U.S. Central Command Change-of-Command Ceremony (Tampa, FL)
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, U.S. Central Command Headquarters, Tampa, FL, Friday, October 31, 2008
Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be here with you this morning. A special welcome to all distinguished guests, including members of the Florida congressional delegation, the governor, and leaders from the Tampa community.
I would also like to acknowledge our coalition partners and extend my gratitude to their troops and advisors serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the command’s area of responsibility. The United States has had enduring interests in this AOR for many decades under presidents of both political parties. And we will continue to have a presence there, standing strong with our friends and allies.
Today is a special day for the Dempsey and Petraeus families as we celebrate this change of command and recognize the achievements of the men and women of Central Command.
I recall my first meeting with Marty Dempsey after he took the reins of CENTCOM, some seven months ago. He gave me a sheet of paper outlining the priorities for this command and asked for my guidance. After hearing what Marty had to say, I simply held up his own sheet of paper and said, “This is my guidance to you” – a testament to his strategic vision and pragmatism, which he possesses in extra measure.
These past few months, Marty has more than held down the fort here at CENTCOM. He has fully seized the reins and taken on the responsibilities of leading this vital command. He has reorganized the headquarters, published a theater strategy and a theater campaign plan, revised contingency plans, and reviewed and revised regional and country action plans. He and his team also have:
• Realigned the Combined Joint Task Force for the Horn of Africa under U.S. Africa Command, activated earlier this month;
• Managed the rotations and deployments of tens of thousands of troops throughout this command’s AOR;
• Overseen and supported a regional diplomatic and security cooperation effort to counter violent extremism and support elected governments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
• And much, much more.
Through it all, Marty has always placed the war fighter at the forefront – a priority that he made clear from day one – and he has responded at every turn with a quiet confidence that earned my admiration and that of countless others under his command and throughout the region.
Marty will bring these qualities to his new post as the next four-star commander of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. He is ideally suited for this assignment based on his experience here and his two tours in Iraq: Leading the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad during the difficult initial year, then heading up Multi-National Security and Transition Command, where he stood up the Iraqi army and police forces that played such a key role in the success of the surge.
Marty’s background in counterinsurgency, urban warfare, and training and equipping partner security forces well-positions him to shape a new generation of Army leaders at TRADOC – arguably one of the most important commands in the American military.
Of course, Marty would be the first to admit that much of his success stems from the love and support of his high school sweetheart, Deanie. Deanie has guided the family through endless moves; in fact, the next one to Fort Monroe will mark their 20th military move during Marty’s 34-year career. And, all the while, Deanie has been a friend to military families. She is an ardent supporter of Operation Helping Hand, which cares for wounded warriors receiving treatment for spinal cord injuries at the VA hospital here in Tampa.
Deanie, thank you for the many ways in which you have served. I wish you and Marty the best.
It’s hard to find much more to say about General David Petraeus. At the MNF-I change of command a few weeks ago, I said that history will regard him as one of our nation’s great battle captains. He is the preeminent soldier-scholar-statesman of his generation and precisely the man we need in this command at this time. Under his leadership, our troops have dealt our enemies in Iraq a tremendous blow. Now he will take aim at our adversaries in Afghanistan and lead security-capacity efforts throughout the Middle East, the Gulf, and Central Asia, while working with our partners to counter a range of national and transnational threats.
At his side stands Holly, who has devoted her life to helping Army families. For years, she has worked with the Better Business Bureau to provide consumer education and advocacy for service members and their kin. She often travels around the United States to offer free seminars to military families on money matters – an especially valuable service in today’s economy. And like so many spouses, she has essentially been a single mom to their children during Dave’s multiple deployments.
During my tenure as Secretary of Defense, I’ve met with a number of parents who were concerned about their deployed son or daughter. For them, war is no abstraction. The same is true for the Petraeus and Dempsey families. Between them, they have four children who have served, are serving, or will serve in the Army. That includes, I might add, Marty’s youngest daughter, who is currently in Afghanistan. Both families clearly value – indeed they embody – the notion of giving back to the country we love.
I would say the same of the men and women of Central Command. CENTCOM went on a war footing when our country was attacked and has not let up since. For seven years, those who serve in this command have bravely stepped forward and unsheathed the sword on our enemies. I’ve heard it said that “Communism didn’t fall. It was pushed.” Likewise violent extremism will neither crumble nor fade away of its own accord. It will be the valor, the grit, and the fighting spirit of you – the men and women of U.S. Central Command – that will give heart to our friends while pursuing terrorists where they hide, wrecking their malevolent designs, and keeping them far from our shores. Please accept my heartfelt gratitude for your service and sacrifice to this nation.
General Petraeus, you are again taking responsibility for our precious sons and daughters. I have no doubt they will continue to make you and me – and all Americans – very proud. Good luck and Godspeed.