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U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)

Association of Defense Communities
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Monterey, California, Monday, August 06, 2012

Thank you, thank you very much. I deeply appreciate that very kind introduction, John, and the opportunity to be here and my thanks to you and the entire leadership of the Association of Defense Communities for this invitation.

It’s a real pleasure to have the opportunity to be back at this conference and to be among so many of my dear friends here in my home of Monterey. I deeply appreciate this invitation because it gives me a chance to get the hell out of Washington and come to Monterey. As many of you know, I have a very long and proud history with this Association of Defense Communities. As a member of Congress, representing this area – a number of important military instillations in this area – from that to my service in the Clinton administration as OMB Director and then as White House Chief of Staff, going through the process of various BRAC closures that took place and having to deal with those concerns from the White House perspective, and more recently, as co-chair of the California Council on Base Support and Retention during the 2005 round of BRAC.

So I have long been a big believer in the importance of this organization’s mission – and feel even more strongly about it now that I am Secretary of Defense and see it from this perspective as well – how important it is to maintain the partnership of the defense communities that do such a terrific job of supporting our men and women in uniform.

This is the fourth time that I’ve had the chance to address this conference. Much of the inspiration to do this, I have to admit, comes from two of your board members from Monterey – Fred Meurer and Michael Houlemard, who would be a pain in the ass to live with if I didn’t come here and do this. Both were instrumental in helping to encourage me to be able to come here, and I have to say both of them were remarkable in helping this community respond when we faced the closure of Fort Ord. In many ways, the work we did here, I believe, has become a national model and I am proud to call both of these talented leaders and public servants my dear friends. We went through a lot together in working through the closure of Fort Ord and then the redevelopment there, particularly with the establishment of the campus of the CSU system.

I’d also like to recognize some others that are here – Mayor Chuck Della Salla of Monterey also has been a partner and a great help in dealing with it, and Congressman Sam Farr, who succeeded me in the U.S. House of Representatives. He has continued to provide strong leadership on this issue. Last March I had a chance to meet with the House Defense Communities Caucus – which Sam co-chairs – and my message, which I will repeat today, was that close and effective partnership between DoD and defense communities is absolutely crucial, not just to the health of our defense communities across the nation, but it is absolutely crucial to the strength of the Unites States military as well. That’s why I’m pleased to be joined here by a number of my senior civilian and military leaders from the Department of Defense, including Lieutenant General Mike Ferriter, who will speak after me.

This perspective of mine – and indeed much of my perspective on defense issues – was shaped by my own experience here in Monterey.

I was born here. As many of you know, I am the son of Italian immigrants who made their way to this country, like millions of other immigrants in the 1930s – with no skills, no language ability, no money in their pocket. My father was the 13th in his family.

He had, like many of the immigrants – family here. He had some brothers who had come to this country, and settled in different areas. He had two brothers – one was located in Sheridan, Wyoming, the other was located out here in California. My parents managed to make it to visit the older brother in Wyoming – that’s what you’re supposed to do, is go and visit the older brother first. They spent one winter in Sheridan, Wyoming. And my mother said it might be time to visit the other brother in Monterey. I have nothing against Sheridan, Wyoming – it’s great, done some great hunting up there, it’s great country – but it is cold. And my family, thank God, made it to Monterey eventually.

And as a matter of fact, not too far from here, actually just as you leave the conference center if you look straight across old Alvarado Street, the main street in Monterey used to pass all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf. And this whole area was an area that had a lot of history. My dad had a restaurant just on that corner across the way – Carmelo’s Café – and my earliest recollections as the young boy were working in the back of that restaurant washing glasses. My parents believed that child labor was a requirement.

And then to his credit, he worked hard but he didn’t have much education but he had a hell of a lot of street smarts, he went out to Carmel Valley and bought some land out in Carmel Valley. And planted a walnut orchard, and again, a lot of work out there working in a walnut orchard doing the irrigation and all of the hoeing that you have to do and tying the trees up. And eventually those trees grew and, you know, my wife and I are now located there. But when I was a boy, we used to go around – and I always tell this story – we used to pick walnuts. My dad used to go with a poll and a hook in those days and hit each of the branches. My brother and I used to be underneath the trees collecting the walnuts. When I got elected to Congress, my father said, “You know, you’ve been well-trained to go to Washington because you’ve been dodging nuts all your life.” Very true.

