THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Well, to your Superintendent, General Peay; the president of the VMI Board of Visitors, Bill Boland; members of the board; Mayor Frank Friedman; active-duty men and women; and all those who’ve worn the uniform of the United States; VMI cadets; and even you “rats”: It is great to be here to honor the Virginia Military Institute. Thank you for that warm welcome. (Applause.)
And it’s also — as General Peay just said, it’s also a particular honor to be here with two distinguished VMI graduates from the class of 1996. The first: the former Army Special Operations, Captain of the 75th Ranger Regiment, deployed to Afghanistan during the invasion after 9/11 attacks, and now he’s Secretary of the Army. Would you join me in welcoming VMI’s own Ryan McCarthy? Ryan, would you stand up? (Applause.)
And another member of the class of 1996: He was a Green Beret who served multiple tours in Afghanistan and Africa, a four-time bronze star recipient, who is actually still serving as a colonel in the National Guard. But he’s also serving as a member of the United States House of Representatives from the great state of Florida. Would you join me in giving a warm VMI welcome back to Congressman Mike Waltz? (Applause.)
It’s an honor to be here with all of you, with all the distinguished Americans who are with us today, and to be among so many friends.
And speaking of friends of mine, allow me to bring greetings from another friend of mine, who I told this morning that I was headed to VMI and I think he sounded just a little bit jealous. So allow me to bring greetings from a great champion of all the men and women of our Armed Forces and our veterans; I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
You know, it’s an honor to be here at VMI — our nation’s first state-supported military college. It’s really amazing to think about the tradition of which you are a part. For 181 years, this institution has been training up citizen-soldiers who are educated, confident, capable leaders; who have a love of learning and a high sense of public service.
Every one of you participates in the ROTC all four years you’re here. And I — I’m told more than half your 2020 class were commissioned in the Armed Forces of the United States and that members of the VMI student body are currently pursuing commissions in every single branch of our armed forces. So on behalf of your future Commander-in-Chief and on behalf of a grateful nation, thank you for stepping forward to learn at VMI. And to all of you who are leaning in to wearing the uniform of the United States, thank you for stepping forward for America. (Applause.)
You know, in 1785, Abigail Adams exhorted her son and future President, John Quincy Adams, with the following words. She said, and I quote, “Your country will one day call for your services, either in the Cabinet or field. Qualify yourself to do honor to her.”
Those words of admonition are exactly what each one of you are doing here at VMI. For whether in the Cabinet or in the field, as civilians or commissioned officers, here at VMI, you are qualifying yourselves to do honor to your families and your country.
In fact, I think it’s safe to say that no better word captures the spirit of this storied place through its 181 years than the word “honor.” So says your legendary code, a code you live by every day. At VMI, honor is at the core of what you do. And thanks to the extraordinary education and training you are learning here today, honor will be the central characteristic of who you become. (Applause.)
A brief look at your storied alumni proves that. These hallowed halls have produced no less than 290 flag officers — legendary leaders like civil rights martyr Jonathan M. Daniels; Marshall Plan architect and Nobel Prize winner, General George C. Marshall; and seven Medal of Honor recipients. You have quite a heritage to live up to, but I know each and every one of you intend — intend to live by honor and live a life of honor, just like those that have gone before.
And really, it’s ultimately why I’m here today, on behalf of your President and a grateful nation. I came here just to pay honor to the great heritage of the Virginia Military Institute and to all the men and women who have passed through these hallways to either serve in the uniform of the United States or serve their nation by other means.
And all the days to do so, it’s humbling for me to stand before you today, in this historic place, the day before September 11th.
Nineteen years ago tomorrow, America changed forever. It’s remarkable to reflect that an entire generation of Americans, including many of you, have now been born, raised, and entered adulthood, who never experienced that day. But for those of us who lived through that day, it will never be just another day on the calendar. It will always be a day we never forget.
Tomorrow, the hearts and prayers of the American people will once again be focused on the nearly 3,000 families who lost loved ones on that day of fire and sorrow.
For many, that day shattered our sense of safety and security in the homeland. As a new member of Congress, I’ll never forget where I was, just off Capitol Hill, when I heard that the towers were struck in New York City.
I’ll never forget walking out of that office building across from the U.S. Capitol and literally seeing what had that morning been a clear blue sky over our nation’s capital, literally filled with billows of smoke — dark brown and black smoke rising out of the Pentagon. Our nation suffered great loss that day.
VMI lost two of its own on that day. One was a civilian, Charles Mathers, Class of 1961. His office was inside the World Trade Center, and he was lost when the towers collapsed.
The other was a sailor, Lieutenant Commander David Williams, who was at his desk in the Pentagon that morning. As a cadet in 1991, I’m told that David wrote an article remembering the lives of two alumni who had perished in Operation Desert Storm. He wrote that VMI would never forget their names, that they would be carved on a wall here for all time. Exactly 10 years later, David Williams would have his own name added to that wall in this storied place.
