I’m deeply grateful to President Trump for the opportunity to serve with you and for America’s Veterans.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the “War to end all Wars”. One hundred years ago, my great grandfather left the comfort of teaching law at Ole Miss to join the 320th Field Artillery Regiment of the 82nd Infantry Division assembling at Camp Gordon, Georgia. Across the cantonment from his regiment was an infantry outfit whose muster roll included a reluctant scratch farmer from Pall Mall, Tennessee, by way of Buncombe County, North Carolina, by the name of Alvin York.
In another part of the country was my wife’s grandfather, who had probably never ventured beyond three or four counties in North and South Carolina, but by the time he was 18, he was marching up the Champs Elysees into the terrible battle of the Meuse Argonne.
Captain A.D. Somerville, Sergeant Alvin York and Private Onslow Bullard, ordinary Americans called upon to do extraordinary things. It is their descendants whom we are honored to serve—millions of ordinary Americans who have answered a special call for us and the world.
At my Pentagon swearing in, I was proud when the officiating officer noted that I had been born in khaki diapers. I have been privileged to see this military life from many angles—as a dependent, as the son of a gravely wounded combat soldier, as an officer in two services—the Navy and the Air Force– and as a senior leader in the Pentagon. Being with you today is the culmination of a lifetime of watching those who have borne the battle.
I do not know how long I will be privileged to serve as the acting secretary, but let me tell you about my philosophy.
Customer service is the key—but not necessarily in the way you might think. Customer service must start with each other—not talking at each other but with each other across all office barriers and across all compartments. If we don’t listen to each other we won’t be able to listen to our Veterans and their families.
We must have a bottom up organization. The energy must flow from you who are closest to those we are sworn to serve. It is from you that the ideas we carry to the Congress, the VSOs and to America’s Veterans will come. Anyone who sits in this chair and tells you he has the answers is in the wrong business.
This is a noble calling. We have a solemn responsibility to Veterans—not just today, but in the months and years to come, to set the standard for the millions coming into our VA and for the millions who will join the ranks down the years.
That is our important and nonnegotiable mission. The president and Congress support us, and I’m honored to help lead this organization. I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible. I value your thoughts and insights as we improve our cepartment for the challenges in the years ahead.
Thank you and God bless.