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Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the Black Engineer of the Year STEM Conference (As Prepared)

Good evening. It's great to be with you all tonight. And let me congratulate all of tonight's award winners.

You know, over the past 37 years, this organization has recognized outstanding American patriots and innovators. 

Past Black Engineers of the Year have been electrical engineers, pilots, astronauts, and physicists. They've made huge breakthroughs. They've broken down barriers. And they've been driven to serve, to make the world better, and to lift up the next generation.

You know, that commitment to service has always been crucial for solving our toughest problems and for defending our country. 

At the Department of Defense, it's our mission to keep the United States safe from a range of 21st-century threats. 

That means developing even more advanced technology to sharpen our edge. And it means drawing on one of America's core strengths: our unmatched combination of free enterprise, free minds, and free people. 

DOD scientists and engineers, along with our partners in academia and industry, have always pioneered critical innovations to defend our country. These outstanding professionals operate satellites that enable precise global navigation. They develop vaccines that save countless lives. They laid the foundations of the internet. And the list goes on.

So we're determined to continue innovating to make America more secure.

And that means drawing on the strengths of all of our people. 

Just last month, the Department announced the creation of its newest university-affiliated research center at Howard University—the first ever established at an HBCU.  

This exciting new initiative brings together a consortium of nine HBCUs under Howard's leadership to research tactical autonomy and to develop innovative ways to make our military smarter, faster, and safer.

And I know that it's going to do us a world of good.

We've all got to step up to support talented students and young people—like so many of you in this room. 

You are our future. And we will all be better off when you reach your full potential. 

And that's why this conference is so important. 

It's opening up new opportunities to young people. It's shining a spotlight on emerging fields. And it's connecting students with mentors who will help them reach new heights. 

You know, after Sir Isaac Newton developed his laws of motion, he famously said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” 

Engineers get that. 

You know that one breakthrough will be the launching pad for many more. And you know that every engineer's work builds on those who came before. 

And that's why it's so important that we unlock more opportunities for more young people. Because the next generation is going to help us all see a little further. 

So I hope that we'll all keep looking for ways to harness our skills and give back to our country—through academia, business, serving your community, or serving in the United States military. 

America will be stronger for it.

You know, this year marks 40 years since Colonel Guy Bluford Jr. became the first African American to fly to space, roaring into low-Earth orbit in 1983 on the Space Shuttle Challenger.  

A few years after that historic mission, Colonel Bluford was named Black Engineer of the Year. Although he soared through the heavens, he always remained down to earth. And he once said, “I felt I had to do the best job I could for people like the Tuskegee Airmen, who paved the way for me.”

By breaking barriers for Black airmen during World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen propelled Colonel Bluford higher. 

He stood on their shoulders. And today, young pilots and astronauts stand on his.

So let's keep making progress together. And let's challenge one another to do even more to support the young people who are America's future.

Be a mentor. 

Be a source of support. 

Be the shoulder for others to stand on. 

Everyone, let's recommit ourselves to that spirit of service.

Because that's how we'll expand opportunities for all of our people. 

It's how we'll tackle our biggest challenges.

It's how we'll defend our democracy. 

And it's how we'll build a world that's more secure and more just. 

Thank you for including me in this celebration. And congratulations again.