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Welcome Ceremony for New Officials

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, The Pentagon, Friday, June 22, 2012

Good afternoon and thank you very much for joining us today to celebrate and to welcome a trio of public servants into their leadership roles in the Department of Defense.  I apologize for being late; but actually Jim and I were involved in dealing with an issue, I mean, in this job I’m a little bit like a fireman dealing with a pyromaniac running around the world and so there are a lot of fires to deal with and we were involved in dealing with one of those challenges with the White House so I apologize for being late. 

It’s a little odd, frankly, to have a ceremony welcoming these people into the Pentagon family.  I mean it’s a little bit like, you know, Uncle Frank, Uncle Jim, Aunt Erin, welcoming them into a family that they’re already a part of.  And they very much are a part of this family.  What all of them have been through, however, is the gauntlet of Senate confirmation and they have lived to tell about it.

It’s like the old joke, having gone through a lot of manure, I think they’ve found a pony at the end of the bottom of the box.  In this case they may very well have found a tiger because they are being rewarded with some of the hardest, most challenging, and most demanding jobs in government.    

All three of these individuals that we’re honoring today have actually been working very hard and for some time in this Department shaping our most important policies – from our new defense strategy, to reforming the way we buy new equipment, to managing all aspects of our Air Force. 

They are very much a part of the core team that I engage with every day, the people who sit across from me at our daily staff meetings to talk through all the issues and the challenges that we have to confront.  I rely on them a great deal to help run one of the largest bureaucracies in the world.  And very frankly there is no way I could do this job without the team of people that work with me every day to help take on the challenges that we face.  Every one of these individuals and every one who’s a part of my team is very much a profile of service to the country.  So it’s a real pleasure to not only officially welcome them into these new jobs, but to be able to recognize their many contributions to this Department, and to our country. 

I’d also like to acknowledge and welcome all of their families that are here today.  God bless you for your tolerance, your patience, your support, and your love.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of the family members before this ceremony, and I really do want to express my personal gratitude to each of you for the sacrifices that you make and for the support that you have offered to help these incredible public servants. 

These are hard jobs, they’re tough jobs, and frankly none of us in government could do these jobs without the love and support of our families and the networks that we rely on.  So thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart, because I know that it is so important to be able to have that support when you go home late at night, leave early in the morning, and be able to have the comfort still of those that are a part of you.  It is what gives all of us the opportunity to be able to serve our countries.  We couldn’t do it without that love and without that support.  And I want you to know that we consider you part of our bigger family here at the Pentagon.  A family that always supports one another.

The good news is as they enter upon these jobs, I think we are at a very important, a very special time, in the history of the Department of Defense.  We are at the end of ten years of war, a decade of war. We’re at a point where we continue to face major challenges, major threats throughout the world.  Challenges that, in many cases, we have not confronted in the past.  And now we are facing a new world filled with very different challenges than what we’ve seen in the past.  And that will challenge our capability to be able to meet those challenges and to defend this country. 

And we are at a point where we are designing a defense strategy for the future.  We are working on what the Department of Defense and our Defense force will look like, not only now, but in 2020 and beyond.  It is the force of the 21st century, the strongest military in the world.  And we all have the opportunity to help fashion that future that is going to be so important to the national security of our country. 

For anybody interested in defense policy and in national security, this is a very exciting and a very important time to be in public service, but in particular, to be working for the Department of Defense.  The strategy, the budget, the force structure decisions that we are making today will determine the shape and the composition of the American military for decades to come.  So it is, in many ways, an incredible time to be part of the team that will have to confront those challenges and be a part of a team that will design something that our children will inherit for the future.

Thanks to the insight, thanks to the experience, thanks to the dedication of the team of leaders that are here in uniform, the civilian leadership of this Department, and in particular, the leaders that we are recognizing today, I feel very confident that we are on the right path to not only maintaining the world’s strongest military force on the face of the Earth, but making it a force better tuned to address the challenges that we will face as a nation in the 21st century. 

Let me start by talking about Uncle Frank.  Frank Kendall is our new Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.  In short, it’s all the procurement crap that we have to deal with in this Department.  And it is the challenge of dealing with incredible regulations, incredible and very different weapons systems, in dealing with various requirements imposed by Congress and elsewhere, dealing with negotiations with contractors across the country, dealing with industry, dealing with various challenges that relate to cost controls and cost management, this is truly a very important position in the Department of Defense.  It’s a big job, but it’s one that Frank has proven that he can more than handle.