Monterey had a long history with the military community. Fort Ord was a massive training ground for soldiers going back to before World War II. But particularly, during World War II, this was an area that was jumping as soldiers came through and trained and were then assigned either to the Pacific or Europe. And the entire Monterey community was, for those GIs, their last piece of civilization before they were deployed in distant wars. My parents’ restaurant provided some good food, and I can remember my parents offering the comfort of our home to some of the soldiers who came through to try to give them at least a little bit of home before they had to go into battle. Later, when I went in the Army for two years, part of my duty was assigned to Fort Ord as well, as a lieutenant – G2. And I had the opportunity to work there at the time when it was a training post and then later as a member of Congress represented that post when it was the home for the 7th infantry division.

This community support that was provided for the soldiers is something service members and their families still depend on every day, and it’s not only true here in Monterey, it’s true across the country in every one of your communities. Especially over the past decade of war that this country has been involved in, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether it’s schools for their kids, whether it’s jobs for their spouses, whether it’s transportation infrastructure, housing, our troops could not go about their daily lives, they couldn’t do their jobs – and the Department of Defense could not fulfill its mission of defending this country – without the support and the services of our defense communities. It’s that simple.

As a member of Congress, I was proud to represent this area and its many defense establishments – not only Fort Ord at the time, but today the Naval Postgraduate School and the Presidio of Monterey, which is the home of the Defense Language Institute, an important area of teaching languages to our troops. This is a mission that has become more and more important and will continue to grow in importance as we do a number of deployment assignments across the globe – you’ve got to have the language capability. In addition, we have posts like Hunter-Liggett on the outskirts of Camp Roberts, we have the Fleet Numerical Center, and others.

And during my 16 years in Congress, just as Sam does today, I became very familiar with the full range of issues that face defense communities – and as a result, I have a very sincere appreciation for the essential, positive role that these communities play in enhancing the quality of our troops and their families. There is a deep and abiding bond that’s established between these communities and the military and it’s a bond that must endure sometimes through difficult times.

We faced that here in Monterey with a difficult challenge – probably one of the more difficult challenges of my career in Congress when Fort Ord was designated for closure in the 1991 round of BRAC. It was, as all of you understand, a heavy blow for this community. Fort Ord represented 25 percent of our local economy – a lot of jobs important to this area, a lot of bonding that had taken place over the years between the military community and civilian community. And one of the tough things we had to do – and that happened after putting up a fight – we came together and put up a fight, time and time again, we won on one round, we lost on the next round. And at some point we had to face the reality of what took place. And my tribute goes out to all of the local leaders in this community because we sat around a table and basically said, “Okay, now what?” and everybody agreed that the important thing now was to move on – to understand that our job now was to try to make sure that we developed an effective reuse for that base so that we could minimize the economic damage that was done. We had a hell of a lot of proposals that came in, people wanted it to be Disneyland…theme parks, prisons – prisons are big for posts that are closed, and so there were a lot of those suggestions as well, high tech parts. But I think all of us felt that probably the best centerpiece we could have for the reuse of that area was to be able to locate a campus of a university system there, because there was a need in this area for that, and it would be a great centerpiece to be able to do that. And that’s what ultimately resulted in establishing a campus of the California State University there – California State University at Monterey Bay. In addition, we looked at what we do with the areas. Some of them offered opportunities after clean-up for recreation, for conservation, and so part of the area was dedicated to the BLM to operate for both recreation and conservation state parks. California state parks were involved in other areas. As a matter of fact, earlier this year, leadership of the community, support of the Department of Defense and the Department of the Interior, the President established the Fort Ord National Monument, which will ensure that some of the great, unique open space that is there can indeed remain for the future. In addition, areas were distributed to some of the local governments in the area and they too, operated an effective area effort to try to redevelop those areas. And all of it came under the guidance of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority – we established a reuse authority to be able to guide that development through the legislature. It was not easy but we were able to put it in place and it has done a tremendous job of trying to guide the redevelopment there.

I have to tell you, having gone through that whole experience and having worked with this community – every segment of this community – in being able to establish the reuse of Fort Ord, that I am extremely proud of the transformation that took place here, extremely proud of the redevelopment of that site over the years. It has not been easy – I don’t kid anybody – and frankly, you know, it’s a process that is difficult, it’s difficult because you have to deal with incredible, complicated, sometimes nonsensical regulation, bureaucracy, agencies, the process of clean-up can become extremely difficult to accomplish. Took a number of years, a great deal of patience, a great deal of determination. But in the end, what was achieved was out of crisis this community developed an opportunity to allow our area to succeed in the face of this difficult challenge.

