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Relinquishment of Command - Admiral William J. Fallon (Tampa, Florida)
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Tampa, Florida, Friday, March 28, 2008

    Thank you, Admiral Mullen, for that introduction.
    And a special thanks to all the men and women working here at CENTCOM headquarters. Your tireless dedication in this time of war has had a direct – and invaluable – impact on the troops on the front lines.
    We are here today to mark Admiral William Fallon’s departure from Central Command and the temporary assumption of command by Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey.
It was a great honor for me to meet privately this morning with the Fallon family and present awards to Fox and Mary Fallon for their extraordinary service to our country. In a few weeks there will be an opportunity to reflect on the whole of Admiral Fallon’s career as he retires from the service, so today I want to focus on his time at CENTCOM.
    Under Admiral Fallon’s command, the last year in CENTCOM’s area of operation has been one of great progress on a number of fronts.
    We are all familiar with the tremendous gains that have been made in Iraq – fewer attacks on our troops; fewer attacks on civilians; an insurgency that has been degraded and pushed out of most urban centers; an Iraqi military that has greatly increased its capability and professionalism; and an Iraqi government that has passed key legislation and continues to become more effective by the day.
    These successes have allowed us to reduce the number of troops in Iraq, easing stress on the force. Last year when we were discussing the way forward in Iraq, both the President and I were impressed by – and influenced by – Admiral Fallon’s advice and candor. Last week we discussed the next steps in Iraq, and again, Admiral Fallon played a vital role in our discussions and analyses.
    Afghanistan, too, has seen successes in the last year – despite ongoing violence, and despite the reality that, as in Iraq, there will be hard days ahead. NATO forces have stepped up to the plate, and we are finally seeing a more coordinated strategy throughout Afghanistan – a strategy informed by counterinsurgency doctrine and lessons learned in Iraq. The Taliban have been rolled back from areas they previously controlled, and where there is fighting it is the coalition and Afghan troops who are on the offensive.
    The Middle East as a whole has also benefited from Admiral Fallon’s leadership as he has applied the same strategic thinking and diplomatic skills that were on display during his leadership of Pacific Command. We can see it in the increasing willingness of nations in the region to extend diplomatic support to Iraq, and to work together to confront shared threats. The Gulf Security Dialogue, for example, is helping our Middle East partners shift from a bilateral mindset to a multilateral one on a number of issues, from terrorism to maritime security. This development will have an enduring and positive impact on our own security for decades to come.
    When I recommended Admiral Fallon for this position, I told the President that the nation would benefit from one of the military’s most experienced senior officers and one of its best strategic minds in one of the world’s most complex regions.
    I had to work really hard to persuade Fox to leave PACOM to take this on. He even worried a bit that he was too old to start fresh at a new command. Since I’m older than he is, that didn’t cut much ice. But Admiral Fallon tackled this role with unparalleled energy, ideas and diplomatic skill. His time here has advanced America’s interests and security throughout the AOR.
I must also tell you how much I have enjoyed working with him and how much my early admiration of him and his services to our country has grown. I will miss him.
    On behalf of the president and the American people, Admiral Fallon, thank you for your service.
    I also want to thank Mary Fallon for her service. Without the support of a loving spouse, these jobs would be next to impossible. I’m sure the men and women of CENTCOM embraced you as did the men and women of PACOM. And I’m sure that they will miss you.
    Though this is an unexpected assignment for Lieutenant General Dempsey, I am confident that he is prepared to lead CENTCOM. Marty has had two of the most challenging assignments in our military today – command of operations in Baghdad and responsibility for training and equipping Iraqi Security Forces. While CENTCOM encompasses far more than just Iraq, his extensive experience on the ground there will be of great value in the coming months. General Dempsey, thank you for agreeing to take on this assignment. I look forward to working with you.
    Thank you.