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Remarks at Central Command Change-of-Command Ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey
March 22, 2013

            MAJOR GENERAL KARL R. HORST:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. We are honored to have a number of distinguished guests in attendance this morning. I'd ask that you please hold your applause until I have recognized all of our guests. 

            The spouse of incoming commander United States Central Command, Mrs. Charlene Austin. On behalf of the command, yellow roses are being presented to Mrs. Austin by the United States Central Command noncommissioned officer of the year, Staff Sergeant Cory Dunlop, to welcome Mrs. Austin back to Central Command. 

            The Honorable Bill Young, U.S. House of Representatives, District 13. The Honorable Kathy Castor, United States House of Representatives, District 14. The Honorable Bob Buckhorn, mayor of Tampa. The Honorable James R. Clapper, director of national intelligence. The Honorable Joseph Westphal, undersecretary of the Army. From the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, his excellency, Ambassador Eklil Ahmad Hakimi. Ambassador from the kingdom of Bahrain, her excellency, Houda Ezra Nonoo. The ambassador from the state of Qatar, his excellency, Mohamed Bin Abdulla Al-Rumaihi. Ambassador from the United Arab Emirates, his excellency, Yousef Al Otaiba.

            The United States ambassador for Pakistan, the Honorable Richard Olson. NATO Chairman of the Military Committee, General Knud Bartels. NATO's supreme allied commander for transformation, General Jean-Paul Palomeros. The commandant of the Marine Corps, General James F. Amos. The former commandant of the Marine Corps, General Carl E. Mundy, Jr., retired. The former commander of United States Central Command, General Joseph P. Hoar, retired. The commander, United States Special Operations Command, Admiral Bill McRaven. The commander, United States Southern Command, General John F. Kelly. The vice chief of staff, Army, General John F. Campbell. The commander, United States Army Materiel Command, General Dennis L. Via. 

            An important and integral part of United States Central Command is the presence of our coalition partners. 

            Today, with delegations from more than 60 different nations, seated here to my left are these elite officers representing their militaries. We are proud to recognize their enduring support, and their flags fly proudly here as a gesture of our mutual respect. 

            Representing the commonwealth of Australia, the chief of defence force, General David J. Hurley. Representing the United Kingdom, chief of the permanent joint headquarters, Lieutenant General David Capewell. Representing Canada, the commander, Canadian Joint Operations Command, Lieutenant General Stuart Beare. From Croatia, the chief of the general defense staff of the Republic of Croatia, Lieutenant General Drago Lovric. We also welcome the men and women of U.S. Central Command, our component commanders, and the directors of U.S. Central Command staff, as well as our coalition partners. 

            And, finally, we welcome our beloved CENTCOM spouses, who truly carry the heaviest load in Tampa and enable us to do the important work that we do here. 

            Providing music for today's ceremony is the Parris Island Marine Corps Band, under the direction of Chief Warrant Officer Joshua Stone and Drum Major Gunnery Sergeant David Wilson. 

            Ladies and gentlemen, would you please join me in a warm round of applause for all of our guests? (Applause.) 

            ANNOUNCER: Central Command, established in 1983, is responsible for military operations in a region consisting of 20 countries in the Levant, the Arabian Peninsula, and Central and South Asia, as well as the waters of the Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf, and Indian Ocean. 

            Throughout its history, Central Command has deployed combat forces to Southwest Asia and the Horn of Africa on a number of occasions to deter our enemies, assure our friends, and to maintain stability in a critical region of the world. 

            Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the arrival of the official party and remain standing for the rendering of honor, the presentation of colors, our National Anthem, and the invocation. The invocation will be delivered by the Central Command chaplain, Captain William Kennedy. 

            Moving on to the stage are the Honorable Chuck Hagel, secretary of defense, General Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James N. Mattis, commander, United States Central Command, and General Lloyd J. Austin the third, the incoming commander. 

            CAPTAIN WILLIAM KENNEDY: Let us pray.  Almighty God, we gather in your presence this morning thankful for your blessings and conscious of the many challenges facing our country. As we witness this change of command, we ask you to send your spirit upon the men and women serving throughout the Central Command area of responsibility. 

            Strengthen them, as they carry out their missions with courage and determination, alongside our allies, in order to bring peace and stability to the region. Watch over our wounded as they recuperate and be a source of encouragement for their families and caregivers. We pray that you grant eternal peace and rest to those who have died serving our country and console their families and comrades left behind. 