The experience with Fort Ord that I went through and the local leaders of this community went through is a story of a community finding opportunity in the face of some very significant challenges. And in many ways it is an appropriate backdrop to the situation confronting the Department of Defense – and all defense communities today – as we emerge from a decade of war and confront a very real fiscal crisis in this country. And we, in particular at the Department of Defense, have to face some tough fiscal constraints that were imposed on a bipartisan basis, make no mistake about it. This is both Democrats and Republicans who came together in the Budget Control Act and said to the Department of Defense, “You’ve got to reduce the budget there by $487 billion.”

This is a period of great challenge for the Department, but my approach – having dealt with budgets during the time I was in Congress, having participated in budget summits from the Reagan era to the Bush era to the Clinton era, working on some of the tough budget decisions that have to be made – my view was let us take this as an opportunity to try to plan for the future. To build the kind of defense system we need, not just today, but in 2020 – the Defense force for the 21st Century. To the credit of the leadership at the Department of Defense, and frankly this is not something that we have seen very often in the past; military leaders, service chiefs, civilian leaders, secretaries, undersecretaries, sitting down at a table together working through the issues that we had to confront and coming together on a defense strategy for the future. It happened earlier this year – we sat, we worked, sat down with the President of the United States and we got the support of the President on each of these elements. And we put forward a new defense strategy for this country – one that is at the very center of our goal of maintaining the strongest military in the world. There are five key elements to that strategy.

The first – and it is important that as we draw down from the wars of this last decade, there is no question when you combine that with fiscal constraints we’re facing – that we are going to be smaller and we are going to be leaner. But at the same time, we have to remain agile, we have to remain quickly deployable, we have to remain flexible, we have to remain prepared to deal with crisis anywhere in the world, and we have to be on the technological edge of the future. Our troops have to have the very best in terms of new technology.

Secondly, when you look at the world and where some of the big problems are, we knew that we would also have to rebalance our global posture and focus on those areas where we face the biggest threats – in the Pacific and in the Middle East. And so we are rebalancing our force to the Asia Pacific and to the Middle East because that’s where the problems are that are likely to have us engaged in potential conflict for the future.

Thirdly, we have to maintain a presence elsewhere, it’s a big world – a lot of issues, a lot of crises elsewhere. We can’t walk away from them, and so our goal was to develop innovative partnerships, rotational deployments for our forces to go in, train, and assist others, help build those alliances, help build those partnerships, help build those capabilities, whether it’s in Latin America, Africa, Europe, so that we continue to maintain a presence elsewhere in the world, building the kind of partnerships and alliances that we need in order to protect the security of the future. One of the most innovative things that came out of our meeting were these rotational deployments. We do that with Special Forces, the Marines do it, the Army is going to do it – to be able to deploy these forces throughout the world to assist these countries in developing capabilities.

Fourthly, we have got to assure ourselves that we can confront and defeat aggression from any adversary, anywhere, anytime in the world. We have got to have the potential to defeat more than one enemy at a time. We face a conflict in Korea, and then the Strait of Hormuz is closed, we have got to be able to deal with those crises, to confront those enemies, and to defeat them – and we believe we can.

And finally, this can’t be simply about cutting. It has to be about investing as well – investing in future technology, investing in space, in unmanned systems, investing in cyber, investing in special forces, investing in the ability to mobilize quickly, which means protecting a strong Reserve and a strong Guard. And it means protecting our industrial base. We cannot, as a country, afford to lose the industrial base which supports our national defense. I’ll be damned if I’m going to outsource that capability anywhere. It’s got to be something we protect here in the United States.

Now in doing this, I add some important guidelines. What were the guidelines? I said, number one: we are the strongest military force in the world – probably in the history of the world. And we have to maintain that. Whatever we go through, I want to make sure that we maintain the strongest military in the world in order to protect this country. Secondly, I don’t want to hollow out our force. We’ve been through this in the past – coming out of World War II, coming out of Korea, coming out of Vietnam, coming out of the Cold War – when cuts were made across the board weakening the entire military, hollowing out the force, I don’t want to do that, I’m not going to repeat that mistake. In order to not repeat that mistake, I’ve got to put every area of the defense budget on the table. I’m not going to cut across the board. We’re going to look at every area, as we did, to try to determine where we can achieve legitimate savings. So we have to look at efficiencies, we have to look at force structure, we have to look at modernization, weaponry, and we have to look at compensation. Compensation is an area that has grown by 80 percent and unless we confront the costs in that area, we’re going to find ourselves cutting our national defense in order to deal with tremendously increased healthcare costs. Healthcare now is something that costs an excess of $50 billion. So every area has to be looked at. And we did that.

