Members of Northern Command and NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command], including General Eberhart; General Henault, representing our wonderful Canadian allies, welcome. Lieutenant Governor Norton: Admiral Keating.
I brought with me also a special Northern Command alumnus, the first chief of staff of this remarkable organization, Lieutenant General Steve Blum, who is now Chief of the National Guard Bureau. Appropriately enough, as the first National Guard general, I believe, to be chief of staff of any combatant command, General Blum helped to lay the brick and mortar of Northern Command and strengthen the critical link to the Guard and Reserve. Without him, this command could not have performed its mission.
The presence of so many other distinguished military and civilian leaders is a tribute to the vital work taking place here in Colorado Springs. At the risk of offending everyone, I think I’ll refrain from singling out anyone else—except for the true stars of today’s ceremony. And they are: the men and women of NORAD and Northern Command. They’re the real heroes today. So, let’s show them how we appreciate them. [Applause.]
I talked to Secretary Rumsfeld yesterday evening. He’s very sorry he couldn’t be here. I’m not, because if he were here, I’d have to be back in Washington. He also asked me to convey his gratitude to all of you for the extraordinary job that you’ve done under Ed Eberhart’s leadership. The fact that we have four aviators here on the dais certainly wouldn’t be lost on Don Rumsfeld. In fact, he reminded me once again that he himself was a Naval aviator in his youth.
That conversation reminded me of an old story about a Greek General named Metaxas, who was conducting an inspection of an airbase sometime back in the 1930s. The base commander invited the general to test the new flying boat. So, General Metxas took the aircraft off for a short flight. As he was coming in to land on the base’s runway, the commander grabbed him quickly and said, “Excuse me, General. It would be better to land on water—this is a flying boat.” Just in time, General Metaxas swerved quickly, pulled the plane upward and made another circuit, landing the flying boat skillfully and safely on the water. At which point, he switched off the engine, turned to his host and said, “Thank you, Commander, for preventing me from making a stupid blunder.” And with that, the general opened the door and stepped into the water. [Laughter.]
On a more serious note, Secretary Rumsfeld asked me to read a portion of the letter that he sent to General Eberhart. And it says: “Dear Ed, I’ll always remember the energy, drive and enthusiasm with which you undertook the creation of Northern Command—a superb capstone to a remarkable 36-year career. It is a living legacy that will continue to enhance U.S. national security for decades to come. You’ve been a fine officer and a good friend, and you’ll be missed in the Department of Defense. Sincerely, Donald Rumsfeld.”
With the cold-blooded murder of 3,000 Americans and citizens of many other countries, September 11, 2001 put us, once again, in the middle of a war that we didn’t go looking for—a war that came to us. And once again the target is freedom itself.
To protect our liberty, President Bush directed a fundamental and sweeping change in how we arrange our forces—the largest restructuring of our national security apparatus since the National Security Act of 1947. The plan recognized that in an age of weapons of mass terror, the home front has become a battlefront as real as any we’ve known before.
As President Bush has often said, we cannot win the war on terror unless we go on offense. But as in football—and most other team sports—every successful offense requires a good defense. And the defense of our homeland depends today on the work of Northern Command.
Today, thanks to the heroism of America’s Armed Forces, two regimes that sponsored terrorists and terrorized their own people are now joining other totalitarian rulers on the ash heap of history. Fifty million people in Afghanistan and Iraq, 50 million people, the great majority of them Muslim, have been liberated from rulers who killed and brutalized them for decades. Now they are beginning to determine their own destiny.
We recently saw more than eight million Afghans, more than 40 percent of them women, defy the death threats of the Taliban to vote in the first presidential election in Afghanistan’s 5,000-year history.
Iraqis are also heading for elections this coming January. They won’t be deterred. They will make their choice.
And both these countries are becoming our allies in the global war on terror. They can be an inspiration to millions of others in the Muslim world.
And we are taking the fight to the enemy. More than two thirds of al Qaeda’s senior leaders have been killed or captured, along with thousands of lesser terrorists. We’ll probably never know how many plots and potential attacks like September 11th have been prevented or disrupted, but it must be a significant number. While the terrorist threat is still very real, we are safer today because of this unified effort that has involved all agencies of the U.S. government and some 90 countries working with us around the world.
We are safer also because Northern Command has been part of this fight. Under General Eberhart’s strong and innovative leadership, the men and women of Northern Command sustained their commitment to NORAD’s vital mission at the same time that they were building a transformational organization from the ground up—a command that fuses our air, land and maritime defenses under a single command. As they brought Northcom staff to full strength, they defined a new and evolving doctrine of homeland defense.
Northcom’s men and women helped fashion seamless coordination with joint task forces and with other government agencies throughout the vast continental United States. With innovative exercises, they have put the command through its paces and they got it fully operational in record time. Today, you can point with pride—with enormous pride—to NORAD and Northern Command’s multi-layered mission: in Operation Noble Eagle, where thousands of flights safely flown have kept American and Canadian skies safe; in the protection of our vital transportation hubs and defense infrastructure; in civil emergencies, like Washington’s sniper rampage or the ricin scare on Capitol Hill; in effective and comprehensive exercises involving Active, Guard and Reserve forces and the Department of Homeland Security, along with state and local authorities; and in protecting key national events, including two State of the Union addresses, two national Party conventions, the international summit of world leaders at Sea Island in Georgia and America’s wonderful, dignified state farewell to President Ronald Reagan.
