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U.S. Central Command Change of Command

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida, Friday, March 22, 2013

Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, leaders of the Department of Defense past and present, members of the Florida congressional delegation, Ambassadors and members of the diplomatic community, civic leaders from Tampa and St. Petersburg, distinguished guests – thank you all – thank you all for being here.

Ten years ago, both Jim Mattis and Lloyd Austin were in the Iraqi desert, on opposite sides of the Euphrates River, helping lead their troops in the drive to Baghdad.  Today these battle tested leaders share a single stage, one having completed a distinguished command, and one ready to step forward and take his place.

General Jim Mattis is bringing to a close a remarkable career as a Marine, a leader, and a legendary figure that Marine recruits will know of and draw inspiration from for many years to come. 

Jim Mattis has been front and center in every major combat operation this nation has conducted for more than two decades.  He led Marines as a battalion commander during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.  He commanded the longest assault from the sea in modern history – leading Task Force 58 more than 400 miles inland into Afghanistan after the attacks of September 11th.  During the invasion of Iraq, he led the storied 1stMarine Division on the longest overland assault in Marine Corps history, and he again led Marines into battle during the fight for the city of Fallujah. 

No task was ever beneath him, even as a commanding general – whether stepping in to serve as Quantico’s duty officer over Christmas, so a young Marine could spend the holiday with his family, or crouching in a frozen Afghanistan fighting hole to check on his men in the middle of the night.  He encouraged his young Marines to fight with a “happy heart and strong spirit,” and to always engage their brain before they engaged their weapons.    

As a lifelong student of warfare, he examined the pages of history looking for answers to help our troops fight today’s wars.  Fighting an adaptive enemy, Mattis saw that many of our old ways of war weren’t working, so he made sure lessons were learned in the field and reported back quickly and he used those lessons to help write the book on counterinsurgency with General Petraeus.  

In command he always sought to instill what he called a “vicious harmony” within his ranks, and across multilateral coalitions with whom he fought.   He earned the respect of those around him because he loved his work and those he served with.  He was a strong advocate for greater efficiency – even recommending that the Combatant Command he led, United States Joint Forces Command, be eliminated because he believed it had outlived its purpose.

Throughout his four decade career, General Mattis has never forgotten the fundamentally human nature of combat.  It is about sending young men and women into the world’s most stressful and dangerous environments, and then asking them to make the right decisions. 

General Mattis knows that if we are going to ask young Americans to put their lives on the line for our security, then they must be able to trust and have confidence in their leaders.  That’s why he always spoke directly and truthfully, no matter the audience – an essential element of leadership.  That trust and confidence is earned, it’s not given. 

General Mattis has demonstrated to the world that truly there is no worse enemy, and no better friend, than a United States Marine.  He has devoted his life, his energy, his intellect, and his force of courage and personality to the U.S. Marine Corps, our military, and our country.   And our nation is forever grateful for his service and sacrifice.  

Now some of you may believe, and I know General Mattis does, that an Army infantryman is not worthy of the words “Semper Fi” passing from his lips, well the hell with it General.  I am the Secretary and I say “Semper Fi” and thank you!

Now that I have “canonized” Jim Mattis, appropriately so, let me say a few words about a distinguished Army General, Lloyd Austin.   A West Point graduate, General Austin brings to this position combat experience gained on the unforgiving battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. 

He has commanded some of the Army’s most storied formations, including the 82ndAirborne and 10thMountain Divisions, as well as the 18thAirborne Corps.  He’s served in senior roles in the Pentagon, as Director of the Joint Staff, and most recently as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army.  Since Lloyd Austin led the first wave of soldiers into Iraq in 2003, it was only fitting that he also oversaw the withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq in 2011.  It was a tough job, combining political challenges with the uncertainties of combat and war, but he completed his mission with a steady, wise, and resourceful hand. 

With his calm demeanor, strategic vision, regional experience and knowledge, and proven judgment – and with the love and support of Charlene, and their children, who I understand one is here today, Shane, and we thank him.  I am confident, all members of our institution are confident that General Austin is prepared to lead this command at a time of dramatic change, challenge, and turmoil in its area of responsibility.  

Thank you General.  Thank you for taking on this critically important assignment.  And thanks to you Charlene.

To the men and women of Central Command, I want to thank you for your continued service and your sacrifice. 

I had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan earlier this month and thank some of our troops personally for everything they do for America’s security. 

I can’t think of a greater privilege than to serve as Secretary of Defense during this defining time in our nation’s history and to serve with America's finest men and women – men and women that our country is very very proud of.

God bless you all.  Thank you.

And to General Jim Mattis, Godspeed dear friend.

General Lloyd Austin we are proud of you and you will do a tremendous job for our country as you have in every position that you have served in.

Thank you very much.

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