Distinguished guests, representatives from NATO and especially our German hosts, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of Secretary Hagel, it is my honor and it’s my privilege to be here with you today. Today, we transfer command responsibility from one outstanding leader to another and recognize the accomplishments of the men and women of the United States European Command over the past four years.
In a military career spanning more than four decades, Admiral Jim Stavridis has won renown as one of the Navy’s most influential, creative, and forward-thinking leaders of his generation. In the words of one of Jim’s greatest mentors, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, one of many to whom I spoke before coming here today, “Jim has been ‘best in class’ since he was 21. And nothing’s changed.”
As many of you know, Jim is a sailor, a statesman, and a scholar – truly, a “Renaissance Admiral” as they call him – and he’s a proud Greek-American too. I know he’ll get my reference, then, to Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and warfare, who, according to legend, was born fully armed from Zeus’s head.
Now, without making too many comparisons between Jim and a Greek goddess, it is believed that when Jim was born, his first words to the world were “you can friend me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Youtube” (Laughter).
Needless to say, Jim was well ahead of his time.
By the age of eight, Jim had already met his future wife, Laura. Talk about getting a head start in life. Laura, as many of you know, is herself an accomplished author, and I’d like to take a moment to recognize the extraordinary work she has done over many years and multiple tours to help Navy families, and particularly Navy spouses. Laura, Stephanie and I give you our greatest affection and we’re all honored by your presence today (Applause).
I’d also like to recognize Jim and Laura’s two daughters, Christina and Julia, who weren’t able to be here with us today. But they’re both brilliant—no surprise—and I know it will be a particularly special day for the Stavridis family when Jim commissions his younger daughter, Julia, into the Navy as a nurse next week. In physics, this is called "conservation of Stavridises”: one goes out and one comes in (Laughter).
As Jim prepares to hand over command, it is worth reflecting upon a few of his many achievements and “firsts”:
He’s the first naval officer and the first Greek-American to serve as Commander of U.S. Southern Command, U.S. European Command, and as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe – shaking things up;
He’s the U.S. military’s longest-serving Combatant Commander – seven years;
He’s the author of four seminal books on naval ship handling, watch-standing, and leadership, a fifth on the use of cooperative approaches to solve regional security challenges in the Americas, and hundreds of journal articles and papers.
He commanded the first destroyer in naval history to embark women as part of the crew and completed deployments to Haiti, Bosnia, and the Persian Gulf, winning the Battenberg Cup as the top ship in the Atlantic Fleet;
He’s the first Combatant Commander I know to have delivered a TED Talk, his on the subject of what he calls open-source security in the 21st century – watch this spot;
He’s been a pioneer in leveraging the power of social media to communicate his message of partnership and bridge-building to audiences around the world;
And in addition to his own personal career accomplishments, Jim is one of the greatest mentors of junior officers in the Navy today. He stays with them to benefit their careers, not to benefit himself, and he is selfless in so many ways it’s hard to count.
Some of you may be wondering what the secret has been to Jim’s remarkable career.
Was it his squash game, tested at the highest levels of the Office of the Secretary of Defense? His Bull Halsey-vintage khakis? Another good guess. His ability to use his height for purposes of strategic surprise? (Laughter.)
I’ve known Jim for a long time as he said, and I’d like to offer some alternative hypotheses:
Jim grew up in Athens, Greece, and West Palm Beach, Florida, as he would be apt to say, “long before TV was invented.” All he had were books. Thousands of them. Voltaire, Shakespeare, Melville, Hemmingway, Thucydides. Jim devoured them all, and he used the wisdom he gained to shape his world view and gain greater insight into human behavior.
Many of you are familiar by now with Jim’s famous commander’s reading list, which has emphasized the importance of off-duty professional reading, not just to senior officers but to junior officers and enlisted personnel as well. As Jim has often said, these books are not simply great works; they are, as he says, “a gateway to really understand the sea in which we swim.”
I had a chance to review the EUCOM reading list on my flight over here and I would gladly trade Jim all the unintelligible Pentagon paperwork I have to review every day for a chance to read his top five picks.
Jim’s intellectual curiosity, of course, extends beyond books. He’s also famous for learning foreign languages to better understand the cultural terrain on which he stands. As Jim puts it, “to learn another person’s language is to learn their life."
When Jim was confirmed as the Commander of SOUTHCOM, he knew French but not Spanish. So, he hired a tutor, and before his command was up, he was conducting high-level ministerial meetings in Spanish without a translator. And he wasn’t done yet. Recognizing that 180 million people in his area of responsibility were native Portuguese speakers, he started to learn Portuguese. Jim was determined to meet his regional partners more than halfway. That’s the kind of leader he was. And that’s the type of leadership he imparted to others.
Now when Bob Gates, my former boss, spoke at Jim’s last change of command, he quipped that for Jim’s next assignment, this assignment, he would have to learn to speak NATO, “where an OMLT is not a breakfast dish you make with eggs, and a CJSOR is not a painful symptom of some unmentionable disease.”
