Good afternoon, and welcome.
Mr. Secretary, sir, thank you of course for so graciously hosting this wonderful event. As you noted, thank you especially for our long friendship and relationship. I want you to know how important it is to me personally that virtually every minute I had the honor of serving in the Pentagon you were there. You were there making a difference, whether within our acquisition programs, as Deputy Secretary of Defense, and now most importantly as our leader, as secretary. Every day has been a learning experience, and I hope I've learned by your example and grown through your knowledge.
And to you and Stephanie, my heartfelt thanks and admiration.
Chief, sir, as you noted, our time together in the E ring of the Pentagon has been relatively short, but as you also noted, our real relationship spans back a good number of decades. I can tell you in greatest confidence, and I think this is what most every senior leader worries about as they prepare to depart, that in you - this Army, along with Eric Fanning, have the absolute right leadership to take on the evolving challenges that we see appearing before us. So thank you, too, for being here today, but more importantly, your decades of service, and I look forward to watching you lead with your usual skill and determination and success.
And so we meet again.
It was right here at Fort Myer on November 2, 2009 that a similar ceremony was held, one that marked the beginning of my time as what was then the most recent in a long line of Secretaries of the Army.
And on that day, much was then as it is now.
I am honored once more to look out across the audience and see so many friends, past colleagues, current colleagues -- all of you far too numerous to mention by name - but each of you, so important in my heart, and it moves me deeply that you cared enough to be here.
I am thrilled once again that so many relatives have made the journey; first cousins, second cousins and cousins a couple of times removed. But they traveled once more from places such as Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Southern Virginia, and Northern New York. Thank you all. We see each other far, far too infrequently.
Both then as now it is humbling to be here on the historic grounds of Fort Myer particularly standing before, as you heard Secretary Carter rightfully point out, soldiers from the Army's First Standing Regiment--The Old Guard. Those from the Army band and the fife and drum corps.
I could not put it more fairly, more clearly than Secretary Carter did when he said, and I agree -
The soldiers on this field represent the millions of Americans who have served in Nation's our ranks in the past, as well as the millions more who today continue to carry forward with the Army's historic traditions and timeless standards.
Then, is as today, the memory of my father rests heavy upon me. And more than 6 years later, like many of us in the family, I continue to think of him every day.
My brother, his bride, Marti, my nephew PJ and niece Michaela once again put their busy lives and put everything on hold to journey here help mark a new phase of mine.
And you noticed the Chief and Secretary both making comments about, indeed, the matriarch of our family, my mom, who was here at Fort Myer more than 6 years ago.
I believe, and she's not yet admitted this, that being the former registered nurse that she was, she decided on her own to conduct an unannounced, clandestine examination of a healthcare facility in Northern Virginia. But she's here in spirit and will watch it online.
But this remains today, as it has been for the more than 67 years I have been on this earth, I have been continuously stunned by her limitless love, wisdom and too often, I'm afraid, her necessary forgiveness.
I would not be on this earth without her labors, I could not have grown without her nurturing. I could never have prevailed without her love. Simply put, she's mom and we love her.
But not everything today is as it was then.
In November 2009, as you heard the Secretary say, our soldiers were confronting a very dangerous world--they were a force engaged in not one, but two theaters of conflict. Despite the significant challenge, there was a certain sense of stability in those days. For better or worse we knew the enemy. We had charted, time and time again, the battlefield. And beyond those two very dangerous conflicts, few new challenges--at least in the near term--were thought to be on the horizon.
And now, six years later--indeed, just over the past 20 months--that stability has largely evaporated, dispersed by both new threats, and past adversaries.
In 2009, the Army's base and contingency operations budgets totaled over 235 billion dollars. While today, our combined funds are set at a little over 150 billion dollars -- approximately a 36% cut for an Army still at war.
In 2009, the active Army end strength was about 553 thousand while today it has declined to just over 491 thousand, with further cuts in the offing.
Less money. Fewer soldiers. More threats.
That's a posture largely unknown in our nation's history, and one that, unless something somehow changes, places this Army and indeed the very interests of the nation in a very dark and dangerous place.
This Army and America were born together. Forged from the fires of revolution and steeled through some 240 years of conflict and challenge. And through those times, no matter what this has nation asked, this Army has answered.
No matter how steep the climb nor how deep the valley your Army has made every necessary effort. Always reaching the top and always securing the objective.
But this truth remains: even unbound courage has limits.
This Army has proven time and again. It can, it will do the impossible.
But, in an era of growing connectivity and more adaptive, capable adversaries--even the greatest land force on the face of the Earth needs support --needs a predictable, reasonable level of resources.
This is this nation's responsibility-- it's all of our responsibility -- Congress, the Administration -- for those of us in the Pentagon -- the people of this nation writ large. We all must find a way to do better.
Because we know, should we do even half as well by them, the men, women, families and civilians of this Army, and indeed all of our nation's services as they have done for us--America can, America will enjoy another 240 years of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This is the future this nation desires. This is the future our military deserves.
The last six years have been an incredible journey, a journey made possible by President Obama and the faith and trust he bestowed upon me.
I will be forever grateful to him for this high honor and hope I have in some reasonable fashion served him and this Army capably.
I'll close by recalling some words I spoke six years ago at the ceremony marking my arrival.
This is, without a doubt, the most special moment of my life, a place in time I could never have imagined.
But as I said that day in November of 2009, an immutable truth exists here at this place and at this time: this is a mere turning of the page, just one page in a glorious story that has extended now for nearly two and a half centuries -- one more page that will undoubtedly serve as prelude to many more.
And as I said then, as special as it all is -- and I would say now, as special as this all is -- this moment is less about me than the Army traditions and culture that are embodied in this Army and in these traditions and ceremonies.
And as I noted too some six years ago, every arrival foreshadows a goodbye -- and this page, my page -- will turn as well. And today that page for me turns as well.
But as I said too, but by the grace of God, what will not change, what must not change, is that long line of courageous individuals that when the nation's call has sounded, they've answered. When freedom is imperiled, when liberty assailed, they've answered. Wherever, whenever tyrants have threatened, they've answered.
As you heard Secretary Carter say, we are gathered again today just a short walk from one of the nation's most hallowed pieces of ground -- a place where some 250,000 modest, unassuming white markers bear silent witness to the lives, the sacrifices, the incredible -- too often overlooked courage of American heroes - American veterans.
From battles long past to those still before us, those markers serve as a constant reminder that we owe them so much.
In my now more than six years as secretary since coming to the Pentagon, I've attended the memorial services at Arlington for dozens of such heroes and I take no joy in knowing that in the tomorrows that lie ahead, that number will rise. So-called ordinary people, leaving their so-called ordinary lives in pursuit of extraordinary purpose. I can not -- indeed I did not -- improve or add the smallest measure to what they have done.
Rather, what I did try to do, what I hope that despite my many failings did do to some degree -- is focus my every effort to ensure that this nation stands by them as they have sacrificed for us.
God bless them -- America's heroes. God bless America, and God bless this great and glorious Army that keeps us free.