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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Remarks at the USTRANSCOM Change of Command (As Delivered)

Good morning, everyone. It is great to be here in the land of Lincoln and to join all of you as we honor the distinguished career of General Stephen Lyons and salute General Jacqueline Van Ovost as she takes command of TRANSCOM.

I’m happy to see so many friends and colleagues here, including from Congress… and also state and local leaders, and leaders from the Department of Defense, including General Milley and so many others. Thank you all for your support of this great command and its mission.

Let me extend a special welcome to the Gold Star family members here today. We all owe you a profound debt of gratitude, and we will forever honor your loved ones who fell in the service of our country. Thank you so much for being here. [Applause]

I’m also delighted to welcome General Lyons’s family, especially his wife of 32 years, Maureen, and their daughter Kara, whom I’m told, as the Chairman pointed out earlier, works as a middle-school special-education teacher, and their son Dylan, who is proudly carrying on his dad’s legacy as a cadet at my alma mater, West Point.

Steve was the first one to sign up, but all of you served right alongside him.

I know that it’s been a labor of love but also a sacrifice, and the whole Department of Defense thanks you.

And Maureen, let me congratulate you on the Distinguished Public Service Award that we’ll present later today.

You’ve earned it, and then some. Thank you for everything that you’ve given. [Applause]

I’m also delighted to welcome General Van Ovost’s family: her husband of almost 30 years, Alan, and their four daughters, Tracy, Kristen, Rebecca, and Megan.

It’s also an honor to have the general’s parents with us, Hans and Joy.

I know that you must remember the general as a girl falling in love with aviation.

So on behalf of us all: thanks for encouraging her and raising a mighty daughter. [Applause]

I’m also here to thank all of our forces who served so bravely throughout our long war in Afghanistan, and to the outstanding men and women of Transportation Command. 

Now, I’m not the world’s most experienced logistician, but I am one of the world’s most experienced consumers.

So I know that I’m looking right now at the people who make the American military move.

On any given day, TRANSCOM has some 115 railcars moving DOD equipment, and 33 ships are getting underway, and 1,500 trucks are delivering cargo. And about every two minutes, a TRANSCOM plane is taking off or landing somewhere around the world—hauling supplies, refueling aircraft, or moving patients.

That’s what you do in ordinary times. But this past year was anything but ordinary.

You had to keep the American military moving during a historic pandemic. And you delivered.

You had to execute a complex retrograde in Somalia. And you delivered.

You had to conduct the largest noncombatant evacuation airlift in American history in Afghanistan. And you delivered.  

You know, the whole world saw Operation ALLIES REFUGE. And they saw something that no other command can do. Something that no other military can do.

You conducted the largest NEO airlift in American history—in just 17 days.

And you didn’t let maintenance, or fuel, or logistical problems get in the way. Because there was a job to and lives to save.

So ladies and gentlemen of TRANSCOM, take a bow. [Applause]

Now, an airlift that huge would have been impressive under any circumstances. But you did it under combat conditions.

You faced a grave and growing terrorist threat. Punishing heat. No government. A ticking clock. And a dynamic and dangerous conditions on the ground.

And you put your heads down and you got it done.

You know, we always have high expectations for this command. But you really soared over them this time.

We expected to evacuate 70 to 80 thousand people. You saved more than 124,000.

And then you moved them to intermediate staging bases and onward to new lives, including here in America.

I’ll say it again: No other military could have done it.

No other nation could have mobilized our partners in industry to answer the call to help and to serve. No other country could have pulled together its friends in common purpose this way. And that’s all down to you.

Our nation is the best in the business because you are the best in the business.

As the Chairman pointed out earlier, our competitors and our foes were watching this mission. And you can be sure that it gave them great pause.

You showed them what we can achieve in short order. You showed them that no other country has the will, the capacity, and the constellation of allies and partners to tackle a mission this big.

You know, some people would hear this kind of challenge and say, “That’s just too hard.”

TRANSCOM doesn’t know the meaning of the words.

You give the American military our legs and our wings.

Logistics remain at the core of our warfighting concept, and of our ability to project and sustain combat power.

That’s why this command is central to our operations in the 21st century, and to our vision of truly integrated deterrence.

