Serving the Patriots of America's Air Force.
I have dined as an Ensign in a warrant mess on a cruiser where every member of the mess could have been my father. I have dined with Chief Petty Officers in their messes. I have dined with leaders of this world and this country. I have dined with the rich and the middle class. But never have I dined with people of such class as I dine tonight.
I'd like to say a special thanks to the wonderful entertainment show that was put on tonight. It was terrific. For a New York kid, it really meant special things to me. And I so thoroughly appreciate the lovely song that was dedicated to my wife of 42 years. You were great. Thank you.
Chief (Master Sgt. of the Air Force Gerald R.) Murray and (former Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Jim) Finch you were much too kind. Thank you for your kind words and for honoring me in this unique and distinguished manner.
(Former Air Force) Secretary Whit Peters, I now know why you were so terribly proud to tell me you were selected for the Order of the Sword. At the time, this dumb sailor didn't really know what you were talking about. All I knew is that it was something you really thought was one of the high points of your life. I now understand why, Whit. Thank you for telling me about it. Because when I was surprised with this award that only my partner General John Jumper, and of course all the Chiefs knew about and I didn't, my good partner brought a second handkerchief because he knew I would be struck by the thought. And I instinctively said, and I believe it to this moment, that I have worked neither long enough nor hard enough to earn this award. But I have loved enough, so I accept this award--humbly.
I also think it very important, and I could not go further without pointing out that a single person doesn't do very much. One works with others. I have been blessed--and if this award means anything to me it will remind me daily that I have been blessed, not just at home with a wonderful wife and lovely daughter, but with a partner in the leadership of this Air Force, General John Jumper. General Jumper makes a lot happen. Sometimes General Jumper speaks to me and reminds me of those Chief Petty Officers who took me aside when I was an ensign. And he also smiles when I start to fly on my own and I know what I am talking about. He has been a great supporter.
And I think everyone of you know that the things said tonight about my accomplishments are not my accomplishments. They are the accomplishments of an Air Force team that includes General Jumper, our four-stars, our chain of command. And it includes such great men and women as Gerald Murray, Jim Finch, and all of those who are at this table tonight. That's how we do well.
I'm delighted that Admiral and Mrs. Holian could be here this evening. Fran Holian was my Executive Officer when I commanded a DDG (guided missile destroyer). He excelled and went beyond my abilities as a naval officer. He is also a very good friend.
I also want to point out that one of my most important mentors is here tonight. He is my mentor, Bill Bodie's mentor, General Lance Lord's mentor, and he is Brigadier General Rich Hassan's mentor--Andrew Marshall, one of the finest men in the Department of Defense. Andy was the head of the Office of Net Assessment when Admiral Farragut was around and was appointed to the job by General George Washington just before he relinquished command of the Continental Army. He celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary last night. And ladies and gentlemen, tonight is his 82nd birthday. He is still working full time at our Pentagon. General Jumper and I have often relied on one of his many sayings to help you cope with tough times. He once said to me, "There simply are limits to the stupidity any one may can prevent." General Jumper and I call upon that time after time. He also has taught us about bananas and Scotch and a few other things for which we owe him our great thanks. Andy, thank you so much for being here tonight. Please give my best to your lovely wife Mary.
Former Chief Master Sergeants of the Air Force, Command Chiefs, distinguished guests, my beautiful wife Dianne and our lovely daughter Heather, friends and family, ladies and gentlemen, my fellow airmen, I am genuinely humbled to stand before you tonight to accept this honor. While most of you know that I am not usually one who finds it difficult to put my thoughts or perspective into words--particularly when in the company of the enlisted men and women of our Air Force, a special group of Americans with whom I feel a very special bond--I can assure you that tonight, your decision to honor me with this modern order of chivalry has left me quite at a loss to adequately express my profound sense of pride, humility, but also of delight.
Let me simply say to the assembled airmen here tonight that I could not be prouder of you, because in my minds' eye, there is no doubt that my induction into the Air Force Order of the Sword is an honor that reflects more appropriately on your efforts, not on mine. It is your integrity that has built our reputation among the fighting forces of the world. It is your service that protects our nation. And it is your commitment to excellence that enables us to retain our place as the world's finest air and space force. I congratulate you, each and every one of you.