And lastly, we have to keep faith with our military. They’ve been deployed time and time and time again. Folks that are in the service, we’ve got to make sure that we stand by the promises that were made to them and to their families. So this is not easy, it’s tough to do. Those were the guidelines that I provided.

And that’s the budget request that we put to the Congress for 2013. It was the first step in trying to implement that strategy. The budget obviously has been the subject, as it should be, of great scrutiny and debate in the Congress and I know it’s been the subject of debate in communities that are impacted by many of the proposed cuts. Some of the decisions the Department has made are controversial, I understand that. But let me tell you, I can’t cut half a trillion dollars out of the defense budget and not cause some pain. That’s just the nature of having to take $500 billion out of the defense budget, which is a big number – the biggest number we’ve ever taken out of defense in all of the budget summits I’ve been involved with – that’s the biggest number that’s been taken out of defense.

As we implement the strategy, one of my guiding principles has been to do so in close partnership with all of those who support our defense enterprise and our national security. We’ve got to be able to talk through these issues. And for that reason, we’ve engaged extensively in two-way dialogue with the Congress, meeting with the committees in our jurisdiction, meeting with caucuses, meeting with our defense industrial partners, meeting with foreign allies, meeting with our foreign partners, and with our defense communities across this country.

From my experience in Monterey, I know that close partnership between the Department of Defense and communities is absolutely essential. And in an era of fiscal austerity, it is absolutely essential.

We’ve got to seek innovative ways to work more closely with communities in order to advance our shared interests – particularly when cost savings have to be achieved.

Thanks to the work of people like Fred Meurer, and others in this community, Monterey, as most of you know, has been a leader in this area. They built a very unique partnership between the Presidio and the City of Monterey that allows for the provision of a wide range of municipal and other base support services – including firefighting, road and facilities maintenance, child care, and broadband internet support. This approach has allowed both DoD and the City of Monterey to do it to provide the services necessary for our forces, and at the same time, achieve significant savings.

The Department of Defense, as many of you know, what I have asked our Department to do, is to explore how best to apply this kind of model more broadly following the pilot programs that we’ve seen not only from the experience at Monterey but at other installations nationwide – and to try to expand those opportunities so that you and your community that can make use of the same kind of opportunities for the future.

I am committed to advancing the partnerships between defense communities and the Department across this country, and I ask all of you – because you’re the ones that understand your communities, you understand the pressure, you understand the elements that are necessary to look at. I ask each of you to look for creative ways to help us better support each other and build stronger collaboration for the future.

The reality is that our communities are a tremendous resource for the Department of Defense. Even in this fiscal environment, we must continue to invest in our relationships with these cities and towns to support our military. To remain the strongest military power on earth, we have got to protect and invest in those programs that are essential to the health and morale of our force – in areas such as housing, environmental cleanup, education, and transportation.

We also need to work with defense communities to ensure that they take advantage of the opportunity to hire veterans and military spouses, who can make a real contribution and greatly enrich the community.

We’re going to be drawing down over these next five years. We have got to provide job opportunities for our veterans and give them the opportunity to get a good education, to invest in small business, to be able to come back to their hometowns and their communities and be able to make a livelihood.

But we’ve also got to be honest and open with each other about the nature of the fiscal challenge that confronts this country. There is a strategic and fiscal imperative that is driving the Department, as I said, towards a smaller, and leaner, and more agile force. That’s a reality, whether it’s coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan and reducing the force there, whether it’s the fiscal constraints that we’re going to be facing, there is no question – we are going to have to be smaller and leaner. Our budget made tough decisions to cut the size of the force – it has not been easy. But it would be irresponsible of us not to reduce the budget and do our role in confronting the fiscal challenge facing this country. Frankly, all of us have to work together at a time of a crisis in this country to confront that. And I know Congress is locked in partisan gridlock. They can’t figure out what the hell they’re going to do to try to deal with this issue. But let me tell you something – at some point they are going to have to find the strength and the will and the courage to do the right thing. So we’ve got to be ready to deal with that – it would be irresponsible for us not to be ready. And as we do that, obviously we don’t want to hollow out the force, and I’ve got to deal with the issue of excess infrastructure and overhead as well.

