General Myers [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] has done a thorough job of recognizing all the many distinguished guests who are here today. Let me add my personal welcome to Admiral Dennis Blair, Diane Blair, Admiral Thomas Fargo, Sarah Fargo, their families and friends, and, in particular, all the men and women of the finest Armed Forces in the Pacific.
I was in a briefing recently with General Tommy Franks, the commander of our Afghanistan operation, when he declared, with a big telltale grin on his face, that he always looks forward to leaving Florida to travel to Washington, D.C. I can tell you straight out that I do look forward to leaving Washington to go … just about anywhere.
And to leave Washington to go to Hawaii? It would be stating the obvious to tell you I am happy to be here. But, let me say it just the same. In fact, I am thrilled to be here. Today, I’ve visited a fast-attack submarine, an Aegis destroyer, and, now, we’re here in beautiful "K Bay." And with Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld back in Washington minding the store, I can fully appreciate what General Myers’ said about the boss who’s far, far away. So, I’m having a grand time. To General Myers, please accept my apologies that your trip to Hawaii didn’t get you equally far away from both of your bosses.
Secretary Rumsfeld sends all of you his greetings. I would like to take a moment to read to you from a letter that he wrote.
"Dear Admiral Blair: Congratulations on your retirement from the United States Navy and thank you for your years of dedicated service to our nation. I am grateful for your long and extraordinary service. I have relied upon your insight, intellect, and candor. Your leadership at an important time in our nation’s history has set a standard for professionalism and service. You have made many lasting contributions, and you can look back on your career with great pride. I wish you, Diane, and your family all the best for the future. Sincerely, Donald Rumsfeld."
As the admiral knows, displayed in Secretary Rumsfeld’s office is a very special letter of his own, one that his father, a Navy enlisted man, received from Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal when he left active service at the end of the Second World War. What strikes me about Forrestal’s letter is the sense of history that he conveys … how he placed one man’s accomplishments in the Navy into the context of one of the most demanding and dangerous periods in our history.
The very ground on which we stand witnessed the bloody opening salvos of that period—an attack that drew the United States into a world war, a terrible war, but one whose conclusion saw the United States emerge as a leader on the world stage. Although that attack has taken its place in history, the larger lesson we may draw from it remains unchanged and clear, especially after September 11th; we must be prepared for surprise—from wherever it may appear and however it may threaten. One of the fundamental ways in which we stay prepared is through our constant commitment and tireless fulfillment of our responsibilities in the Pacific region. As Secretary Rumsfeld would put it, we will always be leaning forward, not back.
In the history of our country, we have been fortunate that great leaders have shouldered such momentous responsibilities, and have led us forward through turbulent times and toward a stronger, safer and more secure future. Today, we pay tribute to one such man. A sixth-generation sailor who has worn this nation’s uniform himself for more than three decades now, Admiral Dennis Blair has led—in war and in peace—with independence, imagination and unquestioned intellect throughout those years and throughout the world. Especially in this vast region whose challenges can be as great as the 16 times zones that comprise this command. It is a region I know something about, having lived in Indonesia for three years and been involved with the Asia-Pacific for many, many more. And I can tell you that Denny Blair has met these multi-faceted challenges with a deftness and diplomacy whose breadth matches the far reaches of this command.
As we speak about great challenges met and matched, we may well recall the president who led us into the last century, Theodore Roosevelt. Admiral Blair and I share an admiration for that great President, and in Denny Blair’s case, we have a comparison that is particularly fitting: Roosevelt fought for America’s maritime services as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. It is a post he left to lead the famous charge up San Juan Hill—as a colonel in the United States Army.
If that dual service were not enough, as President, he championed a transformation of each one of our services to prepare them to meet the challenges of the unfolding twentieth century.
So, you see, Teddy Roosevelt was one of the original joint warriors, and he also won the Nobel Peace Prize for his skill in helping to end the Russo-Japanese war. He understood the relationship between peace and strength. He was a warrior-leader and diplomat, cut from the same cloth as the fine sailor that we honor today.
Under Admiral Blair’s steady leadership, as General Myers has so eloquently described, there have been many significant achievements here in Pacific Command over the last three years—sizeable achievements that highlight both his remarkable diplomatic skill and his commitment to joint operations. Let me mention just a few.
Despite those who said in the past that it wouldn’t work, Admiral Blair’s vision led this command to a bold movement away from the old paradigm of bilateral relationships. He developed a new model—a multilateral security approach that encourages countries in the region to talk and train together, so that they can work through challenges before they become problems.
That is a great stride forward which provides a solid basis for winning the war on terrorism and building a more secure Pacific region in the years beyond.
In another instance of innovation and vision, Admiral Blair was a trailblazer at Pacific Command in strengthening the move toward jointness. And he has emphasized transformation and experimentation, leaning forward in characteristic fashion, changing how we will fight and win on the battlefields of the future. And, on top of all of that, he helped lead us through major crises, as General Myers has noted. Today, we can point to this command’s ongoing response in the global war against terror with enormous pride.
Earlier today, I was privileged to meet the crews of the USS Buffalo and the USS Russell. As I told Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Terry Scott, who accompanied me here, what impressed me most were the young sailors who man these vessels—their proficiency, their professionalism and, above all, their pride. These are your people, Admiral Blair, and, under your leadership, they have served all of us well. Let’s give them a big hand.
There is no question that the men and women of Pacific command will continue to shape our future. As the President has told us from day one, this war against terrorism will be a long, hard fight. But, Admiral Blair leaves each of you here today ready, willing and able to carry on that fight. And let me add this--there is no doubt we will win in this war.
I also want to mention the person who has been with Denny every step of this remarkable journey, Diane Blair. We all know that Navy teams are family teams and it takes the whole team to achieve success. Diane, your devotion and energy have made you an effective and welcome ambassador around the globe. On behalf of Secretary Rumsfeld and all of us, thank you for your own untiring service.
As we bid farewell to one fine commander, we proudly welcome another. There is no better person to step into Denny Blair’s large shoes than Admiral Tom Fargo, another leader on whom we already depend for outstanding leadership here in the Pacific.
Throughout his own remarkable career as a submariner, he too has demonstrated a deep commitment to our men and women in uniform. I know Admiral Fargo and Sarah will make a great team at Camp Smith, and we look forward to seeing great things happen under their leadership. Aloha, and welcome to you both.
Finally, let me close with the wisdom of Teddy Roosevelt, who once captured why it is so important for our country to maintain armed forces second to none. "We Americans," he said, "have many grave problems to solve, many threatening evils to fight, and many deeds to do if, as we hope and believe, we have the wisdom, the strength, the courage and the virtue to do them. But we must face facts as they are. Our nation," he said 100 years ago, "is the one among all nations of the earth which holds in its hands the fate of the coming years."
Thanks, in very great measure, to Admiral Dennis Blair, and the men and women of Pacific Command, the fate of the coming years looks promising indeed. We congratulate the Blairs and wish them fair winds and following seas. We welcome the Fargos with great confidence and peace of mind. And, finally, we celebrate what the men and women of this great command do for our nation every day. The future—our future—is in good hands.
Thank you, God bless you and God bless the United States of America.