The success of our Air Force in accomplishing our mission and the rightful position of respect that we hold in the hearts and minds of the American people is because of you--and the more than 700,000 active, guard, reserve and civilian airmen you represent. They trust your competence in conflict. They trust your competence in conflict. Can there be a higher level of trust? I can't think of one. They are keenly aware of your contributions to our victories in the first Gulf War, in the Balkans, and in our war on terrorism. And they deeply appreciate all that you do to secure the skies over this wonderful country.
In our most recent conflict in Iraq, the professionalism, unmatched skill, and humanity of our airmen were on display for the world to see. Our airmen performed superbly and courageously. And they continue to do so. They combined an innate respect for the law, self-discipline, and sensitivity to protecting vulnerable civilian populations with a fierce display of speed, precision, and firepower. Still, they delivered humanitarian aid and assistance to the citizens of Iraq, even while combat operations were ongoing.
And in the most information intensive and closely covered military operation in the history of warfare, our airmen strengthened the public's perceptions of the Air Force; not with hype, but quietly, competently--by your actions. Our people understand that we are smart, we are high-tech, we are visionary, we are global, and we are expeditionary. These are perceptions that we have nurtured through a decade of operations in peacetime, in conflict, and through our engagements around the globe. And they are perceptions you bring to life and make real each and every day.
In my travels around our Air Force, I have met literally hundreds of thousands of our wonderful airmen. I have met so many of you. I'm often embarrassed that when you come up to me, I can't remember every face. But there is always a sense of pride that emanates from an airman that gives me a high, and I thank you very much for it. I've been with our airmen from Southwest Asia to the Korean peninsula. I have been continually and repeatedly impressed with their loyalty and commitment to excellence, regardless of the challenges or demands they face.
And I have to say, that while our fellow citizens have witnessed the results of our performance on their TV screens--from coverage of our response to the attacks on 9/11 to the nightly views of the Baghdad skyline--I've had a much better seat to watch our airmen perform their complex and demanding missions, and my own very special instructor pilot, General John Jumper.
The view and the images from my vantage point are as compelling as they are enduring:
* I see F-16s from the North Dakota Air National Guard, screaming over the Pentagon, returning to some extent, a sense of security to the citizens of our nation and our nation's capitol on Sept. 11
* I see engineers, communicators, logisticians and mobility troops who built the backbone of more than 20 expeditionary bases in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, the Horn of Africa, throughout the Arabian peninsula, the gulf coast, and now, inside Iraq
* The Combined Air Operations Center in Southwest Asia, and thousands of airmen vigorously engaged conducting our counterstrikes in the war on terror. And I should tell you; one of my proudest moments was at 12:30 at night. I, the oldest member of my delegation, and my entire staff begging me to go to bed. Of course I was saying that there was more to do and more to see. Finally one of them had the courage to say "boss, we can't keep up with you any more tonight."
* I see the introduction of the horse into Air Force operations--General Jumper's favorite story--borrowing from 19th century tactics, a 20th century airplane, and a 21st century airman bringing satellite guided bombs to bear in our victory over the Taliban. It is an experiment that John and I nurtured that is now the hallmark of American air combat power. It is a magnificent return to the synergy that we both knew could be done between our ground forces and our air forces. This was the Chief's and my goal to replicate that wonderful combination of General Patton and Arnold, and you made it possible.
* I see an airman, part of the first team of special operators to liberate Kabul and raise the America flag over the U.S. Embassy there, the first time that flag has flown there in over two decades. And knowing, as many of you do not, that it was taken down last by a very close friend of mine. And I'm sure he was as stuck as I was to see it fly once more.
* I see Predator remotely piloted vehicle crews in Kuwait, Jacobobad (in Southwest Asia), Nellis (AFB, Nev.) and elsewhere--innovators in the tradition of Hap Arnold's airmen whose era of experimentation built the foundation of the Air Force that fought and won the air campaigns in Europe and Japan in World War II. And yes, when Jim Finch found that our enlisted maintainers were not getting the credit they deserved, we changed that. When John Jumper found that people involved in our remotely piloted aircraft program were not getting the medals that they deserved, we changed that.
