Tom Ridge Honors Five-Year Anniversary of DHS

March 6, 2008

More than 3,000 people packed DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, to commemorate the five-year anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Ridge Global CEO Tom Ridge, the Founding Secretary of the department, along with current DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and President George W. Bush, delivered remarks to the audience, which included current and former DHS employees, Members of Congress, the Cabinet and the diplomatic community.

Read Secretary Ridge’s remarks (below) and click here to read an op-ed bylined by Secretaries Ridge and Chertoff.

Speech by The Honorable Tom Ridge - Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

There’s only one other person in this Hall who knows what it’s like to serve at the helm of Homeland Security – and who, as you heard, feels – as I feel – an enormous sense of pride as we look out among this spectacular crowd. Secretary Chertoff, you took up the DHS charge with great resolve and all of us thank you for your unwavering commitment as you continue to work to keep our country and citizens safe.

Some of you I know from the days when the Department was just a glimmer of an idea. Some of you I know as the plank holders, who stood up the nation’s 15th Cabinet department in the face of freshly uncertain times. And some of you, though we may not have met, I feel as if I do know you. Because every day, I am joined by citizens across this great nation in witnessing your great work.

We see it in the diligent screeners at our airports; the agents at our borders; the cargo inspectors at our ports of call. We see it in our intelligence and law enforcement communities – when we hear about plots thwarted, terrorist cells disrupted.

We see it every day that passes without an attack on U.S. soil. Every day that Americans go about their lives – as they go to work, school and home…to sporting events and special gatherings. Every day that another life is saved on the open seas by the brave men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard.  Every day that we strengthen international partnerships – partnerships that build barriers to terrorists and bridges to one another.

We see it in the feelings of comfort and reassurance that have washed over a nation of citizens, who for one brief moment, wondered…if we would ever feel that way again.

You will remember – that was what our enemies on September 11th had hoped – that we would cower in fear. They had hoped that their brutality would bring a nation to its knees.

We did drop to our knees – to pray, to grieve, to remember loved ones lost to us forever.

But then we stood up. We united. We went from unprecedented grief…to unprecedented guard.

We said to those foes who had hoped for weakness – look closer: you will find greatness, resiliency and resolve.

We said then, as have for 230-plus mighty years:  Americans do not live in fear. We live in freedom. And we will never let that freedom go.

As we learned quickly, we faced a menacing frontier of warfare, potentially with far more horrifying consequences than we had ever seen before. For the first time in the history of humankind, a small number of people seeking weapons of mass destruction aimed to wreak untold havoc…and before them laid a map of the Western world. Their threats were coming packaged in suitcases and bombers’ chests. Their motivation – to kill what they do not understand – those who live in freedom around the world.

Nor did they understand – the sheer will, the collective spirit, the determination, the might, the magnificence and the fortitude of the American people.

I have long said, homeland security is a national mission. In this fight, everyone has a role to play.

And that is why not all combatants in the war on terror wear military fatigues. Some wear different uniforms – a fireman’s jacket, a nurse’s scrubs, a policeman’s hat, a scientist’s lab coat. They wear badges, pins and patches that identify them as members of the Department of Homeland Security.

Before the creation of the nation’s newest cabinet department, no single agency had homeland security as its primary mission.

Five years ago, it became ours – the work of thousands of people from multiple agencies in what marked the largest reorganization of government in 50 years.

Some said our jobs would be tough, but we all know – they weren’t as tough as being asked to rush into a burning building or wrestle an airplane from the hands of fanatics.

But those images…

those images / that horror

those images / that heartbreak

those images / that disbelief

Those images propelled us forward as we set out to protect the country…and address the biggest “change management” challenge of all time.

Those images left by the wayside concerns about changing jobs, reporting duties, adapting to new responsibilities – for the lives of our country, communities and fellow citizens were at stake.

As you will remember, we had our critics – those who said a new department wasn’t plausible, those who said it couldn’t be done. No one ever questioned our loyalty – simply, could this, would this, be an effective and necessary undertaking?  Could this, would this, be a positive change that could keep our country safe?  Could this, would this, be an organization that could rally around a vast, new mission: to reduce our vulnerability to attacks and disasters and respond and recover if one should occur?

Five years later, we gather on this historic occasion and answer proudly in the affirmative.

Five years later, we are here to celebrate success.

Five years later, America is safer and more secure than it has ever been.

Five years later, complacency is our greatest enemy now – but complacency is unfound in the sense of urgency and commitment those of you before me continue to bring to your jobs every day.

You have made your work about vigilance and follow-through, compassion and action, and the betterment of humankind.

You have endeavored to keep America a special place, abundant in liberty, opportunity and hope for all those who call it home – just as the Founders of this great country wanted it to be.

Today, they would be proud. America has become a nation of leaders – from citizens here at home to our soldiers overseas, from all of you in this audience, who quickly, patriotically, compassionately, intelligently and willingly took on a collective purpose…to keep America safe, whole and free.

And so today…six and a half years on from 9/11, five years on from the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, 230-plus years on from the birth of our beloved nation – let’s recommit ourselves to its enduring refrain:

What generations have brought together, let no one put asunder. For Americans do not live in fear. We live in freedom. And we will never let that freedom go.

Thank you for your service, ladies and gentleman. May God bless you all and the United States of America.

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Contact: Michele Nix +1-202-833-2008