As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Bolling Air Force Base, Maryland, Friday, June 26, 2009
Well, thank you for that introduction. And my thanks to the luncheon committee for inviting me to spend some time with all of you today. I very grateful to receive the National Military Family Association's award a little belatedly. The N.M.F.A. is a faithful helper to our service men and women and their loved ones, wherever they may be, whether it's:
Running Operation Purple, a free camp program for military kids that operates in 37 states and territories; or Providing tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships to military spouses each year; or
Offering career development advice in particular, awarding military spouses with fellowships to gain accreditation as financial counselors.
So I'm very honored to be associated with you all. And I would say also that the list of your past luncheon speakers is quiet impressive. I'll do my best to meet the high mark you've already set.
One person I will not be able to equal is the late humorist Art Buchwald, your very first speaker and in a way, accidental founder since it was he who urged that the several organizations be consolidated into what became the Joint Armed Forces Officers' Wives' Luncheon in 1977. He returned as the JAFOWL keynoter a dozen years later, no doubt to celebrate with you the success of his chance creation.
I always appreciated Buchwald's ability to make fun of Washington. I have been known to do a bit of that myself from time to time, but I can't improve on the best of Buchwald. The Congress did not escape his wit. He said, I always wanted to get into politics, but I was never light enough to make the team. The lobbyists received attention as well; he said they're just like you and me they put on their golf shoes one foot at a time. Presidents were fair game, too. Richard Nixon, for whom I worked, among others, and who was great material for political humorists, prompted Buchwald to say: I worship the quicksand he walks in.
As a pundit Buchwald was in demand around this town. Military groups like this, though, had a special claim on him because he was a veteran. And a proud one. A high schooler when the Second World War broke out, he ran away to join the Marines. As he put it: My father was the Marine Corps. It was everything.
We have been fortunate enough throughout our history to find men and women like him to serve our nation and defend it. And today, as America fights two wars, we have seen have the most skilled armed forces that have ever been assembled. Buchwald was part of the Greatest Generation. Today's soldiers, sailors, airmen, coastguardsmen, Marines volunteers all are rightly being called the new Greatest Generation.
The nation is currently engaged in the longest war with all-volunteer forces since the War of the Revolution. A higher percentage of moms and dads are serving in this conflict than in any time in recent history. More than 40 percent of the military are parents and over 230,000 children have a mother or father at war. A generation of kids has had a parent deployed for war at least once if not many times. A Pentagon survey earlier this year of over 13,000 spouses of active-duty service members recently found that the children most affected by deployments were between the ages of six and 13. The empty seat at the dinner table night after night is a constant reminder of a child's worry for the safety of his or her parents. And there is also the grief and the heartbreak when a loved one is injured or killed. Even in peacetime, military kids face special circumstances, such as moving every time mom or dad gets a new assignment. But these parents appreciate that their service today will pay dividends tomorrow. When the nation calls them to difficult and dangerous places, they answer that call knowing that what they do protects the loved ones that they've left behind. …