One thing you might not know about Frank is that rather than being called Undersecretary, he prefers the title “skipper.”  Despite having gone to West Point and serving in the Army for ten years, his true passion is sailing.  And earlier this month, as we know here in the Department, his boat Razor’s Edge won its division in the Annapolis to Bermuda race.  You went to Bermuda and you actually came back, that’s very good.

Now I’ve been assured that Frank did not use his knowledge of the latest shipbuilding programs to gain an unfair advantage over his competitors.  But did anyone think to ask where Frank was able to get a nuclear-powered sailboat?

Frank manages a $400 billion a year acquisition system that ensures our troops have the best, the most advanced weapons, the most advanced technology in the world.  As we often say in this Department, we never want our troops to have a fair fight.  We want to make damn sure that they always have the greatest advantage in any fight.  Instead, what we want to make sure is that the weapons and equipment that our young men and women take into battle are far superior to that of any potential foe.

But Frank is not only committed to buying the best, but doing so at the best prices, and then making sure that our programs execute.  Because he knows that these are challenging times to have to deal with industry, with cost overruns, with, as I said, all of the requirements that are out there.  To do all of that, and to do it in today’s budget environment, to reign in the costs of equipment and weapons is probably one of the most important challenges that we have at this Department. 

And that’s at the heart of the Better Buying Power initiative started by him and by Ash Carter – to control costs and improve the efficiency of how this Department does business. 

In all of these efforts, Frank has my full support, and I look forward to working together to continue to improve the business of defense.  We have said that the new defense strategy is dependent on technology for the future, the United States being on the cutting edge of technology, and this is the man that has to ensure that we meet that requirement for our force.

Uncle Jim Miller, Jim is our new Under Secretary for Policy.  Now that’s a very unique job.  In part, you have to have a big brain, you’ve got to be academic, you’ve got to be in part a wonk, you’ve got to be in part a negotiator, you’ve got to be in part a politician, you’ve got to be in part a statesman, you’ve got to be in part a shrink and a psychologist, you’ve got to be in part a hardass, and you probably have to be in part a little bit of a sadist to take on some of the challenges that we have to confront.  Jim brings to this position really a remarkable strategic insight into the challenges that we face and more than two decades of experience in defense policy that was gained in academia, in government, and in the private sector.  He has to be someone who can hit a very tough serve into a very small area on the other side of the net.

And, as we all know, he is renowned for his forearm.  His tennis game puts the rest of us to shame.  People in this town know that when it’s “Millertime” that means you better bring your “A” game with you, whether it’s on the tennis court or whether it’s in the Deputies Committee meetings. 

Some in the Pentagon have compared Jim’s swing to John McEnroe’s, and it turns out that they actually used to play together back in college at Stanford.  Well Jim, you’ve come a long way from playing with John McEnroe.  Now you’re playing with Paul Stockton, it’s got to be a hell of a lot easier.  So some things do get easier as you get older in this place. 

Jim taught at Duke, he worked in the Pentagon earlier in his life as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for requirements, plans, and counter-proliferation policy.  And, of course, for the last few years he’s done the extraordinary job of being Principal Deputy to Michele Flournoy. 

Jim has been instrumental in guiding some of the Department’s most important and toughest decisions, from winding down the two wars, to the New START treaty, to helping craft a new defense strategy for the 21st Century. 

He has worked hard to ensure that we are better prepared for conflicts in space and in cyberspace.  And in his spare time, he deals with some of the most pressing security crises that we are confronting, from Iran’s nuclear ambitions to dealing with the problems of North Korea. 

While I have come to rely a great deal on Jim’s intellect and his lucid thinking, it is the time and energy that he has devoted to building the human capital within OSD Policy that I particularly admire, because you have to have a team there as well to back us up on everything we do.  He has helped our policy shop become one of the most sought after and best places to work in the entire executive branch.

