Good morning. It’s good to be back in Tampa. I was here last March for the CENTCOM change of command down at MacDill, and I see some of the same faces:
- General Pace. Thank you for you being here. When the Marines joined Special Operations Command for the first time, it garnered quite a lot of attention. As the first Marine Corps Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Pace clearly met the high standard required for joining the roster of Marine Corps historic firsts. I am grateful for his advice and his leadership, and I thank him for his long and dedicated service to our country;
- General Casey, General Schwartz, Admiral Fallon, Admiral Allen, it’s good to see you all;
- I also want to thank Congressman Bill Young for being here today; and
- Two former SOCOM commanders, Generals Schoomaker and Holland are here. Welcome.
I understand that when this command was first considered, the plan was to base it in Washington, D.C.
The first commander, General Lindsay resisted, noting that, “I didn’t want SOCOM to become another staff agency.” Knowing the kind of men and women who join special ops, I think there was little danger of that. But I am certainly grateful for the decision to base it here, as, I am confident are the personnel of this organization.
My thanks to the folks from the Tampa community for all that you do to support SOCOM and CENTCOM – two commands that are critical to our nation’s campaign against violent extremism.
Above all, I want to recognize the men and women of SOCOM, and the special operators throughout the world. Your task is anything but easy. You have volunteered multiple times to take the most difficult assignments. You do so with courage, determination, and skill that leaves the rest of us in awe. The success of special operations begins with the individual warrior – each one of you – and we are eternally grateful for your willingness to serve our nation.
I also want to congratulate this command on 20 years of service and success. Special Operations Command – the role of special operations in general – has certainly come a long way.
Personally, I am still haunted by Operation Eagle Claw – the mission in 1980 to rescue hostages in Iran – a disaster that provided a painful, but ultimately valuable, glimpse into the shortfalls that existed at the time. I was then the executive assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence. I spent a very long afternoon – and an even longer night – with the Director and other officials at the White House as news of what had happened in the Iranian desert trickled in. We mourned the deaths of the servicemen. We knew the tremendous abilities of those involved – men like Pete Schoomaker who would go on to lead this command and become Army Chief of Staff. We were convinced the mission could have succeeded. But the failure of that mission showed a number of serious weaknesses, to include the ability of different units and services of the special operations world to work together.
So like we always seem to do in this country, we studied our mistakes and learned. Joint capabilities would eventually eclipse parochial service interests. And this year, we celebrate 20 years of service from a command that is at the forefront of today’s fight to preserve our freedom and our way of life. U.S. special operations forces are engaged in missions as varied as strengthening America’s partners in Southeast Asia to hunting Al Qaeda in the most dangerous regions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Our country no longer needs to search for unseen benefits provided by your unique talents and capabilities. We experience them every day. We are safer for it, and grateful for it.
Today we recognize a man who for nearly four years has been leading them in this fight.
General Doug Brown’s career, in some ways, reflects the dynamics that created this command. Shortly after the Iran mission, then-Major Brown joined the new Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg. He served with Task Force 160, learning from the difficulties experienced during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, and later led a battalion of Nightstalkers during Operation Desert Storm.
He came to this post four years ago determined to improve the way special operators fight. He has done just that.
But he also improved the way this command works. One of General Brown’s first major undertakings as Commander was the vital reorganization of elements in the Center for Special Operations. His “course correction” allows different specialties to build on each other rather than compete. After Desert One, there was lingering bitterness and ill will over the role of – or lack of – intelligence during the operation. Today, intelligence officers and special operators work side-by-side – fusing their expertise and planning to greatly improve results.
General Brown also strengthened the way our forces work with units from other countries – emphasizing language and culture training to build trust and bonds with foreign militaries. And his emphasis on indirect operations aimed to prevent minor problems from growing into much bigger crises.
Special operators will always be able to respond with strength and force when the mission calls. But as they work side-by-side with people throughout the world, members of this command have demonstrated our nation’s values, as well as fostered cultures and communities that are more likely to reject extremism and violence.
Today, there is little that is beyond the capabilities – or the reach – of special operators. This is due in no small part to your leadership, General. Thank you for all that you have done in four decades of service for our country.
Of course, even with a long and successful career, Doug might say that his biggest accomplishment in life was marrying his high school sweetheart. Penny, this would usually be the point where I congratulate you for your decades of service to our nation and wish you well. That I certainly do. But with two sons-in-law in the Army, and at least one grandson your husband once described as a “Green Beret in training,” you still have your hands full. Thank you for all that you have done for Doug, your family, this command, and for our country (APPLAUSE).
General Brown’s successor, Admiral Eric Olson, is a true warrior and legend in this community.
In 1993, after a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down during an operation in Somalia, hundreds of enemy fighters surrounded the crash site and the stranded pilot.
No doubt most of you know of the ensuing actions of Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, Sergeants Shughart and Gordon, who volunteered to secure the crash site and gave their lives to save the downed helicopter pilot. And you undoubtedly recognize the creed driving those Sergeants’ actions: Never leave a comrade behind. For those who know Admiral Eric Olson, you also know that he more than believes in that creed – he lives it. For it was then-Commander Olson who fought street-by-street, leading a ground convoy to rescue his comrades after the Black Hawk went down.
As Deputy Commander here, Admiral Olson has worked tirelessly to leave no special operator behind – in battle, in training, in quality of life, and in any aspect where he could make a difference.
As the first Navy SEAL to wear three stars, and now four, there is no mistaking his combination of courage, experience, and leadership.
When Congress was debating how to modernize this organization, the commander at the time, Major General Scholtes, went to the extraordinary step of first retiring to ensure he could give his most honest and unvarnished advice when testifying about the proposed changes.
Eric, I expect you’ll stick around. But I also hope that you continue your custom of giving honest opinions and recommendations – with the bark off, and straight from the shoulder. The men and women here today, and around the world, already benefit from your dedication to them and to our nation. And I look forward to working with you as our nation continues operations across the globe, and I wish you and Marilyn all the best.