Ladies and gentlemen, that was no small achievement. In the space of only two years, you’ve built a deeper and more layered defense that is truly innovative in anticipating unconventional threats. It’s been a true team effort.
And every great team has a great leader. And you do, too—a man with the experience, the leadership skills, and the innovative mind that we needed to take us into truly uncharted waters. Ed Eberhart was a trailblazer.
In some four decades wearing his country’s uniform, Ed Eberhart has led in war and in peace with imagination, independence and a strong intellect. He’s met each tough challenge with the same bravery he displayed in 300 combat missions as a forward air controller in Vietnam, perhaps the most dangerous mission any pilot would fly. In each assignment, he’s displayed the keen wisdom and judgment that took him to several of our nation’s most senior commands. That’s why President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld decided that he was the right man to make history, bringing soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen under one new command here in the United States.
And the general hasn’t made this journey alone. Karen Eberhart, your grace and support have helped to make it possible. There are countless young servicemen and women, here and throughout the Air Force, who have benefited from your tireless concern and your strong example. Karen, accept our thanks, and know we are grateful for your service. [Applause.]
There is no question that the men and women of Northern Command will continue to shape our security and our future. As President Bush has told us from the beginning, this war against terrorism will be a long, hard fight. But General Eberhart leaves you ready to carry on that fight. And make no mistake—make no mistake—this is a fight we will win.
One of the big reasons is that America has been fortunate in the quality of her leaders at history’s critical moments. And there is no better person to build on Ed Eberhart’s accomplishments than Admiral Tim Keating. He’s another leader on whom we’ve depended for his outstanding leadership of America’s sailors and other men and women in uniform, including his role as the Naval Component Commander in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but I think it’s a fact worth noting that the first two commanders of Northern Command were fighter pilots in their early careers. Rarely in military history has a pilot been given responsibility for so much land and ocean territory, but I dare say, they were selected for this important command because of qualities they share with another innovative aviator, General Jimmy Doolittle.
Once when he was a young man, then-2nd Lieutenant Doolittle and a friend were watching another pilot practice touch and go landings. Doolittle said to his friend, “I’ll bet you five bucks that I can sit on the landing gear while he lands.” Seeing that Doolittle was deadly serious, his friend took him up on the bet. Doolittle persuaded the unsuspecting pilot to take him up as a passenger. And as soon as they took off, he climbed out on the wing and proceeded to sit on the landing gear between the two wheels. Needless to say, the pilot panicked, he waved frantically, trying to get Doolittle to come back. But finally realizing that nothing was going to happen, he went ahead and landed the plane. Thankfully for the future of aviation, Doolittle was unharmed. And he immediately walked over to his friend, put out his hand, and said: “Pay me.”
Of course, we know, General Doolittle went on to apply that audacity and that confidence in others to much more serious tasks, including the remarkable and unconventional raid on Tokyo in 1942. That bold mission not only set a military precedent, but it told our enemies—and the American people—in no uncertain terms that we were there in the thick of the fight.
Well, we’re in the thick of the fight again. And General Eberhart and Admiral Keating share the Doolittle spirit. They are both confident, direct men who mean what they say, and say what they mean. They both have implicit and well-justified trust in their organizations and in their people. They are both leaders who chart innovative plans and have the courage to take action to see them through. And they’re both visionary thinkers who can take risks and think outside the box for big purposes. As a country, we are lucky that the spirit of Doolittle, that strategist and innovator, lives right here—and not just in these two leaders: it lives in all the men and women of NORAD and Northern Command.
In his groundbreaking role as NATO’s first military commander, General Eisenhower, once asked members of the Alliance, “Will we in freedom pay the price necessary to preserve freedom?” As Admiral Keating assumes command today, the answer of the free men and women of this continent is a resounding “Yes!”
I’ve been privileged to work with Tim Keating when he just served as Director of the Joint Staff. He has a wonderful sense of humor. But make no mistake, he’s a serious thinker when it comes to any military mission. I know he will continue to show the deep commitment to our men and women that has distinguished his remarkable career. And we know that with Wanda Lee by his side, the Keatings are a great team that will make great things happen. We congratulate and welcome you both.
When we leave here today, we will do so with confidence, knowing that NORAD and Northern Command remain in good hands. I know that all of you will continue to perform with the dedication and excellence that fully justifies the great trust and confidence that the country places in you. I thank each one of you who serve our nation and our Canadian ally. May God bless all of you who are helping to build a better defense of the beautiful land that we’re so fortunate to call home.
And I’d like to conclude, if I might, by reading from one other letter, which reads: “Dear General Eberhart, Throughout history, the dedicated men and women of our military have protected our citizens and preserved the ideals that make our country strong. The courage and sacrifice of the members of our Armed Forces have inspired countless people and helped shape America’s character. On behalf of a grateful nation, I thank you for your contribution to our security and to the cause of peace and freedom. Your service, patriotism, and selfless devotion have helped advance the universal hope of liberty at home and around the world. Laura joins me in sending our best wishes for health and happiness in the years ahead. May God bless you and may God continue to bless the United States of America. Sincerely, George W. Bush.”
Thank you [Applause.]