To the men and women of the Department of Defense:
When I joined the United States Army 48 years ago, I could not have imagined one day serving as secretary of defense. It has been a tremendous privilege to serve with you.
As I leave office, I am immensely proud of what we have accomplished together over the past two years.
We have responsibly ended our combat operations in Afghanistan and begun the follow-on mission to preserve our achievements there.
We have bolstered enduring alliances and strengthened emerging partnerships, while successfully responding to crises around the world.
We have launched vital reforms that will prepare this institution for the challenges of the future.
We have fought hard – and made real progress – against the scourge of sexual assault in our ranks.
And after 13 years of war, we have worked to restore our military readiness and ease the burdens on our people and their families.
Through it all, many of you, and your families, coped with shutdowns and furloughs; weathered hiring and pay freezes; and endured long hours and longer deployments. You did so because we each took an oath to defend our nation, our fellow citizens, and our way of life. And you have lived up to your word.
But as you know well, the world is still too dangerous, and threats too numerous. I know you will remain vigilant, continuing your important work under the leadership of Ash Carter.
A special note to our men and women in uniform: of all the many opportunities my life has given me, I am most proud of having once been a soldier. The lessons from my time in uniform about trust, responsibility, duty, judgment, and loyalty – I have carried these with me throughout my life. As your secretary of defense, I have seen those same traits in each of you.
Whether you serve in uniform or as a civilian, you are the reason why our military is the finest in the world and the most admired and most trusted institution in America. Nothing has clarified my thinking, nothing has renewed my hope, and nothing has made me prouder than getting to know, work, and serve with so many of you who have put the nation’s interest above your own.
If I had any parting guidance, it would be the same reminder that my drill sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class William Joyce, gave to me after I finished basic training in 1967: “People depend on you. They’ll always depend on you.”
That was true for me then, and it is true for all of you today. People depend on you – America depends on you – to live up to your oath, to conduct yourselves in keeping with our highest standards, and to perform as the greatest military the world has ever known. After two years serving with you, I am confident you will continue to do so. You and your families have my deepest gratitude and admiration.
Thank you for your unflagging service and your commitment to this country. May God bless America and each and every one of you.