            May today's ceremony be an opportunity for all to rededicate themselves in their commitment to building peace, security and prosperity throughout the Central Command AOR. We ask these things in your holy name. Amen. 

            ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated. 

            The change of command is a traditional event. Key to the ceremony is the passing of the unit colors. The colors are the commander's symbol of authority, representing his responsibilities to the organization. The passing of the colors symbolizes the transfer of command responsibility and authority from the old commander to the new. The United States Central Command senior enlisted leader, Command Sergeant Major Frank Grippe, is the custodian of the colors. When the colors are not displayed for the commander, they are in the care of the command's senior enlisted leader. 

            By the authority of the president and the Congress of the United States of America, General Lloyd J. Austin the third, United States Army, assumes command of the United States Central Command, effective 22 March 2013. (Applause.) 

            Ladies and gentlemen, the presiding officer for today's ceremony, the secretary of defense of the United States, the Honorable Chuck Hagel. (Applause.) 

            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, leaders of the Department of Defense past and present, members of the Florida congressional delegation, ambassadors, members of the diplomatic community, civic leaders from Tampa and St. Petersburg, distinguished guests, thank you all. Thank you all for being here. 

            Ten years ago, both Jim Mattis and Lloyd Austin were in the Iraqi desert on opposite sides of the Euphrates River, helping lead their troops in the drive to Baghdad. Today, these battle-tested leaders share a single stage, one having completed a distinguished command and one ready to step forward and take his place. General Jim Mattis is bringing to a close a remarkable career, a remarkable career as a Marine, a leader, and a legendary figure that Marine recruits will know of and draw inspiration from for many years to come. 

            Jim Mattis has been front-and-center in every major combat operation this nation has conducted for more than two decades. He led Marines as a battalion commander during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. He commanded the longest assault from the sea in modern history, leading Task Force 58 more than 400 miles inland into Afghanistan after the attacks of September 11th. 

            During the invasion of Iraq, he led the storied 1st Marine Division on the longest overland assault in Marine Corps history. And he again led Marines into battle during the fight for the city of Fallujah. 

            No task was ever beneath him. Even as a commanding general, whether stepping in to serve as Quantico's duty officer over Christmas so a young Marine could spend a holiday with his family or crouching in a frozen Afghanistan fighting hole to check on his men in the middle of the night. 

            He encouraged his young Marines to fight with a happy heart and a strong spirit and to always engage their brain before they engage their weapons. As a lifelong student of warfare, he examined the pages of history looking for answers to help our troops fight today's wars. 

            Fighting an adaptive enemy, Mattis saw that many of our old ways of war weren't working, so he made sure lessons learned in the field and he reported those back quickly, and he used those lessons to help write the book on counterinsurgency with General Petraeus. 

            In command, he always sought to instill what he called a vicious harmony within his ranks and across multilateral coalitions with whom he fought. He earned the respect of those around him, because he loved his work and those he served with. He was a strong advocate for greater efficiency, even recommending that the combatant commander he led, United States Joint Forces Command, be eliminated because he believed it had outlived its purpose. 

            Throughout his four-decade career, General Mattis has never forgotten the fundamentally human nature of combat. It is about sending young men and women into the world's most stressful and dangerous environments and then asking them to make the right decisions. General Mattis knows that if we are going to ask young Americans to put their lives on the line for our security, then they must be able to trust and have confidence in their leaders. That's why he always spoke directly and truthfully, no matter the audience, an essential element of leadership. That trust and confidence is earned. It's not given. 

            General Mattis has demonstrated to the world that truly there is no worse enemy and no better friend than a United States Marine. He has devoted his life, his energy, his intellect, and his force of courage and personality to the U.S. Marine Corps, our military, and our country. And our nation is forever grateful for his service and sacrifice. 

            Now, some of you may believe -- and I know General Mattis does -- that an Army infantryman is unworthy of the words "Semper Fi" passing from his lips. Well, the hell with it, General. I am the secretary, and I say Semper Fi and thank you. (Applause.) 

            Now that I have canonized Jim Mattis, appropriately so, let me say a few words about a distinguished Army general, Lloyd Austin. A West Point graduate, General Austin brings to this position combat experience gained on the -- gained on the unforgiving battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He has commanded some of the Army's most storied formations, including the 82nd Airborne and 10th Mountain Divisions, as well as the 18th Airborne Corps. He served in senior roles in the Pentagon as director of the Joint Staff and, most recently, as vice chairman of the Army. 

