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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Remarks at U.S. Southern Command's Change of Command Ceremony (As Delivered)

Good afternoon, everyone. It is great to be here. You know, after my time at Central Command, coming back to Florida always feels like coming home. 

At the outset, let me thank the families and friends of Admiral Faller and General Richardson for joining us. It's great to see so many of you here in person. And I want to thank everyone who's joining us virtually as well.

I'm glad to be here with members of Congress, and General Milley, and many of our Department of Defense colleagues, as well as business and community leaders from south Florida. 

I also want to welcome our guests from around the region, including ministers and chiefs of defense, and diplomats, and government representatives. We are honored to have you with us. 

Let me also offer a word of special thanks to all those who worked hard to put this event together. You have taken a gymnasium and turned it into a very, very special place. And all of us who are here recognize that is no simple feat. So a round of applause for all those worked on this. 


Now, we're here to celebrate some of Admiral Faller's proudest achievements. 

We're also here to salute SOUTHCOM's outstanding new leader, General Richardson. 

But before I say more about these two tremendous leaders, I want to say a few words about the important work that you all do here. 

In mid-August, the men and women of this command were ready for a quiet Saturday after a busy work week. But at 8:30 in the morning, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti.

Churches, and schools, and homes collapsed. Boulders blocked the roads. 

One of America's neighbors needed help.  

And so you raced to respond. All of you. From Admiral Faller on down. 

You sent aircraft to survey the damage. Helicopters from Joint Task Force-Bravo and Puerto Rico's National Guard delivered food and aid. Working together with USAID, you saved hundreds of lives. 

It was a massive effort. 

But you know, that's what SOUTHCOM does. 

Time and again, you step up after disasters. 

You also help disrupt criminal organizations. And you help keep illicit drugs away from our shores. 

And you never let up, even during a global pandemic… and even across a huge region with major security challenges. You know, SOUTHCOM covers over 16 million square miles. That's more than five times the size of the contiguous United States.
And some might find that daunting. 
But to you, it's just another day's work. And I want you to know how much we appreciate it. 

So, let's have a round of applause for all that you do. You've earned it. Take a bow, SOUTHCOM. 


As you heard the Chairman say, when we talk about this area of responsibility, we're talking about our neighborhood.

So SOUTHCOM's work is vital to American security, and American interests, and American values. 
And when there's instability nearby, it can echo here at home.

Think of the crisis of COVID-19, or the transnational criminal organizations that thrive on corruption and erode democratic institutions, or the disruption and damage of climate change.

We have to tackle these challenges together, as neighbors and friends. 

And SOUTHCOM is building and strengthening true partnerships. Rooted in respect, and communication, and candor.

A true partnership means deepening the ways that we work together. SOUTHCOM has years of experience conducting military exercises with our partners. And Craig Faller will tell you that this is one of the reasons we had such a well-coordinated international relief effort after Haiti's recent earthquake. We know our military partners. And they know us.

And true partnership means expanding security cooperation. Today, SOUTHCOM helps our neighbors deter, detect, and defend against cyber threats—and this command helps counter drug trafficking. 

And true partnership also means humanitarian assistance and disaster response. Whether it's an earthquake, or a pandemic, or a catastrophe related to climate change, we're there to help. 

And so when COVID-19 hit, Admiral Faller secured more than $90 million for medical equipment, and field hospitals, and cold-storage containers, and more for our partners. The United States government also has donated nearly 34 million vaccine doses to this region. 

And we're going to keep on fighting COVID in the region—because that's what friends do. And because we understand that a threat to global health anywhere is a threat to security everywhere.   

And finally, true partnership means that this administration will continue to make it a priority to build closer ties across the hemisphere.   

You know, back in June, Vice President Harris visited Guatemala, where she talked about finding hope in the face of crisis. The Vice President said, “Hope does not exist by itself. It must be coupled with relationships of trust.” 

And SOUTHCOM strengthens those “relationships of trust” each and every day. And that gets us all closer to the bright future that this hemisphere can share. 

You see, our partnerships are based on much more than proximity. They're based on shared values of equitable growth and prosperity. And they're based on common commitment to human rights and human dignity. And they're based on the region's longstanding consensus in favor of democracy.

Last week, my friend and colleague Secretary of State Blinken was in Latin America. And I want to reiterate something that he said. He said a strong democracy works for all of its people. Not just the wealthy or the well-connected. And not just the powerful. But for all of its people. The military's job is to respect the will of the people—not politics—and to protect democracy. 

Now, defending these shared values will rely on what I call “integrated deterrence.” It is a 21st-century vision for security that pulls together technology, and operational concepts, and capabilities—all woven together and deeply networked so that we can continue to deter conflict seamlessly, across every domain, and throughout every theater, and from every foe.

Under integrated deterrence, the United States military doesn't stand apart. We're here to support and strengthen the work of our diplomats—and to help advance a foreign policy that uses all instruments of our power. 

In this region, that means helping our neighbors strengthen their capabilities. It means sharing information. And it means working in lock-step with our partners.

These relationships can help combat malign influence in a region that's vital to the United States of America. And our network of alliances and partnerships are a force multiplier that no competitor can match. 

Now, Admiral Faller has been executing this strategy ever since he arrived at SOUTHCOM. 

