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Senior Executive Service Presidential Rank Awards
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, The Pentagon, Washington, DC, Wednesday, November 08, 2000

Doc Cooke [Director, Washington Headquarters Services], thank you for your kind words and, as always, for your commitment that brings you here today.

Let’s just say that yesterday’s balloting was Halloween II. [Laughter.] Last week we apparently spent $2.5 billion scaring ourselves with imaginary threats. Last night we managed to spend about $3 billion scaring ourselves—if I can quote a phrase—"big time." [Laughter.] It was apparently the closest balloting that we have had in the last forty years. And during that time we have had 8 presidents, 11 presidential elections and 14 Secretaries of Defense. But I will tell you, in that time we have had only one "Mayor of the Pentagon." [Laughter and applause.] Doc, thank you again for the more than four decades you have given to this institution.

Ladies and gentlemen, I suspect that most of you are sleep deprived this morning [laughter], so I will not deliver unto you a lengthy presentation. But let me first say welcome to Deputy Secretary [Rudy] de Leon and distinguished leaders from across the department, including Secretary [of the U.S. Army, Louis] Caldera; Under Secretaries [for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Jacques] Gansler, [for Policy, Walter] Slocombe and [for Comptroller and Chief Financial Officer Bill] Lynne; [Vice] Admiral [Scott] Fry [Director for Operations, Joint Staff]; [Principal Deputy Assistant] Secretary Charlie Cragin [Reserve Affairs]; Doug Dworkin [General Counsel]; Alice [Maroni, former Principal Deputy Under Secretary, Comptroller]; honorees; ladies and gentlemen, welcome.

Yesterday was the final day of the campaign. Today was to be the first day of the transition. And as our thoughts turn to speculation and prediction about who is going to inherit the reins of power around this city—including this department—I think back on one of the best novels that I have read about this city, Advise and Consent, written by Allen Drury. In describing the perpetual changes that politics bring to Washington, Drury described this as "a city of temporaries, a city of ‘just-arriveds’ and ‘only visitings,’ filled with people who are just passing through." So it is quite fitting on a day such as today that we honor a group of leaders who in this "city of temporaries" have transcended the political seasons to become pillars of excellence in this institution.

One of my favorite poets, T.S. Eliot, said that he had measured out his life with coffee spoons. I will confess to you at times that I feel I have measured out my life in ceremonial activities in this department. [Laughter.] They always afford me an opportunity to honor our finest. But they also serve as a cruel reminder of how swift is the passage of time, and how the rush of events has really defined our recent years.

I will just touch upon them briefly, such as reaching out to newborn democracies in Eastern Europe and enlarging the NATO alliance; reaching out to China to reduce the risk of miscalculation or misunderstanding; ringing in the Year 2000 not with a bang or crash of our computers, but with the whimpers of those who charged that we were alarmists or false prophets; and reconnecting the American people to its military.

Now there also have been the sudden shocks of an ever-changing world: the daily attacks on our computers from hackers at home and cyber soldiers abroad; nuclear blasts in the Indian desert and Pakistani mountains; and a North Korea missile careening over the islands of Japan and into the Pacific.

There have been moments of great tragedy: the rubble of our embassies in East Africa, the hole in the side of the Cole in Yemen, and those that were inflicted here at home in our hearts.

There have been moments of triumph: from our rapid relief of an entire region after Hurricane Mitch in Central America to the rapid rescue of Americans from those embassies in Africa, to fighting floods in the Midwest and, more recently, fires in the far West. From standing up to Saddam Hussein in Operation Desert Fox and the near-daily patrols taking place ever since, to taking on and then taking out Slobodan Milosevic’s forces in Operation Allied Force—the most successful air campaign in the history of warfare—and maintaining a presence in the Balkans that has helped to push him and his regime closer to The Hague.

For all of these moments, there is one truth we should never forget. The principles of free markets and free minds are ascending. More nations are choosing the path of economic integration and political cooperation. And now more humanity lives under that flag of freedom than ever before. And that progress is due to the power of our ideals backed by the power of our military, and the men and women who are supporting them. And so every American ought to recognize this moment in history as the bright moment it is and be tremendously proud of all who have helped to give us this day.