* One of the hallmarks of my tenure has been to say to my good friend and partner, "John, is there a reason we can't do such and such?" And he usually will pause and say, "no, not that I can think of." And I'll say, "fine, let's do it." Then we usually get the bureaucracy telling us why we can't do it. And we have to tell them no, we're going to do it, because we said we would. It is a wonderful spirit of innovation and adaptation, and General Arnold would be very proud of all of our airmen.
* I see enlisted space operators flying GPS satellites from the front range of the Rockies--providing a vital capability to our warfighters half way around the world. And very few of our American citizens realize how many of you tweak those satellites, how you tell our warfighters the time of the day best to drop. And how each of these is done seamlessly, quietly. Yet so many people in the world are so dependent upon us.
* I see my favorites, my maintenance crew friends from the reserve bomb wing at Barksdale (AFB, La.) who, for the first time, integrated targeting pods into our B-52 platforms and employed them in combat from RAF Fairford (England). Keeping old planes going, adapting new technology, developing new doctrine, and actually allowing B-52 pilots to think that they are really F-16 pilots, when we know they are not.
* I see the magnificent maintainers at Kadena (AB, Japan) fighting catalytic corrosion on F-15s. To my former Navy colleagues, you've not seen yellow chromate until you've seen inside of an F-15 at Kadena
* I see missile maintainers at F.E. Warren (AFB, Wyo.), and across the northern plains, providing an umbrella of deterrence to our Aeropace Expeditionary Forces
* I see a young sergeant at Thumrait (in Southwest Asia) telling me as I approached a B-1 bomber--shortly after people thought I had a problem with B-1 bombers--that if I had a problem with the engines of that B-1 bomber that I would have to deal with her first. And I said, "Ma'am, I do not have a problem with your engines." She said, "Good, you'd better not. Because if you do, I'm the person you'll have to talk to, sir." She was wonderful.
* I see Security Forces defenders, jumping into combat with the airborne troops in Northern Iraq
* I see Air Force medical professionals, treating the wounded in Kirkuk (AB, Iraq), Ramstein (AB, Germany), and here at Andrews
* There was an enlisted airman, who during a troop talk at Langley AFB, Va., challenged me with the notion, "Why cannot senior noncommissioned officers who have earned their baccalaureates in technical fields go to AFIT (Air Force Institute of Technology) alongside our officers to pursue advanced degrees. I said, "1 don't know." It was one of those occasions when I came back and said to General Jumper, "John, do you know a reason why we can't do this?" He said that our Air Force is growing more and more technical. We demand more competence from our senior noncommissioned officers. He said, "Let's do it." And we did it. But I never knew the name of the sergeant. For two years, I've been telling this story and wondering how would I find the NCO who had the idea. Last week, out of the blue, he sent me an e-mail. Senior Master Sgt. Horace Booker--he said he was the one who asked the question and just wrote to say thank you. It was "Buck" Booker--one of many of our airmen who have wonderful ideas. What General Jumper and our fellow leaders in the Air Force have tried to do is create a climate that says, let those ideas come up. We don't get good ideas from some mountaintop. We get our good ideas from you. And we will do what we need to do to effect them if they make our Air Force better.
And for all of these marvelous accomplishments, I have seen the heroes around the Air Force, at Hickam (AFB, Hawaii); Hurlburt (Field, Fla.); Pope (AFB, N.C.); Osan (AB, Korea); and many more, multiple winners of the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Bronze Star with Valor for their actions in combat. And by the way, it's a delight to report to you that a week ago yesterday, for the first time in our Air Force's history; we award four Distinguished Flying Crosses for heroism in combat to female aviators of our Air Force.
I recall vividly the bravery of America's airman--in times of grave danger--when they heroically and without regard for their personal safety charged into the fire and gut-wrenching smoke that consumed a wedge of the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. While many died, our airmen--Chief Master Sgt. John Monaccio among them--saved more than a dozen lives.
The skill, excellence, airmanship, and determination of our airmen are second to none. They fly, fix and launch--some of the hardest things we do in our complex business--and they do all of it magnificently.
I'm overwhelmed by the willingness of our airmen to give of themselves that others may live. We suffered the loss of two of these great men in the battle for Afghanistan, Technical Sgt. John Chapman and Senior Airman Jason Cunningham. Their heroism will forever be etched in my memory. And I recall standing alongside my partner with the widows and young children of these brave airmen, inspired and fortified by their strength of purpose and patriotism. When the ceremony was over, and we were on the plane and were still silent, finally we looked at each other and said, "Now we know why we come to work every day."