And finally, Aunt Erin Conaton.  Aunt Erin is one of our new Under Secretaries of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.  Now the other two positions are basically desk jobs.  This job is a battlefield position.  You are on the front lines in the job of Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness and you’re dealing with issues that confront people in this Department, from birth through their career to their death.  It’s all dealt with in this shop.  Huge responsibilities, important because it really does relate to the quality of life that our people have, men and women in uniform and our civilian workforce.  I know that in this position Erin will be an outstanding advocate for all of our volunteer force, our Department civilians, and their families. 

She is well-prepared for this job because she was born in New Jersey.  When you come from New Jersey, you’ve got a certain sense of fight that you have to have.  And she has that, she’s a proven leader and she’s a proven fighter.  She is someone who fought for our service members and their families as staff director for the House Armed Services Committee, where she oversaw legislation aimed at getting our troops what they needed to fight in two wars.  

And I’m told that my buddy and colleague and classmate in Congress, Ike Skelton, relied on her so much that he would never let her out of his sight.  He once said about Erin the following: "Seldom is there a combination or confluence of talent, good judgment, knowledge, devotion to duty, common sense, and, as we say in Missouri, “good get along"." 

I may not be from Missouri, but I fully agree with that assessment.   

Erin was chosen by the President to serve as Under Secretary for the Air Force in 2009.  In that position, she helped put that service into great shape, dealing with major acquisitions on putting them on firmer footing and she was also instrumental in the Air Force’s efforts to reduce energy costs. 

Now, she is responsible for policies, as I said, that impact the lives of over three million active, Guard and Reserve military personnel, and civilians – everything from health affairs, to training, to education, to all kinds of issues that relate to the support of families in our military.  I look forward to working with Erin to better the lives of those who have answered this country’s call, and who have stepped forward to serve at a time of war. 

I’d also like to recognize Jo Ann Rooney, who stepped up at a critical time and helped manage the entire military family as Acting Under Secretary while Erin’s confirmation was pending in the Senate.  And I truly appreciate Jo Ann’s dedication and her continuing service to this country.

As many of you know, there has been an awful lot of movement in the Department’s leadership in recent months.  But we now have a full team in place, a team that I am very confident will help us meet our responsibilities to the men and women in uniform and the men and women who are a part of our civilian workforce that serve this country. 

I’d like to thank all of those who have worked tirelessly in the interim and helped keep this place running smoothly.  This Department is stronger and I believe our country is safer because of your talent, your dedication, and your team work. 

I’d also like to take a moment, if I can, to recognize those leaders in OSD who have also been confirmed since I took this position last summer.  And so if you’re here I’d really appreciate it if you’d stand up when I call your name. 

  • Kathleen Hicks, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
  • Derek Chollet, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs
  • Katrina McFarland, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition
  • Jessica Wright, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs
  • Mark Lippert, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs
  • Michael Sheehan, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict
  • Madelyn Creedon, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Security Affairs
  • Alan Estevez, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness

 If you would, please give them all a round of applause.

As I said, the strength of our democracy is all about those who are willing to give their lives and to dedicate their lives to serve this country, to roll up their sleeves, and to give something back.  That really is the heart and soul of the strength of our democracy.

My first job in government, not counting the time I spent in the Army, goes back as a legislative assistant in the United States Senate beginning in 1966, almost 46 years ago.  Public service, for me, has been a privilege.  And in many ways, it was, as a son of Italian immigrants, a way that I felt it was important to give back to this country what this country gave my family. 

These jobs are tough and they get tougher all the time.  And it’s not easy to serve, it’s not easy to go through the process of serving in public service these days.  Confirmation process is hell, the requirements now for all kinds of disclosure make it very difficult and incredibly complicated, every one of us needs to get a damn lawyer to be able to fulfill all of the requirements that are now being required of people who serve in public service, pay is not exactly the greatest, and there are a lot of barriers that have been established to those who want to serve. 

And yet we still get, thank God, good people who are willing to dedicate their lives to serving this country.  We do it, and we do it for one reason, because in our small way we help improve the lives of others.  That’s what public service is all about – it is improving the lives of others in our country. 

And so for that I want to commend all of you for the choices that you have made to dedicate your lives to public service at a monumental time in our nation’s history. 

May God bless you, may God bless our military, and most importantly, may God bless this great nation.  Thank you. 

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