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Remarks by Secretary Rumsfeld at the Gerald R. Ford Foundation Annual Dinner and Presentation of the Gerard R. Ford Medal for Distinguished Public Service

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
June 19, 2006 09:00 AM EDT

MR. ALLEN:  Thank you for your patience.  And when you have moved from one room to the other, I know when it’s all said and done, you’ll appreciate what’s about to happen.


            At this time it’s my pleasure to introduce the vice chairman of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation and chairman-elect of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, Jack Ford.


            Jack.  (Applause.)


            JACK FORD:  Thank you, Marty.


            And thank you everyone here tonight:  friends, family, associates, honorees.  This is a great night and we as a family could not be prouder to be part of this wonderful salute.


            You know, mother and dad looked forward every year to gathering with so many of their closest friends and former colleagues.  It was always special for them.  This year we are especially honored by the presence of the men and women from the United States Armed Forces.  And if the other guests gathered tonight will indulge me, Dad has asked that I read his personal greetings directly to those men and women.


            It goes:  “In my life I have received countless honors. Among the greatest of those was the opportunity to wear the uniform of lieutenant commander in the United States Navy.  On an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific during World War II, I learned to respect and rely on my comrades as if my life depended on them, because often it did.


            “In civilian life I was to receive the greatest honor that can come to any American, one magnified by the privilege of serving as commander in chief of the bravest, most decent, most professional fighting force the world has ever known.  Thirty years on, America’s armed forces remain a principled and compassionate military force to be reckoned with.


            “You fight to secure free and democratic elections in Iraq and Afghanistan.  You fight waves of disease and heartbreak in the wake of a murderous tsunami.  You fight for the future of hurricane victims in America’s Gulf coast.  You fight to protect our borders and to assist friends halfway around the world, as we witnessed recently in the Philippines.  Above all, your personal sacrifice and dauntless courage – you make America safer and the world free.


            “As a World War II veteran, I yield to no one in my admiration of the heroes of Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima.  At the same time, I take enormous inspiration from their grandsons and granddaughters who are writing new chapters of heroism in the back alleys of Baghdad and the rugged mountains of Afghanistan.


            “We owe you so much.  No medal can adequately express our gratitude or convey our admiration.  But to me, it’s a source of both pride and humility to know that a medal bearing my name will be permanently associated with the valor and patriotism of the men and women of the United States armed forces.


            God bless you all, and may God bless America.


            Gerald Ford.”  (Applause.)


            That said, it’s now my honor and pleasure to introduce not only a great vice president, a wonderful leader in his own right, but a very close and dear friend of the Ford family, Vice President Dick Cheney.  (Applause.)


            VICE PRESIDENT RICHARD CHENEY:  Thank you very much.


            I appreciate the opportunity to join my fellow trustees and so many other old friends this evening.  Jack, I want to thank you and all that you did to make life interesting for me when I was your dad’s chief of staff.  (Laughter.)


            I’m pleased, of course, to be with Susan and Mike and Steve and the other members of the Ford family tonight.  It’s a privilege for all of us.


            And I want to send good wishes, as well, obviously to the president and the first lady on behalf of everyone gathered here in the National Archives.  They’ve given so much to our country and to all of us.  We remain deeply grateful for their friendship and their good example, and we’ll be thinking of them once again in a few weeks when President Ford marks his 93rd birthday.


            I’m not aware of any other administration in which the president, the first lady, Cabinet officers and White House staff have maintained such close personal ties or held gatherings of this kind for so many years.  The plain truth is that all of us rightly believe that we were part of something very special.  We served a nation that was facing many serious challenges at home and abroad.  We found ourselves in the middle of one of the hardest fought presidential campaigns in history.  And we worked for a man who had inherited a damaged office and who swiftly and successfully restored authority, dignity and respect to the presidency.


            Gerald Ford once said that he never could have imagined that he would be president of the United States in America’s bicentennial year, but the job fell to him.  And by the 4th of July, 1976, America was once again a proud, confident, forward-looking nation.


            In these three decades since then, America’s appreciation for the Ford presidency has only grown and so has our devotion to the man and woman from Grand Rapids who led our nation and who were so very kind to each and every one of us.


