Secretary of Defense Speech

Remarks by Secretary Mattis at Swearing-In Ceremony for Secretary of the Air Force Wilson


            STAFF:  Good afternoon and welcome to today's swearing-in ceremony in honor of Dr. Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force.

 

            Ladies and gentleman, the Secretary of Defense, James M. Mattis, the Secretary of the Air Force, Heather A. Wilson, and General David L. Goldfein, chief of staff of the Air Force. (Applause.)

 

            (SINGING "STAR SPANGLED BANNER")

 

            (Applause.)

 

            STAFF: Ladies and gentleman, General Goldfein.

 

            GENERAL DAVID L. GOLDFEIN:  Secretary Mattis, distinguished guests, fellow joint teammates, family and friends, it is an absolute honor to welcome Dr. Heather Wilson as out 24th Secretary of the Air Force, along with her husband Jay and her son Josh. 

 

            Secretary Wilson and I first served together as cadets at the United States Air Force Academy.  Almost 40 years ago, we stood together in the field house and took our oath of office for the first time -- the same oath Dr. Wilson has repeated throughout her distinguished Air Force career, and the same oath she took as she was sworn in as a congresswoman from the great state of New Mexico. 

 

            And here we stand together again, as you repeat these same sacred words.  What a journey it has been, and what a journey it will be. 

 

            We follow in the footsteps of service secretaries and chiefs of the past who have put their heart and soul into building the most combat-capable and lethal Air Force the world has ever known. 

 

            The names are familiar because we studied them together at the academy.  Symington and Spaatz; Orr and Allen; Peters and Ryan; Secretary Wynne, who was here today, and General Moseley; and Donnelly and General Schwartz, who is also with us; and today begins the era of Wilson and Goldfein. 

 

            While we face the complex and dangerous national security environment where air and space power are in great demand, others before us have faced similar challenges. 

 

            Working together in an executive team, they organized, trained, equipped and presented ready forces to combatant commanders to capture the high ground and win our nation's battles as we simultaneously protected the homeland. 

 

            And under your leadership, Madam Secretary, we will do the same. 

 

            Of all the words in our sacred oath, perhaps the most important are "we take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion."  You did not have to take on this responsibility, and no doubt, there were a few nights when you and Jay looked out of your residence at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and questioned why you would leave your dream job to go back into government service.

 

            But, ma'am, your airmen know why.  It's the same reason you left home to join the Air Force in 1978.  It's the same reason you ran for office and served in our Congress.  It's what drives you, because it was ingrained in our character at the Air Force Academy:  integrity first, service before self, excellence in all we do. 

 

            Service before self:  ma'am, your nation has called you back to duty, and it is my distinct honor to represent the over 660,000 active-duty Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and civilian airmen as we welcome you, Jay and Josh back to your Air Force.

 

            We're proud to follow you, and I'm honored to fly on your wing once again, these four decades later. 

 

            And it is now my honor to introduce our Secretary of Defense, a man who knows a bit about service and duty, the Honorable James Mattis. 

 

            Sir.  (Applause.)

 

            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS:  Well, thank you, General.  And, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here. 

 

            General Goldfein, it's great to see the Air Force under your uniform leadership, and to bring you a wing man who knows something about the Air Force, to say the least. 

 

            But to Jay and to Josh, thank you for sticking with us through the usual injurious confirmation process.  You've already shown you have the right stuff, just like your mother does, Josh. 

 

            And I would just say to Senator Kurtz, Secretary Wynne, Undersecretary Zakheim -- I saw him here -- General Schwartz, General Moseley -- all of you who are here, if we wanted to do one thing to Webster's Unabridged Dictionary to define a patriot with no words, we could put up Heather Wilson's picture right next to the word, and we would explain what a patriot truly is. 

 

            And certainly, leaving a dream job somewhere west of the Potomac is something I can identify with.  But I'd just say, on -- on behalf of Secretary Wilson -- and it's lovely to call you that, Secretary Wilson -- on behalf of the entire Air Force community, on behalf of the Department of Defense, welcome home.

 

            Before us, ladies and gentlemen, as you know, is someone whose personal story mirrors America's coming of age and our times.  She's an east-coaster, a Granite Stater who went west to go to college.  She went west to Colorado and came out an Air Force officer from the Air Force Academy and grew up in service to our country. 

