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General Chiarelli Retirement Ceremony

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Fort Myer, Virginia, Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming this morning. 

Secretary Shinseki, Senator Reed, and other members of the Congress – including Chairman McKeon, Congressman Norm Dicks, Congressman Bartlett and Congressman Reyes, thank you all for coming to honor Pete by being here today. 

The presence of so many distinguished guests – including the entire senior leadership of the Department and past leaders such as Admiral Mullen – all of that offers a powerful statement about the stature and impact of the soldier that we are honoring today. 

The strength, courage, the fortitude of men and women like Pete Chiarelli are part of what makes the United States Army the greatest in the world.  But the other part of what makes the Army so strong is the support system that stands behind our soldiers: their loved ones, their families.  And just as Pete has been a world-class soldier, the Chiarelli family has been a world-class support system. 

So Beth, Peter, Erin, Patrick, today we also recognize and honor you for your strength, for your courage, for your fortitude throughout Pete’s career.  Beth has not only endured more than 25 moves and supported Pete through every step of his career, she has emerged as a leader and a powerful advocate in her own right for wounded warriors, for military spouses and for their children.  On behalf of the American people, we thank you for your dedication and for your commitment to improving the well-being of our military families.

Pete’s retirement from the Army signals not only the conclusion of a distinguished career, it’s also the end—at least for the moment—of the Army’s version of the Italian duo, or the spaghetti generals.

With Ray Odierno and Pete Chiarelli in the lead, not to mention a Secretary of Defense who was once a former army officer, all of us have been doing it the Italian style, which means that the Army is family and you don’t mess with the family.

Lloyd Austin, we’re expecting you to keep this tradition alive.  You may not be Italian, but believe me with the size of you and Ray, I can assure you that no one is going to mess with the Army.

Pete’s family, like mine, followed the American Dream. His father was the son of Italian immigrants.  His father served in a tank battalion in the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division in World War II, and won a Silver Star for heroism.  He returned home and he lived the American dream – he worked as a butcher in Seattle where he raised his family.  And by the way, that explains Pete’s love for his country and his love for the Seattle Mariners. 

Throughout his forty years of service in uniform, Pete has exemplified the values of his father – of patriotism, courage, of resilience, and of dedication.

Little more than five years ago, I traveled to Baghdad as part of the Iraq Study Group, where we had the opportunity to receive a briefing from Pete, who was then in charge of all day-to-day operations as Corps commander.  This was in September 2006, when Iraq was in considerable turmoil.  But Pete’s presentation demonstrated an extraordinary knowledge of the 21st century battlefield.  He was honest, he was direct, he called it as it was, and he pulled no punches, and he made clear what needed to be done.

One of those in the study group was particularly impressed with Pete’s presentation and that was Bob Gates, who would later seek Pete to serve as his Senior Military Assistant. 

For seventeen months, Pete served as Bob Gates’s right-hand man, advising him on the full range of pressing national security matters and always giving him insight into how the decisions he was making would impact on the men and women on the battlefield.  Because if there’s one thing that has been the hallmark of Pete’s career, it’s the depth of his concern for the welfare of every soldier. 

It’s that quality that made him the perfect choice to be the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army.

When former Secretary Gates promoted Pete to that post, he said that he knew that as long as there was a single soldier in harm’s way, as long as there was a single Army family in need, Pete would not rest. 

For more than three years as Vice Chief of Staff, Pete has not rested. 

Rather, he has devoted himself to improving the lives of soldiers and their family members at a time of extraordinary strain.  Under his leadership, the Army has taken tremendous steps to give soldiers increased dwell time between deployments, and he’s been an outspoken advocate for wounded warriors – in particular, those suffering from the unseen wounds of war. 

More than any other officer, Pete has fought to eliminate the stigma from those with post-traumatic stress and other mental-health issues, and he has devoted every ounce of his energy to the problem of suicide in the Army. 

Pete will be the first to say that we have not turned the corner on this vexing problem, but thanks to his tireless efforts, this Department is fully working to confront these issues.  And I can think of no one better suited to carry on Pete’s important work in leading the Army than another great battle-tested soldier, General Lloyd Austin.

Pete, Beth, after forty years of constant moves, and of giving everything to this Army and this country, you have more than earned a break. You have more than earned a time of peace and a time of family.

My mother and father would acknowledge a good man by calling him something special in Italian, a “buon uomo” which means a “good man.” And Pete, you are a “buon uomo.”

I often say that the true test of whether someone is a success in life is whether someone can look you in the eye and say – that that person made a difference.  Pete and Beth, the two of you have made an extraordinary difference.  You’ve touched so many lives, and you’ve inspired all of us here today to redouble our efforts to protect the men and women who protect us.  Pete, we will miss you. But the light that you have lit will continue to shine and light our way in the future.

Thank you, and may God bless your entire family as you move on to the next stage of your lives. Thank you for your service, for your dedication and for your patriotism.

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