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NORTHCOM Change of Command

As Prepared for Delivery by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Peterson Air Force Base, CO, Wednesday, May 19, 2010

 Thank you, Admiral Mullen, for that introduction.  Governor Ritter, distinguished guests, family, and friends thank you for being here.

It is an honor to be here and have this opportunity to:

  • Pay tribute to General Gene Renuart as he retires after almost four decades of service;
  • Recognize the achievements of the men and women of NORTHCOM; and, finally, to,
  • Welcome Admiral James Winnefeld Jr. as the new commander.

I’d like to start by saying a few words about the Renuart family, which has provided such strong support throughout his career.  First and foremost, his mother Ruthan, who had the challenge of raising Gene and keeping him out of trouble during those early years.  His wife, Jill, has guided the family through almost 30 moves, dealing with all the untold challenges and sacrifices faced by so many of America’s military families.  His sons have honorably carried forward their father’s commitment to service.  Ryan distinguished himself during three combat tours in Iraq, while Andrew served 27 months in Senegal with the Peace Corps.

Throughout his nearly 40 years in uniform, General Renuart has seen combat and directed complex undertakings as one of the military’s most seasoned and capable leaders.  As a command pilot with almost 4,000 flight hours in the A-10, the F-16, among others, and with 60 air combat missions, Gene participated in expeditionary military operations from Desert Storm to Northern and Southern Watch.  As director of operations for CENTCOM, he planned and oversaw the initial phases of the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns.  After serving as the vice commander of Pacific Air Forces based in Hawaii (a real hardship tour, that one) he took on the formidable assignment of being the senior military assistant to the Secretary of Defense – first to Secretary Rumsfeld, and then to myself.  On a personal note, I will always be grateful for Gene’s guidance, counsel, and assistance which kept me on time and on track during those first weeks on the job. 

As a decorated aviator, successful commander, and proven strategic visionary, Gene was the logical choice to lead the men and women of NORTHCOM.  Realizing that his mission was to provide robust, complex, and swift support to civil and military authorities with little to no notice, he used “anticipate” as the watch word for the command.  By doing so, he created an innovative environment that seeks to identify and counter threats before they come to pass.  His forward thinking has permeated this command as evidenced by its winning the 2009 Joint Meritorious Unit Award.  Under General Renuart’s leadership, NORTHCOM built on a record of accomplishment since its creation after the 9/11 attacks – a record that includes:

  • Completing over 55,000 Noble Eagle sorties in defense of the homeland;
  • Evacuating 12,000 persons and directly saving over 400 during Hurricanes Ike and Gustav;
  • Providing support to civil authorities to prepare for California wildfires, two national political conventions, and three hurricanes – all within a two week period;
  • Partnering with Mexico to assist them in battling the drug cartels south of the border under the auspices of the Merida initiative; and
  • Working with SOUTHCOM to provide an aerial lifeline to Haiti in the wake of the horrific earthquake.

 It is our nation’s good fortune to have another proven leader and warrior ready to lead this vital organization.  As a naval aviator, Admiral Winnefeld served in two fighter squadrons and instructed at the Navy Fighter Weapons School – A.K.A. “Top Gun.”  He led the USS Enterprise through Operation Enduring Freedom immediately after the attacks on 9/11.  As a carrier strike group commander, he supported Operation Iraqi Freedom and conducted maritime security missions in the Persian Gulf.  Most recently, he was the director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Staff.  With this singular resume, I can think of no better officer to assume the vital duties of defending our nation, responding to natural disasters when called upon, and partnering with Canada, Mexico, and our Caribbean neighbors in securing our borders and sovereignty.  I want to wish Admiral Winnefeld, his wife, Mary, and their two sons, L.J. and Jonathan, all success.

To Gene, Jill, and the Renuart family, thank you for your dedicated and selfless service to our nation.  We owe you a debt we cannot repay.  I fervently hope you are more successful at retirement than I have been.  I have tried and failed three times already.  I wish you all the best as you begin this new chapter in your life.  With all of the Air Force memorabilia you have accumulated over the years, perhaps you can finally open that west coast branch of the Air Force museum.  Best of luck.

Thank you.

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