Secretary of Defense
Remarks Introducing Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah, Secretary Kerry, members of our armed forces…and all members of the DoD family:
In 1999, after almost a decade in uniform, Lieutenant Lonn Larson retired as a Navy Flight Officer, and launched a successful, private-sector career.
But he felt like his service to his country wasn't complete.
So more than a decade after leaving active duty, he decided to return to the Navy as a reservist. Last May, he was called up for duty, and as we gather today in the Pentagon Courtyard, Lieutenant Commander Larson is serving in eastern Afghanistan, where he deployed nine months ago.
While Lieutenant Commander Larson is away, his wife of almost 20 years, Mary Ann, has left her job to spend more time with her 9-year-old daughter Reese. Mary Ann and Reese have sent a care package to dad every single week, and they can't wait for him to come home in about a month.
But for all the hardship of having her husband away, Mary Ann says that Lieutenant Commander Larson’s deployment has become an opportunity to teach Reese how blessed and lucky we are as Americans; to explain what would happen if no one answered the call to service; and to talk about the kind of future we want all Afghans to have –especially young girls Reese’s age.
And we're honored to have Mary Ann and Reese here today.
A month after Lieutenant Commander Larson deployed to Afghanistan, a promising young soldier, Captain Jeremy Haynes, was in his fourth month as aide-de-camp to Major General Harold Greene, the commanding general of U.S. Combined Security Transition Command.
As many of you know, General Greene was tragically killed on August 5, 2014 in Afghanistan.
Captain Haynes was with General Greene the day they came under fire and suffered multiple, life-threatening wounds – that left him unconscious and paralyzed below the waist. His prognosis was so dire that his wife, Chelsea, was told to be ready to fly to Germany as he underwent multiple operations.
But through grace and grit, Captain Haynes regained consciousness after he arrived at Walter Reed about a week later. And despite the odds, a day before New Year's Eve, his family celebrated…because five months after he was wounded, Captain Haynes took his first steps again. And just one month later, he and Chelsea celebrated the birth of their third child, Jordon Harold Haynes, named after General Greene.
Captain Haynes is now resolved to pass the Army's physical fitness test –not just for himself –but also as he says, to “be a rock…a motivation…and a torch” for all soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that he's met – and no doubt inspired – up at Walter Reed, where I first met him.
We're honored this morning to have Captain Haynes, his wife Chelsea, and his son Jordon here. And we're also honored to have Jordon's godmother, the widow of General Greene, retired Army Colonel Susan Myers.
As we tell the stories of the Larson, Haynes, and Greene families, we recognize that there are millions of stories like theirs…stories of duty, honor, sacrifice and sometimes of grief and tragedy because over 850,000 American troops and civilians and thousands more contractors, have served and sacrificed in Afghanistan since 2001. And so have their families alongside them.
Today we also recognize the sacrifices of Afghan security forces.
And we remember the 2,215 Americans who paid the ultimate price during the course of the conflict in Afghanistan –and their spouses, parents, sons and daughters. We remember that they gave their lives defending our nation's security. And in this courtyard, we're also reminded why they went to Afghanistan in the first place. Because just beyond these walls, stands a memorial honoring all those who perished when the Pentagon was attacked on that bright, fateful day in 2001.
Our guest this morning, President Ghani, knows this history well. And on behalf of all Afghans, he is here today to thank you and to thank all the Americans whose service has not only kept the United States secure, but also given hope and opportunity to his countrymen as well.
But before I turn it over to President Ghani, let me say a few words about him.
President Ghani has led an extraordinary life, and he has deep ties to the United States. As a young man, he won a fellowship to study at the American University [of] Beirut where he met his wife, Rula. He pursued his doctorate and has taught at some of America's finest universities.
Through some of Afghanistan's darkest days – whenthe Soviet Union invaded and occupied his country… when many of his family members were persecuted and jailed…President Ghani always guarded his faith in a brighter future for his country.
As a scholar, he studied state-building and how to break the cycle of conflict. And as a practitioner at the World Bank of the United Nations, he applied those lessons–managing large-scale economic development projects in countries like India and China, and helping ease the transition in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban.
When the opportunity came to write a new chapter in Afghanistan's history, PresidentGhani –without hesitation –left his comfortable life as a scholar and policymaker and returned to his home. First, to lead Kabul University, then to serve as finance minister, creating one of the most comprehensive economic development programs ever proposed. Along the way, always focused on the future, he co-authored one of the most comprehensive studies of peace agreements around the world.
His initiatives as President now of his country, are well-known. But there also the smaller, telling details: He's known for meetings that culminate in decisions, and not just discussion. He orders snap inspections. He personally holds government officials to their word – and to account.
In short, he demonstrates that public service is a public trust.
And along with Dr. Abdullah, President Ghani has made clear to the Afghan people that for all the assistance that the United States, our military, and the international community can and will furnish, Afghanistan's future is ultimately for the Afghans to grab hold of…and for Afghans to decide.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's my privilege to introduce the President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani.