Admiral [James] Ellis [Commander, U.S. Strategic Command], thank you for that very kind introduction. It’s an honor for me to be able to be here today for this important ceremony.
Members of the Strategic Command, ladies and gentlemen. It’s customary on these formal occasions to begin by recognizing the dignitaries who are on hand. But there are so many distinguished military and civilian leaders here today that it could take all morning to mention them all. Their presence is a tribute to the vital work that is being done here at Offutt Air Force Base.
And so at the risk of offending everyone, I will refrain from singling out anyone, except for the stars of today’s performance, our outgoing and incoming commanders – Admiral Jim Ellis and General Jim Cartwright – and most of all, the men and women of Strategic Command.
Before I left Washington this morning, I spoke to Secretary Rumsfeld on the telephone, and he asked me to convey his best and to thank all of you for the great job you’ve done under Jim Ellis’s leadership these past two years. As it happens, July 9th is Don Rumsfeld’s birthday – his 72nd if you’re counting. And he’s celebrating with his family. Otherwise, he would have been here himself. I consider myself lucky because it’s a privilege to be able to attend and to pay my own tribute to a great leader and to a great command.
Thanks to what’s already been accomplished here under Admiral Ellis’s leadership, America is more secure and deterrence is stronger. That’s exactly what Secretary Rumsfeld intended when he issued the order to combine the old Strategic Command with Space Command.
For five decades, you and your predecessors have helped to keep the peace through deterrence, which basically meant keeping our powder dry and our arms ready for action.
Your watchfulness calls to mind one of President Reagan’s favorite stories. He loved to tell it, and he included it in his speech to the British Parliament – his historic speech back in 1982. It’s about an elderly English woman whose home was bombed in the Blitz during World War II.
As rescuers searched through the ruins of her house, they found a bottle of brandy under the staircase. That staircase was the only thing in the house left standing. When they got to her, the poor lady was barely conscious. So one rescuer pulled the cork on the brandy and gave her a taste. It brought her around quickly, and as soon as she was alert, she said, “There, there, young man, put that back. It’s for emergencies.” [Laughter]
For 50 years, the men and women who have worked in this command have had to be ready every hour, indeed, every minute of every day for that emergency which we hope will never arrive. For most of those 50 years, the principal focus of that mission was to prevent a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union – a catastrophe of truly unimaginable proportions. Today thankfully, the Cold War has ended. The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact have disappeared. And we have made dramatic progress in reducing nuclear weapons.
That was the good news. The bad news was the discovery that the world wouldn’t necessarily be peaceful. In fact, this new world is dangerous in different ways. The enemy that we knew was exchanged for uncertainty and the threat of surprise attack from new directions, from states with newly emerging missile capabilities or from a stateless network using terrorism and asymmetric attacks. These new threats called for a new strategic approach.
As President Bush said three years ago: In a dangerous, less certain, less predictable world, “we must seek security based on more than the grim premise that we can destroy those who seek to destroy us. This,” the President said, “is an important opportunity for the world to re-think the unthinkable, and to find new ways to keep the peace.”
“Today’s world,” he said, “requires a new policy, a broad strategy of active nonproliferation, counterproliferation and defenses.”
To achieve that goal, one of the President’s first acts was to order a visionary transformation of the Department of Defense involving not just weapons systems, but organization, and strategy, and even culture. That transformation was already well underway on September 11, 2001. In the aftermath of that attack, we took the fight to our enemies. First in Afghanistan, then in Iraq.
Today, thanks to the heroism of America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen, those terrorist-sponsoring regimes have been removed. Terrorists are dead or on the run. And 50 million people – most of them Muslims -- have been liberated from rulers who terrorized them for decades. Today they are free to determine their own destiny in democratic countries – countries that will become our allies in the global war on terror and an inspiration to millions of others in the Muslim world.
These courageous actions are having effects elsewhere. Libya, for example -- which was acquiring weapons of mass destruction and missile systems -- has agreed to give them up. And all the while, we have continued to transform America’s defenses.