 

            And it's interesting to look at her service as being at a hinge in history for the Air Force, for our nation and for the world.  She's been at the hinge each time.  She was one of the first women to graduate from the Air Force Academy.  She's one of the first to earn a degree as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford; to serve as a female veteran in Congress.  A cold warrior, she worked in the White House National Security Council when the Berlin wall was swept down.

 

            Infused throughout this service is a continual quest for wisdom, often conducted in exalted institutions, whether in the shadow of the Rockies, on the banks of the Thames, or in the corridors of Congress.

 

            We are grateful recipients today of that expertise.  You know, I read Oxford University books.  Secretary Wilson writes them.  Here's the title of one, and for those of you who don't think Marines can use multi-syllable words, I'm going to prove you wrong.  Title:  "International Law and the Use of Force by National Liberation Movements."  How's that for a mouthful?  And how's that for a book that we might all want to be reading right now?

 

            Madam Secretary, I say unequivocally, I need your ideas and this department needs your wisdom.  The Air Force is beginning another chapter in its legendary story.  Secretary Wilson and her airmen will be in -- will have the --  pen.  She masters her subject.  She does not dabble in it. 

 

            And writing that history along-side her will be more than a half-million airmen and -women that with "Fingers" Goldfein on her wing, the finest Air Force in the world, if we can keep it.  If they wonder what manner of leader they welcome today, I offer the words of a student at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, where Secretary Wilson served several years as president.  And here is the quote:  "She was much more than a president to us.  She was a role model, a friend to us all, and above all, an inspiration."

 

            So ladies and gentlemen, our Air Force welcomes a secretary, a scholar, a statesman, an advocate, and one of its own.  It is not surprising that Heather Wilson's service comes at yet another of history's hinges.  Since 1945, American air superiority has never been questioned.  Our Air Force has been so successful that America today takes for granted that our spacious skies are also safe, free and clear.  This is true around the world as America's ground and other combat forces operate with confidence that no evil can set upon them from above. 

 

            But history is not pre-determined, nor is it static.  History hangs on a hinge.  Air supremacy is not America's ordained right and there are other hands pushing on history's door.  They push also in space and in cyberspace.  By Secretary Wilson's leadership, by the superior service of America's airmen and -women, they push in vain. 

           

            I close with a reflection.  The United States Air Force has an air force today because a pair of bicycle mechanic brothers studied flight day and night and worked like the dickens in a garage in Ohio 100 years ago.  That kind of industry and creativity, the relentless pursuit of knowledge happens all across the world today.  It must happen here.  At an astounding pace, it must happen here.

 

            The U.S. Air Force must be better at it than anyone else.  And under Secretary Wilson, I have absolute total confidence that will be the case.

 

            So summoned once more into service, she will, as we say in the west, she will ride for the brand -- integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.

 

            Secretary Wilson, welcome to the Pentagon. (Applause.)

 

            STAFF:  With Secretary Wilson's family, please join her on the steps for the oath of office.

 

            SEC. MATTIS:  Repeat after me.

 

            I, state your full name...

 

            SECRETARY OF THE AIR FORCE HEATHER WILSON: I, Heather Wilson...

 

            SEC. MATTIS:  ... do solemnly swear...

 

            MS. WILSON:  ... do solemnly swear...

 

            SEC. MATTIS:  ... that I will support and defend...

 

            MS. WILSON:  ... that I will support and defend...

 

            SEC. MATTIS:  ... the Constitution of the United States...

 

            MS. WILSON:  ... the Constitution of the United States...

 

            SEC. MATTIS:  ... against all enemies...

 

            MS. WILSON:  ... against all enemies...

 

            SEC. MATTIS:  ... foreign and domestic...

 

            MS. WILSON:  ... foreign and domestic...

 

            SEC. MATTIS:  ... and I will bear true faith...

 

            MS. WILSON:  ... and I will bear true faith...

 

            SEC. MATTIS:  ... and allegiance to the same.

 

            MS. WILSON:  ... and allegiance to the same.

 

            SEC. MATTIS:  I take this obligation freely...

           

            MS. WILSON:  I take this obligation freely...

 

            SEC. MATTIS:  ... without any mental reservation...

