Thank you very much.
Mr. President, I am deeply touched by your moving words about me, about my family, and, more importantly, about the men and women who serve in the Department of Defense. All of us all truly honored by your presence, and I thank you.
Let me also take this moment to thank Michelle and Jill Biden for the outstanding work that they've done in leading the Joining Forces Initiative, which has provided great support for military families who have done so much for us.
Marty Dempsey, I appreciate your kind remarks. Marty and I have testified before Congress -- this is 11th time, yesterday, that we've done that, and we've also done 10 press conferences together. We are developing a very convincing case for collecting hazard pay in these jobs.
As we used to say when I was in the Army, there isn't anyone I'd rather be in the foxhole with than Marty Dempsey. I cannot tell you what a privilege it has been to work with you and to work with all of the service chiefs. We've dealt with some very tough issues, and there is no way that I could have done this job without your support, without your loyalty, and without your dedication.
Members of Congress, leaders of the administration, leaders of the Department of Defense, distinguished guests, many dear friends who we've known over the years, Sylvia and I are very thankful to all of you for coming here today. This is, without question, the fanciest sendoff I've ever gotten in Washington.
Let me remember the words of President Harry Truman, who once said, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." And that's just what I did.
And I am grateful that Bravo is here today. Bravo was in all of the meetings when we planned the bin Laden operation, and he also sat in on many of the sensitive meetings and discussions that I had at the Pentagon. And I want you to know that he has never told a soul what he heard.
He is definitely not a leaker, at least according to that definition of the word.
You've heard of the movie Zero Dark Thirty? The producer is seriously considering a new movie about Bravo, entitled Zero Bark Thirty.
It's been 50 years of public service, and I have always and will always cherish the deep and lasting friendships that I've made here in Washington. And I'm extremely grateful that so many of those friends could be here this afternoon.
I have spent a long time in this town. As the son of immigrants, as the president pointed out, I have truly lived the American dream. Being an Italian-American in Congress, at senior levels in the executive branch, has been for me a very unique experience. I have never lost my awe by the sight of the Capitol and the White House at night. It still is a very special experience.
I can also remember when I was first elected to the House of Representatives, there was a member of that -- I think the President may recall -- by the name of Frank Annunzio from Chicago, who came up to me and said, "Panetta, that's Italian." I said, "Yes, it is." He said, "Good." He said, "I want you to join the Italian caucus." Of course, I was not going to say no to an Italian from Chicago.
He said, "Great." He said, "We don't do much on issues, but we eat good."
And that was true.
Many years later, when I came to Langley as President Obama's Director of Central Intelligence, I got a mug from my family with a big CIA, standing for "California, Italian, American."
In all seriousness, Mr. President, I want to express my deepest thanks to you for the opportunity to serve this country again as a member of your Administration. It has been a tremendous honor and a tremendous privilege these past four years, and especially now as the 23rd Secretary of Defense.
I hope that in some small way I have helped to fulfill the dream of my parents, the dream that they wanted and the dream that all of us want, of giving our children a better life.
It's been for me a hell of a ride. I will never forget the pride and exhilaration when I walked out of the White House after the president announced the success of the bin Laden operation and I could heard the chants of those people who were gathered around the White House and in Lafayette Park yelling, "USA, USA." Thank you, Mr. President, for your strong support in what was a very tough decision. The memory of that operation and the team that helped put it together, both the intelligence team and the military team, will be with me forever.
I'll remember traveling to combat theaters and bases around the world, looking into the eyes of brave men and women who are putting their lives on the line every day for this country. I'll remember the moments when we've honored veterans of past wars and when we've been inspired by servicemembers and wounded warriors returning from today's wars.
And I'll always remember the moments of grief, when this nation has rendered final honors to our fallen heroes and when we've had to comfort their families. Writing notes of condolence to those families who have lost loved ones has been for me one of my toughest jobs. These moments of selflessness, these moments of sacrifice, of courage, of heroism, give me a renewed sense of pride in our country, and it gives me an optimism for the future.
I've witnessed a new generation of Americans ask themselves what they could do for their country, and I have seen the profound difference that talented men and women with a sense of duty and sacrifice can make in the life of this nation and in the life of our world.
For more than a decade of war, our democracy has depended on the men and women of the United States military to bear the awesome burden and to preserve our freedom. They have done everything the nation asked them to do, and more, and I will have no greater honor in my life than to have been able to lead them as Secretary of Defense.
I learned a long time ago that there's not much you can accomplish in Washington on your own; you need a team behind you. And at the Department of Defense, I've been blessed with an exceptional team, from senior civilian and military leaders, all the way down the chain of command. And together, I'm proud of the important achievements that we've been able to accomplish for the nation.
We've developed and we have begun implementing a new defense strategy for the 21st century that protects the strongest military power in the world and meets our responsibility to fiscal discipline. We're bringing, as the president said, more than a decade of war to a responsible end, ending the war in Iraq, giving the Iraqi people a chance to secure and govern themselves. And in Afghanistan, our campaign is well on track to completing that mission. We're committed to an enduring relationship with the Afghan people so that they, too, can govern and secure themselves in the future.
We've kept pressure on al-Qaeda, and we're going after extremists wherever they may hide, and we have shown the world that nobody attacks the United States of America and gets away with it.
We are keeping faith with and caring for our returning veterans and wounded warriors. I am particularly proud that we have expanded opportunities for everyone to serve in our military. In our democracy, in a democracy, everybody should be given a chance to meet the qualifications needed to serve this country. This is a basic value that we fight to protect.
Despite the progress we've made together, there's no question that there remain some very significant challenges, the dangers and instability abroad, budget constraints, political gridlock here at home. But one thing I have learned is that you cannot be involved in public service and not be optimistic about the future.
I am confident that under the leadership of the president and the leaders in the Congress, that we can and we must stay on the right path to build the military force we need for the 21st century. Winston Churchill once wrote, "The future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope."
This is a time of uncertainty, but my career in public service gives me hope that the leaders of this nation will come together to resolve the challenges facing this country and to seize the opportunities of the 21st century. We've overcome wars, we've overcome disasters, we've overcome economic depressions and recessions, we've overcome crises of every kind throughout the history of our country. And throughout our history, the fighting spirit of our fellow Americans has made clear that we never, never, never give up. Our forefathers, the pioneers, the immigrant families that came here all fought together to give our children that better life. We cannot fail to do the same.
None of us in public service could carry on that fight without the love and support of our families. Everything I've been able to accomplish in my wife -- in my life -- wife and life together -- has been because of the support of my family -- my immigrant parents, my family, my sons, their families, but most of all, Sylvia.
We've been married 50 years. She has endured extended absences and long hours and the demands that come with public service, but she has always been there. And I will never be able to thank her enough for her constant love and support. Her Valentine gift is both of us going home together.
It has been the honor of my life to have served in the position of Secretary of Defense. And wherever I go and whatever I do, I will thank God every day for the men and women in this country who are willing to put their lives on the line for all of us. They have responded to the call of the bugle with courage and with selfless dedication to country.
My prayer as I leave is that we all have the same courage and dedication to protecting our nation, the United States of America, the home of the free and the brave.
God bless America, God bless you, and God bless the men and women of the Department of Defense.
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