Secretary of Defense Speech

Remarks at Ceremony Honoring 2016 Olympians and Paralympians


I can do all that, too.  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  What a terrific video and no, I can’t do any of that.  But what a great opportunity for all of us to celebrate as a community.

Every four years, the country comes together, cheers together, and watches with pride as Team USA enters the Olympic Opening Ceremony in the – in the Parade of Nations.  American athletes – dressed in red, white, and blue – march behind the flag, stand with their foreign counterparts and competitors, and wave to their family and friends in the stands…and all of us here back home. 

But parades like that are nothing new for a few of the Olympians and Paralympians who competed in Rio this past summer.  And that’s because nearly two dozen athletes and coaches also serve in another uniform…as members of Team DoD.  And while they may be accustomed to marching with a bit more military order here…these individuals bring the same dedication, hard work, and skill to their athletic endeavors that they bring to the finest fighting force the world has ever known.  And for that I couldn’t be prouder…or cheer louder.

Secretary Fanning, General Harris, John Register from the U.S. Olympic Committee, DoD leaders, colleagues, family and friends, thanks everyone for being here.

Let’s give a warm welcome to our Olympic and Paralympic athletes who join us today.  Don’t they look magnificent? 

As a community and as Team DoD, we support one another in all of our endeavors.  So it’s a pleasure to honor these Olympians and Paralympians for their athletic success, and thank them also for what they do in uniform…athletic and military uniforms, in other words. 

This year in Rio, Team DoD was represented by 16 Olympians, four Paralympians, and three coaches – warrior-athletes who competed from each of our services.  Many of them join us here today, including Army’s Sergeant First Class Glenn Eller who made his fifth Olympic appearance.  First Lieutenant Cale Simmons proudly represented the Air Force as a pole vaulter – that I definitely can’t do.  Second Lieutenant David Higgins, who shot in the prone rifle event, will start the Marine Corps’ Basic School this fall. 

And Navy’s Midshipman Fourth Class Regine Tugade was the first Naval Academy plebe to compete.  And these are just a few of the athletes we’re honoring today – you saw the rest in that video a moment ago.

Glenn, Cale, David, Regine, and all the other members of Team DoD ran, shot, coached, swam, and more in Rio.  They won four medals.  And one member of Team DoD and Team USA – Army Sergeant Elizabeth Marks – even broke a world record, winning the gold in her Paralympic debut.  Let’s give her and all of them another big round of applause.

Team DoD also contributed a few of the moments that make each Olympics special.  You just saw one in the video…how Second Lieutenant and pole vaulter Sam Kendricks was sprinting toward the crossbar and suddenly broke stride to stand at attention as our national anthem played elsewhere in the stadium.  [applause].

With that simple act, he made us proud.  And when he later won the bronze medal, he made us all cheer as well.

But in doing so, Sam, also reminded – Sam also reminded everyone watching that these Olympians, Paralympians, and coaches never stop being members of Team DoD – never stop. 

While there are some similarities in these endeavors – Olympians and Team DoD both wear uniforms, and athletes and servicemembers alike are known for training, training, and training some more – I know it isn’t always easy for them to balance both of those commitments.

And that’s why I’m pleased to see so many of you benefited from the support of our initiatives in DoD like the Army’s World Class Athlete Program. 

And I’m glad all of you were able to make that balance work – to compete in the Games and to serve in uniform – for a few reasons.

First, each of you – each and every one of you – is doing one of the noblest things a person can do with their life, which is to help defend our great country and make a better world for our children.  Now, I know some of you are just beginning your military careers – either at a service academy, or in your first or second assignment – while some of you have served around the world…in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.  But each of you makes our country stronger and safer every day.  Thank you for doing so.

And second, at a time when we have fewer Americans serving, and fewer who are personally connected to those who serve on our behalf, you help us build bridges.  By competing for Team USA while you serve on Team DoD, you help us connect with our fellow citizens and communities who aren’t as connected as they once were to those who serve and sacrifice on their behalf.

And third, as you do all of this – as you compete for gold and serve in uniform, as you protect our country and build these bridges – you inspire all of us.  Look at all those who came out here today to cheer you…this beautiful day in the courtyard at the Pentagon. 

You inspire them – you inspire all of us to do our best…whether we’re here at the Pentagon, or at bases around the country, or on battlefields thousands of miles away.

And you also make me proud – very proud.  Our people, all our people, are my number-one commitment as Secretary of Defense.  I want you to know that I’m immensely proud of everything that all of you have accomplished, and everything you will accomplish…in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, in our military, and long into the future.  And I’ll be cheering for you, and supporting you, all the way.

Bless you all, and congratulations.