And that’s what is leading the Department to move ahead with the closure and realignment of several facilities in Europe. We’re closing bases abroad and that’s why we put forward the proposal for developing the BRAC process in our budget.

But I have no illusions here, I’ve been through this stuff, and I know the politics involved with BRAC. It’s not easy politically. But we have a responsibility to make decisions according to strategy, and we have a responsibility to put everything on the table.

It’s now clear, obviously, that there will not be a round of BRAC authorized in 2013. And that’s no surprise. We didn’t, frankly, I didn’t put any money on the provision. When I was asked by some of my budget peers, “Shouldn’t we put a dollar sign for the BRAC?” I said “No, don’t waste your time.” I mean, we have to put it forward, we’ve got to make it clear that we’ve got to make the argument, but I understand how tough it would be. But it is an important debate that we have to have, and frankly, it’s not going away.

I understand, as I said, that now is not the time for a BRAC round, particularly when our economy is struggling to recover, but the reality is that the Department is going to need to take a hard look at what we do in terms of support infrastructure as we seek to reduce overhead costs. It’s the very definition of hollowing out the force. If I’m taking the force structure down and then maintaining large infrastructure costs, then the money that ought to be going for training, for assistance, for help, for our soldiers, is going to maintain the infrastructure. It’s the definition of hollowing out if I do that. So we have got to have that debate and we’ve got to be able to find ways to achieve those savings. And I know – having been through the BRAC process – I know that often times the costs associated with BRAC were way out of line from what was predicted.

But at the same time, having gone through that process, we’re now achieving savings – producing annual savings of about $8 billion [sic $12 billion], as a result of going through those rounds, and that’s significant.

At the same time, BRAC can provide communities with the legal mechanisms to facilitate the transfer of property in ways that can promote job creation and economic development, like what we went through here at Fort Ord.

So I know from my own experience that there’s still a lot of frustration with the way that the BRAC process has worked and has been carried on in the past – I understand that. The Department still has “unfinished business”, frankly, from previous rounds such as providing caretaker funds, getting environmental cleanup underway expeditiously and disposing of property in a speedy and transparent way – I understand that, I’ve been through it. And I’ve told my people we have got to do everything to commit ourselves to doing this right and to providing the kind of support the community needs as we go through this.

I’m very proud of the strong track record that the Department’s Office of Economic Adjustment has established in assisting communities that were affected by BRAC and by other defense actions.

OEA has been important for Monterey and for scores of other base closure communities – helping the communities organize to speak with one voice, providing planning grants to kick-start the economic adjustment process, and bringing other federal agencies to the table to help with that implementation. I can assure you that OEA will be there to do everything possible to assist and deal with the impact of what we will have – because of a smaller defense budget – and to deal with the issue, as well, of defense industry layoffs.

At the same time, the last BRAC round also caused some deep growing pains for some communities. In places where the defense mission was expanded, communities have had to cope with significant traffic congestion and other growth-related challenges.

Today, it’s my pleasure to announce grants to two such communities who have been going through that process under a $300 million appropriation from Congress for transportation infrastructure improvements at medical facilities that were realigned as part of the BRAC process.

The first grant will provide the City of Lakewood, Washington, with $5.7 million for improvements to the Freedom Bridge overpass near Madigan Army Medical Center. The second grant will provide $40 million to Montgomery County, Maryland, for a series of improvements to pedestrian, bicycle, and public transportation access around the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda.

Both of these projects will greatly improve access to these important and growing medical facilities, and they are a tangible sign of our commitment to work with communities that have been impacted by the BRAC process.

I am proud of this support, and I am fully committed to following it through in the years to come with continued partnership. But let me tell you, all of that support, all of the work we have done, all of the work we’re doing on the budget, all of the work we’re doing to develop a new strategy, all of that can go to hell if this Congress doesn’t face up and deal with the issue of sequestration. Sequestration is this crazy, inane, nutty process that was put in place in order to force Congress to do the right thing. They put a gun to their head in order to do the right thing. And then when they failed to do the right thing, they’re ready to pull the trigger. It’s nuts for Congress to have developed what is essentially an artificial crisis because they’re not willing to deal with the issues that confront them when it comes to reducing the deficit. And so the sequestration process threatened to cut another $500 billion out of the defense budget, and untold billions out of the non-defense budget – I think it all adds up to over a trillion dollars – that will be cut across the board in some kind of mindless formula that was built into that process. And it guarantees that we will hollow out the military if that happens.

