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Remarks on Receiving the Red Cross Lifetime of Service Award

Thanks, Gail, thank you so much, thank you so much.  Thank you all for being here and thank you for honoring the wonderful institution it is my privilege to lead by this evening and with this event.  Thank you, from me.

This organization, this wonderful thing called the Red Cross by adapting to new challenges and opportunities throughout a long, long history, you’ve continued to guide us all toward achieving the vision of the Red Cross.  And Gail, you, above all in this era. Thank you.

At a time when we see evil strike in all to many places all over the world, and we act to defeat them, as we will, it’s organizations like the American Red Cross that stand as a force for good, a reminder that America itself, a reminder of the collective people of goodwill who stand with us, in so many ways, around the world.  This organization has always stood for something bigger than any one person, even any one nation.  And I’m proud to stand with you.

Before I continue, I want to thank JR. This is a guy with a lot of selflessness and a determined spirit that he uses to assist others.  I’ve known him for quite a while now; I think the time I first saw you, you were at BAMC, or what used to be called BAMC in San Antonio. And then again at the Pentagon a couple of years ago.  JR, thank you.  You honor us with your presence.

I also want to take a moment to congratulate Major Katelyn van Dam, who’s right down there also.  I say this for her in her own right, but unfortunately we all—you, JR, me—we all are ourselves, and we stand for something also.  So I need to say that there are young women across America – future Marines – who are inspired by trailblazers like you. 

And finally, I want to congratulate Bob and Elizabeth Dole, who were honored earlier this evening.   It was my pleasure to see them in Rome last month, as they prepared to return to Castel D’Aiano, a stark place, to visit the hillside that changed Bob’s life forever.  Even as Bob and Elizabeth have changed America’s life forever.

All you have to do is go down to the Mall where that wonderful, wonderful place that wouldn’t be there if it were not for the Doles. You can walk up the street up from the American Red Cross Headquarters, ditto.  It says “American Red Cross” and it stands for something that’s been part of the life blood of the country for a long time and the Doles are like that. And I’m so proud be with you tonight and so honored to be in your presence.

Bob and Elizabeth have spent a lifetime making a difference for those who’ve served in every generation, and for their families. Their efforts, like those of the Red Cross, have given countless people the gift of a better life. 

On that note, when I was sworn in as Secretary among the principle commitments I made was to our people—our active duty, our Guard and Reserve, our civilians, our veterans, and all of their families. 

And as I accept this, which is my honor to do tonight, the privilege of accepting this recognition tonight, I do so, and I mean this, wholly on behalf of them.  On behalf of those who step forward to serve.  On behalf of the finest fighting force the world has ever known.  It’s them that you honor tonight.

And we got to thank the Red Cross on their behalf, and therefore, on my behalf, for always being there for service members, their families, and their survivors.  In the past year, your volunteers have given 1.25 million hours of their time at home and abroad. 

From living rooms on the homefront, to the front lines at Camp Lemonnier and Camp Arifjan, you’re everywhere we need you to be.

As Clara Barton said, even "in a time of peace, assuaging the ills that are sure to accompany war” is – as she called it – “a wise benevolence.”

At the Department of Defense, we strive, every day, to reach for that same brand of “wise benevolence,” In times of peace or war.

We strive to support service members, their spouses, and their children – because that’s our total obligation.  We strive to take the utmost care in understanding the circumstances that require we put America's brave sons and daughters in harm’s way – and we strive to be there to support them before, during, and after.  No matter what.

Yes, not only do we strive to do these things, but we always strive to do them better.  We are a learning organization, that’s our great strengths—one of America’s great strengths. And as we build the force of the future, recruiting and retaining the best America has to offer, we will continue to look to the grateful citizens of this nation to support our military families, care for our veterans, and to be there for those who valiantly step forward to serve.

That is the power of the Red Cross, the tradition of engaged citizenry, and the example that you set for the world, even as we attempt to set an example as America.

So let me close tonight by not only by thanking you for this honor, on behalf of the finest fighting force the world has ever known, but for your continued commitment to this nation, and to our men and women in uniform, to their mission, to their families, and to the values that make us all proud to be on America’s team.

Thank you very much.