That included the creation of the new Strategic Command on October 1st two years ago. Already we see a unified command that combines strategic capability with improved intelligence and reconnaissance, better command and control, better communications, and more integrated information operations. It means we have an improved global situation awareness to support the strategic decisions of the President and the Secretary of Defense. These contributions have proved absolutely critical in the ongoing war against terrorists and their sponsors. Much of our success on the ground is directly related to work that is being done here in Omaha.
Combining these elements was no easy task. And to do so, we were fortunate to have at the helm a military leader with the vast experience and keen insight that Admiral Ellis has brought to the job. In fact, I believe that Jim Ellis was the perfect leader to meet the challenging task of integrating two complex existing commands to focus together on a new mission.
He is a seasoned aviator and combat commander who took the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln to Desert Storm on its maiden voyage. He is an accomplished joint commander who led the air campaign called Allied Force in 1999 that halted ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. And he is a man of enormous intelligence and deep understanding who was able to lead his staff literally from the front in mastering the complex issues involved in standing up the new Strategic Command.
Yesterday Admiral Ellis gave a presentation to Secretary Rumsfeld with that new medium we call “the secure video teleconference.” The Secretary told me this morning that it was -- and I quote -- “as brilliant, concise, insightful, and forward-looking a presentation as I have been privileged to listen to as Secretary of Defense. The Secretary called Admiral Ellis a superb naval officer, and I join him in that.
Jim Ellis brought to this command the leadership that was needed – the leadership needed to carry out a complex task essential for the security of this great country and to do so during a time of war.
But we all know he didn’t do it alone. He relied on dedicated and experienced servicemen and women from across the Armed Forces. We like to say that as we enter the 21st century, we must take jointness to a new level. That is what we are doing, and I would be hard-pressed to identify a command that better represents jointness in action.
Your success as a command is a credit to each of you and to your extraordinary teamwork. And it’s something that will continue to be just as important in the days ahead. The war on terror is likely to command the nation’s attention for a long time to come. But we must also make certain that we attend to the requirements of strategic deterrence and strategic defense so that this country can survive and prosper over the long term.
We’ve made great progress in recent years in reducing Russian and American nuclear weapons and delivery systems. U.S. and Russian relations are now based on a whole range of positive political and economic cooperation, and we are allies in the War on Terrorism. The nuclear balance of terror is no longer the “cornerstone of strategic stability.” Yet even at reduced levels, nuclear weapons must be treated with the same extraordinary care that we have paid to them for the last half century.
And we must also pay attention to new and emerging threats – threats that may be smaller but potentially could be more dangerous. And we have an important new capability with missile defense that needs to be developed. For the first time we will be able to protect the United States against some possible intercontinental missile attacks.
These are tasks that some might prefer to forget. But we, as a country, cannot afford to do so. And you here are on the front lines, making sure that we don’t.
Admiral Ellis leaves behind him a strong legacy to carry you forward. And I know that Jim Cartwright will step into those very big shoes with the outstanding leadership qualities that he has demonstrated throughout an impressive career.
I think it’s probably appropriate to point out, in case any of you need reassurance, that General Cartwright was confirmed last night by the United States Senate to be full General Cartwright. Unfortunately, a new rule that was put on us last year means he has to wait another two weeks before we can put that fourth star on his shoulders.
But I want to make sure that no one has any mistake here. We are handing this command over to another full four-star leader and an outstanding one. I’ve had the privilege of working very closely with General Cartwright during the last two years when he was the head of the J-8 division of the joint staff, responsible for key resource decisions. I don’t know a finer officer. This is a man who could assume, I think, command of any of our combatant commands. And it is a sign of the importance attached to Strategic Command that he’s been sent here.
But most of all, I know that the great men and women of this command will continue to perform with a dedication and excellence that fully justifies the great trust and confidence that this country places in you.
So let me conclude by thanking Jim Ellis personally and from the bottom of my heart for 35 years of outstanding service to this country on active duty. I’d like to thank Polly [Ellis] for the love and support that sustained that career and made it possible. And with that, I’d like ask to Admiral Ellis to join me up here front and center.
[Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz concluded his remarks by awarding the Defense Distinguished Service Medal to Admiral Ellis.]