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U.S. Transportation Command Change of Command

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Scott Air Force Base, IL, Friday, October 14, 2011

Thank you very much Marty I really appreciate that kind introduction, and ladies and gentlemen I can’t tell you what an honor it is to serve with Marty Dempsey.  He is a great soldier and a great leader.  Just to give you an example of how great he is the two of us spent three and a half hours before the House Armed Services committee and we survived.  [Congressman Jerry] Costello knows what I’m talking about.

I am delighted to have a chance to be here in Illinois and to visit Scott Air Force Base for the first time.  Obviously, as I mentioned we are joined by a number of distinguished guests, and I do want to pay tribute to Jerry Costello, who is a former colleague of mine, someone I’ve served with, and I have tremendous respect for him.  He’s always represented this area with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and hard work.  And I want to thank you for being here, and for the strong support you’ve provided this command and this base.  

It's truly an honor to be able to participate in this ceremony, and to express my gratitude to General McNabb for his many decades of distinguished service and to welcome General Fraser as he assumes command of the United States Transportation Command. 

As always, in these events, I’d also like to express my deepest thanks to their families.  To General McNabb’s family, particularly his wife Linda, and to General Fraser’s wife Bev, and their family as well. 

These are tough jobs and they demand a lot of sacrifice.  But none of us could do these jobs without the love and support of our families.  It’s been my experience that behind every man and woman in uniform there is an equally proud and dedicated family, a family that loves and supports and shares in the sacrifice that is required in serving one’s country.  This has to be a team effort, and every family – every family – is part of our team.  We could not do this job of defending America without you.

That support is central to the strength of the armed forces.  It underpins everything we do and, indeed, the very security of this nation.  And so today we honor these two special families for the love and sacrifice and support they’ve provided these two very special men.

We also take time today to honor the quiet service and immense contributions of all of the men and women of this command.  From right here at Scott Air Force Base, TRANSCOM directs a truly extraordinary and unceasing effort to sustain our operations around the entire globe – a logistics enterprise that I believe is unmatched in scale and unequaled in effectiveness. 

Together with your components – Air Mobility Command, Military Sealift Command, and Surface Deployment and Distribution Command – you are the backbone of our military, the support structure upon which everything else hinges.  Very simply, we could not do our job, we could not do our mission and defend America without you.

And it is because of your efforts and because of your capabilities, and your professionalism, that this military remains the long arm of our national security and the envy of the world.

No one goes anywhere, no one fights anywhere, no one stays anywhere without your support.

When I think about what you do and where and how you do it, I am reminded of a story from World War II involving George Patton, who as you know could be a little bit on the blunt side – using four letter words every now and then to emphasize a point.  I never quite understood why the hell it was such a problem.

Anyway, Patton, like so many field commanders, often felt neglected by higher headquarters.  He always felt he had to scrap and scrape for every bullet and rubber tire.  He was convinced that he could bludgeon his way into Germany all by himself in a matter of days if he just had some support, so he furiously demanded more war materiel and troops, appealing directly to General Eisenhower for the load. 

Out of frustration, he blurted to Ike: “My men can eat their belts, but my tanks gotta have gas.”

Fortunately for history, he got that gas.  And fortunately for us today, our troops in the field don’t ever need to worry about whether or not they have what they need – because you never stop delivering.  Last year alone you conducted more than 37,000 airlift missions, transporting more than 2.3 million passengers by air, and 29 million short tons of cargo by air and sea. 

From keeping our combat units supplied with essential food and fuel and spare parts in the most inhospitable of places, to getting troops into the combat zones and evacuating our wounded, TRANSCOM juggles tasks that are incredibly daunting and difficult.  As one Air Force officer put it, in classic Patton terms: “This ain’t rocket science.  It’s a hell of a lot harder.”

Under the leadership of General McNabb, this command has faced one of the most demanding periods in history, and it has excelled.  We have been fighting two wars in two very difficult parts of the world.  We have had to support our forces in Iraq, and undertake a significant surge in Afghanistan, a landlocked country with some of the toughest terrain on earth – mountains, terrorists, thieves, tribes of every sort.  Now, we will look to TRANSCOM to help us recover that surge and to bring those troops home over the next year or so while maintaining the support that the other troops will need for those who will carry the burden of the fight.