Another VMI alumni, Jim Spellman, Class of 1985, actually was there — with everything he learned here at VMI — to help the City of New York, the people of New York, and our nation recover in the aftermath of that terrible attack. I’m told he was in his office across the street from the World Trade Center when the planes hit the towers. And after they came down, his VMI training kicked in. He didn’t run away from the chaos; he ran toward it. For more than a week, he helped first responders sift through the rubble in the hope of recovering survivors.
As a new member of Congress, I’ll never forget traveling with a large delegation of elected officials. We made our way in just a week and a few days after 9/11 — we made our way there to Ground Zero to see an enormous mountain of debris. And literally every building around, covered with ash, turned into some nightmarish black-and-white photograph.
But it was there that he labored. We’re told that exhaustion overtook him on a particularly hard shift because they were working around the clock to find anyone that may have survived, anyone that might have been trapped in that mountain of debris. I’m told that that VMI graduate paused, he wondered if he could keep going, but he would later say that he reflected back on how VMI had prepared him for life. He took off his hard hat, pulled a sharpie from his pocket, and he wrote on that hard hat a line I think you all know pretty well: “Never Say Die, VMI!” And he put the hat back on and went right back to work. (Applause.)
Jim Spellman is emblematic of the character that you learn here at VMI. And I’m told the — that that hat is now in the VMI Museum as a — as a tribute. And not just his service, but the extraordinary courage and generosity of first responders and other Americans came to the aid of those that were struck that day.
And most importantly, in the proud tradition of VMI, in the wake of that day, 19 years ago tomorrow, many of your alumni answered the call to defend this nation and put on the uniform of the United States.
I’ll never forget when I went home from Capitol Hill that day: They’d closed all the roads. But that Marine, son of mine, was about six years old; our girls were younger. I found a way to get across the Potomac River to go home to be with my family, to give them comfort before we went back to the work of the nation that day.
I’ll never forget, as we talked as a family around our little kitchen table, I tried to reassure my children that everything was going to be okay. I started to walk out the kitchen door to go back to Capitol Hill, where meetings were already underway to support our nation’s response.
And my daughter, Audrey — my youngest, a recent law school graduate and a very insistent type even at age five — she said, “Dad, I have a question.” And I said, “Audrey, I have to go. I have to leave.” She said, “No, daddy. I have a question.” And I said, “Honey, I have to get back. I’ve got meetings. I have to get back to the Capitol.” And she stomped her feet and said, “I have a question.” I went down on one knee and I looked at her and I said, “What?” And she said, “If we have to make a war, do you have to go?” I put my arms around her and I hugged her, and I said, “Honey, daddy is too old.”
It’s hard for me to recite that story without emotion — because it was in that moment, on that day, General, that I thought of those that did have to go, and I’ve thought of them every day since. Incredible generation of heroes that stepped into the gap and took the fight to our enemies on their soil.
There were heroes from VMI in that generation — many. In fact, there would be 12 who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, who fell in Iraq and Afghanistan. They bore the burden of that day; they hugged their mom and their dads, they hugged their family members goodbye; and they went home to eternity. And we will never forget or fail to honor the graduates of this institution and all of those who have served and fallen in the service of the United States of America. (Applause.)
We are grateful to them — the generation of which you are a part, the generation that has defended this nation, lo these last 19 years. And it hasn’t just happened. It’s been because of the sacrifices that our armed forces have made, the vigilance of law enforcement here in this nation — because we took the fight to the enemy. Your generation has been a part of the fact that we will reach that 19th anniversary of that dark day having had no major terrorist attack on American soil since. It’s truly extraordinary. It’s a credit to everything that you’re learning here.
I want to say thank you. I want say thank you to those 12 looking on from eternity. I want to say thank you to all those who put on the uniform from VMI and have served in this generation of heroes. You have made America safer every day. (Applause.)
So I came to say thank you, to commend all of you for stepping forward to embrace the kind of education that you’re learning here, and to keep open the opportunity to serve your country in new ways in the days ahead.
You know, as the father of a Marine Corps captain, and the father-in-law of a Navy lieutenant, who’s currently deployed, serving overseas, I couldn’t be more proud to be Vice President to a President who cares so deeply about the men and women of our armed forces and their families. (Applause.) It’s true.
Four years ago, we inherited a military that had been hollowed out by devastating budget cuts. Our troops hadn’t seen a significant pay raise in nearly 10 years. Our military lacked the equipment and the readiness to have the greatest fighting force in the history of the world to meet any moment. Our NATO Allies weren’t meeting their commitments to our common defense. Iran was resurgent across the Middle East. And the terrorist organization of ISIS controlled a land mass larger than Pennsylvania.