            For Lynne and me, this is a gathering we always look forward to.  We still laugh at the memory of last year’s dinner in Rancho Mirage when President Ford called them into silence, lowered his voice, drew us into his confidence and announced that he was Deep Throat.  (Laughter.)


            Another very eventful year obviously has passed since that last meeting in California.  Obviously, a great many news worthy moments have come and gone, many of them because of the men and women of the United States military.  They never let this country down and they make Americans proud each and every day.


            I’m delighted that the men and women of the armed forces have been chosen to receive this year’s Gerald R. Ford Medal for Distinguished Public Service.  We’re not a country that takes our military for granted.  Even in the quietest of times, Americans have always understood that our men and women in uniform are the ones who assure stability and keep the peace.  And in a time like the present, we have daily reminders of the kind of courage and skill that have kept this country free.


            The conditions in this war are some of the most difficult a person can imagine – whether tracking terrorists on frozen mountain ridges in Afghanistan or wearing heavy gear and carrying packs in desert temperatures of 125 degrees, many of our people work seven days a week on shifts of 14, 16, 18 hours or more.  And they’ve shown patience, precision and determination that they’re going to win this war.


            Above all, our men and women in uniform have lived up to the noble traditions of the United States military.  They take seriously the job they’ve been given and the oath that they’ve taken.  They give all that is in them to carry out their missions and to conduct themselves with honor. 


            And as a partial measure of all that they have achieved, let me point out just some of the decorations earned since 9/11:  371 Silver Stars, 24 Distinguished Service Crosses, and the Medal of Honor posthumously awarded to an Army first sergeant who single-handedly killed 50 of the enemy and saved the lives of over 100 American soldiers.


            This generation of our military is writing an extraordinary chapter in the history of freedom.  The citizens of this nation are filled with gratitude and we stand in awe before all the men and women and defend the United States of America.


            President Bush has given the responsibility for the well-being of our military to some very fine leaders – the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, the first Marine ever to serve in that office.  He’s a superb officer. 


            And our secretary of Defense is one of the great public servants of our time, Donald Rumsfeld.  I’ve heard it suggested on occasion that Don might even be the best secretary of Defense we’ve ever had.  Well, he’s pretty close.  (Laughter.)  But without question, Don does hold a very special distinction, because after all, he is the only man to serve as secretary of Defense in two different centuries.  (Laughter.)


            Everyone here knows I’ve worked closely with Don for many years and that my career would not have been the same but for the confidence he placed in me a long time ago.  I’ve always considered him to be the very ideal of a public servant, a man of rectitude, loyalty and integrity.  He asks a great deal of those who work for him, but never more than he demands of himself.


            Throughout the military and indeed throughout the country, you’ll find people who never met Don Rumsfeld, but who look to him as a role model.  And those of us who know Don are extremely fortunate to have his friendship and all that goes with it:  the wisdom, the humor and the great personal decency in the man.


            Not long ago, Gerald Ford himself said that President Bush had made a wise choice in Don Rumsfeld because he was, quote, “extremely well suited to take on this challenge and contend with a bureaucracy that has a built-in resistance to change.”  President Ford continued, “successfully carrying out these missions against stiff resistance takes someone with a certain amount of steel,” end quote.


            That certain amount of steel is exactly what we’ve needed in the e-ring of the Pentagon these last five years.  And the United States of America is a stronger and a safer nation thanks to the intellect, the judgment and the character of Secretary Rumsfeld.


            With that, I’m pleased to present him now and I give you a great American, our colleague and friend, Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.  (Applause.)


            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE DONALD RUMSFELD:  Thank you so much, Mr. Vice President, General Pace, members of the Ford family – Steve.. Robots?!? (Laughter.) 


            We call them unmanned vehicles, whether they’re on the air, the land or the sea.  So you can tell your folks that much, but no more.  (Laughter.)


            It’s always good to see the Ford family.  I know that all of us here – Joyce and I look forward to this annual event, and we’re so sorry that the president and Betty can’t be with us.  But the chance to be with all of these friends – I was going around visiting during dinner and someone said, “Where do you think you are Rumsfeld, at a wedding reception?”  But it’s so good to see so many folks that we have such a close tie to.


            Marty and the members of the Ford Foundation board and the people who have done so much, thank you for what you do -- honored guests.  And as the vice president said, a very special thanks to the president and Betty for making all of this happen.


