Secretary of Defense
Chairman Dempsey, Secretary Perry, Justice Kagan, thank you for your kind words.
And distinguished guests, so many distinguished guests, members of the administration, family, and friends, thank you. Thank you all for being here today.
The past two and a half weeks have been an opportunity to reconnect with the many fine public servants at the Pentagon and here in Washington, and there are few finer than Chairman Dempsey. I sleep better at night with him on the job– I'm sure we all do. Marty, our men and women in uniform are fortunate for your leadership, and our country is stronger and safer for it. Thank you.
Justice Kagan, after two days of congressional testimony, it's nice to spend some quality time with a different branch of government.
You have made remarkable contributions in academia, policy, and on the bench. And I also know, as Dean of Harvard Law you were a fierce advocate for the school's veterans’ community. Thank you for that leadership, and for doing me the honor of being here today.
There are three mentors whom I want to recognize today – two of whom are here and one who sadly isn't.
Bill Perry, you helped the United States write a more peaceful and prosperous post-Cold War history. And in the process, you established the model of a modern Secretary of Defense.
Bill, you stood up for me early in my career. You stood in for my father at my wedding. And here you are today. Our nation and the world are safer because of your leadership and intellect, and also because of your civility. Thank you always for standing by me, and thank you for your example.
We do not have enough time to talk about all the history in which Brent Scowcroft figures. With a cool head, Brent helped steer the ship of state for over five decades, and through some tumultuous waters, and with a warm heart, he helped countless men and women, including me, strengthen their faith in public life. Brent reminds us all to look at today's dangers with a longer perspective, to see opportunities when so many see crises, to remember our strengths when so many focus on our challenges. Brent, thank you.
And Jim Schlesinger, who I'm sorry did not live to see this day, was a mentor and model for bringing a fierce, analytic intellect to the thorniest policy problems. Jim always surrounded himself with the best people, wherever they came from. He relished strenuous but always constructive debate, and he followed the evidence wherever it took him. I was a beneficiary of his openness to new people and new thinking, and from him I learned to do the same.
My fantastic family is here as well. My daughter Ava and my son Will are – and don't make any mistake about this guys –the pride of my life. And my perfect wife, Stephanie, is my partner in life and in service to this great institution, and especially to our military families, whom we love so much.
Ladies and gentlemen, to serve as America's 25th Secretary of Defense is the highest honor. And I am grateful to President Obama for his trust and confidence, and to the U.S. Senate for my confirmation, and to all of you for your friendship and support, without which I know I wouldn't be here.
Being back, I'm reminded how easy it is in Washington –and in this building –to focus solely on our challenges. And it is indeed a turbulent, rough world out there. But as a nation and as a department, this is also a moment to continue to shine the beacon of American leadership and to seize the many bright opportunities in front of us.
The men and women of this department will not only continue to protect our country, but also ensure we leave a more peaceful, prosperous, and promising world to our children, to live their lives, raise their families, dream their dreams. We are standing for our shared values in Europe against those who would turn back the clock. We're standing with our friends and allies against savagery in the Middle East. In the Asia-Pacific, where new powers rise and old tensions still simmer, and where half of humanity resides, we are standing up for a continuation of the decades-long miracle of development and progress underwritten by the United States. And in cyberspace, we are standing with those who create and innovate against those who seek to steal, destroy, and exploit.
And as technology and globalization revolutionize how the world works, and also as the Pentagon's budget tightens, we have the opportunity to open ourselves up to new ways of operating, recruiting, buying, innovating, and much more. America is home to the world's most dynamic businesses and universities. We have to think outside this five-sided box and be open to their best practices, ideas, and technologies.
And as the 9/11 generation begins to leave our ranks, we also have the opportunity to attract gifted and idealistic future service members and civil servants, even as we honor the sacrifices of those who came before them. I have learned from my kids and from my students that every generation is different. This new one has no memory of the Cold War and dim memories even of 9/11. But they still are devoted to living lives of service and purpose. We must attract the finest among them.
In realizing all these opportunities, previous generations and my recent predecessors – some of the most honorable public servants I have ever worked for: Bob Gates, Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel… and I see Bill Cohen here as well: Mr. Secretary… All of them have blessed us with a remarkable inheritance, a more secure country, a stronger institution, and the world's greatest military. And we owe the same to those who come after us.
I will remember that on each of the 686 days between now and the end of President Obama's term in office. Just as I wake up every day committed to putting in a day of service worthy of our extraordinary men and women in uniform.
We have some of our amazing soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen here today. You represent the finest fighting force the world has ever known and a deep line of warriors who have fought in Lexington and Concord, in Gettysburg and Midway, in Fallujah and Helmand. In the years ahead, your country will call on you to continue that tradition, perhaps sending you into harm's way.
My greatest obligation will be to help the Commander-in-Chief make those decisions with wisdom and care, to get you what you need to fight and win, and to ensure the welfare and dignity of you and your families.
Thank you for all that you do. Thank you for the trust that you place in me. I will do my best to live up to it, and may God bless you, all of you, and the United States of America.