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Remarks by Secretary Mattis at an Awards Ceremony Honoring House Speaker Paul Ryan For His Public Service and Enduring Support of the U.S. Military

STAFF: Good afternoon and welcome to today's ceremony in honor of House Speaker Paul Ryan. Please stand for the arrival of the official party.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS: Wow, that was some (inaudible) -- hi, (inaudible). Please everyone, grab a seat, don't want to get too formal here, please. (Laughter.)

Good to see you all. Can I talk? You OK?

STAFF: Absolutely. (Laughter.)

SEC. MATTIS: I don't want to mess with the protocol here, you know? And where's the members of the press? Let's see, you've got to fess up -- there you are, all right, it's good to have you here, thank you. But Speaker Ryan and flag officers and secretaries and members of the press – for a moment I'll say I like you, how's that? (Laughter,)

Actually, we have a great press team over here, Mr. Speaker, they're the pros of Washington D.C. But I want to thank all of you for making time as we've bid what we call, I think CNO, fair winds and following seas in the service to our Speaker of the House.

He's a tried and true public servant and we all know that. Coming in about just months before we got hit here at the Pentagon for 9/11 -- a powerful thinker, a policy architect and I would just say to the members of Congress who are here, we look at the -- the people on Capitol Hill as our board of directors, as our overseers, obviously as our funders and we look at it as a collaboration.

And probably when you look at the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, Appropriations Committees, and then you look at the leadership of the House and the Senate, there rides our good fortunes. We know our troops will all move against the enemy, but if we don't do the right things here in this town, we don't set them up for success.

I come from the other Washington, the one that's far, far -- even further west than Wisconsin, so I want to borrow an image, Mr. Speaker, that captures the trust -- it's an image from the west and it shows how much we trust you and the leadership you provided when we consider that you got drafted for the job that you are in -- conscripted, some would say, and as others would say you got sentenced to the job you are in. (Laughter.)

REP. RYAN: All of (that). (Laughter.)

SEC. MATTIS: Yes sir, and I would -- I would have you just imagine -- think of a wagon train that's going through hazardous country.

You may not be able to see him, but somewhere up front, somewhere over the hill leading you on is -- is a leader -- you may not know him well, you may not know him personally at all, but if you trust his character, if you know his character, if you trust him, then his guidance -- you'll follow him, even though you're going through a pretty perilous situation and he'll carry you through the rough country.

And it's not too far off to say that D.C. has often felt like the unknowable wilderness to some of us here when it came to strategy and defense within the city. And for me, I was thrust into a job that I never aspired to, never imagined I would be in, but it was Speaker Paul Ryan who is the man forging the way ahead for many of us.

I had great relations with the two committees, thank you, Chairman. Had great relations there, but we -- was not appropriate for us to surrender all of our work to the two committees and not work more broadly and try to help the committee chairman, ranking members to bring more people onboard.

We trusted Speaker Ryan for his instincts and keen insights -- I still remember after you and your colleagues won for us the first budget, when you sat down, explained the rules of the road for the next budget. It was very, very helpful and it guided me.

And it guided me because he knew the terrain. He knew the legislative and human landscape on Capitol Hill, which was very much foreign to me.

He was honed from his early days, cutting his teeth as an intern, then to his tenure as chairman of the Budget Committee, he was very focused on domestic issues and became, as far as foreign policy and defense issues, became one of the stalwarts for us.

He did not seek or relish the job that he went to, but I think we all look at Speaker Ryan, a man whose name alone is his passport to the trust of the American people, and say that he devoted himself completely in his service to our country.

And in an era of competing priorities at home, but renewed great power competition abroad, Paul Ryan shepherded through Congress the bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, giving our troops what they needed in '18. And for the first time in 10 years, on-time authorization appropriations in F.Y. '19.

That is probably a record that's going to stand, but we're going to try and at least match it, Mr. Speaker, as you look over at us in your rearview mirror.

He was the essential leader who gained DOD support from 87 percent of our Congress for the appropriations bill, and the swiftest passage of any NDAA since the 1970s.

His leadership also returned Congress to what I think, Chairman Thornberry, you and I discussed as Congress' rightful role in the driver's seat when it comes to funding of national defense, not simply watching as spectators, the automatic cuts going on that left no semblance of leadership. It was simply arithmetic.

Abroad, he was an ambassador for our people and for our values. His respect for fundamental human dignity, democracy, free and fair markets and peace through unquestioned strength.

Those are things that we all believe in here, and we will continue to defend as you head to Wisconsin, Mr. Speaker. Because we intend to live up to your standards as we build relationships overseas, strengthening the alliances and partnerships that will keep this experiment in democracy safe, prosperous and free for generations to come.

Again, his passport to the trust of the American people is due to his character, his ethical compass, which earned him the ability to build compromise in a town that -- that struggles to say that word.

I've mentioned Wisconsin because this son of the Midwest is more interested in serving his district than I would say seeking the limelight in Washington, D.C.'s power circles.

So it's fitting that he was the one who rose to become number three in the U.S. government as a result, proving the power of what we all were taught, growing up, about work hard, tell the truth, accept life's difficulties, stand up for your beliefs and, most importantly, three words: Put others first.

Of his time in office, Paul Ryan says, in typical Midwestern modesty, "I like to think I've done my part -- my little part -- in history, to set us on a better course."

