Good evening to you all.  It’s great to be here with you.  And to celebrate, once again, the Atlantic Council and the wonderful work it does, thanks to now Jon Huntsman and Fred Kemp and all the staff for whom I am very grateful.  I am especially pleased and honored to present the Distinguished International Leadership Award to Defense Security Chuck Hagel, a highly accomplished statesman, defense and foreign policy strategist.  And, of course, a dear friend.

Secretary Hagel, remarkable, varied career, has a recurrent theme in it, an exceptional devotion to America.  As a young man, he served in Vietnam with his brother Tom, where they literally saved each other’s lives.  Chuck pulled his unconscious brother out of a burning armored personnel carrier just before it blew up.  Burning his own face terribly in the process.

His bravery in Vietnam earned him two purple heart medals.  The horror he witnessed as a young man in Vietnam started him on a career path that would allow him to help shape the policy and relationships that impact U.S. engagement around the world.  From his leadership of the USO, to his two terms in the Senate, where he worked tirelessly to get things done in a bipartisan manner.

And, of course, to his current commitment to the nation’s defense and national security as secretary of defense, Secretary Hagel’s lifetime has been distinguished by his unwavering dedication to the United States and its leadership in the world.  I have to mention, I know how hard Chuck works.  He held another important post just before his current one, chairman of the Atlantic Council.

Since I replaced him last year as the Council’s interim chairman, I can say with authority, he certainly knew the meaning of a full day’s work.  Jokes aside, Secretary Hagel has one of the toughest jobs there is.  But despite increasingly complex security threats, he has distinguished himself already as a skilled strategist who truly understands the challenges of today’s volatile world and the role for U.S. leadership.

America, and indeed the world, is fortunate to have someone with his talent and vision running the Pentagon.  I’ve been privileged to have worked closely with him over the years.  And I have to tell you one little story.  When he called me frequently, he would say, “General, this is Sergeant Hagel.  How are you?”  And so, I would like you all to join me in welcoming Sergeant Hagel (LAUGH) to receive the International Leadership Award as the Secretary of Defense of the United States. (APPLAUSE)

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