But all that changed when President Donald Trump stepped into the White House. (Applause.)
With our strong allies in Congress, this President rebuilt our military. We provided for our active duty personnel the largest pay raise in nearly 10 years. And President Donald Trump signed the largest increase in our national defense since the day of Ronald Reagan. We’ve rebuilt our military. (Applause.)
In fact, we didn’t just rebuild our military, restore the arsenal of democracy and give our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard the resources and the support that they need to accomplish their mission and defend our nation every day. This President actually — with a vision to the future and our national security challenges, President Donald Trump created the first new branch of our armed forces in 70 years: The United States Space Force. (Applause.)
It sounds like we got a few future members in the Space Force with us today.
You know, thanks to President Trump, I’m also proud to report our military is now more equipped than ever before. Just in the last three and a half years: 300 new tanks, nearly 500 new F-35 fighter jets on the way, 21 more deployable ships since Election Day 2016 and another 59 are on the way.
We’ve upgraded our tanks, our artillery, our rocket systems. We’ve bolstered our fleet of attack helicopters and fighter planes. In a very real sense, we’ve made the strongest military in the history of the world stronger still. (Applause.)
And all this matters — all this matters because President Donald Trump and I know the truth of that ancient wisdom that if you want peace, prepare for war.
The American people know that weakness arouses evil and a strong America deters it. And under this Commander-in-Chief, we have peace through strength. President Trump is the first President in decades not to get America into a new war.
And President Trump has shown that greater peace and stability requires just two things: a strong American military and a President who is willing to act to defend America’s interests all over the world. (Applause.)
And that’s exactly what President Trump did when we took the fight to radical Islamic terrorists on our terms, on their soil. In the last three and a half years, at the direction of their Commander-in-Chief, the Armed Forces of the United States captured the last inch of territory controlled by ISIS, crushed their caliphate, and took down their leader without one American casualty. (Applause.)
That’s what this President demonstrated when he held firm on the red line. America had said that if Syria used chemical weapons against innocent civilians, that there would be consequences. That red line was ignored — before President Trump arrived at the White House. But when the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people, President Donald Trump responded with overwhelming force and cruise missiles to back down that dictator from using chemical weapons against innocent civilians. (Applause.)
And while the last administration sent Iran pallets of cash, President Trump took us out of the Iran nuclear deal and imposed the strongest sanctions on the leading state sponsor terrorism in the world. And when the most dangerous terrorist on the planet threatened American forces, President Donald Trump gave the order to take out Iran’s top general. And Qasem Soleimani is gone. (Applause.)
For all of those gathered here who will answer the call to serve, for our active duty military who are among us and looking on, I can tell you firsthand: In President Donald Trump, you have a Commander-in-Chief who will always have your back. (Applause.)
And with that strong commitment to our national defense and a willingness to use American power to advance American security and interests, our allies are stepping up as never before. I’m proud to report, under the President’s leadership, our NATO Allies have already increased their contribution to our common defense by $130 billion; they’re projected to rise to $400 billion in just a few short years.
And from a standpoint of American strength, we’ve seen a growing alliance of Middle Eastern countries who are helping to contain Iranian aggression as never before. It all began when the President kept a promise that four previous presidents had made. Literally four presidents in both political parties had made a promise to our most cherished ally. But it was President Donald Trump who he kept that promise when he moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, the capital of the state of Israel. (Applause.)
That was a demonstration of our commitment to our cherished ally, Israel. But it was also a demonstration of our commitment to peace. And, in fact, just a few short weeks ago, you could see that that decision set the stage that, for the first time in 26 years, an Arab country has recognized the Jewish State of Israel, and they will be in the Rose Garden next week to sign that agreement. (Applause.) That’s leadership.
And thanks to the President’s leadership, a more peaceful Middle East is within our sights, a more peaceful world within our sights. And that’s a world in which brave young men and women like those gathered here will be called upon to maintain the peace, and not contain the chaos.
As President Trump said, and I quote, “the dignity, daring, and devotion of the American military is unrivaled anywhere in history and anyplace in the world.” That’s why our President has stood with the men and women of our armed forces and our veterans not just with words, but with deeds.
I can tell you firsthand, our President reveres the men and women of our armed forces. Restoring the arsenal of democracy; rebuilding our military; supporting our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guard; modernizing our forces; creating the Space Force is all a reflection of the esteem with which your President, this Vice President, and our entire administration hold all of you who aspire to and all of you who serve in the uniform of the United States. It’s true.
And we’ve worked to make sure that after your service is done, that we — we’ve brought reforms to the VA. But, now that — thanks to the President’s leadership, we ended years of scandal at the VA. Now the VA itself has more than a 90 percent approval rating, and Veterans Choice is now available to every veteran in America. (Applause.)
