WEST POINT, N.Y. – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright received the U.S. Military Academy's prestigious Thayer Award on Thursday, joining Dwight Eisenhower, Neil Armstrong and other past recipients recognized for their outstanding service to the U.S.
Albright, the first woman to hold the nation's top diplomatic post, used the occasion to praise U.S. soldiers, call for an end to "partisan squabbling" in Washington and warn against isolationism.
The academy's announcement of the award, named for former West Point Superintendent Col. Sylvanus Thayer, describes Albright as a leader on policy and international affairs. The annual award is given to citizens whose service illustrates the academy's motto of "Duty, Honor, Country."
Albright received the award at the Hudson River academy during a dinner ceremony hosted by West Point's Association of Graduates. Before the dinner, the cadets conducted a ceremonial parade in her honor on the grassy expanse at the center of the academy known as the Plain.
President Bill Clinton appointed her secretary of state during his second term, and she served from 1997 to 2001. She previously had been U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Albright was born in Czechoslovakia in 1937 and was forced to leave after Nazi Germany gained control there. She spent much of World War II in England.
Other past recipients of the Thayer Award include Douglas MacArthur, Henry Kissinger, Barbara Jordon, Walter Cronkite, Colin Powell and Bob Hope.
"The list of previous recipients is an extraordinary one that includes many people who once held high office or otherwise achieved fame," Albright said, according to prepared remarks provided by West Point before the dinner. "But looking down the list, I know that if I had to choose a single companion to watch my back, it would be the winner of this award in 2002 – the American soldier."
She recalled life with her family as refugees when U.S. troops arrived in England to stage for the Normandy assault in France.
"In the months that followed, almost an entire continent lost to evil had to be taken back village by village, hill by hill," Albright said. "It was an assault carried out against dug-in positions, amid rain and mud and blood and darkness, winnable only through unbelievable courage and at unbearable loss."
She said that ensuring young Americans are able to meet the demands of the future depends on Washington overcoming its divides and ensuring a "rational approach" to the federal budget.
On the day the partial federal government shutdown ended, Albright said that after viewing the cadets' "amazing parade," she'll bring back to Washington the message that "these young men and women deserve better."
Albright also spoke of the complexity of the challenge facing the nation and its soldiers now.
"Our recent military engagements have played out against a complicated political backdrop, tinged with religious and cultural tension, questioning allies, less than conclusive results, and an American public that often seems disengaged," she said, while stressing the need for the investments and policies necessary to maintain the nation's global role.
"Here at West Point, cadets are taught about engineering and mathematics, history and science, but above all, you learn about the qualities demanded of a leader," she said. "So I suspect that I do not have to tell you that American leadership is still needed in the world today."