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CSAF Change of Responsibility

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Joint Base Andrews, MD, Friday, August 10, 2012

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, leaders of the Department of Defense, Norty, Mark, family members.  It’s a real honor and pleasure to be able to with you today to pay tribute to General Norty Schwartz for four decades of exceptional service to this country.

Norty is, I believe, one of the finest officers I've had the honor to work with.  He came at a critical time in the history of the Air Force and he responded with incredible leadership in making the Air Force an essential, credible, and capable partner in our national defense.    

Norty, I think you know by now that I'm the son of Italian immigrants, and my parents instilled in me a unique Italian vocabulary, particularly when my father was kicking me in the butt.

But let me refer back to a family expression that I think is appropriate to this occasion, and say to you: Mazel Tov.  Well done!

I’m also thrilled to have the opportunity to welcome General Mark Welsh back to Washington and back to work here.  I was honored to work with Mark when he served as my principal military advisor at the CIA, and I look forward to continuing that partnership as he begins his new job.

America’s greatness depends on men like Norty Schwartz and Mark Welsh who choose to selflessly serve this great country of ours.  But, as we all know, and has been commented upon by the prior speakers, none of them could do their jobs without the support of their families.  I too would like to thank Norty’s wife Suzie for supporting him every step of the way, through countless moves and extended absences from home.

I would like to also thank Mark’s wife Betty, and their children, for the sacrifices that have enabled Mark to take on his many assignments over the years. 

Military families seldom get the recognition they deserve.  The separation, the pressures, the moves, the loneliness, the stress that faces each family – but it is the love for each other and for this country that gives each family the strength to prevail, to endure, to grow closer.  That is why I am grateful to have the opportunity to personally thank all of them today.

A native of Toms River, New Jersey…by the way, I have a hell of a lot of people from New Jersey who are involved in the military…this guy, Norty, Odierno’s another guy from New Jersey, and as an Italian I don’t mind that, got to watch my back…but too Norty grew up, as many of us did, in the hard-working, blue-collar, in the Jersey world that is celebrated by Bruce Springsteen.  Except that - with apologies to the Boss - Norty wasn’t “Born to Run,” he was “Born to Fly.” 

As a young man, Norty understood the importance of hard work and dedication to his country, values that led to his decision to serve the nation in uniform.  These values have guided him through a distinguished career in both the conventional and special operations communities. 

One of the best things that I have in Norty Schwartz and I’m thankful that I have it in all of my key service leaders is straight talk, honest talk.  When it comes to the problems and challenges that they face, I know I can trust them to tell me the truth, and that’s what Norty  Schwartz is all about.

Early on, Norty served in the 1975 airlift evacuation in Saigon, assisting those in desperate need.  Later, he helped lead a joint special operations task force during the Gulf War.  More recently, Norty took on the huge task of running U.S. Transportation Command during a time of tremendous demand as we fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

As the 19th Air Force Chief of Staff, Norty has led the Air Force with tremendous judgment, vision, and honesty.  Even though he was planning to retire after his time at TRANSCOM, when called upon to help the institution he loves, he accepted the mission – and he always has. 

Norty led the Air Force during a period of intense operational demands and evolving strategic and fiscal challenges.  He quickly moved to restore confidence in our nuclear enterprise – an absolutely vital component of our national security. 

He also recognized how critically important it was to have remotely piloted aircraft.  And how important they are to our troops on the ground in Afghanistan.  And thanks to him, and history will mark this, he helped get more of this capability into the field.  And I can personally tell you, from my prior capacity and my current capacity, how essential these operations were to the fight against terrorism. 

During Norty’s time as Chief, the Air Force played a critical role in enabling our forces to draw down from Iraq, while surging personnel and equipment to Afghanistan.  As the first airlift officer to serve as Chief of Staff, Norty was uniquely qualified to help oversee this massive undertaking.  Norty’s accomplishments remind me of the old adage, “Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics.”

In the Libya operation, the Air Force flew over 8,000 sorties – conducting airstrikes and providing ISR and air refueling capabilities to the NATO-led coalition. All of this helped rid the world of a brutal dictator.  

In Afghanistan, the Air Force flew more than 33,000 close air support sorties in 2011 alone, in addition to having thousands of airmen serving on the ground.  As the ground Infantrymen tell me, there is no more comforting sound than jets arriving overhead to help get them out of a jam. 

With his teammate Mike Donley, both of them have come in and worked together to help make the Air Force prepare for the future – a future that includes the security challenges like cyber, and opportunities to have to deal with fiscal constraints, and opportunities to open up the Air Force to all of those who want to serve their country.  They helped in all of those areas.

Norty in particular played a key role in helping craft our new defense strategy.  He has put the Air Force on a stronger footing by streamlining the fleet and pushing ahead with key platforms for the future: the Joint Strike Fighter, the new tanker, a next-generation bomber, and new, more advanced UAVs.

And perhaps most importantly, America’s airmen and their families were never far from the minds of Norty and Suzie, who championed numerous support programs that have improved their quality of life.

One of the things that we have in the military, even as we will deeply miss Norty and Suzie and the leadership they provided, and they will always be part of the legacy of the Air Force.  One of the things that we have in the military thank God, is a great bench.

And I know the Air Force will be in good hands as Mark Welsh takes the controls from Norty.  Mark is a straight-shooter.  I worked with him, as I said, at the CIA.  He’s a little bit like John Wayne, and he keeps life-size cutout of John Wayne in his office and has kept in his office for well over 25 years.  I kept waiting for him to walk into the office when I was CIA Director and say, “Well, Pilgrim, what do you want me to do now?”

I am depending on Mark to call it the way he sees it.  He’s son of a highly-decorated Air Force colonel, who towed a glider into action during the D-Day assault on Normandy, Mark has distinguished himself in his own right in numerous operational, command, and staff positions.  Now, I do have to tell you that Mark did make me nervous once. 

We were on a flight from Tampa, I think we’d gone to CENTCOM, and we were flying from Tampa to Washington DC.  Suddenly, the plane lost altitude, it depressurized, the oxygen masks popped out, the pilots were scrambling to find a manual, and I looked at Mark for some assurance. 

He looked at the oxygen masks and he looked at me and he said, “Oh no, this is not good.”

That was not reassuring.  But you know, I think Norty will tell you that you’ll get to say that a lot as Chief.

His character, experience, and judgment will serve him well as the United States confronts a complex range of threats and challenges that will require us to maintain unquestioned dominance of the skies, dominance of space, and dominance of cyberspace.  Thanks to the stewardship of General Schwartz and now General Welsh, the Air Force will be prepared for that future, and it will celebrate its 65th birthday next month as the finest Air Force the world has ever known.

Norty, I wish you all the best in your retirement. I hope you get to spend more time with Suzie enjoying a quiet life, though I don’t think that will be the case.  And I hope you get to fly around in that plane you've always dreamed of owning.  I've even got the perfect name for it: Air Schwartz One.

Mark and Betty, I wish you and your family the very best as you embark on this important mission.

The United States military, and in particular the United States Air Force, has no shortage of cutting edge weapons and systems – we have stealth fighters, we have bombers, and we have remotely piloted aircraft.  But reflecting on these men’s careers reminds me of something that I have come to know more deeply as the Secretary of Defense.  The reason why we are the greatest military on earth, lies not in our weapons, or our planes, or our fancy systems.  It lies in our people… the men and women in uniform who serve this country.  And it lies in their leaders, people like Norty Schwartz and Mark Welsh.   

May God bless both of you, may God bless the Air Force, and may God bless the United States of America.

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