He attributes his ability to “think big” to his parents, actually. His mother Audrey, who I know is dearly missed… and his father Henry, who served in the Army, and who is watching virtually with his wife JD. 

And during Craig's time at the Naval Academy, he met Martha, who has been by his side as you've heard for more than 37 years. And Martha, on top of being an outstanding vocalist and guitarist, you have demonstrated selfless service to this nation. On behalf of the whole Department, I want to thank you for your lifetime of support, your support for Craig [applause], your support for our military, and your support for this command. 

As you heard the Chairman say, the Fallers have two wonderful daughters, Jessica and Abbie, who you saw on the screen there a minute ago. And Jessica and Abbie, as the Chairman said, you had to move just about every year in school. And as young girls, you survived the greatest test of any family's fortitude… Of course, I'm talking about camping. And your parents took camping to a whole new level with a cross-country trip in one of those Coleman pop-up campers. So you deserve a medal for that.

But seriously, you've served right alongside your dad. And I know that your parents could not be prouder of who you've become, and the careers that you are pursuing, and the families that you are raising. 

Now, I had the chance to work with Admiral Faller when he was my J-3 at CENTCOM. We soon discovered that we share a love of fishing. And while Craig has flawless operational skills during work hours, it turns out that he isn't much of a map reader when the fish are biting. 

But when it comes to navigating SOUTHCOM, Admiral Craig Faller leaves nothing to chance. He's brought the interagency and our partners closer together. 

And he really listens. And that's pretty refreshing coming from Washington. Because there, sometimes, you can run into people who don't listen—they pause. 

But not Admiral Faller. 

You'd be hard-pressed to name a leader in this region who he hasn't reached out to. He believes to his core that there's no such thing as an unimportant partner or an unimportant member of the team.  

And from this very gym, he's held town halls so that he could hear directly from all of you. And I hear that often when he had a free moment, the Admiral might pop by your desk and ask how your day is going and what you're working on. 

So Admiral, as you sign off today, you bring to an end a tremendous career that has spanned nearly four decades. And Craig, I know that your last day in uniform may be bittersweet. But as you retire, I hope you will take deep pride in knowing that you have made a large and lasting contribution to the defense of this nation, a nation that you love dearly.  

Bravo Zulu, and well done, my friend. 


Now, we've got a tremendous, trailblazing leader to seize the baton, and that's General Laura Richardson. 

For the better part of three decades, the United States Army has benefited from her professionalism and dedication. 

So I want to thank her parents, who always told her that you can do anything that you want to do. 

Her father Jan served in the Army Reserves, and her mother Suzanne nudged the future general toward ROTC in college. And we're lucky that two out of Laura's three siblings, Janis and Darwin, also joined the Army.  

This is an extraordinary military family.

In flight school at Fort Rucker, Laura met her husband, Jim. Lieutenant General Jim Richardson is now the deputy commanding general of Army Futures Command. Jim, thanks for all that you do. 


Now, you don't mess with Team Richardson. You don't mess with them.

Early in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Laura commanded an assault helicopter battalion, and Jim commanded an attack battalion. And together, they flew missions to support the same infantry brigade on the ground. 

And during one operation, Jim's Apache was badly damaged. Now, pilots will tell you that flying low and slow in enemy territory is just about the most dangerous thing that you can do. But Jim had Laura by his side. And she flew her Black Hawk alongside Jim to escort him back to safety. So talk about husbands who need to ask for directions. [Laughter and applause] But the Richardsons always get each other home. 

Above all, your teamwork has shone through in raising your daughter, Lauren. She is serving her country as well, as an analyst for the U.S. Coast Guard. 

Now, in Washington, Laura headed up the Army Senate Liaison Division. And she would bring congressional delegations into Iraq. That's how I first got to know Laura, and I've been impressed with her ever since.

Most recently, she led U.S. Army North, doing everything from fighting wildfires to helping Americans get vaccinated. It was an extraordinary time—and she did an extraordinary job.

Everyone who has served with her has learned two things: First, there isn't a crisis that she can't handle. And second, she loves Skittles. So if you don't love Skittles, you're going to see a lot of Skittles from now on, Laura. So it never hurts to have a bunch of Skittles handy when the general is around.   

As the President says, she is pushing open the doors of opportunity for all the women in our military. And today, General Richardson will make history, as the first woman to ever lead SOUTHCOM.


But she will tell you that being first doesn't matter when you're focused on being the best. And that's exactly what she is. 

Laura, I have complete confidence in you. And I know that you're going to do what it takes to ensure that this great command gets better and better and better.  

The stakes are high. And SOUTHCOM saw exactly that when Hurricanes Eta and Iota struck nearly a year ago. 

Within just two weeks, two Category-4 force storms had pummeled Central America. 
In a small community in Honduras, the storms destroyed people's homes. But four buildings stood strong. SOUTHCOM's Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force had built these buildings five years earlier. And that's where neighbors found shelter from the storms. 

And I can't think of a better testament to the work of this great command. 

Under Admiral Faller's leadership, SOUTHCOM helped fortify everything that those structures represent—our commitment to the region, our support for our neighbors, our dedication to our shared security. And those buildings are symbols of the mighty foundation upon which General Richardson will build.

SOUTHCOM, you know that the storms may come—but the work that you build endures. 

And the trust that you build endures. 

And the hope that you build endures. 

Thank you, and Godspeed.