            Since Lloyd Austin left the first wave of soldiers -- led the first wave of soldiers into Iraq in 2003, it was only fitting that he also oversaw the withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq in 2011. It was a tough job, combining political challenges with the uncertainties of combat and war, but he completed his mission with a steady, wise, and resourceful hand. 

            With his calm demeanor, strategic vision, regional experience and knowledge, and proven judgment, and with the love and support of Charlene and their children, who I understand one is here today, Shane, and we thank him, I am confident -- all members of our institution are confident -- that General Austin is prepared to lead this command at a time of dramatic change, challenge, and turmoil in his area of responsibility. 

            Thank you, General. Thank you for taking on this critically important assignment. And thanks to you, Charlene. 

            To the men and women of Central Command, I want to thank you for your continued service and your sacrifice. I had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan earlier this month and thank some of our troops personally for everything they do for America's security. I can't think of a greater privilege than to serve as secretary of defense during this defining time in our nation's history and to serve with America's finest men and women, men and women that our country is very, very proud of. 

            God bless you all. Thank you. And to General Jim Mattis, Godspeed, dear friend. General Lloyd Austin, we're proud of you, and you will do a tremendous job for our country, as you have in every position that you served in. Thank you very much. (Applause.) 

            ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin E. Dempsey. (Applause.) 

            GENERAL MARTIN E. DEMPSEY:  Thanks very much. Deanie and I are absolutely delighted to return here to Tampa, United States Central Command. We really do feel like we're part of the family. 

            Sergeant Major, let me begin by telling you, it's great to see the joint force you've arrayed out there, the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines. I wouldn't be surprised if I caught glimpse of a Coast Guardsman out there, but they look terrific. And I appreciate their support for this ceremony honoring two great military leaders. 

            As many of you know, this is a family that Deanie and I belong to and were privileged to be part of not so long ago, actually. And I'm delighted to see so many of our distinguished friends and guests, including the leaders of the Tampa community.

             I would take note, by the way, that today I happened to catch a glimpse on the television on the way over here, and I noted that the Grand Prix is meeting or racing or whatever they do in St. Petersburg this weekend, and I -- what a perfect metaphor for what Jim Mattis has been doing and what Lloyd Austin is about to do, because I'm sure there will be times when it feels like you're careening through the streets of St. Petersburg at 150 miles an hour. And exactly -- that's exactly what you've been doing and you will do. 

            Florida, as many of you know, and especially this part of Florida, takes especially good care of our men and women in uniform, and we deeply appreciate that support. I also took note, as I always like to do, of our coalition leaders and partners who are here this morning. I'd like to extend my personal gratitude and the gratitude of the senior military leaders across all of our armed forces for your partnership in many parts of the world, especially in the Middle East and, most notably for those of you that are serving with us in Afghanistan, thank you very much. And stick with us. Speaking of friends, I heard last night's dinner was a great celebration, as it should be. It's been a special day -- or it is a special day for Jim Mattis and the Austins and for our nation, as we transfer command from one great leader to another, and as we recognize the important work of the men and women who serve in U.S. Central Command. 

            A tremendous share of that responsibility rests on their shoulders as it has, on those young men and women's shoulders, as it has throughout the 30-year history of Central Command. This is a command where men and women are asked to demonstrate their incredible resolve and fortitude. They're the best-led, the best-trained, and the best-equipped force that our nation has ever known. We're proud of the hard work they do every day in a part of the world where our national interests are so important and where we have such great and strong partners and friends. 

            Under the weight of this responsibility, even the best of men might expect to be found with their head down and their gaze fixed. Since day one, though, General Jim Mattis has always looked up and out. The challenges the volatile CENTCOM region presents can sometimes seem almost insolvable, yet Jim looked beyond the risks and sought to understand and to consider what was possible. He looked beyond the threats that we've labored to confront to face down aggression in all its forms. 

            But I'm not telling you anything you don't already know about Jim Mattis. He really is one of a kind. He's a visionary, and yet he's molded out of the same grit as Chesty Puller. He has a legendary understanding of military history and of historical context. It's rumored, by the way, that his personal library once numbered over 7,000 volumes. And he just didn't have them to look at the pictures; he actually read them, so he claims. (Laughter.) 

