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Gen. Dempsey's Remarks at the ThanksUSA Gala

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey, Newseum, Washington, D.C.
MR. BAIER: (In progress) – he of course is the highest-ranking officer in the armed forces. (Inaudible) – I would say best in the world – (inaudible) – this is a busy time with many challenges. He’s meeting those who protect us and our freedom.

But he doesn’t only lead; he’s a member of the military family, and he knows well what the troops and their families go through – (inaudible) – many times in Iraq as I traveled – (inaudible) – and especially if you give them education, as ThanksUSA has been giving – (inaudible). In fact, General Dempsey and his wife, Deanie, his high school sweetheart, I’d just point out, make sure our troops and their families know how important they are – (inaudible) – and make sure to visit as many bases as possible to talk to children and spouses of the troops – (inaudible). They make sure to keep the faith with the military families, one of the general’s main themes as chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

He’s here to tell – (inaudible) – in his keynote address tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. (Applause.)

GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: Well, this is the Newseum, so I’ll just start off by saying – (singing) – start spreading the news. (Laughter.) I’ll stop – I’ll stop there Bret, don’t get nervous. (Laughter.)

Deanie and I are really honored to be part of this event tonight. We have to do a lot of really, really interesting things, and I get to see a lot of really important events. But I’d like you to know that I consider – we consider this event to be truly one of the most interesting and one of the most important. And I say that because of what it says to America that a 10-year-old and an 8-year-old saw a problem and decided to do something about it. (Applause.) More about them and their family in a moment, but I do want to link it to a thought – to something I thought a little bit larger than that for just a moment.

You know, as I – as I look at my watch, I see that it’s about 5 o’clock in the morning in Afghanistan. Some servicemen and women are just beginning their day, and others are just ending theirs. They’re a part of the armed forces of the United States, doing the nation’s bidding, wherever that takes them and regardless of the personal risks and the sacrifices that we ask of them and their families.

I’m often asked, what holds all this together? How do they persevere year after year and deployment after deployment? And the answer is actually fairly simple. It all holds together because of trust. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines and Coast Guardsmen trust each other, they trust their leaders, they trust the civilian leaders of our nation, and they trust their fellow citizens. And if they didn’t, they’d never leave their base camps, they’d never strap themselves into a cockpit, they’d never man the back of an aircraft carrier, and they’d never descend beneath the waves. Trust is what holds our military family together.

That’s why the example of the Okun family is so important, so powerful today. I know tonight is mostly about Rachel and Kelsi, but I want to mention Bob and Deanna as well. Bob and Deanna have themselves served their nation throughout most of their adult lives, Bob in the Department of Education and then in a variety of positions in the House of Representatives, and Deanna – Commissioner Deanna with Senator Frank Murkowski for many years and most recently as the commissioner in the International Trade Commission. Both are Duke graduates, so I have a certain fondness in my heart for that. (Cheers, applause.) Go Blue Devils!

But I will say that their – the way they’ve lived their lives, the example they’ve provided for their children and that spirit of service was obviously embraced by your children. So well done. How about a round of applause – for Bob and Deanna. (Cheers, applause.)

You know, on this day in history General Omar Bradley, who, by the way, was first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but at the time was an Army commander in Europe in World War II, sketched out a plan for the breakout of Normandy. If you recall, on June 6th of ’44 we conducted the Normandy invasion, and we sieged the beachhead. But then, frankly, we bogged down a little bit because of the terrain was extraordinarily difficult and the bocage, the hedgerows, really creating a challenging environment that we were trying to figure out. But on this day in history, today in history that many years ago, Omar Bradley created and designed his breakout plan.

Several years ago, seeing the challenges faced by the servicemen and women and their families during, serving during this extended conflict, Rachel and her – and Kelsi had a breakout moment of their own: They founded ThanksUSA. Since then, as you’ve seen on the tote board above, they’ve raised nearly $7.5 million for military spouses and families. (Cheers, applause.) They’ve mobilized enough resources to support 2,500 scholarships over six years. They’ve strengthened the bond of trust between America and its military. And for that, we are deeply, deeply grateful and enormously proud.

Tonight, ThanksUSA is honoring three others who have added strength to that bond of trust between America and its military: Senator John McCain, Senator Joe Lieberman and Jeff Schroeder, on behalf of Goldman Sachs. I want to add my personal thanks to all three of you and to your organization for what you’ve done for us and for our family members throughout the years.

You know, at this venue dedicated to the news and to its history, let me return back to Normandy for a moment, on June 6th of 1944, the day of the Normandy invasion. And a popular newspaper reporting on the sacrifices on the beaches of Normandy asked this, this question: “Today is a fitting day to ask ourselves, am I doing enough? If I met a man who was there at Normandy today, could I look him squarely in the face and say, I did my share?” Well, let me tell you, ThanksUSA and those honored here tonight can answer that question with a resounding yes. Thank you for all you are doing to keep faith with America’s servicemen and women and their families and allowing us to live up to that bond of trust and that faith that we have in America’s men and women in uniform.

All right, now, look, some of you know that I have a reputation for singing. (Laughter.) That’s not funny. (Laughter.) I actually like the way I sing. (Laughter.) But such a night really does cry out for a song. You know, as the – as the psalm says, how can I keep from singing? Now, by the way, my wife, Deanie, answers that question by, “Keep trying.” (Laughter.) But I would like to ask Rachel and Kelsi if they would agree to help me sing a song here tonight. It’ll be “God Bless America” – what more fitting than that? (Cheers, applause.) It’ll be a cappella, and if you know the song, you should join in. And if you don’t, you should be ashamed of yourself. (Laughter.) (Off mic.) OK, they didn’t – turn my mic on – oh, there you go. (Laughter.) Are you ready? You’re ready when I am?

MS. OKUN: Yes. (Laughter.)

GEN. DEMPSEY: I stay ready. Are you ready? (Laughter.) Oh, you’re ready.

(Sings “God Bless America” with audience.)

MR. BAIER: General Dempsey, thank you. Rachel and Kelsi, thank you for starting this whole thing. Bob, Deanna, nice job with these two. And thank you. (Applause.) (Inaudible) – tonight, and thank you for all of your support. Congratulations tonight. This has been an amazing event, an amazing night. We – again, 2,500 scholarships, $7.5 million so far, thousands – (inaudible) – as you heard tonight. So it’s important to keep this going. These two girls definitely will, I guarantee you.