So it’s been about deeds. It’s been about supporting our military and our veterans. But I’ve also seen this President’s heart. I’ve seen this President’s heart in countless private moments where I’ve been able to be at his side. I literally have watched him — after an address at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day when I walked with the President through the grounds, I saw him approach a bereaved mother who was there on that day of days, flowers in hand, who just looked her President in the eye and asked him to always remember the name of her son Jimmy. And I saw this President assure her that he would.
I’ve been there in the Oval Office when the President is on the phone with families of our fallen, making the calls, expressing not only his sympathy, but the deepest sympathies of the American people, paying a debt of honor that we can never fully repay.
I’ve seen it at Dover Air Force Base, been there with the family when our heroes have come home. It’s a deeply humbling time to walk into the Family Center, to walk up the families. But I’ve seen this President, again and again, embrace families and speak of their heroic fallen. And I can tell you, President Donald Trump reveres and honors the members of our armed forces and their families. (Applause.) God bless them all.
Abigail Adams said it, “[Y]our Country will one day call for your services, either in the Cabinet or field. [So] qualify yourself to do honor to her.”
You know, over the course of my life, I’ve concluded that the three most important qualities in any human endeavor are humility, orientation to authority, and self-control. And as I prepare to leave you, I thought I might offer some of that admonition as you continue your academic career here and continue to lead lives of consequence and leadership and service. Now, many of you will enter the service as officers, while others will serve as leaders in other capacities. And these principles apply to whatever your calling is in life.
So, first and foremost, I’d encourage you to approach your calling with humility. Consider others as more important than yourself. Take care of the men and women that are serving alongside you. Approach every problem as a listener. As is written long ago, in the words of the Nazarene: Wherever you go, wherever you led, go “not to be served but to serve.” Be a servant leader. And it all begins with humility.
And those of you who serve and those of you who are called, perhaps someday, into conflict should have the same attitude. Have the humility to listen; it’s the essence of strong leadership.
Secondly, I encourage you to embrace orientation to authority. Respect the unified chain of command. Submit yourself to the authorities placed over you. Trust your superiors. Trust your orders. And through your actions, you will help inspire those you are leading to be better leaders as well. To be a good leader, you must first learn to be a good follower.
And finally, practice self-control — something you all at VMI know a little bit about. There’s an old proverb that says, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.”
Now, all of you are going through rigorous years of training here at VMI. So I just challenge you, in the years ahead: Don’t lose that. Discipline is the foundation of all accomplishment. Be an example of self-discipline to the men and women you lead, whether you answer a calling of leadership in civilian life or in our armed forces. Your discipline will say more about you than your words ever could. To lead others, you must first lead yourself.
Now, I’m told VMI’s seal depicts Virtue standing, in victory, over a defeated, tyrannical foe. I submit that self-discipline is the wellspring of that victory. It’s a virtue that you should cultivate here at VMI not just for a few years, but for a lifetime of accomplishment.
And I’m absolutely confident, if you develop and maintain these virtues on an increasing basis in your life, like so many generations who have passed through these hallways before, you will lead lives of consequence and distinction. I promise you.
And lastly, I want to challenge you to be men and women of integrity. People follow people that they trust. And so, as you’re busy about your lives, as you’re making your plans, as you’re involved in your studies, take time to develop the inner man and the inner woman. Develop the qualities of character that, again, are the foundation of leadership.
You know, I truly do believe if you want to make a difference, be different. It all begins with taking the time to invest in yourself and develop the habits of heart and mind that will pour a foundation in your life to be men and women of integrity, leaders of integrity — leaders who, in the words of your motto, “In peace, a glorious asset. In war, a tower of strength.” That’s from whence it comes.
And never forget — never forget, even on the long days here at VMI, in the days of challenge, in the days occasionally where you wonder — you wonder if you can continue to go on — just remember the blessing of being in a place like this. And remember, “To whom much is given, much will be required.”
VMI is providing you an extraordinary education and training in character and leadership. Your parents and your teachers are pouring a strong foundation in your life here. Stand on that foundation, and build not just a career, not just a calling, but build a life that’ll serve this nation for generations to come. Because now, more than ever, America needs leaders like VMI to lead our nation forward. (Applause.)
So, thank you. Thank you for the privilege of being with you today. It’s the greatest honor of my life to serve as your Vice President. And I thank you for the warm welcome.
On behalf of your President and a grateful nation, I just came to say we’re proud of you, that we’re behind you. We honor the learning that you’ve responded to here. We honor the calling that so many of you are pursuing, and we’ll always be grateful.
And I leave here today confident that so long as America produces men and women like the cadets of VMI, men and women who are willing and able to stand up and defend our nation and build lives of consequences, I know the best days for America are yet to come.
So, thank you and God bless you. God Bless the United States of America. (Applause.) And “Never Say Die, VMI!” (Applause.)
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