Remarks by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at his Ceremonial Swearing-In Ceremony

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 14, 2013.

Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  This kind of warm welcome.  Last time I received something quite like this was in the United States Senate in my confirmation hearing.  I’m a better person for it. 

Mr. Vice President thank you.  Thank you for taking the time today to come over and swear me in formally, officially and to validate to all the generals here that I’m actually here. 

And I have nothing against generals.  I spent three hours with them this morning, so I’m a better person for it. 

I thank the Vice President not only for his appearance and taking time and the very generous comments he made, but for his friendship over many years, which I value, as does Lilibet and our family.  When our son, Ziller, was in the children’s hospital a few years ago, Joe Biden would ask two or three times a day how he was doing, and every other day would send up a gift for our son Ziller.   

And one of those gifts he still has, and he’s grown into it.  That was a Philadelphia Eagles jersey.   I know that doesn’t impress most of you, but Joe’s partial to the Eagles.   They used to have a team in those days.  Well, I’ll get good press in the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

I’ve lost every shred of sensibility over the last few months, so it’s all right, since there’s not much skin left.  But Joe Biden is a pretty unique individual as everyone here knows, and for your friendship Joe, and what you mean to our family and what you have done for our country and continue to do, thank you. 

To Chaplain Barry Black, thank you.  It’s a privilege to have you here, and to have you preside spiritually over this event.  I came to know Barry as Joe did and many here today during my time in the Senate, and no one I respected more for your service to our country as well. So thank you. 

To of course all the members of our cabinet who are here, former colleagues, my former staff members, I may owe some money still, I don’t know.   

 Ambassadors, dignitaries, special guests, and of course my family thank you for your support, your constant belief in me, and our friendship over the years.  And I particularly wanted to acknowledge my wife Lilibet and our son and daughter, our daughter Allyn and Ziller in the front row, and my brothers Tom and Mike and Mike’s wife, Kathy, and Mike’s children who are here.  And again, all friends and distinguished guests. 

So, again, your support and your friendship has meant an awful lot to me over the years.  And it is the one sustaining thing in life as we all know that any of us really have, regardless of how high anyone ever rotates in your profession, your faith, your family and your friends are always in the end what matters most.   

And we’re always judged by our friends, and we’re judged by who we associate ourselves with.   And for me, that association couldn’t be more important or more noble than this association I now have with the men and women who serve our country in unselfish and complete ways, and their families. 

To our veterans who are here, thank you.  To all who have served and continue to serve this country, I couldn’t be more proud than to be in this position today.  And would commit to you that I will always do what I think is best for men and women in uniform and their families. 

We will judge our policies on the worthiness of your sacrifices.  And that’s where I always will start, as I have done all my life at everything I’ve done. 

I want to mention specifically a few individuals who are here who served with Tom and me in Vietnam.  And I haven’t seen, nor has Tom, some of these individuals since 1968.  I know sure as hell I’ve aged, but these guys probably haven’t.  But let me just take a moment to read their names who are here:  Randy Zobel and his wife; Jerome Jaworski and his son; Doc Saylor.  These three individuals served with us and I thank you for your distinguished service to our country and for coming here today.  They all had to travel a long way to get here, and I couldn’t be prouder of any association as I am of my association with these gentlemen.  I also want to acknowledge the presence of Jan Bacon and her three children whose husband and father, Gene Bacon and served with Tom and I, as well as the family of Doc “Wishbone” Sailers.  

Now, I’m not sure “Wishbone” was his God-given name, but Wishbone is somewhere in Australia, I understand, these days.  I think it’s legal.  I don’t think there are any indictments, but he was a medic in Vietnam.  And those five individuals were good friends of Tom and me.  And that service that they gave to our country and the friendship they gave to us is pretty special, as so many of you know who have served with others in uniform, especially in warzones over the years. 

I want to just make a couple of comments about the challenges that we have ahead of us.  And I promise the Vice President I won’t hold him hostage for any.  .  . 

He said he didn’t want to go back. 

But you don’t have hearings to go to anymore, so I.  .  . 

But before I do, as I lead into an observation or two, because we have here today the leadership of our military, I want to particularly acknowledge Chairman Dempsey for his service, but his partnership with me, my partnership with him.  I don’t know of an individual who has been trained for this moment more than General Dempsey.   

It’s not just because he sings a good Irish ballad, but General Dempsey’s a pretty special human being, first, and a damn special general.  And one of those unique soldiers who really has the complete package and understands how the world fits together.

And yes, his military expertise is important, but there are other components to this man, and I couldn’t be prouder than to have as my partner, Chairman Dempsey.

To my old friend Ash Carter, thank you, Ash, for your continued service here and what you have meant for this institution and our men and women around the world, and your previous service.   So I look forward to this partnership, too, very much, Ash.  We’ve known each other a long time and you’re going to be very important to everything that happens, and America is lucky to have you. 

One comment about my predecessor, Leon Panetta, who is still despondent because an Italian was not chosen. 

But he’s just happy he has a new spiritual leader and at this moment, he’s on the golf course, I think, and he told me that he has had an opportunity now to have an occasional glass of Italian wine, and I’m happy for him. 

And he told me he had left something for me, by the way, when I needed it.  I found it the other night. 

