Ladies and Gentlemen, [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] General Myers has already recognized many, many distinguished guests here so I will just add my personal greetings to General Joe Ralston and Dede Ralston, General Jim Jones and Diane Jones, their families and friends, and in particular the extraordinary men and women of the US European Command. I will note that we have an unusually distinguished Congressional delegation here. General Myers has noted the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and the ranking Democrat of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Young and Congressman Skelton. It is a tribute not only to these two distinguished military leaders and the credibility and the respect that they enjoy in our Congress; I think it’s also a tribute to the support that our Congress gives to this extraordinary alliance. I’d also add my personal welcome to Secretary Boehmler and Lord Mayor Schuster, Professor Doctor Rommel and our other German guests.
Over the years literally hundreds of thousands of Americans have served in this country and our German hosts have made them feel at home. Especially after September 11th, the concern for the safety and security of our bases here on the part of Germany’s leaders has been truly wunderbar. That has certainly been true here in Stuttgart where our close relationship with our hosts speaks to a continued future of friendship and freedom. On behalf of President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld permit me to say, Wir danken ihnen herzlich fur ihre unterstutzung und freundschaft. And for those of you who don’t speak German or those who don’t understand my German, let me just say, “I want to thank our German hosts heartily for the support and friendship.” I’d also like to pay tribute to our distinguished Ambassador to Germany, Dan Coats, whom I first got to know when he was a member of the United States Senate. Dan it is great to have you representing us in this great country.
A future of friendship and freedom on this continent was the goal of the European Command when it was created more than 50 years ago. Today, we can contemplate with pleasure how Europeans and Americans have stood together in friendship in the decades since, united in hearts, in purpose and in values to promote liberty and security for ourselves and for future generations. We may well recall the fruits of such an alliance: the foundation of a peace in Europe that has lasted more than half a century and led to the remarkably peaceful end to the Cold War. While the attack of September 11th has taken its place in history the larger lesson we may draw from that day remains with us. All who love freedom must be prepared for surprise—from wherever it may appear and however it may threaten. One of the ways that we will stay prepared is through the daily commitment and fulfillment of your responsibilities here at European Command.
Throughout history the world has been fortunate that great leaders have shouldered momentous responsibilities to lead the world through turbulent times to a safer and more secure future. Today we pay tribute to one such man—a man whose courage, dignity, and character, in war and peace, exemplify the values and ideals of patriots who’ve given so much to preserve peace and freedom. For 37 years Joe Ralston has led with tremendous intelligence, industry, and integrity—whether in the skies over Vietnam, in the halls of Washington, where sometimes just as much courage is needed, or in capitals throughout the world.
In this region, General Ralston has faced numerous challenges with diplomatic skills whose breadth are matched only by this command’s vast reach. Under his firm leadership there have been countless achievements—here and in NATO’s military helm over the last three years—achievements that speak to this general’s deep commitment to peace and security through unity—a phrase that he used when he assumed command three years ago—a commitment much like one of his predecessors in this job. In fact, we can hardly hold this ceremony today without mentioning the name and invoking the spirit and wisdom of the man who first bore the responsibility of NATO’s military command, General Dwight David Eisenhower. Ike once observed that “free people—united—can face any peril unafraid.”
General Ralston is a warrior diplomat who carries on the great mission that General Eisenhower first led. I’d like to take a moment to read to you a portion of the letter that Secretary Rumsfeld wrote to General Ralston illustrating how vital his contribution has been at this time in history. And as General Myers has noted, my boss, Secretary Rumsfeld, is not lavish with praise for anyone—in uniform or out—and he is lavish with his praise for Joe.
“Dear General Ralston, I am grateful for your wise council during your tour as Supreme Allied Commander Europe and as the Commander of US European Command. In this assignment, and as before as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, you have played an important part in transforming our military forces to meet the challenges of this new century. The price of freedom is high and you have willingly borne more than your share with great skill. Throughout, you have set a high standard for professionalism and service, and served America with honor. Sincerely, Donald Rumsfeld.”
As Supreme Allied Commander, General Ralston has led the Alliance through an extraordinary period of change, change that culminated in last year’s historic NATO Summit in Prague—Prague a city that once witnessed Soviet tanks rumbling through its streets to crush the Prague Spring more than 30 years ago. Instead we may say that Prague’s true spring came early last November with a summit that welcomed into NATO seven former communist states. General Ralston has been instrumental in helping extend the benefits of Alliance membership to the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe, a fitting end to old divisions of the Cold War. And in an even more extraordinary development for which the General can be justly proud, NATO has reached out to these countries at the same time that it has developed a new and positive relationship with an increasingly democratic Russia.
