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Remarks at a Department of State Event in Honor of Veterans Day

Location: Washington, DC

SECRETARY KERRY: Ambassador Jenkins, thanks so much. Thanks for doing this. And John Robinson, thank you very much for helping to pull everybody together. He does a great job as our Director of the Office of Civil Rights. And what a pleasure to be able to welcome Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth here, a hero of mine and I think of everybody's, first female combat veteran to be a member of Congress. And I think all of us can see how much stronger our military is, reflecting this transformation that has taken place in the last years. And now that she's in Congress, we're all going to just wait for her to straighten that place out, okay? (Laughter.)
CONGRESSWOMAN DUCKWORTH: (Inaudible) body armor.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. (Laughter.) As everybody knows, Tammy was one of the first female combat pilots. She was flying Blackhawk helicopters, and I'll go into that a little bit more when they introduce her in a minute.

But I just want to welcome all of you, the many veterans who are here. There are a lot of veterans who are watching on the network internally, and I want to thank every single one of you for answering our country's call to duty, and for not just then but continuing to serve so splendidly and so importantly. We are particularly grateful to your families who endured, one way or the other, those years of service. And that includes more than 7,000 State Department employees and their families. There are 7,000 of us here in the Department who once wore the uniform -- soldiers and Marines, airmen, Coast Guard -- men and women who have served in all branches of the military and in every major conflict since John and I returned from Vietnam. So we are very, very fortunate to have all of them as members of our team.

This room that we're in -- this very room -- is named for one of the great soldiers-turned-statesmen, one of the greatest in our history, obviously -- General George Marshall. And he exemplified everything that we know to be true -- that those who have served on the front lines, or those who have served period, because of the nature of military training, military discipline, military leadership, military organization -- what you learn in the service, no matter which service it is or which branch or what your duties, you really learn about how by being part of a team and part of a large organization with a goal and to be mission-oriented, how important all of those things are.

And I believe very, very deeply that that is unique training, and I've always seen it in veterans, that when they come to a community, they have an ability to bring with them often the experience of having led other people and of understanding what leadership is all about. They also understand why the efforts of this Department need to turn out first-rate results. And above all, every single one of you here who's been touched by either being a veteran or being a member of a veteran's family understands full well how diplomacy, which is what we are involved in every single day, is always preferable to a military solution. The military solution, if you've been there, done that, you know that it is the failure of diplomacy that puts you there. And therefore, what we are doing is preventing other people in harm -- from ever having to be called on to go into harm's way. We know it's not going to end overnight and we know there are going to be moments when that will happen. But we certainly have the ability to pick and choose more effectively, and to do it only when it's a last resort and our values and our interests combine to make it imperative.

General Marshall understood that this was not just about avoiding war, but it's about waging peace proactively. And it's about playing out on the world stage the values that our soldiers fought for on the stage of battle, and that's why the Marshall Plan remains one of our most extraordinary diplomatic initiatives in history. It transformed Europe and Asia, Japan, and has lasting impact, even now into the 21st century, in terms of how people choose to behave and what they choose to do.

Now we are looking at something else where we are trying to export our values and our standards, and that is the Disabilities Treaty that is now being -- having hearings in the United States Senate. When we passed the Americas with Disabilities Act 23 years ago, we set the gold standard for the world when it comes to the treatment of disability and the inclusion of people with disabilities in the mainstream of our lives. And joining this treaty literally does not require the United States to do anything but welcome people to our standards. What it does is set the gold standard for the world. We're the ones who initiated this effort. We're the ones who helped create the idea -- I might add, under a Republican administration. And it requires others to try to come up to the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It has special meaning, my friends, for roughly 5.5 million disabled veterans who want and deserve a world where they can travel or work or study and know that they will go to a country that is going to be trying to reach those higher standards. They should never have to worry about whether their disabilities sustained fighting on our behalf are going to prevent them from accessing a restroom or a public facility or even transportation overseas. And what the Disabilities Act will do is try to guarantee them those rights.

The fact is that every one of us who has put on a uniform and spent some time in the military -- again, in whatever role it was -- all of us who took that time out of life to serve country, and some still are, know that we all share a very unique and a lifelong bond. And we know the importance of living life to its fullest on behalf of our brothers and sisters who weren't as lucky as we were. So the guys who served with me in Vietnam, we came back with a saying that every day is extra. And you need to live your life that way, feeling that indeed we're the lucky ones, but we need to remember those who weren't as lucky.

Service to country and citizenship is a responsibility that is part of our lifelong bond, and it follows us every day of our lives wherever we go, whatever we do. That is something our keynote speaker understands as well as anybody in the world. She was one of, as I said earlier, the first Army combat women to fly missions in Iraq. And after she lost her legs and partial use of one arm when her helicopter was hit by an RPG, she knew that she still had more to give to her country. And when she returned, she became an advocate for her fellow veterans. I got to know her in 2005 and 2006 when she was first running for Congress in Illinois, and I followed her efforts at the Illinois Department of Veterans, and then, of course, at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Today she is one of the most passionate advocates for veterans, but also for common sense in our policies, and remembering that sense of duty and applying the values and the standards that led her to serve in the first place, everything that we do in life. We are really lucky that she is a member of the United States Congress, and we're also very lucky that she was willing to come here today and share some thoughts with us about veterans and about where we find ourselves today.

Thank you. Thanks for coming, Tammy. Appreciate it. (Applause.)

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