to pass on these gifts to those who will come after.
Perhaps no one bears this burden more than our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, Active Duty, Guard and Reserve. I am inspired by their power and professionalism wherever I go. Whether on a Bosnian mountaintop, Mount Viz, at the time commanded by General [Ric] Shinseki [now Chief of Staff, United States Army], overlooking a valley made safe by their service; in the mud of Macedonia the night before they rolled north to bring peace to Kosovo; or at bases and communities across this country, such as last weekend in the wind, snow and sunshine of Alaska. And so whether we pass on to the next generation the gifts of freedom passed to us rests on whether we remain true to these men and women in uniform who preserve freedom in our time.
So, as an institution, we need to continue caring for our greatest treasure, our people. They ask nothing more than a sound quality of life – health care, housing and fair treatment -- for themselves and for their families. They deserve nothing less.
We need to ensure that our forces can prevail in any mission. So we need to strike that balance between readiness and modernization, the readiness that allows our military to meet the diverse challenges of the present, and the modernization that puts in their hands the tools and technologies they need to survive in the future.
At the same time, we need to continue the work of Secretary Cohen and Dr. Hamre prepare this department for the new threats of this new world: strengthening our defenses, our computers against terrorists in cyberspace, and our nation against those with weapons of mass destruction; ensuring that in this global economy our industry partners remain vibrant and that we can share critical technologies with friends while securing our capabilities from foes, and I thank Secretary Talbott and Jim Steinberg, the Deputy National Security Advisor, for their work in this critical area Finally, we also need to continue reforming our business practices so that our operations are as agile and efficient as the force they support.
Of course, none of this will be possible if we succumb to narrow interests rather than the national interest. So we also take occasions such as these to renew our dedication to the highest ideals of public service, of service on behalf of people, the brave and talented people in uniform who look to us for support.
So the three generations on this parade ground remind us why we serve as individuals. These abiding goals remind us where we must go as an institution. Yet, the question remains. How? To what inner spirit do we turn for strength and for guidance?
More than half a century ago, President Franklin Roosevelt offered the answer. Even as he led that Greatest Generation through the darkest Depression in our country’s history, even as he guided them through the deadliest war in human history, even as he lay near his deathbed in Warm Springs, he still held high hopes for this nation. He said in those hours, "The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts about today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith, faith in our God who gives us strength every day, faith in our families who are there to share the burdens with us, and faith in our country and in ourselves."
Ladies and gentlemen, members of the armed forces, to stand before you as Deputy Secretary is a great honor. And so, with no doubt in our purpose or our people, I pledge to you, as we do to each other, to embrace that role of the runner and to accept and pass on that torch of life and liberty and to endeavor to move this great institution forward with strong and active faith.
Secretary Cohen, I thank you for your confidence. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. [Applause and standing ovation.]