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Secretary Rumsfeld Remarks to National Guard Youth Challenge Participants

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
February 28, 2006

Secretary Rumsfeld Remarks to National Guard Youth Challenge Participants

     SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Good morning.  How are you doing?  You look terrific.

 

     Welcome to the Pentagon.  I certainly congratulate all of you for what you're doing and for taking part in what is clearly an important program.  Four and a half years have passed since the United States was attacked in New York and Pennsylvania, here in this building, just down the hall.  Our country is engaged in what looks to be a long war, just as the Cold War was a long war, and you certainly are all coming of age at a momentous time in our history.

 

     When I was roughly your ages -- that was a long time ago -- there was a Governor from Illinois named Adlai Stevenson.  He ran for President a couple of times and lost to General Eisenhower both times.  He came and spoke at my graduating class in college. It was between his two defeats.  Someone asked how he felt about losing.  He said well, he was too old to cry and it hurt too much to laugh.  [Laughter].

 

     But when he spoke to our senior class he said something that had a profound effect on me and I know on my classmates.  It was a time when the hardships of the Great Depression were still very clear in our minds from the 1930s, when World War II was still very fresh in our minds, and the Korean War.  It was the dawn of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the period, the nuclear era, we'll call it, where there was concern about the dangers of a strategic nuclear exchange between the two super powers.

 

     So one would have thought that his remarks could have been somewhat grim or pessimistic about the circumstance we were all in, but they really weren't.  They were filled with hope.  They were filled with promise.  They were filled with thoughts about the importance of each individual's responsibility and opportunities that existed for all of us.

 

     He said, among other things, he said, "You live in a time of historic change and of infinite difficulty.  But do not let the difficulties distract you.  Face the problems of your time, you must.  Deal with them, you must.  But do not allow the alarms and excursions and partisanship of our political scene distract you. Dare rather to live your lives fully, boldly.  Dare to study and to learn, to cultivate the mind and the spirit."

 

     I mention those words because today our country is at a point, and you're at a point, where our future is going to depend on you and how you live your lives.  I think it's fair to say that no matter where you come from, what state; no matter what your circumstance; no matter where you are along the path of life, we live in a nation where literally anybody can succeed, and the limits really are only self-imposed.  And to the extent that we have strength and initiative and confidence and dream high, we can accomplish an enormous amount.  We can accomplish so much more than any of us ever imagined. I think it's important to always remember that America is the leading force for good in this world of ours.  We're privileged to live in this country.

 

     Our young men and women in uniform, over a million and a half of them, come from all walks of life.  They're people about your ages, a little older.  They are all volunteers, every single one of them raised their hands and said they wanted to serve our country.  And they clearly are some of the finest human beings we could ever ask to do what they do.

 

     The task they're facing is a new one and a difficult one.  It's not to compete against a major army or a major air force or a major navy, instead it's to try to defeat the terrorists, the people who are chopping off people's heads and blowing up innocent civilians over in the Middle East.

 

     The news we read about are they acts of violence by the terrorists for the most part.  We don't read about the acts of compassion that are being undertaken by the men and women in uniform.

 

     They are on the right side.  We as a country are on the right side because we're on the side of freedom.  The great sweep of human history is for freedom.  There have always been dictators, there have always been terrorists, there have always been people who have attempted to impose their will on others, but over time they've failed.  Despite the fact that they succeeded at various stages, over time they've failed.

 

     Our future will be written by your generation.  Each of you have already taken on some tough tasks at your young ages, and you've worked hard to try to forge a better future for yourselves.  I suspect that in doing so you've been surprised maybe and certainly impressed from time to time at your potential, what you could accomplish, what you could do as an individual.  You've learned the relationship between application and effort and results.  And I can remember learning that.  Some people may learn it by playing the violin, someone else may learn it by running, racing. I learned it as a wrestler where the harder you worked the better you got, and the more you practiced and the more you competed and the more you worked on a specific thing, and as I say, it may be reading, it may be the violin, it may be wrestling, it may be something totally different for each of you, but there is a direct relationship between effort and results.  It is an exciting thing for a young person to experience that and to feel that and to understand that in every bone in your body.

 

     I think some day you may look back at your visit to the Pentagon and I hope you'll remember it.  I know you're going to take a tour of this building.  It's a historic building, an important building.  I guess the only thing I would suggest is possibly to remind you and all of us how fortunate we are and how blessed we are to live in the United States of America because of the opportunities it offers to each of us.  A nation where the limits are really up to us.  That's why the men and women in uniform sacrifice so much and put their lives at risk to preserve our liberty and our freedom and the opportunities that it provides for each of us, each of you and all of your fellow citizens.

 

     So I congratulate each of you on what you've achieved.  I hope what you'll do as you leave is recognize that there are lots of other people in our country in your circumstance.  You have taken some important steps and what you can so is to not only think through your own lives, but you can be an important force for good with others in our country.

 

     I've often thought of throwing a pebble in a pond and watching the ripples go out.  And how interesting that is that each person touches a series of circles of people that you come in contact with.  If each of you not only manage your own affairs the way you're managing them in such an admirable way, but you represent the ripples that go out to the others you touch in your daily life, you'll find yourself rewarded many many times over.

 

     Have a great day.  It's nice to see you all.