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Hall of Heroes Induction Ceremony for Medal of Honor Recipient Army Staff Sergeant Travis W. Atkins

PERFORMING THE DUTIES OF DEPURTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE DAVID L. NORQUIST:  Thank you, Secretary Esper, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, friends and family.  Welcome and thank you for being here today to welcome Staff Sergeant Travis Atkins to his rightful place in the Hall of Heroes. 

I also want to offer a special welcome to the many soldiers that served with Travis, along with his father, Jack, an Army veteran; his mother, Elaine; and his son, Trevor, who I was lucky enough to spend some time with this morning.  It is an honor to be with you all today.  Thank you for your service and the sacrifices you have made for our nation.  

Today is special because today we reflect on the true meaning of courage, service and selflessness, and honor a rare person who embodied them.  

There are many valorous stories of combat but the Medal of Honor is special.  It is awarded only to the bravest among us.  Staff Sergeant Atkins is one of them.  We may use the term "hero" all the time, but there are heroes among the heroes.  And they are very rare. 

Since the Medal of Honor's creation in 1861, of the tens of millions who have served in the U.S. military, less than 3,600 medals have been awarded, each after painstaking deliberation and consideration.  

These are people who, when presented with the option, chose others over themselves.  This award is about offering these special souls our reverence as a nation and as a military, and ensuring that the best among us -- their bravery, their sacrifice and their selflessness -- are never forgotten. 

"Where does that courage and selflessness come from?"  We often ask ourselves.  It comes from a commitment to others, and to the mission. 

For Travis, a curious self-directed, adventurous kid who loved everything from hunting and fishing to heavy metal, Schubert and Johnny Cash, civilian life just didn't do it for him, according to his father.  He was looking for more.  

And the military is where he found it, a world he loved so much that he even called basic training "the best thing he had ever done."  Hard-core. 

Through service, Travis found a calling, a sense of purpose and a community that he was willing to give the ultimate sacrifice to defend.  As his fellow soldiers have described him, he was a strong, decisive leader who instinctively knew when to act and the right way to do it. 

He was a leader with enormous courage and a strong sense of loyalty to his team.  As they tell it, it was his emotional stamina and abiding belief that they would be able to confront whatever challenge they would encounter, that gave others the confidence they needed to accomplish the mission.  He loved his soldiers, and they loved him. 

As his father said, superior officers had talked to him about going from green to gold.  And he considered it.  But he really liked being out there in the field with his men, and he didn't want to give that up. 

As his parents recounted, Travis thought a lot about those in his charge, coaching them, helping them grow and teaching them how to protect themselves and complete the mission.  He also inspired them to be better leaders and better people.  

As Roberto put it, "Travis's legacy has solidified who I have become and what I do and give to others."  

His willingness to sacrifice his life to protect those around him is fundamentally why we are all here: to protect each other and to protect our nation.  We may spend a lot of time talking about weapon systems, technologies and doctrine, but our most important asset is the individual soldier, sailor, airman and Marine, because when the rubber meets the road at the tip of the spear, it all comes down to the individual men and women: their bravery, courage, professionalism, sense of duty and selflessness, all of which was so remarkably exhibited by this great American.

War has always been a human endeavor, and it is people like Travis that give us faith in our future.  His actions resonate across time and place, inspiring us and fortifying our trust in ourselves, in our humanity, in our military and in our nation.  Our nation is forever indebted to him, and this medal reflects the American people's understanding of a certain paradox: We only become truly great when we make ourselves the servants of others.  Travis was a truly great man.

Jack, Elaine and Trevor, your son and father is the very definition of servant and hero.  This Nation is proud to call him one of our own.  Thank you.