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Central Command Change of Command Ceremony
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Waterside Marriott Hotel, Tampa Bay, Florida, Thursday, July 06, 2000

General and Debbie Zinni and family, [Incoming Commander-in-Chief, Central Command] General and Cathy Franks and family, [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs] General [Henry] and Carolyn Shelton, [Commandant of the Marine Corps] General [James] and Diane Jones, [Chief of Staff of the Army] General [Eric] Shinseki; [Commander-in-Chief, Southern Command] General [Charles] Wilhelm; [Commander-in-Chief, Special Operations Command] General [Peter] Schoomaker; [Commander-in-Chief, Joint Forces Command] Admiral [Harold] Gehman, Sergeant Major of the Army [Jack] Tilley, distinguished guests including Ambassador Safaev of Uzbekistan, all of the members of the diplomatic corps, representatives from all of the Gulf states, men and women of CENTCOM and the armed forces and your families, ladies and gentlemen.

Perhaps some of you may have noticed that when you were extending applause for General Zinni, he is such a man of humble origins and nature that he refused to stand up. For those of you who could read my lips, I gave him an order to stand. [Laughter.] And I said to the Chairman that’s the last order I will ever give to General Zinni, and one frankly he obeyed. [Laughter.]

Emerson, the great New Englander, once wrote, "There are men who by their sympathetic attractions carry nations with them and lead the endeavors of the human race." It is truly my pleasure to be here today on this day of transition as this nation celebrates and expresses its gratitude to such a man: a truly gifted leader who has, indeed, carried nations with him; a first-generation American whose life story embodies the spirit of America; a warrior of great courage and skill; a diplomat of grace and savvy; and a master strategist of both peace and war.

The man that we honor today strode boldly, and I would say with confidence, on the world stage. But he first learned the ways of a warrior in the jungles of Vietnam, where on his second tour, as a young Company Commander, he took three bullets in the back and then lay wounded, his sidearm drawn, as his Marines fought bravely through withering fire.

If a moment makes a man, then that moment forged in Tony Zinni an unshakeable dedication to his fellow Marines that has sustained him through some 39 years of service and allowed him to guide them through some of this nation's more difficult moments: offering the hand of help and relief to Kurdish refugees in Operation Provide Hope, relieving the suffering of the Somali people in Operation Restore Hope, and preventing Saddam Hussein from threatening his people and his neighbors in Operation Southern Watch.

But if combat taught Tony Zinni to be warrior, it also taught him to be a diplomat. From his first tour alongside South Vietnamese Marines as an advisor, when he spoke their language and shared their battles, to his last tour as Commander in Chief of Central Command, General Zinni has earned the respect and the friendship of leaders -- military and civilian -- the world over. And I will tell you on a lighter note, that I will never forget the moment when we had a meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince in which General Zinni held his own in a discussion on the virtues of camel's milk. [Laughter.]

Of course, this soldier-statesman -- who can still, I believe, bench press three hundred pounds -- has also made his mark as a master strategist. Applying the lessons of his past -- from Vietnam to Somalia -- to the kaleidoscopic present, with its spreading weapons of mass destruction, scourge of terrorism and the specter of ethnic and religious rivalries.

In the past three years, General Zinni pioneered this nation's response to all of these growing threats, with peacekeeping exercises and training to build a safer Central Asia and Africa, a strong response to the terrorists who bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the determination and delicate diplomacy of maintaining some 20,000 of American forces in the Middle East.

And I would add that as I saw during a December visit right here in Tampa, and as is clear from the many local leaders here today, this Commander in Chief and this community have forged deep bonds of mutual respect, cooperation, and understanding to the benefit of all who live in this area. They are bonds between our military and the civilians they serve that are a beacon to the entire nation.

And I wold also say that perhaps the secret of General Zinni's success lies in the proud tradition of military service that runs in his family: of his grandfather in the Italian Army at the turn of the century; of his father in the U.S. Army during World War I, fighting for a country he was not even yet a citizen of; and -- in addition to his two accomplished daughters -- of his son, Tony, who is in turn following in his father's footsteps as a newly-minted Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps, commissioned by his proud father just a few months ago.

And though we are gathering here today to mark the completion of the General’s four decades in the military, there is one Zinni who can claim an even longer affiliation. Today we also thank Debbie Zinni for her lifetime of service to the nation. First as the daughter of a career Naval officer and then as a most dedicated spouse of one of our military's most dedicated leaders. So Debbie, let us all thank you for your life of service to this nation. [Applause.]

General Zinni now leaves us with a new commander more than prepared for this new century. Like his predecessor and friend, General Tommy Franks started his career with combat in Vietnam, and then rose to hard posts that schooled him in the hard lessons of our time: Command positions in a changing Europe and still very dangerous Korea and the 1st Cavalry Division during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. And as Commanding General of the Third U.S. Army and the Army Forces of Central Command. I think General Franks knows well the future facing CENTCOM. And so General Franks and Cathy Franks, we congratulate and welcome you both. [Applause.]

I began with the words of a philosopher; I would like to close with the words of an essayist by the name of Walter Lippmann. Lippmann once wrote that, "the final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in others the conviction and the will to carry on. He must carry away with him the magic of his presence. But then comes the test of how well he led his people, the proof of whether his work will endure. If not, then a man is only great in his moment, like a comet which did not alter the course of things. But if others can finish what he began, then his work endures."

General Zinni, as you carry away with you the magic of your presence, there is no doubt that you have not only been great in your moment, you leave behind in the forces that you led the conviction and the will to carry on, to carry on your noble work of preserving peace and stability from the Gulf to Cairo to Kazakhstan to Kenya, a brilliant legacy that will indeed endure for many years to come.

And so on behalf of a very grateful nation let me thank you for your lifetime of service. Good luck and Godspeed. [Applause.]