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Remarks by Commerce Deputy Secretary Karen Dunn Kelley at the U.S. Department of Commerce Veterans Day Ceremony


Thank you Allison for your kind introduction.

I am humbled to be in the presence of so many great men and women who have served in our armed forces and protected our nation. It is only because of sacrifices from veterans like those in this room that I get to stand here today – with the stars and stripes by my side.

On behalf of Secretary Ross, who is currently in southeast Asia leading a trade mission, and on behalf of the entire Department of Commerce, I say to our veterans the two most important words: thank you.

Our nation can never fully repay the debt we all owe to our veterans, but we hope that celebrations like this one today can serve as a small token of appreciation for the sacrifices you and your families have made to keep us safe and free.

This coming Monday will mark 100 years since President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the very first Armistice Day, which later became Veterans Day, to recognize the millions of Americans who served in our military during World War I to make the world safe for democracy and freedom.

In the century that has followed, our nation has faced no shortage of grave challenges from adversaries who have wanted to eliminate the American way of life. But the American flame of freedom burns bright, not just at home, but around the world thanks to the courage and sacrifices of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen.

There are more than 20 million living veterans in our country, and I am very proud to say that there are about 6,200 of them at the Department of Commerce. They serve in all positions at all levels of every bureau.

The following numbers give you a snapshot of just how many veterans are integrated into our everyday work at Commerce. 167 veterans work in the Office of the Secretary; 43 at BEA; 94 at BIS; 2,281 at Census; 39 at EDA; 117 at ITA; 4 at MBDA; 295 at NIST; 2,237 at NOAA; 8 at NTIS; 89 at NTIA; 770 at PTO; and 32 in OIG.

These veterans serve alongside us every day to fulfill our Departmental mission: to create the conditions for economic growth and opportunity. And their service in uniform has secured us the most important condition of all: freedom.

Our veterans may not openly share their stories of heroism, or the challenges they and their families have faced during their military service. But we know of their sacrifices and we are forever grateful. 

At this point, I would like to ask the service members and veterans who are here today to please stand. Thank you for answering the call of duty and for the sacrifices you have made to our nation.

Celebrating Veterans Day has an important and warm place in my family. My father is a very proud Marine. During the 1950s, he was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. 

His service has always been a personal inspiration, and he instilled in me values such as love for country and admiration for our men and women in uniform.

Growing up, whenever someone would express appreciation for my father’s military service, he would always say, “but we can never forget the ladies that we leave behind, who take care of things back home”.
And he would then turn to my mother and say, “those that stay at home, serve alone”.

In that spirit, I would like to ask for all family members of servicemen and women to please stand. 

Whether it’s your husband or wife, father or mother, brother or sister, or son or daughter, we know that you – when your loved ones leave – have also made sacrifices. We thank you and applaud you for your strength and for your support of our country. 

As Deputy Secretary, I also get to interact with members of a uniformed service housed within our own Department: the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps. These commissioned officers provide scientific and technical expertise for civilian projects during peacetime and for the armed forces during wartime.
NOAA Corps veterans have served in multiple wars throughout our history and we thank them as well for their patriotism, sacrifice, and contributions to our national readiness.

The national security functions of my job also provide me opportunities to interact up-close with active duty members of our armed forces. I cannot emphasize enough how impressed I am with these men and women in uniform. They demonstrate unparalleled excellence, professionalism, dedication, and, most of all, patriotism. It has never been clearer to me why our armed forces are the envy of the world – because they truly are the best at what they do.

Just 10 days ago, the world received yet another reminder of this unparalleled excellence and determination when President Trump announced that an American special operations mission successfully resulted in the death of the leader of ISIS.

The sacrifices of our veterans have delivered real results, which make us safer at home and sow the seeds for a free and prosperous world. We appreciate their sacrifice and the Department of Commerce is committed to veterans’ success and potential once they return to civilian life.

Tom Gilman and I have prioritized Departmental efforts to hire and support veterans in our Department. We continue to encourage managers to use special hiring authorities to employ more veterans. 

We have ongoing partnerships with the Operation Warfighter Internship Program and the Department of Defense’s Skill Bridge program to provide professional experience to military personnel who are readying to enter the civilian workforce. And this past year, our Veterans Employment Program Office hosted the first-ever VETSTalk, which brought Veterans together to discuss how they overcame challenges during their transition into a civilian job at the Department.

Taking care of our veterans is a critical obligation for all of us, but we are not afraid to admit that hiring veterans is good for the Department as well.

Veterans bring loyalty, dedication, mission focus, and team leadership to every position they occupy. Not to mention, veterans carry with them a variety of experiences and expertise from their active duty roles in fields such as intelligence, public affairs, logistics, and financial management. 

We are proud to employ more than 6,000 veterans at the Department of Commerce and we will continue to hire even more.

To the veterans here today, please know that my door is always open to you. Thank you for your continued service to our country and God bless you and your families. We are truly grateful.