Mattis Takes JFCOM Helm at Norfolk Change of Command
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 9, 2007 Marine Gen. James N. Mattis today become the new chief of U.S. Joint Forces Command during a change-of-command ceremony aboard an aircraft carrier berthed at Naval Station Norfolk, Va.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England passed the command’s flag from outgoing JFCOM leader, Air Force Gen. Lance L. Smith, to Mattis during the ceremony, which was held aboard the USS George Washington. Smith is slated to retire in January after 38 years of military service.
Based in Norfolk, Va., JFCOM is one of the U.S. military’s 10 unified combatant commands. JFCOM was created from U.S. Atlantic Command in 1999, assuming the role as the U.S. military’s primary force provider. In 2004, JFCOM was designated as the military’s premier transformation organization.
Before the ceremony, England praised Smith and Mattis as superlative leaders. The ceremony is being held just prior to two weekend events dear to the military: the Marine Corps’ 232nd birthday on Nov. 10 and Veteran’s Day on Nov. 11, England noted.
England remarked that the ship’s namesake, George Washington, was himself a military veteran and a founding father of American freedom.
“As a nation, we are willing to sacrifice, sacrifice our blood and our treasure for our founding belief: freedom,” England said. America owes its freedoms to the efforts of its military veterans and to the men and women who currently serve in the U.S. armed forces, he said.
Americans also enjoy their freedoms and way of life thanks to the efforts of “exemplary leaders” like Smith and Mattis, England said. “They are leaders, and they are men of integrity,” England said of the two four-star officers. Both leaders, he noted, “have volunteered their lives to the high and noble calling of service and the cause of freedom.”
England, who presented Smith the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, saluted the Air Force general for his myriad contributions during his time as JFCOM’s commander.
“You’ve contributed greatly to the future readiness and the success of NATO and America’s armed forces by continuing the transformation of the military for the 21st century,” England told Smith.
During the global war on terror and in future operations, “no nation can do the entire job alone, and no nation is too small to make a valuable contribution,” England said.
The JFCOM commander wears a second hat as NATO’s supreme allied commander for transformation. NATO created the position, one of the alliance’s two strategic commands, in 2003 to focus on transformation and interoperability issues.
Thanks to Smith’s and NATO-partner-nations’ efforts, “NATO has transformed dramatically in recent years from a Cold War fixed-force to an expeditionary force now standing the watch beyond its borders,” England said.
England then addressed Mattis, whom he described as “another great warrior and leader.” During a tour in Iraq, the Marine general commanded U.S. forces during the battle of Fallujah in 2004.
“And today, life in Fallujah has vastly improved, thanks in large part to the work you and your Marines did there,” England told Mattis. “Your vast experience will be invaluable in improving the effectiveness, readiness and capabilities of the joint force.”
England reported a rumor that actor Harrison Ford is to portray Mattis in an upcoming movie titled “No True Glory: The Battle for Fallujah.” The movie, he said, is to chronicle Mattis’ combat experiences in Iraq in 2004.
Yet, “no actor can fully capture the essence of ethos of a true patriot and warrior like you,” England told Mattis.
Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also praised the outgoing and incoming JFCOM commanders.
He called Smith a gifted warrior and a “superb leader” who has provided nearly four decades of superior service to the nation. The admiral described Mattis as a combat-hardened veteran and as the right commander to take the duty as JFCOM’s new commander.
In his remarks, Smith predicted that Mattis will be a very effective leader as JFCOM’s new chief. “As an officer and a leader, he is a proven winner who understands the art and science of warfare and the complex relationship between the two,” Smith said of Mattis.
Mattis reciprocated Smith’s praise. He called it “an honor I could have never anticipated,” to follow in Smith’s footsteps.
As he surveyed the audience aboard the USS Washington, Mattis observed that the ship “serves as a living reminder of the power of a free people in this grand experiment in democracy that we call our own government, and that we can and will defend our way of life when threatened.”
Mattis said he is “eager to serve alongside our allies and partners in NATO as we transform our forces to meet the new security challenges.”
“I am equally keen to serve with our Joint Forces Command soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians, to transform the American forces and keep them at the top of their game to meet tomorrow’s threat,” Mattis remarked.
NATO and the U.S. military “both give proof to what free men and women can accomplish when we work together for the common good and choose strength, not weakness, in the defense of liberty and matching our military commitments to our political objectives,” the Marine general said.
Americans and Europeans enjoy their freedoms today “thanks to the blood, sweat and tears of our predecessors,” Mattis said. He pledged “to build the strongest coalitions, the most agile forces and the most ethical defenders of our nations, because, we too, have an obligation to pass on these freedoms to our children and to our children’s children.”
NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero presented Smith with the NATO Meritorious Service Medal and hailed the departing general as an effective, visionary leader.
“You arrived at Norfolk with an outstanding combination of military experience, leadership skills and political insight. And you had used all these impressive qualities most effectively over the course of these past two years,” Bisogniero said of Smith’s tenure at JFCOM.
The Italian official then welcomed Mattis to his new command, noting that he impressed with the general’s credentials. “In General James Mattis, NATO is fortunate, once again, to welcome as a supreme allied commander an officer with a wealth of experience and skills,” he said.
“We very much look forward to working closely with you,” Bisogniero said to Mattis.