Secretary Mayorkas delivered the following remarks at the Department of Homeland Security’s Veterans Day Celebration held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Headquarters in Washington, D.C. on November 9, 2023.
When Mary Calderon was deployed overseas during her service in the United States Army, she came to realize and appreciate, and I quote, “that the United States of America offered so many freedoms that other countries do not... I could get an education, own a house, car or a business in my own name here. I could lay my head down at night and know I am in a safer place here than in other countries.”
Shortly after completing her service, that sense of safety, security, freedom, and opportunity that she had fought for in the Army was shattered by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. She shared recently: “I was shocked, frustrated, upset, and angry that this country... had now been violated in every possible way. I vowed that day I would help any way I could to protect this beautiful place we call home.”
That is why, 19 years ago, shortly after our Department’s founding, Mary joined DHS. She still proudly serves with us today.
Mary’s story is inspiring, but it is not unique. Across every level of our Department, and throughout every component agency, colleagues of ours were drawn to the Department of Homeland Security after their military service. Their experience, skillset, and values made them a uniquely good fit for a Department charged with securing our borders and our critical infrastructure, combatting terrorism, hardening our cyber defenses, and keeping the American people safe.
Robert Perry joined DHS six years ago after serving in the United States Air Force. He recently shared that, and I quote, “after serving 22 years in the military, I knew I wanted to continue to serve... DHS has afforded me the opportunity to play a small part in strengthening our nation’s security, ensure the safety of our skies, and have a rewarding career all at the same time.”
Tina Cox served in the Army during Operation Desert Storm, and for the last seven years has brought, as she said, the same “profound sense of duty, resilience, and teamwork I gained in the military” to her work at DHS.
Our Departmental leadership has also benefitted immensely from our nation’s veterans. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Secret Service, our Management Directorate, and I personally have all learned from the example set by Tex Alles, who joined DHS after 35 decorated years of service in the United States Marine Corps.
More than 53,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coastguardsmen, and Guardians continue to honorably serve in our Department today. Every day, they demonstrate what it means to put service before self, in every sense; what it means to stand the watch in difficult or dangerous conditions; and how to do so with honor and integrity. They help make DHS a stronger and more effective team, just as communities across our country are stronger because of the more than 16 million veterans, and their families, who live, work, and serve among us.
Today and every day, we thank our veterans for everything they have done, and continue to do, on behalf of the American people.
We also thank their families, who served, and continue to serve, alongside them. They know well that there are career paths that are easier on families than public service – but that there is no more noble one.
I am grateful to Troy Miller and CBP for hosting this ceremony and providing us an opportunity to share our thanks widely.
In addition to our gratitude, we are committed, as a Department, to ensuring our veterans have the resources they need in order to still proudly serve. We are hosting job search webinars and a career fair for specifically for veterans, standing up the Veterans Resource Employee Association, and connecting our veterans with the PACT Act benefits to which they are entitled, among many other support systems.
Most importantly, we recognize, as a Department, that there is no more important tribute to our nation’s veterans, no better way to honor them, than by safeguarding what they fought for – our safety and security; our freedom and liberty; our values and our democracy.
That is our duty at the Department of Homeland Security. It is an incredible to work towards it alongside the more than 53,000 veterans still proudly serving in our Department, and alongside all of you – the 260,000 extraordinary men and women of the United States Department of Homeland Security.