Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, leaders of the Department of Defense and leaders of the United States’ intelligence community, it is really an honor for me to be able to participate in this ceremony paying tribute to Ron Burgess and acknowledging that we have a new director here, Mike Flynn.
Today, we pay tribute to Ron as he retires after 38 years of service to our nation. I am a big believer in public service to this country. As the son of Italian immigrants, my parents made very clear to me the responsibility that their children had to give something back to this country, which had given so much to them. In his quiet Italian way my father said, “You better give something back to this country or I’ll kick your ass.”
So, I was inspired to public service, and throughout my almost forty years, I have really believed that public service and those dedicated to giving something back to this country is what America is all about. It’s what keeps our democracy strong.
And that’s what Ron Burgess is all about. He is a great public servant. Beyond that he is a great soldier, he’s a great leader, he is a great intelligence innovator, leader in that community, and he’s also a very dear friend to me and to so many in this audience.
Ron, you’ve earned your retirement my friend and take it from me, there is life afterward. There are many who will want to make use of your experience...and your wife will love the additional income…at leastthat’s what my wife said… And I hope you will have more success than I did at staying retired.
As we celebrate Ron, we also have the opportunity to welcome another distinguished soldier, Mike Flynn, as he takes on the vital leadership role in our military intelligence community.
This ceremony is about recognizing the impressive achievements of both of these extraordinary officers, but it is equally important to pay tribute to their families. The love and support of their families has been absolutely critical and instrumental to their success.
In that spirit, I’d like to express my personal deep thanks to Ron’s wife Marta, who has been a patient and loving spouse and a wonderful mother to their five children. There is no way we could do these jobs without the love and support of our families. That’s a reality. And it’s true here, and I thank you for the support you have provided throughout these years.
I know how much Ron is looking forward to being able to spend more time with you and with the rest of the family – as long as that family doesn’t interfere with another love of his life, which is Auburn football.
Let me also recognize and thank the Flynn family, including Mike’s wife Lori and their two great sons. These are, as I said, tough jobs. They demand a lot of time and a lot of commitment, and it is because of the tolerance, the patience, and the love of our families that these jobs are able to be done. So in many ways the families that are here are part of the larger family that represents our community, our defense community and our intelligence community. I deeply appreciate all the support you’ve given Mike and to Ron, and the support you will continue to provide as Ron goes into retirement and as Mike assumes the leadership responsibilities here at the DIA.
I also want to extend my gratitude to the broader DIA family – the dedicated men and women of DIA who work every day and every night, without fanfare, to keep our nation safe.
Last fall, I had the chance to join Ron here and the DIA community in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s founding, which took place during the Kennedy administration. It was especially meaningful for me because, like Ron, I began my career in public service as an Army intelligence officer.
I served for two years and became a second lieutenant and then got the hell out. Ron served a little longer, and rose to much higher rank, but now it’s his turn to get the hell out.
When I think back to those couple of years I spent in the Army, I recall what intelligence was like then and what intelligence is like now. When I was in the Army, it was pretty much a stove-piped operation. There was very little sharing of information among the military services. If I gave any information to another service, I was subject to court-martial. The reality was that there was very little of the kind of joint operation, joint sharing that goes on today.
And years later, I personally experienced the changes that had taken place with my son.
We have three sons. One of my sons was activated in the Navy, and went in as an intelligence officer in the Navy. And his first post that he reported to was not a Navy post, he reported to Fort Bragg for training and then from Fort Bragg went to Bagram in Afghanistan, where he was working with the other services, with the CIA, in an intelligence unit working together to share information and intelligence.
The landscape has changed dramatically, but it has changed for the better. DIA, in particular, has evolved into a global agency that operates wherever our forces are engaged and at every point along the chain of command. Military intelligence is now far more integrated, far more effective, and more vital than ever to our ability to defend this country. And Ron Burgess has been instrumental in that transformation.
Particularly over the last decade, Ron has helped bring about that fusion of military and intelligence capabilities that has really been at the heart and soul of our intelligence effort in this country and throughout the world. It has been a game-changer on the battlefield.
As a former Director of the CIA, I can personally attest to how important that military-intelligence relationship has been. The ability of the military and intelligence communities to work together has been incredibly important to protecting this country. There isn’t a mission that I had at the CIA that could have been accomplished without that partnership: whether it was the raid on bin Laden; whether it was going after Al-Qaeda’s leadership; whether it was going after terrorists in Yemen, or in Somalia, or North Africa, or wherever they’re at. Intelligence and military officers and agents, people working together, has been absolutely essential to our ability to accomplish that mission. And Ron was an important part of that relationship.
During the time that I was Director of the CIA, he and I would go to graduation ceremonies at intelligence areas, where we were not only educating intelligence officers, we were in fact educating military officers in intelligence capabilities.
And now as Secretary of Defense, there is no way I could accomplish our defense mission without the support of intelligence. There’s no way. Whether I’m dealing with what’s happening in Iran; whether I’m dealing with what’s happening in Syria; whether we’re dealing with what’s happening with regards to the Middle East in general; whether we’re dealing with North Korea; whether we’re dealing with Afghanistan and the enemies we confront there; whether we’re dealing with Pakistan; whether we’re dealing with cyberwar; whether we’re dealing with China.
Whatever challenge we are facing in today’s world it could not be done without good intelligence and the ability to know what others are doing and what they intend to do.
As someone who depends, as I said, every day on good intelligence and DIA’s analytical work, I’ve been very fortunate to have benefited from Ron’s judgment and from his service. And it is our good fortune that we have another extremely capable officer ready to assume that mantle of leadership.
Mike Flynn brings to this position decades of experience in military intelligence. His knowledge of the 21st century battlefield is unsurpassed. I had the opportunity to see his impressive work up close as Director of CIA. When he was in Afghanistan, I got to see up close him doing tremendous work there, and I have full confidence that he is the right man to lead the more than 16,000 dedicated professionals that are here at the DIA.
You had a great leader in Ron Burgess, you now have another great leader in Mike Flynn. As Secretary of Defense, and as an American, I am deeply grateful that our Department has men and women of the caliber of these two who are willing to dedicate their lives to defending the values that we cherish and the freedom that we hold so dear to our heart.
We have a lot of new and exciting technology in the defense business. I have some of the most sophisticated systems in the world, in terms of weaponry and in terms of technology, and even in the intelligence world, we have some of the most exciting new technologies that are being developed. But let me tell you something: none of that would be worth a damn were it not for the good people and the good leaders who understand not only how to use that technology but are dedicated to defending this country.
May God bless them, God bless this agency, and may God bless the United States of America.