Secretary of Defense
Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Virginia
Mr. President, thank you.
I’m very grateful to you for many reasons. But first, thank you for being here today. I know the kind of schedule that you have been on, and the length of the trip, the intensity of those visits...and to make this effort today means an awful lot. Thank you.
I want to also thank you for giving me the honor of serving you and the American people as the Secretary of Defense. I will always be grateful, always grateful for that opportunity.
And Mr. President, thank you for your strong leadership at a very difficult time: a difficult time in our world that requires wise, steady, careful leadership. You have and you are providing that leadership, and I have been very proud to serve with you in the Senate – and in particular, over the last two years as your Secretary of Defense.
Vice President Biden, thank you as well for being here today. I have not forgotten some of the stories that you told. I recall very well us calling my mother on that trip through the mountains of Iraq, and I remember you wanted to speak with her.
And hours and hours later...
... She never forgot that, Mr. Vice President, and was so proud of that phone conversation. And so I thank you for your generous reaching out to my mother at a very difficult time for her. Because she – she was gone about a month later. So, thank you.
One of my greatest joys during my time here in Washington has been development of our friendship. And as you have noted, and as the president has noted, our time together, the three of us, on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – Secretary Kerry is here today, who knows a little something about this business, and to you Secretary Kerry, thank you. I include you in those days.
Our former chairman, Chairman Lugar, is here as well. And to Dick Lugar, thank you. As you have noted, there are special people in our lives that we benefit from, and certainly Dick Lugar is one of those I think we all have benefited a great deal from.
And Vice President Biden, thank you for your years of service to this country as well.
Chairman Dempsey, it has been a great privilege for this old sergeant to have worked side by side with a general of your character and your courage. I’ve been very fortunate to have you as my partner in this job, especially during those self-help and educational opportunities called congressional hearings.
I was always reassured in each of those hearings, as we would drive to the Hill in the morning, knowing that Marty Dempsey was next to me. And for what you have meant to our military, Marty, and what you continue to do for this country, thank you very much.
I see another great icon of the United States Senate with us today: Senator John Warner, who we all worked closely with and benefited from. And to our distinguished colleagues, Senators Warner and Lugar, welcome and thank you for what you have done for this country, as so many of you here today. And I am grateful that you would take the time to visit us on this – on this occasion.
To the chiefs of the services, our senior civilian leaders, and the combatant commanders, thank you. Thank you for your unflagging service and your leadership and your commitment to this country.
I want to particularly acknowledge Bob Work – Bob Work, our Deputy Secretary of Defense. I thank him for his leadership and our strong partnership over the last year. And my appreciation as well to Ash Carter: for Ash’s service and his partnership during my first year at the Pentagon, and for his continued commitment to public service.
And my heartfelt thanks to my security and advance staff. Each of you played critically important roles for which my family and I will always be grateful. To my personal staff and those in the office of the secretary, you’ve been indispensable, indispensable in helping me carry out my responsibilities, and I thank you.
And to the men and women who serve our country and their families, whose service and sacrifice is unequaled, you have my deepest gratitude. We salute your high purpose in defense of our freedoms and our values. Every day, you wake up, and you go to work knowing that this department – this department alone – is charged with one fundamental mission: the security of this nation. It’s been my absolute privilege to have been on your team.
Over the past two years, I’ve witnessed the courage and dignity of America’s servicemen and women all over the world. I’ve seen young enlisted and young officers do their jobs realizing that how – how they do their jobs is just as important as the job itself.
I’ve seen senior officers and senior enlisted realizing that they are role models. Maybe their highest responsibility of all. And I’ve seen the enduring devotion and commitment of their families: the mothers, the fathers, husbands, wives, children, and the sacrifices that they willingly – willingly make for our country.
Their individual commitment to the greater good and strength of the institution has been a complete inspiration to me in every way. They understand that it’s people, people who build and strengthen institutions and make the world a better place.
These are the reasons why America’s military is the most admired and most trusted institution in our country. We must always protect that confidence and trust by our conduct and our performance – continuing to hold ourselves and each other to the highest standards of professionalism and personal behavior.
As I will soon leave this job that I have cherished for the last two years, I want you all to know that the things that I have most respected and most admired are your dignity, your courage, and your dedication.
The opportunity to have been part of all this is something I could not have imagined when I joined the Army 48 years ago. No high office with responsibility is easy, as everyone in this room knows.
But with each difficult challenge comes the satisfaction of knowing – knowing that you are like Teddy Roosevelt’s man in the arena, slugging it out, doing what you believe, doing what you like, and doing it your way. And recognizing that it’s not the critics who count or change the world or make the world better, but rather it’s those who are willing to work, work very hard toward building a better world.
We live in a complicated and defining time. The men and women who have devoted their lives to America’s security are the architects of this new, 21st century world. They’re building onto the great legacies and foundations that have been laid by those who have gone before them.
We’ve made mistakes. We will make more mistakes. But we hold tightly to one of America’s greatest strengths: the capacity and the constitutional structure that allows us to self-correct. We can change systems, right wrongs, solve problems, and start over. But we must get the big things right.
We must recognize that there is not an immediate answer to every problem. Some problems require evolving solutions that give us the time and the space to adjust, and the patience to seek higher ground and lasting results.
Our world, captive to immediacy, uncertainty, and complexity, is not moving toward less complicated problems, but rather, toward more global challenges rooted in historic injustices and conflicts.
In this dynamic environment, we need to prioritize and focus on how – on how to build greater partnership capacity around the world with our partners, to help solve problems through coalitions of common interests that help build opportunities and create hope for all people.
These are difficult and complicated tasks, but we have no choice. It will require steady, wise, and judicious use of American power, prestige, and influence. We must never fail to always ask the most important question when making decisions in policy: what happens next.
With all the world’s travails and problems, it is still a hopeful world. This I believe.
I want to thank my wife, Lilibet, with whom I’ve shared this remarkable 30-year journey. I could never have done this job without her by my side. And I’m especially proud of her work on behalf of military families and other important issues to the men and women of the military. I valued all of her many contributions to this institution, and I thank her deeply for helping me be a better Secretary of Defense.
I want to also thank my daughter Allyn, my son Ziller, for their constant support, encouragement, and always good advice...and helping me with the internet...and recognizing and allowing me to take inventory in that recognition that I am not near as smart as I thought I was. Those are the humbling experiences of parenthood. Those of us who’ve had the opportunity to know those days and have that experience and be blessed with that experience know so well.
And to my brothers, Tom and Mike, who have truly been with me since this train left the station in Nebraska many years ago, thank you.
And one last point: Of all the opportunities my life has given me – and I have been blessed with so many – I am most proud of having once been a soldier.
The lessons from my time in uniform about trust, responsibility, duty, judgment, and loyalty to your fellow soldier – these I have carried with me throughout my life.
May God bless and keep each of you. Thank you.