I was looking back at some notes and found my predecessor’s wise counsel to you, Duncan, back in 2008.  Bob Gates told you to remember what Alexander the Great had said during his campaigns in Central Asia – over much of the same territory that we operate in today.

Alexander called his logisticians a very humorless lot.  Obviously if you’re dealing with a bunch of elephants that probably makes you humorless.  He said, and I quote, “they know if my campaign fails, they will be the first ones I slay."

How’s that for incentive to do your job? General McNabb is still here, and that says something about the job he did.  For those of you who know General McNabb, he's anything but humorless, but clearly he took that warning to heart.  Days later, this command got the task to stitch together something called the Northern Distribution network – essentially an alternate way of moving the material of war into Afghanistan, a route which alleviated some of the strain put on those routes that we were then using through Pakistan.

General McNabb empowered a small team to work with the ambassadors of no less than 15 countries, commercial industry, the Defense Department, the Department of State and the National Security Council to develop this critical new network, through which now half our ground cargo flows.

And he did it in near record time – about 4 months.  As anyone who ever worked in Washington and with other federal agencies can tell you, it takes us that long just to agree to have a meeting on an issue.

Duncan demurs when people try to give him the credit.  He still insists that his only real contribution was drinking a lot of vodka with Central Asian leaders to seal the deal.

Forgive me, Duncan, if we are unsympathetic.  As my Italian immigrant parents would say, “Pane di governo, pane eterno.”

That loosely translates to “if you want bread, you can’t beat a government job.”

Well this has been one of the most demanding jobs in government.  General McNabb and TRANSCOM faced countless other challenges during these years, including responding to unexpected as Marty said –g the Earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Japan, the Gulf Oil spill and flooding in Pakistan.

In each of these circumstances, in each of these crises, people were dying or in trouble.  They were in great need, and this command, this team under this great leader, stepped up and delivered.

Indeed, in so very many ways the staff here, the components and the team that you all embody became a true reflection of your commander – an eternal optimist with a true passion for supporting the warfighter.

Duncan, this Department, this country owes you and Linda an extraordinary debt for your tireless efforts to keep our military strong, and to ensure that our men and women in uniform had what they needed to accomplish their missions. 

Linda, I especially want to thank you for everything you have done.  Over the course of Duncan’s nearly four decades of service in uniform you’ve helped support our troops and their families.  It is hard enough just being a military spouse in these uncertain times, harder still when you make it your life’s work to support other spouses and other families through trials of their own.

You have done all this and more with great dignity and grace and humility.  And on behalf of a very grateful nation, please accept my deepest gratitude.

Now, the task of carrying on the vital work of this command falls to another great team, Will and Bev Fraser.  I want to welcome both of you to that job.

General Fraser brings an incredible wealth of experience, including operational command of strategic bomber units, service as Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force and Commander of the Air Combat Command. 

As the commander of the Air Force’s largest command, General Fraser was responsible for more than 1,000 aircraft and 79,000 active-duty and civilian personnel. 

He is a proven and effective leader who I know stands ready to take on this new and higher responsibility, and to sustain our military’s logistical excellence.  

Thank you, Will, for once again answering your country’s call, and for your commitment to carrying on the vital and too-often unheralded work of this command. 

Today we pass the mantle of leadership from one extraordinary leader to another.  As the new Secretary of Defense, each time I participate in one of these ceremonies I emerge supremely confident in the future because I am reminded that we have the strongest military force in history. 

It is strong because we can replace one talented warrior with another, because we have continued to raise generation after generation of quality individuals committed to serving something greater and something bigger than themselves.

In this job, I have an awful lot of weapons at my disposal.  Planes, tanks, ships, tremendous technologies of every sort.  But I have to tell you that none of that means very much without our men and women in uniform.  They are the greatest asset we have.  They are our greatest weapon.  They are our greatest strength, and we celebrate that strength today by honoring these two great leaders. 

May God bless you both, God bless your families, God bless this command, but most of all, may God bless the United States of America.

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