That means a very modern mix of technology, and operational concepts, and capabilities—

all woven together and networked. It means making investments so that we can continue to deter conflict across every domain, throughout every theater, and from every foe. And it means finding bold and new ways to deploy and link things together that we already have. It means strengthening our bonds with the great force multipliers in our unrivaled global network of partners and allies. And it means becoming even more agile, more resilient, and more innovative.

That’s what General Lyons helped forge, first as the deputy, then as the commander of TRANSCOM: a global transportation network that is stronger and faster than ever, and even more secure, hardened, and sustainable.

That’s quite a legacy. And it’s exactly what I expected of him, because we go back.

In 2003, we served together in the 3rd Infantry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom. I watched him help move a mechanized division with tanks and Bradleys up to Baghdad. It was a logistical triumph.

Since then, he has held almost every challenging logistics job in our inventory in peacetime and in wartime. He is a wizard of logistics, and a soldier’s soldier.

When COVID-19 hit, he didn’t waste time. He kept our people safe on planes as they continued moving all around the globe. And by the way, the safety measures that his team set became the industry standard for commercial airlines. 

When America and the world called for help, he rallied his team to deliver everything from ventilators to vaccines.

And after starting his career with one logistical miracle going up to Baghdad, he capped his career with another coming out of Kabul.

And throughout, Steve has been the epitome of professionalism. I’ve seen him in combat, and he’s unflappable. Focused. Thoughtful. And with ice water in his veins.

General, it’s been an honor. The whole Department thanks you. And Charlene and I wish you and your family the very best in your next chapter.

Thank you, Steve—very well done. [Applause]

Now, General Lyons is a tough act to follow. But we have exactly the right person with General Jackie Van Ovost.

She is a legend of a leader. And the American military is lucky to have her on the job.

I know that she’ll continue to push the envelope and exceed all expectations. Because that’s what she’s always done.

Her urge to excel started at an early age. I’m told that she got her pilot’s license before she could drive—legally, that is.

By the time she entered the Air Force Academy, she had more than a thousand flight hours under her belt as a civilian flight instructor. And at the Academy, she dreamed of flying fighter jets.

But women were barred from flying in combat then. And when she graduated, she asked to fly fighters anyway—and when she was asked what she wanted to fly, she listed every single jet that the Air Force has.

The Air Force told her “No.”

And, basically, that’s what she told them right back.

You see, she became a test pilot. So instead of flying one fighter jet, she got to fly one fighter after another.

Lots of pilots only fly one kind of aircraft. But over her career, General Van Ovost has flown more than 30… including Air Force Two.    

Now that took decades of discipline, integrity, and quiet determination. These traits have made her an exceptional pilot… and an outstanding leader.

There’s tenacious. And then there’s tenacious. And then there’s General Van Ovost.

As she says, “I really do try to explain to people why it’s not a good idea to say no to me.”

She’s the second woman to ever lead a combatant command. She’s helped lead an entire service as Director of the Air Staff. And she’s held multiple joint assignments, including more than two years as Vice Director on the Joint Staff. 

In fact, she’s led at nearly every level of command, most recently at the helm of Air Mobility Command where she played a key role by supplying planes and personnel for the Afghan airlift.

At the height of the NEO, an aircraft was taking off from Kabul airport every 45 minutes.

And thanks to Air Mobility Command and General Van Ovost, no one sat on the tarmac for maintenance or lack of fuel.

This kind of real-world combat achievement underscores something crucial.

General Van Ovost, in the 21st century, careers like yours are a fighting imperative.

We need every Jackie Van Ovost that we can get.

And as she likes to say, “As young women looking up, it’s hard to be what you cannot see.”

So General Van Ovost knows the importance of breaking barriers, of getting results, and of bringing teams together. And she’s used to challenges that have never been tackled before.

So Jackie, congratulations. I know that you won’t miss a beat in this job. And I know that you’ll make this outstanding command better and better.

Because you always find a way. And so does TRANSCOM.

Under your leadership, this command is going to keep the American military moving—

at the speed of war, and with the sweep of the 21st century.

I’m incredibly proud of every member of this command. And I know that you’re eager to get back to work.

Because the challenges are going to keep coming, sooner rather than later.

And I know that, no matter how big the task is, how steep the hill is, how hard the mission is, TRANSCOM will deliver.

Thank you very much, and Godspeed. [Applause]