Thank you all for coming today. Thank you for braving the weather. Thank you, all of you, who helped arrange the weather so that we could stay outdoors. I appreciate it enormously.
Senator Warner, great chairman of our Armed Services Committee and a good friend all these many years, and particularly the last four years, thank you for being here. Senator Coleman, and so many distinguished guests. You really do me honor to be here.
Secretary Rumsfeld, thank you for those extremely generous remarks. Thank you for an award, which recognizes me, but actually recognizes the work of literally millions of great Americans. Your remarks call to mind something that President Johnson said on a similar occasion many years ago when he said he wished that his late parents could have been alive to hear that introduction because his father would have been so proud, and his mother would have believed it. [Laughter.]
Maybe now is the time to come clean and to thank you for something else. For four years now, I've been telling audiences about what you said about bringing me back until I got it right. It gets a laugh every time. So I want to thank you for that great line. It's been good to me all those years.
And now I'd like to just turn the tables a little bit and trade a story somewhat along the same lines. It may be apocryphal, but it's just too good to check whether it's true or not. It's about how Don Rumsfeld once asked Henry Kissinger if he was planning to come back as secretary of State. And Kissinger said, "No, Don, I got it right the first time." [Laughter.]
So, Don, it looks like we've been in the same boat all along!
Truthfully, Don Rumsfeld has a great sense of humor, that's why I can tease him a bit, too. And he's known for many other things: His determination, his forcefulness, his command of the podium, his charm, and his matinee idol good looks -- yes, he's one of the stars of C-SPAN!
But to be totally serious, what really stands out for me is something that may not be widely known, and that is what a great teacher Don Rumsfeld is. He has sharpened everybody's thinking and raised everybody's standards. And he's taught me an enormous amount. He encourages and cajoles everyone to do better, always for the purpose of making this Defense Department as good as it can be, and to make our country more secure.
It's been my good fortune, Don, to have you as a friend, and America's to have your steady leadership at this demanding helm. Thank you. [Applause.]
I also want to say thank you to so many of my wounded veteran friends from Walter Reed and Bethesda who have braved the weather to be here today. There are so many other distinguished guests and friends and colleagues that if I tried to mention you all and give you the thanks you deserve, I'd just get into deeper trouble. At a time like this, words inevitably fall short, and I'm sure I'd leave someone out. But you don't do a job like this without enormous amounts of help.
So, to each one of you who has been there along the way, just know that I am deeply grateful for what we've shared during this most important chapter of American history.
And I'm particularly grateful to my personal staff, an extraordinary combination of civilians and military, active and reserve, officers and enlisted, who make a difference every day.
Last Friday I was privileged to be present at the White House when President Bush announced his nominee to be our next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. There in front of me was an extraordinary team of civilian and military leaders. First, there was our President, whom it's been such an honor to serve. I've been privileged to be there as George W. Bush has made some of the toughest decisions a leader can make. I can tell you that this is a man who understands the true costs of war, and his charge to defend what we hold most dear. We are blessed in this time of testing to have a president who possesses the deep moral courage to do what it takes to protect our country.
Next to him was Secretary Rumsfeld. And there, too, was our Chairman, General Dick Myers. As we wage this global war, Dick's been a leader of quiet, reassuring confidence; a rock of strength and a source of steady judgment and deep concern for those he serves. Dick never forgets that every decision he makes directly affects the individual men and women who serve this country so well.
And it's been my good luck to have as my closest military counterpart most of these past four years, General Peter Pace, our vice chairman. It was a special moment last Friday, Pete, to see you nominated to be the first Marine to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. You have the character, the commitment and the courage to do an outstanding job as our top military leader.
I'm delighted that Gordon England, our secretary of the Navy, who has been an outstanding member of this civilian military leadership team, has agreed to take on this challenging job—and it is challenging.
Over the last four years, I've had the privilege of working with perhaps the finest group of Joint Chiefs and combatant commanders that we've ever had. And our many outstanding one- and two-star flag officers promise to continue or even exceed that record of excellence.
But the people who have earned a truly special place in my heart, in all of our hearts, are the men and women whose names don't appear in the papers or on the evening news. They are the ones who serve America quietly and professionally every day—the men and women who wear this country's uniform, and the dedicated civil servants who support them. They are the ones who deserve our special and lasting gratitude. They are represented here today by these magnificent troops and by our wounded veterans. Please join me now in recognizing them for their service. [Applause.]
And let us remember in a special way those who have fallen in service to this nation. They remain in our hearts, each one of them a reminder that our country is blessed beyond all measure. Let us never forget how much we owe them.
When terrorists attacked us so ruthlessly on September 11th, they may have thought they knew who we were. They may have thought we were weak, grown used to comfort, softened by everything we enjoy in this great nation.
But they were wrong. They must have failed to notice that it was by the sweat and blood of each soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine, and each member of the Coast Guard, that America has met every threat throughout our history.
When we needed them, the heroes of this generation stepped forward to defend America from terrorists. In the process, two brutal regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq -- regimes that harbored and encouraged terrorists -- have been removed from power. And as a result, 50 million people, almost all of them Muslims, have also been released from tyranny.
In a region where many thought freedom and self-government could never succeed, those values are beginning to take hold. The tide is turning against the terrorists' brand of totalitarianism. Like Nazism and communism before them, this false ideology is headed for the ash heap of history.
And at the same time that we are facing the enormous task of winning a global war, we've also advanced the president's agenda for transforming the Department. We've made major adjustments in programs such as the Trident Submarine Force, new classes of surface ships, unmanned aerial vehicles, Army artillery and Army aviation, missile defense and transformational communications across the Department. We've introduced a whole new civilian personnel system for the Department. And along the way, we've done four regular budgets, four budget amendments, and at least six supplementals.