Today we can confidently say that Jim has mastered this final linguistic challenge. Just look at what EUCOM and NATO forces have accomplished these past four years with other combatant commands and coalition partners:
In Afghanistan, the security transition to Afghan lead is well underway; 90 percent of Afghans are now protected by about 350,000 Afghan National Security Forces trained by 50 ISAF partner nations.
In Libya, OPERATION UNIFIED PROTECTOR brought a swift and decisive end to the Qadafi regime, assisting the Libyan people in liberating their country after four decades of brutal dictatorship.
In the Balkans, NATO forces have been able to reduce their footprint significantly, as Belgrade and Pristina are increasingly using the political negotiating table as a means of resolving their disputes, knowing that NATO will remain a security guarantor in the region.
And off the coast of Africa, NATO forces have reduced piracy incidents by as much as 75 percent since 2001 [sic: 2011], saving the international shipping industry billions of dollars each year and improving security in the region.
Jim has succeeded in these and other missions because he has applied innovative and creative solutions to complex security problems.
When Jim was commissioned, in 1976, we were in the midst of the Cold War. At the time, the dominant security paradigm was built around walls: in Berlin, literally; and with the Iron Curtain, symbolically.
As the Cold War drew to a close, Jim recognized that this security paradigm was quickly becoming obsolete. He observed that we needed to build bridges to provide greater security in the 21st century: bridges between leaders, both military and civilian; bridges between organizations and government agencies, both public and private; and bridges between nations.
Jim applied this innovative approach everywhere he went. As SOUTHCOM Commander, for example, Jim built bridges by supporting counter-narcotic activities, by conducting training and exercises with partner militaries, by providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and by providing medical training and support. In a remarkable feat of public diplomacy, Jim deployed the hospital ship USNS Comfort during the summer of 2007 to 12 countries across Latin America. Over a four-month period, a crew of 800 medical professionals performed nearly 400,000 patient treatments. The Comfort has deployed to the region multiple times since, including in response to the devastating Haitian earthquake. As Jim has written, the Comfort mission “continues to offer a model for cooperation and partnership across the Americas.”
To EUCOM Jim also brought private-public collaboration, convincing a team of the brightest cyber experts from the private sector to volunteer their time to identify cybersecurity vulnerabilities and mitigation measures in one of the Balkan states. In another instance, EUCOM teamed up with a medical NGO to share Traumatic Brain Injury expertise with small NATO allies who were operating in Afghanistan without caveats, and were experiencing high per capita casualty rates.
As a strategic and long-range planner, Jim also innovated. The highly influential post-Cold War Navy and Marine Corps strategy paper, “From the Sea,” which was an unattributed effort at the time it was written, had Jim’s fingerprints all over it. As Sean O’Keefe, then Secretary of the Navy, recalls, “‘From the Sea’ was the first official paper to introduce the modern concept of force projection from the littorals utilizing the capability of integrated naval services capacity. The notion of ‘integrated’ airwings of Navy and Marine forces on carriers and amphibs was a key element of the strategy. As such, it was initially viewed with great suspicion by Navy rank-and-file, as it disrupted the high seas ethos that had prevailed for the past half-century. It sounds quaint now to say, but at the time the paper was published in 1992, it was revolutionary, and bordering on heresy.”
Whether writing papers, blog postings on “From the Bridge,” or delivering speeches, Jim has set the standard for how to transmit our military’s message clearly, crisply, and effectively to wide-ranging audiences – from members of Congress, to NATO parliamentarians, and yes – to his tens of thousands of friends on Facebook.
I’d like to end by saying something about Jim’s leadership and the impact he has had not only on the U.S. military, but on advancing peace in the world.
The first Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Eisenhower, once said, “The peace we seek and need means much more than mere absence of war. It means the acceptance of law and the fostering of justice in all the world.”
Jim, your leadership and innovative approach to solving problems has brought us all closer to realizing the peace that General Eisenhower spoke of. You have left an indelible mark on the Navy, on NATO, and on the United States of America. For all your years of service, we recognize the sacrifices that you, Laura, and your family have made, and we say thank you, as you transition to civilian life to become Dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and Chair of the U.S. Naval Institute (applause).
We all know that Jim’s act will be hard to follow, but we also know that General Philip Breedlove will be up to the task, and I want to recognize Phil and his wife Cindy for their service to our nation. I’ve had the privilege of working with Phil when he served as Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and I have every confidence that he will represent the Air Force, EUCOM, and soon, NATO, with honor, distinction, and the highest standards of professionalism. One of my favorite stories about Phil goes like this: my daughter called me, she's a sophomore at Harvard, and she said, "Do you know a four-star general named Phil Breedlove? He just gave a speech here on leadership here and it was incredible." And I said, "Yes, I do know General Breedlove." And she said, "Do you get to meet with him?" And I said, "Yes honey, when he can make time for me" (Laughter). Phil’s no stranger to Europe, and I know that our NATO allies and partners are looking forward to working with him again in his new role.
I’d like to close by recognizing and thanking the men and women of U.S. European Command. The work you do every day contributes to the security, prosperity, and enduring freedom of Europe and the United States at this momentous time in our nation’s strategic history. You have our utmost respect and gratitude.