Sir David Richards said:
As we all get ready to go home for some rest with our friends and families it is right that we remember those who cannot be at home at this important time. Our thoughts are, of course, particularly with the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines serving around the world, whether in Afghanistan or off the Horn of Africa, the Falkland Islands or any number of the vital training and assistance missions around the world.
But also with the civilians whose vital role both on operations and in support of the military is so often, and wrongly, overlooked. Taking responsibility for Defence has reinforced to us how many different personal contributions are made by so many, in so many ways, both noticed and unnoticed.
Most sadly of all our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. This season is one when we all would like to be with our close families and so it will be for some a moment when the pain of loss will be felt more keenly than ever.
It is also important that we reflect on the year’s achievements and difficulties, as this has been for all of us a momentous year. The early months were focused on the SDSR [Strategic Defence and Security Review] process and the later on implementing the reforms planned. As we have said, this is not going to be easy or without painful decisions. Many people - civilian and military - will be anxious about impending job reductions.
The departure of so many fine ships with proud histories is one that will, for many of us, leave a sad mark on the year but we must look forward. The Queen Elizabeth Class carriers will be coming to fill that role and the aircraft that will fly off them, the new JSF [Joint Strike Fighter], will mean the country is prepared to confront the challenges we may face.
But this is also a time when we must think to the future. The coming year’s priorities are going to be focused on the conflict in Afghanistan, rightly Defence’s Main Effort. Our joint visit to Afghanistan demonstrated the high quality of our people, civilian and military, who are working together to set the path to transition.
But other issues are also going to be prominent: the requirement to balance resources, to hone and shape our forces for the future, and the requirement to prioritise ruthlessly on the most needed and to transform the way we do business all mean that there has never been a more important time to think about the strategy of the Department and Defence’s contribution to promoting and defending the nation’s interests.
This requirement to focus on what is important brings us back to our thoughts at this festive time, and the most important asset that both Defence and the country hold: the people with whom we have the honour to serve.
We are immensely proud in knowing that we have the honour to lead this Department, and Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. Again and again those both in uniform and in civilian roles surprise us with their imagination, tenacity, determination, courage and humour.
This is a time for all of us to remember those we have lost, those who cannot be with us, but, most importantly, the families and friends who sustain us through the operations and deployments that demand so much of all of us and who support us in difficult roles, at home and abroad.
It is with gratitude and pride that we say thank you for your hard work this year and we know that next year will demand as much or more from you. So if you can, enjoy your leave, come back rested, and have a very Merry Christmas.