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U.S. PACOM Change of Command

As Prepared for Delivery by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Camp Smith, Hawaii, Monday, October 19, 2009

Thank you, Admiral Keating. Good morning – or should I say “Aloha” – to our distinguished visitors. This visit to beautiful Hawaii is the first stop in what will be one of those not-exactly-relaxing around-the-world trips. So I’ve assigned a special security detail to make sure no one in the delegation “forgets” to catch the departing flight.
     It’s an honor to join you to say farewell to an outstanding naval officer, and valued friend and colleague, to welcome a new commander, and to take stock of this storied organization’s accomplishments.
     To the Keating family: Tim’s wife, Wanda Lee, whom I will honor shortly for her work on behalf of the men and women of Pacific Command. His son, Daniel, and his wife Kristen; daughter, Julie; and son-in-law, Paul. Thank you your service and for everything you have done for our Navy and your country. I continue to be amazed by the sacrifices and resilience of our military families.
     As Admiral Mullen just described, Admiral Keating brings to a close a stellar 40-plus year career that has taken him to every corner of the globe – in the cockpit, on land, and at sea – to the highest levels of command and responsibility. Recognizing his accomplishments at NORTHCOM, his unique skills, and strategic vision, I recommended Admiral Keating two-and-a-half years ago for what would be his final and most important assignment: the leadership of America’s oldest and largest combatant command.
     Leading a military organization in this part of the world requires a deft touch, a diplomat’s sensibilities, a scholar’s sense of the past, and a commercial tycoon’s business savvy. Admiral Keating has provided all of that and more.
PACOM has its share of challenges: complex national and international agreements, relations and rivalries; vast distances within its boundaries; the ever-present danger of man-made and natural disasters; and the threat of international terrorism. The relative stability of the region belies the historic, economic, and cultural rip currents that exist just below the visible surface. This area of responsibility includes 36 nations and more than 50 percent of the world’s population, and more than $1 trillion in trade annually with the United States. There are long-standing alliances with old friends like Australia, Japan, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, and Thailand – along with new partnerships with other nations based on shared interests and values.
     By following through on Admiral Keating’s strategic vision, the men and women of this command have accomplished much over their commander’s tenure: 

     • Delivery of millions of pounds of humanitarian relief to hundreds of thousands affected by     earthquakes, tsunamis, and floods – including the recent natural disasters in the Philippines and Indonesia;
     • Numerous medical outreach missions – including the USNS Mercy deployment and Operation Pacific Angel that treated nearly 100,000 people in six nations;
     • Growing trilateral cooperation between the United States, the Republic of Korea, and Japan;
     • Advances in ballistic-missile defense capabilities, as shown by several successful tests and the shoot-down of an errant satellite;
     • The ongoing transition of United States Forces Korea to Korea Command slated for 2012;
     • Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command recovering and identifying over 200 individuals from conflicts as far back as World War I and as recent as Vietnam; and
     • Over 200 joint and multinational exercises with our regional partners.

     This is on top of providing approximately 30,000 troops, manning five combat-ready carrier strike groups, and 44 ships participating in three expeditionary strike groups supporting operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
     It is our nation’s good fortune to have Admiral Robert Willard ready to take the helm at Pacific Command. He has served and commanded in this region and was the 34th Vice Chief of Naval Operations. He was most recently the commander of Pacific Fleet, so he knows full well the challenges and opportunities here. His past experiences will serve him in good stead as he takes command. We wish Admiral Willard, his wife Donna, and his family all success.
     And we wish Admiral Keating, Wanda Lee, and their family all the best as they begin a new chapter in their lives. Tim, I hope you have better luck with retirement than I did.
     Thank you.

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