(CNSNews.com) – Speaking about employee morale at the Department of Homeland Security, Gen. Jack Kelly described the men and women who work at his agency as “political pawns” who are sometimes treated unfairly by elected officials and the public they serve.

“If lawmakers do not like the laws that we enforce, that we are charged to enforce, that we are sworn to enforce, then they should have the courage and the skill to change those laws,” Kelly told a gathering at George Washington University on Tuesday.

“Otherwise, they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.”

He was interrupted by applause, then continued:

My people — my people have been discouraged from doing their jobs for nearly a decade, disabled by pointless bureaucracy and political meddling and suffered disrespect and contempt by public officials who have no idea what it means to serve.

During my confirmation process and in hearings, members of Congress, the press, and other public officials frequently asked me about the morale problems the department has experienced over the last few years.

My response has simply been, when you discourage, when you disable, when you unjustly criticize and default to believing the initial reports as opposed to defaulting to believing the stories told by my professionals — when you do all of those things and show disrespect to the individual who’s risking his or her life to defend the country — when you do those things, what do you expect?

All of this stopped on January 20. It stopped with President Trump and it stopped with me.

My people, the men and women of this department, do a difficult and at times nearly impossible job in the service to the American people. They deserve our nation’s thanks and respect. They deserve to be proud of the jobs that they do.

We are moving in exactly the right direction. Why? Because the best way to improve morale is to let employees do the job they were hired and trained to do and recognize them for doing those jobs.

We will never apologize for enforcing and upholding the laws of this country. We will never apologize for carrying out our mission. We will never apologize for making our country more secure.

We ask nothing more than respect and support. We don’t do this for the thank yous. We seldom get thank yous. We do this to keep America strong, secure and free.

We live in a dangerous world, ladies and gentlemen. Those dangers are increasing, not decreasing, and changing speed and direction every single day. But every day we are vigilant, every day we are prepared, every day we do our jobs.

The Homeland Security Department includes the Transportation Security Administration (airport screening personnel), U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Secret Service, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, among other agencies.

Kelly said his employees for too long have been asked to “do more with less,” and he compared the way they have been treated to the way police and other law enforcement personnel have been treated:

“[T]hey are often ridiculed and insulted by public officials and frequently convicted in the court of public opinion on unfounded allegations testified to by street lawyers and street spokespersons.”

‘When you’re having your morning coffee…’

He began his remarks by reminding the public that there is a “big gap” between what the media reports and what DHS personnel “actually do.”

When you’re having your morning coffee, the Coast Guard is typically pulling a fisherman out of his boat, capsized in some pretty heavy seas. While you’re deciding what you want for lunch, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in our deep south is teaching law enforcement officers how to respond to an active shooter.

While you’re scrolling through Facebook, our Science and Technology Directorate is helping local bomb squads defeat IEDs. While you’re zoning out on your commute home, Homeland Security professionals and investigators are closing in on a dangerous child predator. While you’re binge-watching “Madmen” on Netflix, TSA is stopping an actual madman with a loaded gun from boarding a flight to Disney World.

While some members of Congress or state and local politicians or members of advocacy groups read or listen to partial and oftentimes inaccurate media reporting on some alleged incident at an airport, in a courthouse or at a border crossing, and assume the men and women of DHS are intentionally abusing innocent individuals, while they break or ignore — that is to say, while my people are breaking and ignoring U.S. law, they make the assumption that my people are doing it wrong, as opposed to making the assumption that my people are doing it right, working within the law, based on their training and just who they are as Americans.

That’s the ordinary day and one that simply does not make the paper. Every day in a million different ways, DHS employees are making our country more secure…