            You know, I listened to the – I guess it was Staff Sergeant Alvie Powell, sing.  And I thought to myself, if I could sing, that’s all I’d sing.  Wasn’t that voice amazing?  (Applause.)


            Mr. Vice President, I join literally millions of Americans thanking you for your steadfast and your determined leadership.  We are not just a safer nation because of you, we are a better nation.  Thank you.  (Applause.)


            And certainly, my warm appreciation to the young men and women who are representing this year’s recipient of the Gerald R. Ford Medal for Distinguished Public Service:  the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.  I hope all of you have had a chance to meet these fine young people.  They’re going to be up on stage shortly.  And certainly, those of us who served in the Ford administration can appreciate fully how appropriate this recognition is.


            A few of us have – all of us, I should say – understand and recognize the respect that President Gerald R. Ford has for the men and women in uniform -- a volunteer shortly after Pearl Harbor, service on the USS Monterey. 


            Jack Marsh and Chairman Warner, thank you so much for what you’re doing with respect to the aircraft carrier.  It is a tribute that is well deserved for a man who millions of Americans counted on as a steady and trusted hand at the helm during what was a terribly difficult time in our country’s history.


            President Ford’s service showed once again that our nation has a way of finding leaders that are needed in tough times – and they were tough times.  We had a wonderful tour just briefly here of some of the documents, the founding documents, of our nation, crafted by founders who gave birth to what today is seen and taken as the most successful and the most power and the wealthiest nation on earth.


            But back then, when those documents that are only a few short steps from here -- America was weak and America was small.  A number of colonies disagreeing with each other were in revolt against the world’s greatest empire.  And only after eight terribly difficult years were they able to achieve independence for our nation.


            And their victory, of course, was not won by accident. It was not happenstance.  It was not even good luck.  It took service and sacrifice.  It took patience and perseverance.  It took farmers and shopkeepers who exchanged their tools for weapons of war.  It took families willing to send them off to meet dangers far from home.


            And today, America is the freest society on the face of the earth because for more than two centuries, men and women in uniform have stood guard on watch towers, have stormed beaches, have offered their lives for their comrades, for their country and for the truths that our founders found to be self-evident.


            Throughout our nation’s history, there has always been spirited debate about what our country’s responsibilities in the world might be.  There was violent debate in those earliest revolutionary days to be sure.  Indeed, there has been debate in every decade of my entire adult life.  There certainly was debate during President Ford’s time in office and throughout the Cold War, and to be sure, there’s debate today.


            But in the end, free nations and free people simply cannot survive in a world dominated by tyrannies and terrorists.  So those who’ve served in Afghanistan and in Iraq in this global struggle against violent extremism, those who have come here this evening for us to honor as they represent all of the young men and women who serve our country, they can be proud of what they’ve achieved.  They can be proud of liberating some 50 million people from tyranny, mass graves and oppression in Afghanistan and in Iraq and they can be proud of the men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan who wept with joy of the hopes that they can now have for their families and their children. 


            It’s been the honor of my life to have the privilege to meet and work with so many amazing young Americans, each a volunteer, each a person who put up their hand and said, “send me.”  They weren’t drafted.  They weren’t conscripted.  They volunteered. 


            So it is with great respect and deep affection that I join the Ford family – President Ford and Betty Ford, the members of the Ford Foundation – in saluting these young men and women here this evening, and all of the men across in uniform across the globe that they represent.  This is an honor that they richly deserve.


            Thank you and God bless all of you.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)


            OFF STAGE ANNOUNCER:  This evening, we’ve heard about the true nature of public service, in tribute to the ideals and service of the more than 2.6 million men and women who wear the uniform the United States.  Every one has a unique story to tell of vision and sacrifice, determination and courage. 


            We have with us tonight five servicemen and women, one from each of the armed forces.  Their personal stories are unique, but they also represent their comrades in arms serving the cause of freedom around the world.  In honoring these five, we also honor all who serve.  Listen to their stories.


            Army Captain Elzbieta Kmiecik, serves with the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Miesau Ammo Depot Germany.  After serving two tours in Iraq and deploying to Angola on a humanitarian assistance mission, Captain Kmiecik immediately redeployed to Pakistan in support of earthquake relief operations.


