Secretary of Defense Speech

Remarks at Medal Ceremony for Train Heroes


Good afternoon.  General Selva, thank you. 

A little less than a month ago, three childhood friends were on a train bound for Paris when they heard a gunshot.  Amid screams and commotion of the passengers, they quickly focused on a man wielding an AK-47.  Almost instantly, one of them said, “Let’s go” and the three ran toward the shooter.

Those three friends are with us here today.  Thank you, Alek, Spencer, and Anthony for which you did on that train and for joining us here. 

Distinguished guests, Senator Feinstein, Senator Wyden, Senator Merkley, Congressman Bera, colleagues here past and present, members of the Defense Department community, it’s a pleasure to come together to welcome and recognize Alek, Spencer, and Anthony, welcome them home, to celebrate the heroic action they took…at great risk to themselves…and to award them our highest commendations. 

We also want to recognize some of their friends and families here today.  To all of you, thank you.  You raised some great kids.

Alek is a National Guardsman.  After returning home from a deployment to Afghanistan, he recently chose to enlist.  Spencer is a medic based at Lajes Air Base in Portugal, and, next month, he’s headed to Travis Air Force Base in California.  And Anthony is starting his year at Sacramento State University where I’m sure he’ll have the best “what I did on my summer vacation” story of everybody this fall.

That’s because, after Alek said, “Let’s go,” he, and Spencer, and Anthony sprinted toward the gunman while he trained his rifle on them.  Spencer tackled the assailant and the three worked to disarm him.  As we know, Spencer was stabbed in that effort.  After they knocked out the gunman, they tended to other injured on board before paramedics and police arrived.

It is an amazing story, right out of a movie.  And Alek, Spencer, and Anthony have rightly been celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic.  But I want to focus on the moment when they heard the gunshot, and when they took off toward it.  Think about that moment. When some took cover and ran, when others were unsure what to do, these three friends said, “Let’s go.”  And if that sounds familiar, it’s because it is.

Last week, for example, we gathered here as a community to mark the anniversary of the September 11th attacks.  On that day, on United Flight 93, a group of passengers – with the words, “Let’s roll” – stood up and fought back against the terrorists who had aimed the plane toward Washington.  And while these heroes were lost, we will always remember and appreciate their courage and sacrifice.

“Let’s go” should also ring true to many in this building…because it speaks to our mission here.  Each member of the Defense Department, in uniform and civilian, has chosen to dedicate themselves to standing between order and disorder, between the way of life we cherish and those who would threaten it.  And that’s one reason that America has the finest fighting force the world has ever known.  Like Alek and Spencer, each man and woman who serves in our defense enterprise has looked at that world and at those risks and said, “Let’s go.”

It’s a perfect example of the force that we have now…and the Force of the Future: active duty, guard, and civilian teamed together to produce a powerful force – acting agilely, in concert…each one important.

And it’s also familiar because the words “Let’s go” are as American as these three friends are.  Time and again, challenge after challenge, at the sound of gunshots and danger, the world has turned to the United States, to its military, for help.  And generation after generation, we’ve answered with a simple “Let’s go” and the resolve necessary to beat back dangers and stand up for the values so many around the world hold dear.

Ours is a world full of opportunities and challenges.  Thanks to young Guardsmen and airmen like Alek and Spencer and the many other soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines like them, and young citizens like Anthony, I’m confident that we will continue to grasp hold of the bright opportunities and meet the evil challenges…echoing these same, simple, stirring words of theirs – “Let’s go.”

From the Pentagon to you three guys – well done.