Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, I am very grateful, but also very humbled by the leadership award bestowed on me by the great Atlantic Council, and in particular thanks goes of course to my friend, Governor Riley, for his very flattering remarks, but Bob, if you want to stay my friend drop that damn “Doctor.” (LAUGHTER)

 2014 Honorees

Distinguished International Leadership
Chuck Hagel
Jose Manuel Barroso

Distinguished Business Leadership
Thomas Enders

Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership
Ruslana Lyzhychko

Distinguished Military Leadership
Joseph Dunford

It just doesn’t fit. (LAUGHTER) While Bob Riley was speaking up here I was thinking of a very heavy, big, bronze sculpture, which he sent me as a gift some two years ago. It’s a famous bronco buster by Frederic Remington, the artist known for depicting the Old West.

And I’m sure the great many cowboys in this room here tonight know what I’m talking about. Bob Riley gave me that statue, then we decided– I’m switching from handwritten remarks to typewriter remarks, so I need to put my glasses on. Bob Riley gave me that statue when we decided to build planes in Mobile, Alabama.

Even if they aren’t tankers, God damn it. (LAUGHTER AND LAUGHTER) I was thinking it might have been a token gesture, something heavy enough to drop on the foot of some passing procurement officials. (LAUGHTER) But there’s a plaque on the base of his sculpture with three little words: Never let go. And ladies and gentlemen, I think that plaque is as loaded with meaning now as it was back then. Because Governor Riley and his successor, Governor Bentley, the senators, the congressmen of Alabama, never let go of those factory plans and neither did the people of Mobile, Alabama.

People like Linda Taylor (PH), one of the first employees we hired to work there. It’s a special story here. In 2007 Linda got engaged, bought her first home, chased her dream to be an aeronautics engineer and a mum. Unfortunately, she spent more time in ICU with her new daughter than a library with her books.

The second class or work ended she raced to the hospital, then hit the books again. She did this for two and a half years. Today that little girl is healthy and happy and so his her younger sister. Their mum, Linda, is now a senior manufacturing engineer and a great example not just for her daughters but for too many young girls who still think that’s a career just for boys. (APPLAUSE) So, I’m very proud that Linda is with us today, or tonight. Linda, where are you? Linda stand up. (APPLAUSE) Big applause for Linda. Thank you. Thank you.

Linda represents the people really behind this reward or responsible or should get this award, her 140,000 colleagues around the world from the assembly to the frontline. And speaking about frontline, talking about the British engineers named Simon Dunn (PH) who can’t be here tonight, because he’s in Afghanistan right now in Camp Bastion northwest of Lashkar Gah.

Simon’s part of a squad of Airbus employees. Our guys aren’t military personnel obviously, but their tours are just the same, three months off, a couple– three months on, a couple of weeks off. And their work is just as critical, helping keep troops secure and in touch with people back home through the British Skynet five satellite system.

I don’t need to tell you how dangerous that work is. Just recently five British service personnel lost their lives just a few days ago. But Simon, like Linda, never gives up. Like all his colleagues in factories, in offices, in deployments around the world he understands how much people depend on his commitment.

 Whether they are on the assembly line or in the frontline, people working in the defense industry, ladies and gentlemen, like in no other industry, never let go. When it comes to connecting lives and protecting lives, they fully know their responsibility. It’s a level of commitment I’m proud to see this evening in people like President Barroso, Secretary Hagel, General Dunford and Ruslana Lyzhychko. And I’m daring– I’m bold enough to try to pronounce your second name correctly. I know my friend, Fred Kempe didn’t dare to even try. (LAUGHTER) But the same goes, Fred, after I made this joke on your behalf, the same goes for the great team of the Atlantic Council.

It goes to all people, I believe, in this room, who never let go of the ties we have built and we have to strengthen and renew across the Atlantic be it for trade, for defense, promoting the cause of human rights and democracy. Ladies and gentlemen, I believe it’s all our responsibility, and especially the responsibility of the business community to ensure that the great Atlantic alliance remains resolute and relevant.

So, my message is very simple. We should never let go of the prosperity that comes from sound, strong transatlantic trade and President Barroso was just talking about that a few minutes ago. We should never let go of a security that comes from a solid defense posture, the big stick that we need to give diplomacy the chance and secure peace. And we should never let go of a freedom that comes from using our alliance to build better relationships around the world.

This is the best, most successful alliance we ever had, at least, in modern history. We must do whatever we can to keep it not only alive, but resourceful, powerful and respected, admired by other parts of the world, by other regions, to who we– to whom we set an example and feared by its enemies.

I for one as a businessman and as a German and European citizen will certainly try to contribute as much as I can to the flourishing of our Atlantic alliance. Ladies and gentlemen, once again a big thank you, Fred Kempe, to the Atlantic alliance for this great award. It’s completely undeserved, but I take it. Thank you very much. (LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)