Thank you, Chris, for the introduction.
I want to thank GSA for hosting us today. And I want to thank our invited speakers who will be sharing some of their personal stories about their service to the United States, both as military veterans and as DHS employees.
We are here today to recognize the service and sacrifice of our nation's veterans, including many we are fortunate to count as colleagues at the department.
America is a stronger nation not only because of what our veterans have given, but also because of what they continue to contribute.
Military service members are on the frontlines at home and abroad, working tirelessly to protect our nation.
Today we honor all of those who have worn the uniform and all those who are currently wearing the uniform of our Armed Services.
To our veterans and to our servicemen and women, I salute you, DHS salutes you, and President Obama salutes you. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your service.
In 2009, I joined President Obama as he signed an Executive Order on the Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government.
This executive order advances a number of important goals:
* It makes recruiting and training veterans for employment at federal agencies a top priority.
* It emphasizes the importance of increasing the veteran workforce within the executive branch; and
* It emphasizes assisting recently hired veterans in making the adjustment to service in a civilian capacity.
This week, President Obama also announced three executive actions that will make it easier for veterans to find jobs.
As the President said on Monday, "We ask our men and women in uniform to leave their families and their jobs and risk their lives to fight for our country, and the last thing they should have to do is fight for a job when they come home."
The new executive actions include:
* A Veteran Gold Card which gives eligible veterans up to six months of personalized job search services at career centers across the country;
* An easy-to-use online tool -- called "My Next Move for Veterans" -- that allows veterans to enter information about their skills, and match it with civilian careers so that they can put their experience to use; and
* A new, online Veterans Job Bank, where employers can "tag" job postings for veterans to help identify job openings.
This week, the President also reiterated his support for the American Jobs Act, which contains two important provisions that support veteran hiring.
The Returning Heroes Tax Credit would give businesses a tax break for each unemployed veteran that they hire; and the Wounded Warriors Tax Credit would give businesses an even larger tax break for hiring an unemployed veteran with a disability related to their service in uniform.
The President's message to veterans is clear: America values your service, we stand with you, and we will continue to be there for you. And I want to reiterate that we are here for you as well at DHS.
Given the vital role veterans play advancing our mission, I set a goal for the Department to employ 50,000 veterans by the end of 2012.
Today, I am pleased to announce that due to the hard work and dedication of people across the Department, that goal has now been accomplished one year early.
Veterans now comprise 25 percent of all DHS civilian employees, in addition to the 49,000 active duty and reserve members of our U.S. Coast Guard. These men and women bring their talent and dedication to every corner of the department.
We have veterans serving as Transportation Security Officers, Border Patrol agents, and throughout headquarters. Many of our Department's leaders are veterans, including Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute and Under Secretary Rand Beers.
I would like to take a moment to share the stories of two of the remarkable veterans in the DHS family who are here with us today.
Staff Sergeant Jeffrey Buchalter of FLETC served over six years as a member of the U.S. Army Military Police Corps. During his active duty, his assignments included three deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Staff Sergeant Buchalter sustained serious injuries in 2007 when an improvised explosive device detonated beneath his vehicle. He began his two-year road to recovery at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which included numerous surgeries, hospitalizations and rehabilitation. It was there that he met James Bryant, a 21-year United States Marine veteran and Human Resources Specialist from FLETC, as part of the Wounded Warrior Project, which I'll highlight in just a moment. Jim is also the Veterans Employment Council Representative for FLETC.
Through the Wounded Warrior Project, Staff Sergeant Buchalter joined FLETC, where he now serves as a driving instructor and trains officers and agents in the proper techniques for driving law enforcement vehicles. We're pleased to have him with us today. Thank you for your service to our country and to the department.
Also joining us today is Mr. Joe Arata, a distinguished DHS employee who has been with the Department since our very beginning.
Mr. Arata's military service began in 1983 in the Army Reserves. He served in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, participating in Operation Just Cause in Panama. He also was a member of the first unit deployed during Operation Desert Storm. He retired from the Army Reserves in 2008.
He began his career at DHS as a Federal Air Marshal in 2002. In 2006, he transferred to CBP to be the Assistant Director of Recruiting, focused on U.S. Border Patrol recruitment at a time of significant expansion. He was selected to be CBP's Veterans Program Manager and also serves on the DHS Veterans Employment Council.
Recently, Mr. Arata became Chief of Strategic Recruitment within ICE. He will continue to work in recruiting top veteran talent, helping to sustain ICE's outstanding veterans new hire rate of over 47 percent for Fiscal Year 2011. Thank you for your service and everything you do for ICE and DHS.
In addition to employing Veterans at the Department, we also set robust goals for contracting with Veteran Owned Businesses, who play an essential role in providing services and products to the department.
I am pleased to announce that for the second year in a row, our components have met the goal of doing a billion dollars of business with veteran-owned businesses.
Beyond these opportunities, the Department is also opening our doors to veterans through expanded outreach.
Last week, as part of our DHS for a Day series, we hosted a group of representatives from veteran service organizations to talk about how their members can find jobs and contracting opportunities at DHS and get involved in community-based efforts, like FEMA's Citizen Corps.
We also continue to participate in Operation Warfighter, a program that provides service members recovering from injury temporary assignments at federal agencies so they can learn valuable skills and help build their careers as they begin to transition back to the military or civilian workforce.
And as I noted earlier, many DHS components have participated in hiring events across the country sponsored by the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit organization that is providing a range of direct programs and services to severely injured service men and women.
While we can all be proud of these milestones met and progress made, we are committed to doing even more to support veterans in 2012 and in the years to come.
I want to thank all DHS employees -- veterans and non-veterans alike -- for your hard work to help us achieve our goals and for helping continue to serve as a model across the federal government for veteran employment and business contracting.
And I want to again thank the veterans and servicemen and women who are here today. Thank you for your service, your sacrifice, your dedication, and the many ways you contribute to the Department's mission every single day.