Well, Mr. Speaker, I must tell you, in DOD, we disagree with you. You have done much more than just your patriot’s duty. It was much more than a little part. You led us through hazardous terrain.

So this is actually an award that we give with a great deal of pleasure here today. It's in military cant, military language. It's very brittle words. But I would tell you, too, that we wish you godspeed and just a reminder of how much faith we had in you, just us and the department, to the legislator who led the way.

So as you return home to introduce yourself to your family and coach your girls' team, we wish you all the best. You earned it, sir.

So with that, if you could come forward, sir.

And let me just read a few words, here. A citation to accompany the award of the Department of Defense Medal (inaudible). (Laughter.)

Sometimes these ceremonies, they get them out of whack...

But for you a citation to accompany the award of the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service to Paul D. Ryan Jr. The Honorable Paul Ryan is recognized for distinguished public service as the 54th Speaker of the House of Representatives, from October 2015 to November 2018.

Through his outstanding leadership on Capitol Hill, Speaker Ryan provided service of exceptional significance to the American people and to our department. He was instrumental in passing the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2018, and the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, and the necessary appropriations to increase defense spending.

Through personal and public diplomacy, has been a staunch advocate for our indispensable NATO alliance. Recognizing its role in defending freedom and prosperity, Speaker Ryan advanced American leadership in the post-World War II international order.

Supporting the values of peace, restraint, democracy and freedom. He played a crucial role at a critical time in American history, marshalling the political will and the financial resources required to provide for the common defense of our nation, the distinctive accomplishments of Speaker Ryan reflect great credit upon himself and the Department of Defense.

(Inaudible) thank you. (Applause.)

And something for you (inaudible) daughters (inaudible). (Applause.)

REP. RYAN: Please. Not really my thing, talking too much about myself. Thank you very much. This is -- this is truly a great honor. It's an unexpected honor. I did not see this coming until I was recently told of this.

First, permit me, Mr. Secretary, to express to you what a privilege it has been to work alongside you, in service to our country these last two years. And I thank you for your leadership to our great country. (Applause.)

As fortunate as I feel at this moment, and how grateful I am, I am simply a temporary steward of a very, very solemn obligation. That's simply how I see it. The role that America plays in the world is so vital, so indispensable. It is -- it is the truly indispensable nation. And nothing and no one, especially politics, should ever get in the way of making sure that our service members have what they need to sustain this great cause.

I'm grateful that my colleagues and I could do our part to put us on the right track on behalf of the American people. I'm grateful for that gentleman, Mac Thornberry, and the members of our House Armed Services Committee, for helping -- along with you and others -- fulfill this vision that was so necessary to restore -- to begin to restore our military to where it needs to be. Without their vigilance, without Mac's vigilance, we would not have been able to achieve this particular breakthrough.

We see the two-year budget agreement that we have put into place as the first step in rebuilding our military. The work needs to continue and I'm very confident that it will because I think we have put things into a good platform and a good place.

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit our service members in Afghanistan. It was the one thing I really wanted to do before leaving office. My first trip to Afghanistan was in the spring of 2002, shortly after Kabul fought -- fell; I've been going ever since.

And no matter how many times I've done this and no matter how many theaters, whether it's that or -- or Iraq, it is -- was no less rewarding and it's very personal too. Like any civilian, to see what it is our service members do, it's -- it's truly impressive. It's -- it's -- it's the only country that can do this. And to see the people that I have crossed my life with; that, as a civilian, has left a huge mark on me.

I think of my personal friends. One of my best friends from college, he's presently a Navy Seal; my hunting buddy who I hunted with last week is a Green Beret; another close buddy of mine is a -- is an Army engineer and my childhood friend is the commanding general of the 101st Airborne.

I represent the 1st District of Wisconsin and since 9/11, we've lost nearly two -- two-dozen service members in Iraq and Afghanistan to those causes. And as a person who has represented this area for a long time, I am just so grateful to the men and women that have done this for us, for our freedom, for not just our country but for the world.

And as I look at these people, you, I really see America's next great generation. I see men and women who have done under great strain, under tremendous hardship, incredible things which I think are going to be extremely important for our society to come. Here at home, we see all these little tears in our social fabric. We see all these threads being pulled at. We see tribalism, and division, and animosity and polarization. We see the huge fights over small things.

Over there, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in other places, in the mountains and the deserts, these men and women -- many on multiple deployments -- they collaborate in a common pursuit under constant strain and all they want to talk about is the difference that they are making, the good that they are doing. Their bonds of trust with one another, it is just second nature to them.

So for me, it was this infusion of hope and perspective, this reaffirmation of humanity that I see in our service members, that will be the men and women who will help rebuild our civil society. That's just a simple point I wanted to make.

For the cause of liberty and freedom, the cause that we are the champion of, we are the most indispensable country in the world and we have to have a military that is well equipped to deliver on this great mission. It's been an absolute pleasure to be a part of this.

I am very honored, for you -- for doing this. But honestly, I cannot say enough about how grateful I on behalf of the United States Congress, on behalf of the American people, how we are to all of you and your families for your service to our country.

Thank you very, very much and God bless. (Applause.)

STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes today's ceremony. You are all invited to the join House Speaker Paul Ryan in the Secretary of Defense dining room for a reception. Thank you for joining us today.