Speech
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Secretary of Defense Speech

Farewell Parade for Senator Carl Levin and Congressman Buck McKeon

Sept. 12, 2014
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

Good morning, and thank you.

Thank you all for being here to help us honor two remarkable American leaders… two public servants who have devoted their careers, their lives, to protecting America’s security and supporting all of those who serve our country in uniform.

With increasing pressure to reduce defense budgets; with a world growing more volatile and complex; and with the gears of government continuing to grind ever more slowly – Chairman Levin and Chairman McKeon have worked tirelessly to help provide the Department of Defense with the resources it needs to do its job.  They have helped make our military stronger and our country more secure through their leadership on defense issues and their commitment to our troops and our nation.

One of their proudest, most important accomplishments has been upholding both Armed Services Committees’ longtime spirit of bipartisanship.  They ensured that Congress continued its tradition of passing a National Defense Authorization Act every year.  Given the paralysis and the gridlock that has stricken our nation’s Capitol in recent years, that is not a minimal achievement.  It also represents a commitment to responsible and accountable governance, the kind you’d expect from two leaders whose careers in public service date back to their time on their local city councils.  They know about responsible, accountable leadership; responsible, accountable governance.

During my service in the Senate, Carl Levin was either the chairman or the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.  Senator Levin has served on that committee since coming to the Senate 36 years ago.  He is as dedicated a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee as it has ever had.  A recent example of that dedication was his recent trip – like just a few days ago – to Ukraine, Iraq, and Jordan.  And this is a Senator who is retiring!

During our years together in the Senate, there was no colleague’s advice that I respected more than Carl Levin’s.  And I often sought his advice on many issues.  I’ve always appreciated his straightforward style, his honesty, his outreach, his informed and clear thinking, and maybe most importantly about Carl Levin, his decency and his civility. 

Carl Levin is the kind of elected leader America will always need – the kind I hope, we all hope, America will always have – the kind of leader who always does what he believes is the right thing, the right thing for his country.  He puts his country first.

So does Buck McKeon.  So does Buck McKeon.  As an Army grandparent, Buck has always fought hard to provide our service members and their families with the resources and support they need and deserve to always accomplish their mission.  And after nearly 20 years on the House Armed Services Committee, he’s been among Congress’s strongest advocates for ensuring that our military has the capabilities to meet the complex and challenging threats it faces today and will face in the future.

Like Carl Levin, this retiring Member of Congress just returned from a trip to Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Morocco.  And like Carl Levin, he’s demonstrating his absolute commitment to our country and our military – right to the end of his career.

Over the past year and a half that I’ve been Secretary of Defense, I’ve counted on Buck’s advice, his honesty, his insights, and yes, his friendship.  Buck McKeon is a man of equal doses of immense courtesy, devotion, ability, and character.  It’s rare, especially these days in our politics, to find an elected leader as open to a vigorous debate and different opinions but yet respectful of other’s opinions and points of views, and willing to always listen as Buck McKeon.  Like Carl Levin, Buck McKeon has never allowed politics to get personal.  That’s why both of these unique leaders are so highly regarded and admired.  They’re not only admired in our country, but throughout the world.

As we all know, there is always tension between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch.  That is how our founders designed the system.  But that tension forces us to work together, to make our country better, our government stronger and more responsive and accountable.  But it really depends to a great extent on the leaders themselves and their commitment to making it work.  Carl and Buck have demonstrated that commitment throughout their careers.  They have made their committees and government work, and they’ve done it the right way – the way the Americans deserve to be represented and the way Americans can be proud of their representatives.  They have always made the system work.

Today, given the multitude and diversity of complicated threats and challenges that face our country, the relationship between the Department of Defense and Congress must go beyond checks and balances.  It must be a partnership, a real partnership, where we work together for America’s common good and our common defense.

The Department of Defense and all its people will always be grateful for what Chairman Levin and Chairman McKeon have done for them, and our nation.  We also appreciate their wives, and their families.  We appreciate the tremendous sacrifices of your families.  Thank you, to Barbara and Patricia especially, and to your families, the McKeon family, the Levin family – thank you.  We know being the spouse of a Congressman or a Senator is not easy.  So we thank you for the constant love and encouragement and support you’ve always provided to Carl and Buck, provided over so many years of their distinguished, very distinguished public service.

Carl, Buck, thank you.  We will miss you.  I will miss you.  I will miss you greatly.  But, you’ve earned and deserve a break.  You’ve served our country so well.  And we all wish you and your families every God’s blessing.  Thank you for your service.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.