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USO Gala

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you and good evening. This is just like the Pentagon. Nothing changes.

First, I want to thank this magnificent organization, the USO, which I had an opportunity to be part of many years ago. And I want to thank you all for what you do to support the USO and how important you are to this organization, because it’s so important to our men and women who serve this country and to their families and to the communities, no matter where they are in the world.

I want to also thank the senior leadership of our defense enterprise who are with you tonight; thank them for their leadership, their contributions, their sacrifice to this country. This is a special group of men and women. That’s why, of course, the USO was formed many years ago – to not just help them, but to recognize them and to thank them.

This time in which we live is as challenging and uncertain and complicated as I suspect any time during our lifetimes. So the strength of the USO – the vibrancy, the character, the values that you bring as you connect and help and bring comfort to our men and women in uniform and their families – is particularly important. Uncertain times always reach out for a certain certainty in our lives, and you represent that.

I want to thank the enlisted men and women who are being honored tonight and everyone here who serves his or her country and who has served his or her country.

I had an opportunity to meet with your new president, J.D. Crouch, last week. I’ve known J.D. for many years. He will be a terrific leader for this institution. You’ve had many good leaders in this institution. Sloan Gibson went on and continues to make big contributions to his country.

And as I said in my opening remarks, I’m very proud that I had a small part to play in helping continue to build this institution many years ago. And I have been a strong supporter since – not just as Secretary of Defense, but as a former soldier, but probably more importantly as an American. All of America recognizes you and what you do and how important you are.

And I don’t think we can overstate that. At a time when we question institutions, we question leadership, we question so much about our daily lives, a certain amount of confidence and trust and loyalty in institutions is key to holding a society together. It is the glue. It is the fiber on which societies are built and sustained and improved, to give all our men and women opportunities. And the defense of our country is as high a calling as there is.

So to all of you tonight, thank you. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to say hello and welcome you.

And I, again, want to congratulate those men and women who are being recognized tonight, but all of you sitting out there who do so much for our country every day. And in particular, again, the leadership of the Defense Department, our military services who are represented here tonight.

Have a good time. It’s a fun night. It’s a night of celebration. It’s a night of recognition. And it’s a night to say to each other, we appreciate you. And we don’t do that enough. We don’t do that enough in this town. We don’t do it enough, I think, in our country. So it’s a special night for all of you, and thank you.

Good night.