            But Jim Mattis doesn't just know it, he lives it, and he's breathed it. I've never met a Marine or anyone, for that matter, who has served with Jim Mattis who had anything but the highest regard for his leadership. 

            I should tell you that, on the way down here yesterday, Deanie and I stopped at Parris Island to visit some of the drill sergeants and leaders involved in initial entry training for the United States Marine Corps. And even a young sergeant or staff sergeant knew I was on the way down here for the Central Command change of command. And to a man and women, they knew the name of Jim Mattis. 

            Now, I have to tell you, when you think about legacies, if you can leave the service with such an imprint on it that a young sergeant in any service knows your name and has respect for the leadership you've provided, that's a legacy I think we would all aspire to and be very proud of. 

            And, Jim, I'm really proud to be up here representing not just myself and with the secretary of the department, but the -- all of your peers, the combatant commanders, the service chiefs, several of whom are here today, and I'll tell you that at our last meeting, when we gather in Washington, with all of the combatant commanders and service chiefs, the one -- the one phrase on each of our lips was that we're going to miss Jim Mattis. And it was said with the kind of sincerity that was actually quite profound. Jim, we are going to miss you. 

            No one cares more about his troops, and the sentiment is mutual. It's as one of his lance corporals said. "We loved him because we knew he loved us." Jim, in the words of the Marine Corps Hymn, you have kept your honor clean. 

            Lloyd Austin has also done some incredibly heavy lifting for our nation over the past decade. He, too, is returning to the CENTCOM family with an extraordinary breadth of experience in both command and in other joint roles. Lloyd has the right mix of valor and values, thoughtfulness and decisiveness, and critically important to this command, the talent to unpack complex situations to find enduring solutions, not to mention his towering frame, in case you haven't noticed, which when combined with an impressive baritone voice will either inspire or intimidate. Personally, as a tenor, I wish I had some of that stature and bass baritone.

            It's also easy to say -- and I think Jim would agree -- that this is the most important and challenging job in our military inventory. Let's put it this way. There's always an honest day's work to be done in Central Command. Building on the progress that Jim has brought forward, we're going to lean on Lloyd and this team to anchor relationships and continue to build trust across the region. We'll seek new ways to work by, with, and through our partners. And we'll continue to balance our forces in a new fiscal reality while we advance security, stability, and opportunity in this important part of the world. 

            We're fortunate, Lloyd, to have you leading our way through this significant time in our history. And we're also fortunate to have Charlene, who stands at your side. 

            By the way, Tampa, you're in for a special treat. Charlene has devoted her life to making a difference for others. In her spirit of service, we see the virtues that sustain our military and that keep our country great. I know Charlene will continue to be a superb champion for military families, a wonderful representative of the United States, and a steadfast friend to the families and to the CENTCOM staff. 

            Lloyd and Charlene, thank you for taking on this command. Thanks for leading the nation's sons and daughters and for looking after their families. I'm certain they will continue to make me and all Americans very proud. To both of you and your families, good luck, God bless. And to the CENTCOM team, thanks for what you do every day. Thank you. (Applause.) 

            ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, General James N. Mattis, United States Marine Corps. (Applause.) 

            GENERAL JAMES N. MATTIS: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. And, Mr. Secretary, Chairman, thanks for your very generous words here. I've had the good fortune to be part of this team, and I think your words are really directed at what this team has done. 

            But, ladies and gentlemen, thank each and every one of you for being here today at Central Command. You honor us with your presence. As one commander, myself, relinquishes command to General Austin, I'd just tell you, it has been an absolute delight, a pleasure to serve alongside the U.S. and the foreign soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, Marines, and civilians who work together here in Tampa across -- and across the tumultuous region in the interests of peace. 

            This command is composed of stalwarts, of standouts in their respective services, all ranks, all services, all nations, coequal in their commitment. They and their families here at home have been -- have seen repeated deployments to the combat zone, coming back time after time to our Tampa headquarters before they get ready to go again, and here they work seven-day workweeks. 

            Over more than a decade of war, none of the deployments or war's grim daily realities have lessened their sense of purpose or the infectious high spirits of the CENTCOM team. The summer soldiers are long gone, Mr. Secretary, and here today stand the reminder of America's awesome determination to defend herself. 

