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Remarks by Secretary Carter at the Department of Defense Farewell

Please don’t clap for me; I’m really here to clap for you.  That’s the theme of what I want to say to you, so good morning.  Thanks for being here.

It was two weeks ago, I spoke of President Obama and his leadership and accomplishments as Commander-in-Chief.  And then last week General Dunford and the leadership honored me with farewells.  But, today I want to say farewell to you and to honor the department I’ve served and loved for 35 years and you that I have served alongside.

Now, as many you know, I like to the walk the halls of this place, and also the roadsides to the dismay of people at installations around the country and around the world.  I walk cause I like to get a little exercise, I walk to get out of the office, and I walk around to see what’s going on in the department – and, most important, how all of you are doing and to say hello, and let me see you, and let you see me, and give you some sense of how important of what you do is, and how much I appreciate it.

And over the course of three-and-a-half decades, I’ve seen how this department has changed has gotten better and better in many ways.

I’ve seen how our missions have transformed – from the single minded and ultimately successful great power competition of the Cold War, which is where I began, to its relative easing in the decade thereafter, to the more than 10 years of skillful but all-absorbing counterinsurgency campaigns that followed, to today’s return to full-spectrum readiness and capabilities.

And I’ve seen how our technology has evolved – when I started my career defense, and my career in physics for that matter, most technology of consequence originated in America, and much of that was sponsored by government, especially the Department of Defense.  Now, today, we’re still major sponsors, but much more technology is commercial.  The technology base is global.  And other countries have been trying to catch up with the breakthroughs that for the last several decades made our military more advanced than any other.  So we’ve had to make sure we stay ahead, and stay the best. 

And I’ve seen how – as the Cold Warriors gave way to those who came after, and then the 9/11 generation was replaced by today’s force – our people have changed as well.  For starters, these halls are filled with a lot less cigarette smoke than was the case when I started.  But more than that, the whole force is higher quality, vastly more experienced, and draws high talent more widely from all of America than was the case back then.  And we’re better and stronger because of it.  And it’s our people after all and above all that makes ours the finest fighting force the world has ever known.

Now, what hasn’t changed about this institution – and I don’t think will ever change – is why we’re all here.  What brought us here,  each and every one of you, of each and every one of the totality of the force nationwide, worldwide , is doing one of the noblest thing that a person can do with their life: that is defend this magnificent country and make a better world for our children. We get to do that, we have to do that.  But it’s a source of great pride and inspiration, and I think it’s the reason we’re all here.

I’ve seen that commitment every day when I walked these halls, looking at all the extraordinary people here – uniformed and civilian, political and career, new PMFs and those who’ve served for decades like me – work together with determination to first of all confront the immediate challenges we face right now around the world—immediate, distinct, and evolving but upon us right now. 

I’ve seen it in those Americans standing with our allies and countering the prospect of Russian aggression and coercion in Europe – from soldiers at Grafenwoehr, sailors and Marines on the U.S.S. San Antonio in Estonia, airmen at Aviano, to civilians at NATO headquarters in Brussels.  

I’ve seen that dedication in all those Americans managing historic change in the Asia-Pacific and standing strong there too – on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Teddy Roosevelt afloat in the South China Sea, on our bases in Japan and the Republic of Korea, and elsewhere – flying, sailing, and operating wherever international law allows, and strengthening our deterrent and defense forces in the face of North Korea’s continued nuclear and missile provocations.

And I’ve seen it in those Americans serving on bases and aboard ships around the Middle East, whether in Kuwait, Bahrain, or other locations, where they’re deterring aggression, countering Iran’s malign influence in the Gulf, and helping defend our friends and our allies. 

And I’ve seen it in the eyes of those warriors accelerating the certain and lasting defeat of ISIL – like those in Baghdad who received the first Operation Inherent Resolve campaign medals last April – who are enabling capable local forces to destroy ISIL in its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria; and everywhere else it metastasizes: Afghanistan, Libya, and around the world; and also who are helping protect our homeland and our people, which after all, in the end, is what it’s all about.  

