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Joint Forces Command/Supreme Allied Command, Atlantic Change of Command Ceremony
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Norfolk Naval Base, Norfolk, VA, Tuesday, September 05, 2000

[Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic and Commander in Chief, U.S. Joint Forces Command] Admiral [Harold W.] Gehman, Janet [Gehman], and the entire Gehman family. Admiral Gehman, thank you, for your words, which were very generous and, for your deeds, which—as we will be reminded throughout this ceremony—have been extraordinary.

I will take your cue and simply welcome all of the distinguished guests who are here today. But I do want to point out my former colleagues in the House, Congressman [Norman] Sisisky, Congressman [Owen] Pickett, Congressman [Herb] Batemen, thank you for all you’ve done for the military during your great years of service on the House Armed Services Committee. Thank you very much. [Applause.]

The last time that I joined [NATO Secretary General] George Robertson—then Minister of Defense Robertson—at such a scene was last year when my wife, Janet, and I helped to christen the USS Winston Churchill. Janet did the christening; I did the watching. But among the many stories that we recalled that day was one about a young photographer who was taking Churchill's picture on his 75th birthday. And this budding cameraman was so enthusiastic that he looked at Sir Winston and said, "I hope that I'll be able to take your picture when you’re 100." And Churchill looked back at the young man and he said, "I don't see why not, you look reasonably fit and healthy." [Laughter.] I hope that all of you will still be here, fit and healthy, when Lord Robertson concludes his remarks later this morning. [Laughter.]

The last time I stood on the deck of this great ship, it was off the coast of Spain, in the immediate wake of Operation Allied Force. That day, we celebrated the remarkable men and women of "The Big Stick" who had safely launched and executed some 3,400 sorties. Today, we celebrate a leader and a command that helped make that operation such a historic success.

So it’s altogether fitting that we gather on this magnificent carrier named for our 26th president. Theodore Roosevelt, as you know, was a tireless champion of our maritime services as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a post that he then left to lead the famous charge up San Juan Hill as a colonel in the Army. And, as president, he transformed all of our forces so this nation could meet the unprecedented challenges of the unfolding twentieth century. He understood that this nation’s security depended on harnessing every facet of our military force, and he understood that such a vital mission called for our most visionary leaders, such as the great sailor that we honor today.

Roosevelt said that it is a leader’s heart, his soul, his worth, and his actions that determine his standing among men. In the admiral that we honor today, America has indeed enjoyed a leader whose heart and actions have defined him as a public servant of the very highest standing.

From his earliest days, Hal Gehman displayed a devotion to duty and a courage in the face of adversity that made him a shining standard for America’s military men and women. And perhaps because he is a quiet, modest man, few knew that as a Swift Boat commander in the coastal waters of Vietnam, young Lieutenant Gehman and his crew routinely braved the hot steel of hostile fire to rescue downed American aviators.

Yet all who knew Hal Gehman know of his intellect, which is keen; his style, which is innovative; and, his outlook, which is unfailingly optimistic. These are the very attributes that led Admiral [Elmo] "Bud" Zumwalt to choose this leader as part of his legendary Mod Squad—that outstanding group of young officers selected for early command. And I would say that Hal Gehman’s career ever since that time—from a commander of a carrier battle group to commander of a Joint Task Force in Haiti; to Vice Chief of Naval Operations; and finally, as Commander of Joint Forces Command and Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic—all of that has proven the wisdom of Bud Zumwalt’s vision.

Indeed, when this Norfolk native assumed his hometown’s highest post, he took the more than one million under his command and persevered with their enduring missions: strengthening our bonds with our European allies and partners, such as we saw in recent weeks in his very swift offer to come of the aid of the sunken Russian submarine, the Kursk; and, supplying our combatant commanders the world over with joint forces that are trained and ready for any contingency. Indeed, I can recall quite vividly coming here to Norfolk in the early days of Allied Force and standing with the president and Admiral Gehman to pay tribute to all of the men and women, so many from this command, who were turning back a dictator’s aggression in Kosovo.

And when we created the Joint Forces Command just about a year ago, we charged Admiral Gehman and this command with an evolving mission: to spearhead a sea change of tidal proportions; to peer into the battlefields of tomorrow and to build the joint warfighting force; to transform our forces by experimenting and innovating to create a new art of warfare; and here at home, to help communities respond in the event of a chemical or biological attack on American soil.

In characteristic fashion, Admiral Gehman captured the essence of this challenge by pointing to Yogi Berra’s observation that, "the future just ain’t what it used to be." But I will tell you that Admiral Gehman and this command embraced that mission with all the energy and optimism befitting the namesake of this mighty ship. And years from now, Hal Gehman’s legacy is going to be measured in the technologies that have been harnessed, the lives saved, and the victories won. So on behalf of all of the men and women in uniform, Admiral, I want to thank you for a job extremely well done. Thank you. [Applause.]

And, of course, we all know that no public servant succeeds alone. Janet Gehman, when America placed Hal in positions of high trust, the men and women under his command were also graced with your caring and your concern and your dedication--not only to basketball, but to education. Your energy and your elegance made you a welcome ambassador the world over. Thank you for the extraordinary contribution you have made in service to this country. [Applause.]

Three decades ago, the conflict in Vietnam that forged a young Naval officer also steeled a young Army rifle platoon leader of the 101st Airborne Division. Today, we welcome General [William F.] "Buck" Kernan to this command. Buck Kernan is one of this nation’s best "rapid reactors:" as the leader of the 75th Ranger Regiment’s parachute assault into Panama during Operation Just Cause; and most recently as the commander of the 18th Airborne Corps, America’s premier rapid reaction force.

As the first soldier to lead Norfolk’s two great commands, we can expect to see Buck Kernan residing where Rangers feel most at home—at the battle’s cutting edge. General Kernan, you will prove once again that America sends her best and brightest to serve with all of our allies and to forge the future. So with Marianne at your side, we welcome both of you to this great command. [Applause.]

Ladies and gentlemen, I began with Theodore Roosevelt; allow me to close with him. The leader to whom we bid farewell today is a man who has known, in Roosevelt’s words, "the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, and who knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement."

Indeed, it was Hal Gehman’s great devotion and his great enthusiasm for our nation, for our Navy, and, indeed, for all of our warfighters that, in the end, has made his life’s service one of triumph and one of the highest achievement. So, Admiral Gehman, for the victories yet to be won, for the lives yet to be saved, for the legacy of excellence you have instilled in all who you have led, a grateful nation thanks you. And to you and to Janet, we wish you fair winds and following seas. Thank you very much. [Applause.]