            From October 2005 through February 2006 Captain Kmiecik served as clinical head nurse of the 212th intensive care unit in the challenging and dynamic environment of an international relief effort, supervising care of more than 800 patients in a four-month period.


            Trusted for her sound judgment and military bearing, Captain Kmiecik never missed an opportunity to mentor staff in supporting host nation personnel.  She served as the subject matter expert for the care of critical cardiac and pulmonary patients, including burns.  Her shared expertise led to significant improvement in the survival rate of over 200 neonatal cardiac arrest patients.


            Ladies and gentlemen, Army Captain Elzbieta Kmiecik.  (Applause.)


            Marine Staff Sergeant Shannon Sweeney of the 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion, Gulf Port, Mississippi, stepped forward to serve on the emergency response preparing for the landfall of Hurricane Katrina.  In the wake of the storm, Staff Sergeant Sweeney and the emergency response team overcame tremendous environmental conditions.  With only two assault amphibian vehicles, they rescued over 200 stranded and disoriented members of local Gulf Coast communities.


            Staff Sergeant Sweeney played a key role in providing food, water and other essentials to hundreds more stranded by the storm.  As the Toys for Tots coordinator in Gulf Port, Mississippi, Staff Sergeant Sweeney did tremendous service to help lift the spirits of the areas children.  With other charities unable to operate in the aftermath of the storm, Staff Sergeant Sweeney became the sole point of contact for toy and cash donations along a 26-mile stretch of devastated coastline.  She collected over $19,000, successfully distributing over 45,000 toys directly to children, and over 69,500 books to local elementary schools.


            Ladies and gentlemen, Marine Staff Sergeant Shannon Sweeney.  (Applause.)


            Navy Hospital Corpsman First Class David Worell is currently assigned to the Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center, Ohio. 


            From January through September of 2005, he served the Weapons Company 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force in Al Anbar, Iraq.  Committed to the well-being of his unit, Petty Officer Worell initiated, organized and taught 25 classes of the Marine combat lifesaving course during pre-deployment training. 


            Once in Iraq, this training proved indispensable, as weapons company sustained 15 service members killed but saved the lives of more than 50 wounded in action while successfully conducting all medical evacuations.  The training continued in Iraq, paying off during joint Army-Marine Operation Sword.  Using an abandoned building Worell organized a forward aid station, providing lifesaving care to over 20 casualties, overseeing and treating the wounded from triage through evacuation.


            Upon return to the states, Petty Officer Worell voluntarily served an additional 30 days active duty to personally the wounded Marines of his company received appropriate follow-up care.


            Ladies and gentlemen, Navy Hospital Corpsman First Class, David Worell  (Applause.)


            Air Force First Lieutenant Melissa Hull currently serves with the 72nd Security Forces Squadron, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.  Selected as the first ever female Security Forces officer to deploy to Camp Bucca, Iraq, Lieutenant Hull was charged with the safety and security of Iraqi detainees at the country’s largest internment facility.


            Lieutenant Hull assimilated her unit into the Army mission, providing for the turnover of over 2,000 detainees while upgrading the $5.8 million facility.  She established an Iraqi correctional officer training program to ensure Iraqi guards were properly skilled in all facets of detention operations.  Lieutenant Hull’s forces countered two uprisings and prison riots by over 450 detainees, employing less than lethal force with a single coalition injury.


            Helping pave the way for Iraqi democracy, Lieutenant Hull developed security and voting plans that allowed more than 6,000 qualified detainees to participate in Iraqi elections. 


            At home station, while continuing to excel in her security forces responsibilities, she also served as the installations project officer with the 2005 Air Force assistance fund campaign, raising $120,600 for Air Force charities.


            Ladies and gentlemen, Air Force First Lieutenant, Melissa Hull.  (Applause.)


            Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician Third Class Robert Williams was cited for heroism on the evening of September 1st, 2005.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Coast Guard helicopter CG-6539 was dispatched to conduct rescue efforts for over 150 flood victims stranded on the roof of the Days Inn Lakefront in Lake Pontchartrain.


            Petty Officer Williams, rescue swimmer on the helicopter, was briefed prior to deploying that the situation on the roof was volatile.  As he disconnected from the hoist, three men brandishing knives and claiming to have a gun accosted and threatened to kill him if they were not rescued first.  With only his survival knife, Petty Officer Williams heroically faced down the men and established an orderly evacuation.  Sending six injured to the helicopter waiting above, Williams opted to remain on the roof with the armed men, continuing to establish order and assuring everyone that they would leave before he did.