And I’ve seen that dedication here at home, at the Pentagon and in elsewhere.  In things that people here do: the briefs by strategists, planners, programmers, intelligence analysts, and more who are helping ensure we’re prepared for what will be an uncertain future, as well as a busy present, for challenges we may not even anticipate today.  In the meticulous work of those making sure we have the resources we need – even amid shameful budget uncertainty – to invest in the right training, the right equipment, the right force size, and the right compensation so that our people can always accomplish the mission and stay the best.  And in the care of those at our hospitals, outpatient support clinics, and wounded warrior facilities, those standing by the survivors of sexual assault, and against this offense against honor and trust, and those standing with the families of the fallen – who do all they can to take care of them and all our people.  And I’ve sensed it in all those who are making sure we always live the values that we defend and uphold the laws we’re sworn to protect.

And I’ve read that dedication by all of you on every trip book and read-ahead I received from our remarkable teams here, every press release from our public affairs department explaining your work to the people we work for.  And I’ve heard it in the proposals and pitches—as they say—of all those thinking outside of our Pentagon’s five-sided box on our behalf– at DARPA, at dozens of DoD labs and research centers across the country, at our DIUx outposts, in the Defense Digital Service, on the Defense Innovation Board, other boards, and more – to ensure we always stay ahead of our competitors and stay on the cutting edge.  

And of course, I’ve also felt that commitment in all those across the department and in each of the services who are dedicated to building the Force of the Future for generations to come…so that we continue to attract and retain and develop the most talented people America has to offer, military and civilian, for what is, after all, an all-volunteer force. 

And I hear that same dedication in the voices of all those who will make up and who will lead that Force of the Future.  In those the cadets and midshipmen I’ve visited with at the academies at West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs, in ROTC programs across the country.  In a phone call with the first women soldiers to graduate from Ranger School.  In conversations at boot camp at Great Lakes, and the Basic School at Quantico.  And the new recruits I administered the oath of enlistment to. 

They may be young, but they speak for all of us who’ve been drawn to this department and dedicated our lives to its mission.  Earlier this year, when I was visiting basic training, I went into the bunking area of some brand-new recruits.  Each stood rigidly in front of their bunk at attention.  It wasn’t obvious that they really knew who I was or what the Secretary of Defense was…but they looked terrified just the same.

And as always, I went up to one of them and I said, “Why did you join us?”  He was 18 years old, with a little stubble of a moustache and kind of alarmed eyes…but without hesitation he said, “My parents always told me America gave us much and I should give back.”  Just like that, and then he started to cry, right there in front of 50 bunkmates.  I’m sure he got a lot of ribbing for that.  But that young person is an example of the kind of kid we get.

And I’m sure that reason, that calling, that spoke to him speaks to many of you – as it does to me.  It’s what brought me to this place 35 years ago and kept bringing me back.  It is what brings you here every day and keeps you here through the long days and late nights, when you’re far from home or locked in a SCIF, holidays and sometimes weeks on end.  And it’s what drives the 3 million Americans serving, in uniform and as civilians, across this country and around the clock, in every time zone on earth, in every domain –air, ashore, afloat, and even in cyberspace. 

All of them – and all of you – are defending not only the United States and its people; you’re also defending the values and the principles that define us, while you provide the security that will enable our children to live a better life.  Because you do so, and as you work sometimes late into the night, millions of Americans can go home that night to their families tonight in safety.  Because of what you do, our fellow citizens can live their lives and dream their dreams and enjoy the freedoms upon which this country was built, and for which so many generations of Americans have fought.  And because you do so, I’ll walk out of the Pentagon tomorrow, as I have every night of my tenure, confident in the nation’s – and this department’s – future.  And the brightness of that future.

As all of you know, our mission is demanding and constantly changing.  But I couldn’t be prouder of you, for what you do every day and what you’ve done for us.  And I’m going to continue to be proud in the months and years ahead, as this department continues to live up to the incredibly high expectations Americans have for it and that it’s earned.

May God bless you, God bless the finest fighting force the world has ever known, and God bless our great country. 

Thank you, and farewell.