 

            MS. WILSON:  ... without any mental reservation...

 

            SEC. MATTIS:  ... or purpose of evasion.

 

            MS. WILSON:  ... or purpose of evasion.

 

            SEC. MATTIS:  And I will well and faithfully...

 

            MS. WILSON:  And I will well and faithfully...

 

            SEC. MATTIS:  ... discharge the duties...

 

            MS. WILSON:  ... discharge the duties...

 

            SEC. MATTIS:  ... of the office on which I'm about to enter.

 

            MS. WILSON:  ... of the office on which I'm about to enter.

 

            SEC. MATTIS:  So help me God.

 

            MS. WILSON:  So help me God.

 

            SEC. MATTIS:  Congratulations, Madam Secretary. (Applause.)

 

            STAFF:  Ladies and gentlemen, the Honorable Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force. (Applause.)

 

            MS. WILSON:  Thank you, Secretary Mattis, for your leadership and also for your kindness.

 

            I also wanted to thank my husband, Jay, who I think is up for sainthood, and my family, many of whom are here today from all over the country. 

 

            General Goldfein, thank you.  It is true, we stood together in 1978 to take that oath the first time.  And we have a lot of other classmates here today, and most of us took our oath four years later, but I think you were on the five-year plan. (Laughter.)

 

            There are several university presidents here who know students like that. (Laughter.)

 

            My colleagues from -- I have several colleagues here from South Dakota, and I wanted to thank you for coming.  And Kevin Schieffer is here from the Board of Regents, as well as two of my colleagues, Tom Jackson, the president of Black Hills State, and my successor, at an exceptional engineering and science university, Jan Puszynski is here from South Dakota Mines; as well as Mike Rush and Jack Warner, who had to put up with me.  They were -- they were technically my supervisor.  I'm a very difficult person to supervise.  General Mattis -- Secretary Mattis, you should have talked to them before you hired me.

 

            My friends and classmates from the class of 1982, thank you for -- (Applause.) -- thank you for your friendship and for your support.  I'll need your advice, because I know you will give it frankly over the next several years.

 

            I also wanted to personally thank Lisa Disbrow, who has been the acting Secretary of the Air Force since January, and she is the undersecretary.  She has served the United States Air Force for 32 years.  And I could not have asked for a better -- better support and help to me and to the country. (Applause.)

 

            And thank you to the airmen who protect the freedoms we enjoy.  You and your family's represent the best of what it means to be an American.  You know, in August 1908, a man names Orville Wright took a contraption made of wood and fabric just over there beyond the corner on Arlington Ridge at the parade ground at Fort Myer. 

 

            And he was there a man with a mission, to convince the United States Army that this contraption, this new technology would revolutionize warfare.  And he was right.  As airmen, you are the successors to those bicycle mechanics.  You are the innovators and the intrepid airmen who stand ready every hour of every day on every continent ready to protect the country that we love.

 

            And we've got a lot of work to do.  Under the guidance of Secretary of Defense Mattis and with the support of the United States Congress, we will restore the readiness of the force so that we can win any fight, any time, anywhere.  We're going to cost effectively modernize the force and drive innovation to bring new capabilities to the service of liberty.

 

            And underpinning it all will be a commitment to people, to the development of leaders to command the finest combat force in the world.  We're not going to take for granted American dominance in air and space power.  We're going to use every taxpayer dollar entrusted to us to train for it, to equip for it and to fight for it.

 

            My classmates will remember that small book of knowledge that cadets had to memorize all those years ago.  It was called Contrails.  And every service academy graduate has a copy, usually tattered in the bottom of some box in the garage.  And there are things from it each of us likely remember. 

 

            And each of us probably have something different that we remember from that book.  But for me, one that resonates over the years is probably appropriate for this time and this place down the hill from the home of Robert E. Lee, his historic home that now is at Arlington.

 

            Lee said, "Duty then is the sublimest word in the English language.  You should do your duty in all things.  You can never do more.  You should never wish to do less."  I know as airmen you will do your duty.  I will do my best to do my duty by all of you. 

 

            God bless you all.  And God bless the country that we love. (Applause.)

 

            STAFF:  Thank you, Secretary Wilson.

 

            Ladies and gentleman, please join us singing the Air Force song.

 

            -END-