            Here today you see a reminder to the maniacs who, by attacking us on 9/11 and thinking -- thinking that they could scare us, we remind them that the decedents of Valley Force don't scare. Mr. Secretary, Chairman, I would happily storm Hell in the company of these troops who I haven't the words sufficient to praise, so I will not try. They know how strongly I believe in them, how strongly they have demonstrated to the world that free men and women can fight like the dickens. 

            The cost has been severe. Our nations have lost many of our beloved sons and daughters. Many others have been wounded, and many of them grievously. Yet after more than 10 years of war, our ranks remain filled by top-quality volunteers, volunteers who have looked beyond the hot political rhetoric and answered our country's call, true patriots who have humbled me with their devotion to duty, true patriots who have signed a blank check payable with their lives to the American people. 

            General Austin and Mrs. Austin, Lloyd and Charlene, old friends, welcome back to America's varsity and welcome back to Tampa. Lloyd, we've served side by side repeatedly. I can think of no one better prepared to command CENTCOM, and I pass to you the finest warfighting team on the Earth. I bid you all a fond farewell. Thank you. (Applause.) 

            ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the commander, United States Central Command, General Lloyd J. Austin III, United States Army. (Applause.) 

            GENERAL LLOYD JAMES AUSTIN: Thank you. Just take a second to get this microphone adjusted to a normal height. (Laughter.) 

            In March of 2003, after many months of conducting training and preparation in the Kuwaiti desert, we received a directive to commence the invasion into Iraq. And following preparatory fires and the successful breach of the berm along the Kuwaiti border, I received the nod from my good friend and division commander, Buff Blount, who is here with us today, to commence operations, and I had the honor and the privilege of giving the command for the 3rd Infantry Division to cross the line of departure and begin that historic operation. 

            Maneuvering to the east of our area was the United Kingdom's 1st Armored Division. And located on our immediate flank and to our right, as you heard the secretary say this morning, was the 1st Marine Division, led by my battle buddy, then-Major General "Fighting" Jim Mattis. 

            And what we saw during those early days and nights -- and I'm sure that Jim will agree -- was a well-honed fighting machine that together successfully executed what was an incredibly difficult and demanding operation. Indeed, the invasion of Iraq represented one of the greatest displays of joint warfighting that the world had seen up to that point. And we were at the height of the offensive, we were north of the berm, and thundering towards Baghdad 10 years ago today. 

            To this -- the distinguished guests in the audience -- and there are many here this morning -- thank you all for coming. Secretary Hagel and General Dempsey, thank you for your support and your confidence and for participating in today's ceremony. Your presence here means a great deal to both me and my family and the CENTCOM team, and I look forward to working with you both on matters of great importance to our military and to our nation. 

            I'd like to extend a very special welcome to my family, some of whom have traveled long distances to be here this morning, and I'm thankful to them for doing so, and I'm grateful for their love and their encouragement and for the incredible support that they have shown me through my career. 

            I'd also like to take a moment to thank my bride, Charlene. I'm extremely fortunate to have her at my side, and I know that she will continue to do wonderful things in support of this command and this community. Charlene, I love you, and thanks for what you continue to do. (Applause.) 

            It really is wonderful to be back here in Tampa and to be a part of this special community. Charlene and I were stationed here a few years ago when I served as the chief of staff under General Abizaid. And I have tremendous respect for this headquarters and for the tough and important mission. 

            And so I am honored by the opportunity to return here once again to serve as the next CENTCOM commander. And certainly, our nation owes General Mattis an enormous debt of gratitude. He has led Central Command masterfully, and the impact of his leadership and the efforts of his team during this decisive period have been nothing short of exceptional. And on a personal note, I'd like to publicly thank the CENTCOM team for the outstanding support that they've provided to me and my team during our transition. I am most grateful, and so my thanks to all of you. 

            You know, when I think back upon the events of the past several years -- and I frequently do -- and especially on days like today, I am reminded of the courage, the determination, and the professionalism of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen and their families. They have served and sacrificed greatly in support of our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and on behalf of our nation. They are, without question, the reason why ours remains the finest and the most capable military in the world. 

            And, of course, our capability has been significantly enhanced by our coalition partners, many of whom served alongside our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. And today, all 60 nations are continuing to play an integral role in what we do at this unique headquarters and throughout the CENTCOM area of responsibility. And we are incredibly fortunate to benefit from their steadfast support. 