I'm reminded of the story of Staff Sgt. Robert Disney, a pararescueman to whom General Jumper and I presented the Purple Heart for wounds he received in combat in April of this year. Rarely have I experienced a more humbling moment in the presence of our airmen. On the April, 30, Staff Sgt. Disney stood there in the Chief of Staff's office prepared to receive our nation's oldest decoration, a decoration that was started by General Washington. He was bandaged and in a borrowed uniform, yet stood firmly at attention in the presence of the Chief of Staff.
Just 12 days before this ceremony, Staff Sgt. Disney was injured in combat when an AK-47 round entered the back of his head and exited his jaw. Fortunately, the bullet missed his vital organs and the doctors were able to put him back together. The dozens of stitches in face and his lingering pain did not deter him from maintaining his bearing or composure. When asked for his comments by General Jumper, he said he felt bad that he was not in the field with his team doing the mission for which he had trained. He felt bad he wasn't out doing his mission. Wow.
So I ask you to consider this: here is an NCO who had served eight of the previous 11 months in Afghanistan and had been deployed over 300 days in just one year. He had already suffered injuries in a previous helicopter crash just nine months prior. Now, he has a bullet through his head and is facing a long healing process. Yet, this airman says: '1 want to be back in the field with my team." Ladies and gentlemen, that's our Air Force.
Fellow airmen, I would submit to you that there are many, many more like him--he is the rule, not the exception. He epitomizes the outstanding airmen we have in our force today and represents the great American patriots who wear stripes on their Air Force uniform. It is for him, and all the airmen like him, that I continue to serve. And it is why Diane let's me continue to serve.
All of these items I recounted tonight are what I see in my "mind's eye" when I'm asked how I view our Air Force. In my years of public service and business, I have never been affiliated with an organization or group of people that can match the Air Force's commitment to character and values. As I've said many times, I love my Navy as I do our Air Force, but I can meaningfully say that no institution with which I am familiar comes close to our Air Force and our airmen.
Now, it is increasingly less certain that I will be confirmed as Secretary of the Army. But should I, I will go and do my duty, because I have been asked to serve. And that notion of "Service before Self," as I have pointed out to my partner, sure sounds good, but it's sure tough to live with. I know how many of you have to put service in front of self, and I'm being asked to do the same thing. I'm being asked to do this; just as every other man and woman in this service is asked to do other things. But I will leave with a heavy heart. You have embraced Diane and me as members of the family from the very beginning. Life in the Air Force has provided us with many wonderful experiences and many indelible memories. For that, she and I will be eternally grateful. And we owe a debt of thanks to our daughter Heather. When the idea first emerged that I would leave business and enter the Air Force, she turned to her mother and me and said, "Good, it's the right thing to do." Thank you Heather.
It has been my distinct privilege to lead you and serve you--to fight the fights for capabilities, benefits, and improvements that benefit our airmen and their ability to accomplish our mission. To work closely with my wingman General John Jumper, Undersecretary of the Air Force Pete Teets, and your outstanding Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Gerald Murray. To make this powerful element of American national power even better, even stronger, and even more professional.
More than 2,000 years ago, Plato said, "Man was not born for himself alone, but for his country. "Just two days ago, my boss, Secretary Rumsfeld echoed this timeless declaration during his Patriot Day remarks at Arlington National Cemetery. For those of you who were not there, let me share with you a couple of his thoughts:
"A patriot is one who loves his land, prizes its principles, and cherishes its creed. A patriot so reveres the ideals of his home country that he is willing to lay down his life to ensure that those ideals endure."
I count myself among the very fortunate Americans to serve you and to serve with you, the airman patriots of our great nation who embody these enduring values, who don't just speak them, but live them and demonstrate them every day.
Again, I offer my sincere thanks for this wonderful honor. Diane, Heather, and I are privileged to be with you this evening. You simply are spectacular. May God bless you, your families, and the United States of America. Thank you my fellow airmen.
Dr. James G. Roche, secretary of the Air Force
Remarks at the Order of the Sword Induction Ceremony, Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Sept. 13, 2003