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Special Operations Command Change of Command
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Tampa Convention Center, Tampa, Florida, Friday, October 27, 2000

General [Peter Schoomaker; out-going Commander-in-Chief, Special Operations Command] and Cindy Schoomaker and family, and you have a large and wonderful family here; General [Charles Holland; in-coming Commander-in-Chief, Special Operations Command] and Nancy Holland and family; General [Henry Shelton; Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff] and Carolyn Shelton. General Shelton, let me say once again how much the President and I rely upon your great insight and judgement and wisdom. These are the qualities, I would add, that you applied with equal brilliance during your past leadership of the "quiet professionals" of this command.

General [Michael] Ryan [Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force]; General [Eric] Shinseki [Chief of Staff, U.S. Army]; General [Charles] Robertson [Commander-in-Chief, Transportation Command]; General [Tommy] Franks [Commander-in-Chief, Central Command]; distinguished guests, including Ross Perot, a long-time friend to the special operations community; Mayor [of Tampa Dick] Greco; [Tampa City] Councilman [Robert] Buckhorn; men and women of the Armed Forces; ladies and gentlemen.

It’s great to be back in Tampa again. I must say that the size of this audience is a true testament to the support that you have for General Schoomaker certainly, but also for our forces in general. When Chairman Shelton and I attended the change of command over at European Command, we had a briefing that indicated the ceremony might take two hours. And I raised that question to our briefer, a sergeant major, who said, "That, sir, all depends on how long your speech is." [Laughter.] I might tell you that he has since been reduced in rank. [Laughter.]

President Truman once remarked that "a leader is someone who has the ability to get other people to do what they don’t want to do -- and to like it." I would add that sometimes leaders themselves don’t always get to do as they like. So while General Shelton and I would prefer to stay on longer today, I regret that we will have to cut short our visit in order to attend a meeting at the White House with the President.

Two weeks ago, America awoke to news of a horrific explosion half a world away. And then, one week ago, America paused to pay solemn tribute to the sailors and the families of the USS Cole. And at that ceremony in Norfolk, the presence of the wounded—some of them still in their hospital beds—spoke of the heavy burden that is borne by those of you who wear this nation’s uniform, those of you who stand ready to surrender life itself in defense of liberty. And I will say today as I said then: America will not rest until we find those who orchestrated this act of pure evil. We will not rest until the long arm of justice makes them pay for their crime.

But today, we’re gathering for a different task—a public tribute to a very private man, both by temperament and by profession. He is a soldier who has indeed risked all for this nation. Now, as you know, we can’t discuss some of his service for obvious reasons, but there’s enough on record about Pete Schoomaker that will allow me to engage in some extended praise, much to his chagrin, I’m sure.

The historian Will Durant once observed that "the present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present unrolled for understanding." I would like to share with you a seminal, if painful, page from America’s past that I believe helps us understand the man that we honor today.

In April 1980, an elite team assembled from across America’s military services was dispatched to a staging area in the remote Iranian desert to rescue the 53 American hostages then being held in Tehran. And out of the maelstrom of flame and wreckage, came the realization to all of us—those across this country, those of us on Capitol Hill—that there had to be a better way. Such was the genesis of what ultimately would become this command.

Since then, the role of special operations has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of Desert One to a rebirth as one of America’s most respected and reliable forces, with a role in virtually every region, every deployment all over the world. And so it gives me enormous pride—from both a professional and a personal point of view—to join with you today.

When General Shelton left this command to assume his current position, and it came time for a new leader to guide those of you who are here today—the "quiet professionals"—we turned to another quiet man, a man who during his football days at Wyoming University learned to bask in anonymity as the "silent lineman" [laughter] as he carried his beloved Cowboys all the way to the Sugar Bowl.

In this leader, America has found a man of boundless courage, a soldier who has lived through the dust and the ashes of Desert One and made its lesson his life’s mission. We found in General Schoomaker a man of profound intellect and insight, a soldier of the shadows who emerged to guide our special forces the world over as a commander who "Upheld Democracy" in Haiti, as commander of Joint Special Operations Command, and during these past three years, as the leader of this command—the elite of the elite.

And I would add that, contrary to his moniker as the "silent lineman," General Schoomaker has never been quiet or silent when it comes time to championing his people. His is a strong, commanding voice, one that’s respected in Congress. Pete Schoomaker never promises more than he can deliver and he always delivers exactly what he has promised: the equipment that you need; the training you demand; the leadership that you deserve.

Now if ancient legend boasts of the spectacle of a thousand ships being launched to reclaim Helen of Troy, I think modern lore can marvel instead at a relative handful of warriors led by this man, whose missions are defined as much by your courage as their complexity.

I will tell you that America marvels at your compassion—for training the Bosnian Serbs, the Croats, the Muslims in de-mining and transforming the Bosnian landscape itself; and for relieving the suffering of the Kosovar refugees last year before the other forces even arrived.

We marvel at your skill in promoting stability and security—for training units across Africa in the art of peacekeeping; your rapid reaction that diffused a threatened attack against our embassy in Liberia; and your continuing support as the crew of the Cole recovers from the attack and repairs that ship.

And we stand in awe of your bravery—bringing home two American pilots who were downed during Allied Force by snatching them from behind enemy lines just 25 miles from Milosevic’s doorstep.

By necessity, those of you who are here are often the most unknown and too often the most unsung. But, today, I and all of us are proud to sing your praises and to shine a light on you and your leader.

Of course, as we know, there is another Schoomaker whose quiet devotion has contributed to the success that we witness today. Cindy Schoomaker, when America placed your husband in positions of high trust and called him to points unknown, your dedication not only sustained your children, but your husband in his service to this country, and served as a beacon to all those whose sacrifices on the home front support our warriors on the battlefront. So on behalf of all of us, we want to extend our congratulations and our thanks for your fine example. [Applause.]

General Schoomaker now leaves to America, and to a new commander, a command more than prepared to meet the uncertainties of a new century. Tested under enemy fire in 79 combat missions over Vietnam, a commander of our special forces the world over, and most recently a leader of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, General Charlie Holland understands the future facing our special operations forces. And I would add that as the first airman to lead this great command, we can expect to see Charlie Holland where aviators feel most at home—at the battle’s leading edge. And so General Holland and Nancy, we congratulate and welcome both of you.

General Schoomaker, men and women of this command, whether in the Balkans, where you have gone beyond the mountains, or in the heart of Africa, after you have crossed the sea, you have trod ground that few will ever know. And Pete Schoomaker, let me say that we can never fully express our gratitude, we can thank you enough for your duty and your honor. We can never thank you enough for your many decades of proud service to this great country. But what we can do, today, is to say that this nation is truly indebted to you, and that we wish you and Cindy Godspeed. [Applause.]