None of these decisions was easy; indeed, many were difficult. But in no small measure, because of what seemed, at times, like endless hours of meetings—and no, Don, I'm not complaining—we managed to achieve agreement between the senior civilian and military leadership of DoD.
Senator Ted Stevens paid tribute to that fact this past week when he said, "I've never seen such a relationship between chiefs and the secretary, open discussions, open critique, and really, a give-and-take that was very helpful and very healthy as far as the Department is concerned."
However, as important as these programmatic decisions have been, transformation is most of all about new ways of thinking—about how to use old systems in new ways. During the last four years, the concepts of transformation and asymmetric warfare have gone from being theoretical concepts to battlefield realities, and are even penetrating our vast acquisition apparatus, from the bureaucracy, to industry, to Congress.
But I don't have to tell this audience that all our marvelous machines and technology would mean nothing without innovative and skillful people to employ them. And even then, this Department would be of little value if our people lacked one particular quality: it's the indispensable quality and the most precious one of all: human courage.
In this job, which has been so much more than a job to me, I've seen courage in abundance.
I remember the valor of an Army sergeant named Steve Workman. In the desperate moments after Flight 77 slammed into these walls, he risked his life to get Navy Lieutenant Kevin Shaeffer out of the building and to the medical attention he desperately needed. Sergeant Workman stayed with the badly wounded, burned, officer and kept him talking and kept him alive.
I'll remember the bravery of people like Corporal Eddie Wright, a Marine who was hit by an RPG that ruptured his eardrum, broke his femur and, most seriously, blew off both his hands. In the confusion, Marines who had never seen combat before needed reassurance, and it was Eddie Wright, as badly wounded as he was, who gave it to them, telling them he was fine, giving instructions on his own first aid, pointing out enemy positions while directing his driver to get them out of the ambush zone. Like so many of our wounded heroes, Eddie's moving on in life with the same courage that he summoned in those desperate moments in Iraq.
And I remember October 26, 2003, the day our hotel in Baghdad, the Al-Rashid, was attacked. Tragically, a great soldier, Lieutenant Colonel Chad Buehring, was killed that day, and five others, civilian and military, were severely wounded.
Visiting the hospital that afternoon, I spoke to an Army colonel who was the most severely wounded. I asked him where he was from, and he said, "I live in Arlington, Virginia, but I grew up in Lebanon, in Beirut." So I asked him how he felt about building a new Middle East. He gave me a thumbs-up, and despite his obvious pain, he also gave me a smile. Today Colonel Elias Nimmer is virtually recovered and still on active duty with the U.S. Army.
But courage comes in many forms. Sometimes moral courage, the courage to face criticism and challenge received wisdom is as important as physical courage, and I’ve seen many examples of that.
One such hero I've been privileged to know is Navy Medical Doctor Captain Marlene DeMaio. She was convinced that there was a serious flaw in the way we were designing body armor. In the face of considerable resistance and criticism, she put together a team whose research proved the need to modify the body armor design. She and her team took on the bureaucracy and won. Her moral courage has saved countless American lives in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
There are so many other stories I could share, but I will tell you just one more. Three months ago, I attended a funeral at Arlington for a soldier from St. Paul, Minnesota. Sergeant Michael Carlson had been killed just before the January 30th elections in Iraq. Not long after those historic elections, I received a letter from his mother.
Mrs. Carlson wrote to tell me how much it meant to her to see the joy on the faces of Iraqi voters, men and women who had risked their lives for something they believed in. She knew her son shared that same sort of vision, and she sent me an essay that he had written as a high school senior that explained how she could be certain of that. It's a remarkable essay, particularly from such a young man.
Michael had been an outstanding high school football player, but he didn't want to become a professional athlete. He wrote, "I want my life to count for something more than just a game. I want to be good at life. I want to fight for something, be part of something that is greater than myself. The only way to live forever," this high school senior wrote, "is to live on in those you have affected. I sometimes dream of being a soldier, helping to liberate people from oppression. In the end," he said, "there's a monument built to immortalize us in stone."
Men and women like that, men and women like Michael Carlson, do become immortalized because they live on in our nation's soul.
President Reagan used to ask, where do we find such people? And he would answer: “We find them where we've always found them, on the streets and the farms of America. They are the product of the freest society man has ever known.”
On one of my visits to Iraq, I met a brigade commander who told me how he explained his mission to his men. He said, "I tell them what they're doing in Iraq and what their comrades are doing in Afghanistan is every bit as important what their grandfathers did in Germany and Japan in World War II, or what their fathers did in Korea or Europe during the Cold War."
That colonel was right.
It's been a privilege of a lifetime to serve with the heroes of this generation who will be remembered with the same gratitude as we remember those who have gone before.
Nothing is more satisfying than to be able to do work that can really make a difference, and I've been lucky to have many opportunities to do that, but this one was as good as they come.
Now the President has asked me to take on a new mission—that of working on behalf of the world's poor. Although I leave the Department of Defense, I believe both our missions serve the goal of making this world a better place. It's an honor. But I have one big regret: I'll be leaving some of the most dedicated, most capable, most courageous people in the world.
In many speeches over these years, I've been accustomed to ask the good Lord to bless our troops and our country. While I do it for the last time as your deputy secretary, I want you to know that I will always carry these words as a prayer in my heart: May God bless you, may God bless the men and women who serve this country so nobly and so well, and may God bless America. [Applause.]