            I should also point out that, when we launched the initial invasion into Iraq in March of 2003, our military and, in particular this headquarters, the CENTCOM headquarters was already in the midst of conducting operations in a separate theater in Afghanistan. And so our invasion into Iraq meant that the command would have to manage two campaigns, and it did so for well over a decade. And this speaks volumes about the quality of people in this command, military, civilians, contractors. And it also speaks to the significant contributions that you have made together as a team over the years. 

            Indeed, it truly is remarkable to reflect back on all that our military and our nation have accomplished over the past 12-plus years in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it's worth noting that our goal going into both countries was not only to defend our national interest in that part of the world and to protect the U.S. homeland from threats posed by those who would wish to do us harm, but also to provide their people the opportunity to come out from under the repression of dictatorship and to experience freedom and representative government and the benefits of an open and functioning economy. And while challenges persist today -- and many hurdles remain -- we are seeing some progress being made in some areas. 

            And the full fact -- and the fact is that the full story has not been -- not yet been written. History alone will provide the true measure of our collective efforts. That said, these are historic times and challenging times, and much more will be required of us in the days ahead, for the world that we live in remains complex and extremely volatile, and a great day of the instability and associated challenges reside in the CENTCOM area of responsibility. Of course, our foremost priority remains the ongoing mission in Afghanistan. Soon we'll be required to complete the transfer of responsibility to the Afghans and also transition our people and equipment out of that country. This represents an extremely challenging undertaking. And as CENTCOM commander, I pledge to do everything within my power to help set the broader conditions for our success in this most important and worthy endeavor. 

            Furthermore, I believe that we must always be clear in our intent. And while we mean to transition full responsibility for the security of the country to the Afghans, this is not meant to signal an end to our presence or our involvement in the region. 

            To the contrary, if we want -- if we want to have an effective and lasting impact on that part of the world, we must remain engaged. And we must be mindful of the fact that success in our various critical endeavors will require the efforts of many, indeed, all of us working together. For as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger stated in his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, and I quote, "Peace cannot be achieved by one man or one nation. It results from the efforts of men of broad vision and goodwill throughout the world," end of quote. 

            And as King Hussein of Jordan likewise wisely stated, "Without peace and without the overwhelming majority of people that believe in peace, defending it and working for it and believing in it, security can never really be a reality." And without peace -- end of quote -- and without peace and security, there can be no hope for prosperity and justice and opportunity for all people. 

            You know, I do believe that there is a willingness and a desire among the people of the region to come together to look for solutions to common problems. Today, the 22nd of March, is the 68th anniversary of the creation of the Arab League. And its continued presence and the presence of the Gulf Cooperation Council and other similar organizations clearly shows an understanding and a willingness of leaders to work together to resolve issues peacefully for the betterment of their people and the region as a whole. And this is what we hope to see more of as we look towards the future. 

            And, again, the U.S. will continue to play an important role as a key partner to our friends and our allies. We will provide them with the necessary support, and we will stand ready and willing to hold accountable those who would threaten regional stability and security through their actions or through the actions of proxies. And our intent will remain to effectively and pragmatically employ all the elements of national power in response to challenges and in our pursuit of shared interests. 

            Ladies and gentlemen, it has been the greatest privilege of my life to be able to wear the uniform of our nation and to lead and serve alongside America's sons and daughters. I am honored to be given the opportunity to serve now as the commander of this world- class organization. And all of us recognize that the uncertain future promises additional challenges. And these challenges will provide us with further opportunities to do great things on behalf of our nation, our fellow citizens, our allies and friends around the globe. And so mindful of this, I stand before you today as the commander of U.S. Central Command, confident and hopeful that our best and, in many ways, our most important and our most productive days remain still ahead of us. 

            Thank you again. May God bless all of you. May God bless and keep safe those currently serving in harm's way. And may God continue to bless the United States of America. (Applause.) 

            ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, please stand for the benediction, the playing of the service medley, and remain standing for the retirement of the colors, and the departure of the official party. 

            CAPT. KENNEDY: Let us pray. Heavenly father, as we bring this ceremony to a close, we once again ask for your divine assistance and guidance. Bless all those working at Central Command, our allies and partner nations, as we strive to improve the peace and stability of the CENTCOM area of responsibility. 

            We pray that you watch over and protect the men and women serving in harm's way, as well as those stationed overseas. Help them to complete their missions and grant them safe passage home. We ask these things in your name. Amen.

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