Last November, Secretary Rumsfeld traveled to the once-communist country of Slovakia, which has now been invited to join NATO. After listening to a military band play the Star Spangled Banner, the Secretary of Defense, who once served as US Ambassador to NATO at the height of the Cold War, summed up the event in these words, “The world has changed.” And so it has. In Europe it has changed very much for the better and it has done so, in no small measure because of your efforts, General Ralston, and your colleagues here at European Command.
A man of vision and energy, Joe has consistently embraced change and led others to do the same. He has deepened EUCOM’s role in Central Asia and the Caucasus through humanitarian missions and through military training assistance for Operation Enduring Freedom. He has led this command in daily missions in the war against terrorism—from the streets of Bosnia to the waters of the Mediterranean. Indeed this command is on the front line every day—from air operations in the no-fly zone over Iraq to peacekeeping in the Balkans, where NATO forces are leading that troubled region closer to a just and lasting peace.
If we take a longer view of General Ralston’s career, we see throughout a visionary and charismatic spirit at work—from stealth operations that transformed modern air warfare to command positions at every level of the Air Force. And despite a command that stretches over many time zones, General Ralston always makes time to ask, “How can we make life better for our people?” And he has.
He and Dede together, I should say. During this remarkable journey, Dede, your grace and elegance, your unwavering concern for our forces and their families, have made you an effective and welcome ambassador to our troops around the world. On behalf of Secretary Rumsfeld and all of us…thank you for your own tireless service to our country.
Whenever I’m fortunate enough to leave Washington to visit our men and women where they serve, I’m struck without fail by the proficiency, the professionalism, and above all, their well-earned pride. It’s certainly true here today—in our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines—I include in those numbers our members of the Guard and Reserve. These are your people General Ralston—and under your leadership they have served us all well. Let’s give them a big hand.
There is no question that the men and women of European Command will continue to shape the future. As President Bush has said from the beginning, “This war on terrorism will be a long tough fight.” But General Ralston leaves you and the European Command ready, willing, and able to carry on that fight. And there is no doubt—no doubt—that we will win this war.
General Eisenhower once asked the allies of NATO, “Will we, in freedom, pay the price necessary to preserve freedom?” As General Jones assumes command today, the answer of free men and women is once again a resounding, “Yes.” There may be no better person to step into General Ralston’s shoes than Jim Jones, another leader on whom we’ve depended for his outstanding leadership of America’s Marines. For General Jones, this is a homecoming of sorts, and it must be gratifying—Jim you’re the only Marine I know who can say, “Semper Fi” in French—now you’ll learn how to say it in German. Throughout his own remarkable career, one shaped by a family of great Marine warriors, he’s demonstrated his own deep commitment to our men and women in uniform.
And as I think everyone here recognizes, military history is being made here today. Jim Jones becomes the first Marine to lead this command and become Supreme Allied Commander in Europe—a fact that I’m sure all Marines who so enjoy the rigors of recruit training will no doubt be required to recite to their drill instructors—over and over and over again. We have some Marines here…does that sound about right?
History is never made alone. Today we also welcome Diane Jones and thank her for her service. Together Jim and Diane make a great team who will make great things happen. We congratulate you both and give you our best wishes.
Let me close with the words of General Eisenhower. When he returned to Europe to assume the Supreme Allied Command more than 50 years ago, he said, “I return with an unshakeable faith in Europe—this land of our ancestors—in the underlying courage of its people, their willingness to live and sacrifice for a secure peace and for the continuance and progress of civilization.” Today, the men and women of this command can point with pride to their own willingness to live and sacrifice for a secure peace, their own important role as ambassadors for the progress of civilization.
Today, we may recall that Ike often reminded us that the great fight for freedom did not end on the beaches of Omaha and Utah. It continues today. It continues here. Because leaders like Joe Ralston and Jim Jones, and men and women like you here today who choose to defend the torch of liberty, tyrants and terrorists will not prevail. As the prophet Isaiah said, “See upon the palms of my hands, I have written your name. Your walls are ever before me. Your builders outstrip your destroyers.”
Thanks, in great measure, to General Ralston, and the people of European Command, we are building a better future. We congratulate Joe and Dede and wish them the very best in what comes next. We welcome Jim and Diane with great confidence and peace of mind. And, finally, we celebrate the men and women of this great command. The future of America’s commitment to Europe is in great hands.
May God bless you, and God bless all those who serve the cause of peace around the world.