Thank you, Lewis [Black], Admiral Mullen, others.
We’re joined tonight by dignitaries and distinguished guests. But it is truly humbling—and inspiring—to follow those American heroes. Again, to our honorees, thank you for reminding us all why we’re here. To support you. To stand up for you. To always take care of those who take care of America.
On behalf of Secretary Gates, who sends his greetings…on behalf of the more than three million men and women of the Department of Defense—uniformed and civilian—thank you USO. Thank you for reminding us that Americans may debate—and at times disagree—over matters of national security. But on one matter there is no debate. When our nation sends our military men and women into harm’s way, we all come together, as Americans, to support our troops.
And for nearly 70 years, our troops have had no greater supporter—no greater friend—than the USO. Like so many of you, I’ve seen this myself. It was eight years ago. I was serving as the Pentagon’s comptroller—the budget guy. And my wife Mary and I were privileged to join the Secretary of Defense and the USO on a holiday tour for our troops in the Balkans.
It was quite a crew. Celebrities and stars. Then-comedian and now senator—Al Franken. Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw and Ernie Banks. Singers Carole King and Jewel. And, of course, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. And me—the Comptroller. You can be sure, the troops weren’t looking at me.
For an incredible week we travelled together. By C-17. By helicopter. By bus. To an air base in Germany. To the USS Harry Truman. To the bases in Bosnia and Kosovo. And at every step, I saw the difference that the USO makes—bringing that “touch of home”; carrying the message that every man and woman in uniform needs to hear: America remembers, America cares.
But while it’s the celebrity tours that make the headlines, tonight we salute all the ways that you reach the military families. Your centers in the war zones. The care packages, the phone cards, the videos that keep the troops connected with their families back home. The care and comfort you offer our wounded warriors when they do come home.
A few weeks ago, I visited our deployed forces again, this time in Iraq and Afghanistan…this time, without the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders—I think that disappointed some. But seeing and talking with those troops—pulling duty on a dusty base, working a flight line, relaxing in the mess hall, recovering in the hospital—you see the spirit we honor and celebrate tonight.
Like generations before them, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines are doing an extraordinary job. And like generations before them, their job is made a little bit easier—and home seems a little closer—because of your tireless support. And tonight, we know that so long as there’s a USO, this will be true for generations yet to come.
Thank, USO, you for all that you do—for our armed forces, and for America.