 

Now, to keep pace with this transformed world, we have transformed this department. Not long ago, I used to hear arguments that we had yet to move away from a Cold War mentality. Well, today, there is, as you know, a genuine Revolution in Military Affairs that is making our forces faster, more flexible, lighter and more lethal.

Not long ago, it was said that we would drag down our military with a support system that failed to keep pace with our warfighters. Today, as you know, we have a Revolution in Business Affairs and our Defense Reform Initiative that is fundamentally changing the way in which this department does its business in the information age.

Not long ago, some saw our Guardsmen and Reservists as being separate and unequal. Today, we have a truly Total Force that relies on our Guard and Reserve as never before.

Not long ago, we lacked focal points for our fight against weapons of mass destruction abroad and their potential use here at home. Today we have the Defense Threat Reduction Agency that oversees all of our counter-proliferation efforts. Today the Joint Task Force for Civil Support and our special teams of Guardsmen across the nation stand ready to advise and assist communities in the event of a chemical or biological attack on American soil.

 

Finally, not long ago, voices at home and abroad questioned whether America was willing to make the investments to remain the world’s sole military superpower. And today we can point to a reversal of the historic decline in procurement and a renewed commitment to equip our men and women with the advanced tools and technologies they are going to need in the future. Today we can point to the largest sustained increase in military spending in some fifteen years and the largest increase in pay and benefits since the early 80’s.

 

In short, we can point to the finest force for freedom in the world and a department prepared to meet challenges of this new century. And virtually all of this success would simply have been impossible without the presence of the people in this room today and the ones that we are prepared to honor. So I want you to know that everyone in this room and everyone throughout this department is enormously proud of what you have been able to do and accomplish during the past four years.

And so we use occasions such as this not to measure out our lives in coffee spoons, but to celebrate your service and to shine a very bright light on the spirit behind your service. I have asked this question before—"Why are we here?" And as I have said before, surely it is not because this is a mere profession; there are countless other avenues to which each of you could devote your energies. It is not for profit, and I hesitate to say this or to tempt you, as there are other sectors that would reward you far more than the Defense Department. It is not simply the passion for public service, because there are endless other opportunities where you can contribute to this nation that make far fewer demands on you and your families.

As I said when we honored the unsung heroes of this department with a ceremony on the parade ground on Armed Forces Day, each of you—whether you are uniformed or civilian—embodies the words of Faulkner, "That man will not merely endure, he will prevail, because he alone among the creatures has a spirit capable of compassion, of sacrifice and endurance." Those of you in this Department will not only survive, you will prevail because of your sacrifice and your willingness to endure.

Now, a few weeks ago, we co-hosted the showing of a wonderful movie called Men of Honor, and it was the life story of Carl Brashear, the first African-American to become a Navy Diver. And then having lost his leg in an accident at sea, he was about to be mustered out but he said, "No, I want on to continue on to become the first [Africa-America] Master Diver." I think its being released in a couple of days, I think officially November 10th. It’s a great story of the triumph of the spirit of a single individual.

After the movie was over he said, "This just touches the surface of what I had to go through to be here today." But he said, "I loved the Navy when I joined it, and I love the Navy today, and if I had to do it all over again I couldn’t wait to sign up."

I feel the same way about all of you. You have been truly men and women of honor, and you reflected the same kind of spirit that people like Carl Brashear have reflected over the years in terms of your commitment to service, dedication to country, patriotism and sacrifice that you have made on behalf of yourselves and your families, and all the small and major ordeals that you have to endure in order to carry out your voluntary responsibilities. So I wanted to be here to tell you that to be associated with you for nearly four years has been the most rewarding experience of my life in 31 years of public service.

I come to this office every day pumped up and inspired by the leadership that you show, by the sacrifice and discipline, the can-do spirit and the fact that you are truly committed to making this country the finest country in the world.

So I wanted to be here today—my last opportunity [at these annual awards] to tell you what I think of you personally and professionally—and to thank all of you, especially the honorees that we pay tribute to today. I wanted to tell you how much your service has meant to me. You have put me on the shoulders of giants, allowing me to see further than in my previous years of public service. Thank you. [Applause.]