            When the helicopter returned, Williams convinced the men to disarm and be evacuated, greatly easing tensions.  He remained behind, coordinating with four other helicopters to rescue those still on the roof.  Petty Officer Williams was the last to leave.  He went on to perform 15 other direct deployment rescues that day and 113 in all.


            Ladies and gentlemen, Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician Third Class Robert Williams.  (Applause.)


            MR. ALLEN:  Attention to orders.


            The citation for the 2006 Gerald R. Ford Medal for Distinguished Public Service to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces:


            The men and women of the United States Armed Forces demonstrate the finest traditions of American military service through their unparalleled courage and compassion at home and abroad.  During the last year they fought to secure free and democratic elections in Iraq and Afghanistan, while continuing to battle terrorism around the world. 


            They responded to the needs of those affected in the aftermath of the catastrophic natural disasters in South East Asia, Pakistan, the Philippines and on America’s Gulf Coast.  Above all, through their personal sacrifice and dauntless courage, they make America safer and the world more free.


            The men and women of the United States Armed Forces personify qualities that President Ford has cherished throughout his life, values essential in all who serve this great nation and her people:  courage, strength of character, diligence, determination in the face of adversity, compassion and integrity.


            This citation, signed on the date of June 19th, 2006 by the honorary co-chairs to the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, the Honorable Gerald R. Ford and Betty Ford and the chairman of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, Martin J. Allen, Jr.  (Applause.)


            GENERAL PETER PACE (chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff):  Vice President and Mrs. Cheney, Secretary and Mrs. Rumsfeld, the Senator and Mrs. Warner, all the members of the Ford family and to all of you who are members of the Ford Foundation, what an incredible evening and what a wonderful opportunity to say thank you to all of you for this recognition of the 2.6 million Americans who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.


            I looked at the list of previous honorees:  Dr. Alan Greenspan, who arguably has done so much for the financial security of all of us -- that was 2003 -- in 2004, our vice president and our secretary of Defense, who together with President Bush provide incredible leadership every day.  We are tasked as your armed forces with a very difficult mission.  To have this president, this vice president and this secretary of Defense provide the steadfast, unwavering, focused leadership that we receive every day makes a huge difference to all of us who have the privilege of wearing the uniform.


            In 2005 an incredible first lady, Betty Ford – I was a captain in the Marine Corps when she was our first lady.  And I remember thinking, man, what a wonderful representative of our country she is.  And not only during her time as our first lady but in all the time that ran up to that and all the time since she has had such an enormous impact on all of our lives.  And of course, our President Ford, after whom this award is named.


            So tonight, to have the members of your armed forces be recognized with that incredible group of individuals and for me to have the opportunity to be a representative in front of you and to try to find the words to tell you how wonderful it is to serve this country, and how unnecessary but appreciated it is to receive this award on behalf of all of them.


            We are in the National Archives in the United States of America.  Last time I was here was when I was a high school senior.  Tonight I took the opportunity again to look at our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and our Bill of Rights.  I spent some extra time with the Constitution, because each of us here on stage, and 2.6 million Americans like us, has taken an oath.  It is different for officers and enlisted, but it’s important for us to rethink that oath tonight and to remind you of what your service members have said.


            They have raised their right hands, if they were officers, and said, I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office I’m about to enter, so help me God.


            If they are enlisted they have said, they have sworn, I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the president of the United States and the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, so help me God.


            Those oaths to the Constitution that is housed in this incredible building are all the thank you we need.  But to have you publicly and in this forum, with this foundation, in the name of such an incredible president, tell us publicly that you appreciate what we do, resonates not only here tonight, but will be known by every member of your armed forces within the next 22, 24 to 48 hours, thanks to the Internet.  (Laughter.)


            So to all of you, from all of us, thank you for the privilege of serving this country.  And thank you for this honor tonight.  (Applause.)


            MR. ALLEN:  Ladies and gentlemen, there are refreshments up in the foyer so we have a chance to meet again and say “bye.”


            And we are officially adjourned from this unbelievable night.  Thank you.  (Applause.)


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