General Kelly, Commissioner Diaz, distinguished guests, men and women of the United States Southern Command. I’m delighted to be here in the great city of Miami to celebrate SOUTHCOM’s 50th anniversary.
Let me begin by thanking each and every one of you – military and civilian – for your continued service to the Nation. We have the finest military in the world because of you – our people. It’s the work you do, the sacrifices you make, the professionalism that you exhibit each and every day that keeps our Nation safe, strong, and secure. Thank you for answering our Nation’s call.
We also know that none of us could do these difficult and demanding jobs without the unwavering support of our families. So I want each of you to go home tonight and to thank your families on behalf of myself and Secretary Hagel. Thank them for supporting you and for the sacrifices they make on behalf of our military.
I’d also like to thank General John Kelly, for his decades of selfless service to the country, for his leadership through four combat deployments, and for the outstanding job that he has done leading SOUTHCOM over the past 7 months.
John is someone who truly embodies what it means to be a general in the United States military. He’s a soldier, but also a scholar. He’s been a platoon commander and a Commanding General on the battlefield – and held every position in between. And finally, he’s tough and demanding, but compassionate and caring. And nowhere is this more evident than the love and devotion he shows towards his family. John and Karen have already sacrificed as much for this nation as any family should ever be asked to sacrifice, yet they continue to give, as does their son John, an active duty Marine officer.
So John, thank you for hosting me today, for your leadership over many years of service, and to you and Karen for all that you’ve given on behalf of the Nation and all that you’ve done on behalf of the SOUTHCOM family.
Although we are gathered here today to honor the 50th anniversary of U.S. Southern Command, it’s important to note that a U.S. military command has existed in the region for much longer, dating back to when President Roosevelt stood up U.S. Caribbean Defense Command in Panama in 1941. Though the command’s names and responsibilities have changed over the years, one thing has remained constant – and that is the critical, stabilizing role played by the U.S. military.
SOUTHCOM’s areas of responsibilities are immense, covering more than 40 countries in an area that represents one sixth of the world’s landmass assigned to commands.
It’s a region from which millions of immigrants and Americans trace their roots, and a region whose importance to the U.S. economy and national security is only growing. The President’s and Vice President’s recent trips to Central America underscore our Nation’s commitment to being a strong and reliable partner to our allies in the Americas. And so it’s only fitting that SOUTHCOM’s motto is, “Partnership for the Americas.”
From my discussions with General Kelly this morning, I’m impressed with the wide range of the command’s activities and engagements. Your commitment to working with partners, both in the region and throughout the U.S. government, is helping to build an integrated network of defense in the Western Hemisphere based on shared responsibility and shared values.
Through initiatives such as Operation MARTILLO, you are bringing partners together to dismantle transnational criminal networks and to disrupt illicit drug trafficking, which has caused so much violence across Central America. Through engagements with nations like Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and El Salvador, you are energizing collaboration on peacekeeping and multinational security operations throughout the world. And through SOUTHCOM’s humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, such as your support to the Haiti earthquake relief in 2010, you are enhancing regional security and improving our allies’ ability to respond in times of crisis.
50 years ago, when President Kennedy changed the name from U.S. Caribbean Command to U.S. Southern Command, few would have predicted the remarkable progress the region has made. Today, though challenges remain, the Americas are more stable, more democratic, and more prosperous. And the people of Central America, Latin America, and The Caribbean are committed to many of the same values that we cherish here in the United States – freedom, democracy, faith, and respect for human rights. And SOUTHCOM’s engagement and investment in the region has been an important part of that success.
On behalf of the Secretary and the entire Department, I want to thank you for keeping the southern plank of the United States safe and for SOUTHCOM’s role in fostering peace, stability, and prosperity throughout the Western Hemisphere. We couldn’t be prouder of your work and look forward to another 50 years of success.
Thank you. And happy 50th birthday!