To Leon Panetta, I want to thank him publicly for what he’s meant to our country and this institution and the service that he’s provided.   And he’s another one of those special individuals that America somehow always produces at a time when we need them most. 

To Bob Gates, who helped essentially re-set so much of what our men and women in uniform are doing today to carry on not just the great privilege of service, but the high responsibility of service, and especially those in uniform.   

Two pretty special individuals that I’ve had the good fortune of following.  And Panetta told me the only thing he asked of me is just not to screw it up.  And I told him I’d do my best. 

Everyone in this room knows that leadership is a team business.  It’s not any of us individually.   Everyone in this room has made tremendous contributions, and most of you are continuing to make those contributions.  And it’s because of building something bigger than yourselves and making that work for a higher purpose and a higher interest. 

And I think if there is one thing that is a centerpiece of our military, I think it is that component.  We have great public servants at the State Department, all over our government, all over our country, but this business is rather unique that way.  And I say that because it’s going to take a team effort in this country today to help self-correct where we are and where we have come from, and what this country has been through the last few years as we come out of a second war, new threats and new challenges. 

I think probably an unprecedented time of change.  Every generation faces challenges, but the essence of the successful generation is always the response to those challenges.  And the great generations have responded in great ways to great challenges.  And I don’t think Tom Brokaw overstated the case when he wrote his book about the greatest generation.  Most of us in this room had fathers and mothers of that generation and we have some appreciation for what they did for our country and the world. 

And I think we are at a similar time in the world:  more complications, more dynamics that are in play, unprecedented diffusion of power centers, different kinds of threats.  And it is something that Joe talked about always that brings us back to our country as to why America still is the greatest force for good in the world. 

And that is that I don’t think God made us any better or maybe even any smarter.  I mean, someday I’ll find that out.  I’m not in any hurry, but what God did give us, I think, is an opportunity to build things like constitutions, and have a society that believes in the rule of law.   And all that is about having an opportunity to get better, to self-correct. 

And we’ve been pretty successful at that over the years.  Not that we haven’t made our mistakes, we have.  But we’ll make more.  But one of the big differences today is the margin of error now isn’t there, because of technology and globalization, the sophistication of weapons.  And that’s going to require a very steady, wise hand at the tiller in everything, and especially the leadership of our country.   

Which brings me to this point.  I want to just insert a point that Joe made in his very generous comments about me, specifically, the president’s selection of me and strong, strong support of me when it wasn’t easy to support me.  The president’s given me a tremendous opportunity to help all of this, and be part of all of this with you.  And I will always be grateful for that opportunity, but I think the president, as Joe Biden and almost everybody here understands, that this unique time is one that requires that certain leadership that is always important, but not always critical.   It is critical now.   

And to have an opportunity to work with the men and women of this institution — people like John Kerry, and Bill Burns, and others — in each of these departments are colleagues here who represent different cabinet memberships.  When we step back and think of this — and it’s not anything about me, I’m just fortunate enough to be a passing steward on the scene at this great moment in our history — it’s about things so much bigger than all of us.   

And to have those opportunities that we all have in our own ways, each one of us, it’s pretty unique.  And when you step back really and think of who we are, and where we are at this time, not many people ever have an opportunity to shape and define the world, and shape and define the future, and shape and define a very unsteady world.  And we all have that opportunity now.  

It’s historical, and we do know that in this particular case, and there are so many military leaders here past and of course present, that know of the history far better than me, but military’s over the years, through history, like governments, like societies all forced to adapt to the realities of their times, in the dynamics and the new threats of those challenges.  And those that did not were defeated, or they declined, or they just disappeared. 

And I think the seriousness of where we are in the world today is of that magnitude.   It won’t happen tomorrow.  It won’t happen in 10 years, but the future of our country and a defining world order is in play right now.  And I think everyone in this room has some sense of that.  Some of you more than others, because of your responsibilities. 

I say that too with a number of ambassadors sitting here from other countries, and I thank you for coming, and I am privileged that you would take your time to be here today.  You understand this as well, and you understand it as well as Americans do. 

And alliances and relationships like always are key to all of us, because we now have within our grasp the possibility, the potential to destroy mankind.  And it is that serious. 

And as we think ahead, over the next 25 years, we’re gonna put 2 billion more people on the face of the Earth, which isn’t gonna make it any simpler for any of us. 

These are challenges and these are realities that are with us now, but I would leave you with this, with all of that universe and framework of these great early 21st century challenges, I don’t know if there’s ever been a time in the history of man when it also represents so many possibilities, and so much potential to do so much good in so many different ways if we’re just wise enough to use the resources that we have to build relationships like our great leaders did after World War II based on common interest.   

Those are the centerpieces of success for mankind.  As we fasten on to those common interests, we don’t start out here with our differences, we start instead with our common interests.  And I can’t envision a nation-state, or a people, or a tribe, or any classification of any part of a society that doesn’t have far more common interests than different interests. 

And that’s where we start. 

And I want you to know that I have some appreciation for that.  I want you to know that I will always try to accommodate those realities as I work with the team, and I am very proud to be associated with.  And together, we will make this a better world.  And we’ll make a better world for all mankind. 

Thank you.