I have made clear – and I will continue to do so – that if sequestration is allowed to go into effect it’ll be a disaster for national defense, and it would be a disaster, frankly, for defense communities as well.

And, frankly, it’s not only true about the DoD budget, it’s also true relating to the domestic discretionary cuts that will deprive communities of the federal support they need in areas like education.

It is a mindless, indiscriminate formula that was never designed to be implemented. It was designed to trigger such untold damage that it would force people to do the right thing. I’m asking all of you to bring as much pressure as you can to make sure that Congress does not allow this to happen and that they do the right thing.

Look, ladies and gentlemen, I have men and women in uniform that are putting their lives on the line every day in order to protect this country. They are willing to fight, and they are willing to die for their fellow Americans. Surely if they’re willing to do that, then our elected leaders ought to be willing to find a little bit of the guts they need in order to govern this country and find the solutions that we elect them to do.

Look, there is no denying that there are some serious challenges facing our country – serious challenges. I deal with them every day – threats to our national security. We continue to fight a war in Afghanistan, and although it’s heading in the right direction, we are still fighting and dying in that war. Continuing to fight terrorism, and we have done significant damage to Al Qaeda. One of my proudest moments in my past job as Director of the CIA, was leading the operation that got Bin Laden. And the fact is, we have gone after their leadership and we have weakened their capabilities to do command and control. But we still have to go after them in Yemen, in Somalia, in North Africa. So we still confront the threat of terrorism. We’re confronting the threat of the unpredictable regimes that we deal with – North Korea in the Pacific, Iran in the Middle East. We’re dealing with turmoil in the Middle East – with Syria, with other areas that we have to deal with in terms of the potential that can take place. We’re dealing with rising powers throughout the world. We’re dealing with cyber threats. I mean, it is incredible to me that Congress failed to address the cyber issue. Cyber is the battlefield for the future – make no mistake about it. We’re getting hundreds of thousands of attacks that come in through cyber. It has the potential to cripple this country, to cripple our power grid system, to cripple our financial system, to cripple our government system. Make no mistake about it – that potential is here to do that. We face a threat in the cyber area and we’ve got to deal with it – we’ve got to prepare this country for that.

So there are tremendous threats to our security that we still confront and have to deal with. We face threats to our fiscal solvency with this record deficit and record national debt. You cannot continue to borrow the way we are and expect to keep America strong. And frankly, we also face the threat to our national security from a gridlocked political system that is unable to solve the problem – the serious problem that confronts this country. And I know states throughout our history have seen crisis – we’ve dealt with wars, we’ve dealt with depression, we’ve dealt with a war that threatened to divide this country in half, we have dealt with disasters. The greatest thing we have going for us is the great American spirit of renewal, the great American spirit of always being willing to fight back, whatever the challenge may be. And I believe that out of the crisis we face now, that there is the opportunity to fight back again and to win.

That’s the experience that I learned here in Monterey, and I believe the opportunity we have to build a stronger partnership between DoD and the communities you all represent – that opportunity is there as well.

We are one family in this country. My parents, when they came here, like millions of other immigrants, the great opportunity of the United States is that it made them part of a family in this country. I used to ask my dad, “Why did you travel all of that distance to come to the United States? Why would you do that?” Thousands of miles, no money, no skills, no opportunity – they didn’t know where the hell they were going in terms of location, what it was like – there was no Internet. Traveled thousands of miles across the open ocean to do that, and they came from a poor area in Italy, but they had the comfort of family. Why would you pick up and suddenly travel all of that distance to a strange land? And my father said, “The reason we did that was because your mother and I believed we could give our children a better life.”

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the American dream, the dream of giving our children a better life. In many ways, it’s the mission of the Department of Defense, to give our children a better life. It’s your mission, as defense communities, to give our children a better life. And so the challenge we face is to make sure that every day we are fighting to implement that dream of a better future for our children. And in America, it is truly a government of, by, and for the people.

Thank you for all you do to help make our future better, thank you for your partnership, thank you for being the kind of patriots that will ensure that the United States of America will always be the strongest power on Earth. Thanks very much.

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