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Remarks by Secretary Panetta at Welcoming Ceremony for Deputy Secretary Carter

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, The Pentagon, Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Thank you very much, Sandy, I really appreciate the very kind introduction.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to join all of you in congratulating Ash and welcoming him to the Deputy’s position.

We’ve got some leaders of the Department, past and present.  Senator Reed, thank you for coming.

We really come together because we want to thank you; thank you for all the work and the effort that Ash has put into trying to keep this country safe, and he now becomes the 31st Deputy Secretary of Defense.  The Deputies must move a helluva lot faster because I’m the 23rd Secretary, so clearly there’s a lot more rotation going on at that level.

One of my favorite parts of this job is recognizing the truly talented people that are part of this Department.  Coming from the CIA to the Pentagon I’ve often described as moving from the corner hardware store to Home Depot.  This is a big place; just getting to this auditorium is a big challenge, as you can imagine.  The CIA is out there, it’s a bubble, you just go to it.  Here, you have to make your way through the halls.  This is a big place.

And yet, as I’ve often said, there are two very important qualities that are present both in my past responsibility and my present responsibility, and that’s the mission, which is to protect this country and keep this country safe.  But there’s also a very important other attribute:  to have dedicated, committed people, who do their jobs.  They are not Republicans or Democrats; they are not liberals or conservatives.  They are people that are committed to doing their job and keeping this country safe. 

And that’s what Ash is about.  As we all know, he’s got a very deep and diverse background.  And as we all know, most of the credit for all of Ash’s accomplishments goes not to his professors, colleagues and natural talents, but rather to his family.

These, as we all know, are very tough and demanding jobs, and none of us in government could do them without the love and support of those we love. 

So I’d like to thank Ash’s wife Stephanie, and their great children Will and Ava, who are here today, as well, for their steadfast support, and for putting up with his long hours and all the strains and stresses that come with public service at every level.

And by the way, if you didn’t know this, and you thought Ash was smart, Stephanie is a helluva lot smarter.  For those of you that are wondering why your 401(K) went to a 201(K), I advise you to talk to Stephanie.

Ash grew up in Philadelphia, and I guess it’s appropriate for his job here at the Pentagon, he was the son of a psychiatrist, but also an English teacher.  And he was raised in a household where obviously learning and creativity were highly prized.  So, I’m also told, were nicknames, and I’ve recently discovered – this comes from my other agency background – that as a kid Ash was known as “Stoobie.”  I also learned he got his first job working at a car wash but he was fired from that job.  For whatever reason, the nickname didn't stick, and that’s probably a good thing, because I can’t imagine that the Senate would have confirmed someone named “Stoobie from Philly” to serve here at the Department.

Whatever name he goes by, Ash has proven himself to be a determined and dedicated public servant and he is truly a brilliant thinker with the creativity and discipline that you have to have in order to be able to excel in this office, and that’s precisely why I asked Ash to be the Deputy Secretary of Defense.  Over the course of a career that has included a number of important Pentagon posts and very distinguished positions in academia, Ash has learned how to successfully navigate bureaucratic challenges without sacrificing his intellectual precision or his imaginative impulses, and that’s important.  If you want to be able to work your way through all of those corridors that are out there, you’ve got to be creative, you’ve got to be imaginative, and you always have to think outside the box, and that’s exactly what Ash is about.   

Ash’s first tour at the Pentagon began in the early 1980s, soon after he received his doctoral degree in theoretical physics at Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.  His work on strategic nuclear forces, missile defenses, space and intelligence systems allowed him to apply his scientific knowledge to critical national security issues of the time, which has been truly a hallmark of his career ever since.

During President Clinton’s first term, I had a chance as the President’s Chief of Staff to first get to know Ash.  He served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy.  Recognizing nuclear proliferation was one of the key emerging security challenges that we were trying to deal with, Ash took the lead on implementing the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program and overseeing the Department’s Counter Proliferation Initiative – no easy task.  

Ash then returned to Harvard, where he co-founded the Preventive Defense Project with former Defense Secretary Bill Perry.  By all accounts Ash had a very successful and fulfilling life in Cambridge, and he wrote in 2007 that he had absolutely no desire to return to Washington anytime soon.  We all said the same thing.  But the call to serve came again, and Ash answered.  So two and a half years ago, Ash came back to the Pentagon as Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

And how lucky this Department was to have Ash back.  It needed to become more agile in supporting the warfighter and more responsive to the rapid pace of change in the world.  We needed to modernize our entire approach to acquisition and logistics.  And his tireless efforts helped put us on the right course.  Doing so not only helped to save lives – and what greater accomplishment can you achieve at the Pentagon than the accomplishment of saving lives – but also improved our ability to adapt to the modern battlefield. 

This impressive track record and his proven ability to reform the bureaucracy and drive to make it do its job better is exactly why I chose him to serve as my Deputy Secretary.  In a memo I wrote last month outlining his responsibilities, I called Ash my “alter ego.”  And that’s what I consider the Deputy to be:  an alter ego, someone who can go right into your shoes and run this Department; someone who has to be there when you are not in your office, basically managing and running this institution. 

Ash has apparently taken this directive to heart.  In the past few weeks, longtime friends and colleagues were surprised to learn about his newly discovered Italian immigrant roots.  I’ve also heard he’s been spotted wearing a San Francisco Giants cap now and then, and probably worst of all, supporting the 49ers, although Stephanie works both ends.

But in all seriousness, Ash’s experience and his strategic vision will be invaluable in this time, in particular, of fiscal challenge and as our military faces a turning point after a decade of war.  As my Deputy, Ash serves as the Department’s Chief Management Officer, and is taking the lead on looking at wasteful spending, eliminating inefficiency, and finding ways to reduce costs while maintaining the finest military force on the face of the earth.  He is also guiding the Department’s ongoing assessment of our current and future strategic needs, which will shape the kind of force we absolutely have to have for the challenges of today and the threats of tomorrow. 

This is no easy challenge, as those of you that have worked in the Pentagon understand.  There are a number of areas that you have to look at, and every area has implications in terms of the impact on national security.  To be able to look at each of those areas, to look at the weapons systems, to look at the force structure, to look at the areas for efficiencies, to look at all of the various elements that are here, to be able to analyze them in terms of impact, understand those impacts, is absolutely essential if we’re to do the best possible job on behalf of the American people to be able to meet our fiscal responsibility, and yet also meet our responsibility to national security.   

As a nation and as a Department, the challenges we face are absolutely enormous.  But we also have great opportunity, and every challenge represents an important opportunity for the future – an opportunity to forge a better force for the future and an opportunity to modernize and strengthen our military.  Ash’s experience, his intuition, and his ability to institute change will be essential to seizing these opportunities as we move the Department of Defense into the future.

I’d like to close by sharing a message from someone who was deeply disappointed not to be able to be here today, Ash’s sister Cynthia – who is a children’s book author.  She sends her most heartfelt congratulations on behalf of the entire family, and in doing so she remembered how when they were children Ash was always reassuring and calming whenever her overactive imagination would keep her up at night.  Recalling that period, she wrote, and I quote:  “it makes me see the ways in which Ash’s life has been all of a piece.  It has been his life’s work to make all of us safe in a scary, uncertain world.”

And so, it is now my distinct pleasure to introduce Ash Carter as the 31st Deputy Secretary of Defense, and to thank him for once more answering the call, and continuing his lifelong commitment to channel his talents toward protecting this country and his fellow citizens, to make all of us safe, in what is truly a scary and uncertain world.

Stoobie, it’s all yours.

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