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Speech
Secretary of Defense Speech

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

July 1, 2022

Thank you, General Milley, for that overly generous introduction. I really appreciate it.

Good morning, everyone.

[Audience replies]

I think most people are asleep right now. Good morning, everyone!

[Audience replies more loudly]

All right. Well, thank you all for your support of this great Command.

Mrs. Wolters, Mrs. Cavoli, it’s great to be here with you, and thank you both for all that you do. And let me give a warm welcome to all the proud members of the Wolters and Cavoli families who are joining us online. It’s great to have you with us virtually.

And it’s great to be with the exceptional men and women of United States European Command.

I’m especially glad to be here with you as you’re celebrating a major milestone. This year marks EUCOM’s 70th anniversary. And over the past seven decades, this Command has helped defend our security, our values, and the rules-based international order that protects us all.

You saw that mission reinforced yet again at the landmark NATO summit this week—and in the unity and resolve that President Biden has helped to forge.

Ladies and gentlemen, we’re gathered here at a hinge in history.

Russia’s premeditated malice and baseless aggression against Ukraine poses the greatest threat to European security since the end of World War II.

And Putin’s war of choice threatens more than just the sovereignty of Ukraine.

It is an assault on transatlantic peace and security.

It is a reminder that tyrants believe that their imperial appetites matter more than the rights of their peaceful neighbors.

And it’s a rallying cry for people of goodwill, from every part of the planet—who have stood together to defend freedom, democracy, and human rights from autocrats who see free systems of self-government as relics of the past.

So in this hour of danger, I’m incredibly proud of the way that this Command has stepped up.

You’ve transformed conference rooms here at EUCOM into 24-hour operations centers to rush security assistance to Ukraine.

You’re harmonizing your efforts with NATO as the Alliance sends thousands of additional troops to its Eastern Flank.

And together with our allies and our partners around the world, you’re meeting Russian aggression with unity, with spine, and with steel.

So let’s have a round of applause for the incredible work that EUCOM is doing.

[Applause]

You know, as I was sitting up there in the chair a couple minutes ago, I looked around the room, and I was just amazed at the number of heroes—my personal heroes—that I see in the audience here. Men and women that I served with over time who have done remarkable things on behalf of their country. And I stood in your ranks before, and I’m proud to be able to be in the same room with you yet again. It is truly humbling for me.

You know, this team’s historic achievements, especially over the past few months, are a testament to the leadership of your commander, General Tod Wolters.

As you heard the Chairman say a moment ago, General Wolters joined the Air Force just like his dad. And like his father, Tod attended the elite Fighter Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base.

But Tod didn’t just graduate from that school. They called him back to be an instructor.

Now, the students at Weapons School learn to live by a three-word motto: “humble, approachable, and credible.” And throughout his career, he’s embodied those three qualities.

First, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind in this room or across the entire Command that General Wolters is humble.

Now, humility doesn’t necessarily go along with someone whose full title includes “Supreme Allied Commander.”

[Laughter]

But he is indeed humble. Tod, in your time as SACEUR, you’ve built trust with our allies and partners through cooperation and respect. You’ve led with teamwork and not arrogance. And that’s produced historic results.

Second, General Wolters is approachable.

Everyone here knows his calm demeanor and his steady focus. You know, he’s got a way of inspiring confidence in everyone—from junior officers to senior military leaders to the President of the United States.

And Tod is the kind of a guy who’s never met a stranger. No matter where he’s served, the surrounding community has gained lifelong friends in General Wolters and his family.

Case in point: Tod left his post as Commander of Tyndall Air Force Base back in 2008. But for years afterward, the people in and around that community would ask about the man with the call sign “Magoo.”

[Laughter]

Some of you young guys probably didn’t know that was his call sign. But that’s his call sign: Magoo.

And third, General Wolters is credible.

He just gets the job done. And he gets it done over and over again.

The Air Force has counted on him as a Wing Commander three times over.

The men and women of EUCOM counted on him to lead them through the COVID pandemic—and to rush lifesaving vaccines and medical supplies to our allies and partners.

The United States and our Allies counted on him to wind down NATO’s mission in Afghanistan.

And other U.S. commands and interagency partners counted on him to help evacuate more than 42,000 Afghan civilians to temporary facilities in Europe.

Our allies counted on him to strengthen our readiness and deepen our interoperability.

And we have all counted on him for wisdom and vision throughout the historic crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

As you heard the Chairman say earlier, no SACEUR in decades has faced a challenge of this magnitude. But General Wolters, you have always come through.

Always.

And at your last NATO defense ministerial, every Minister of Defense in the room congratulated you on your tenure. With no exceptions. And that’s the type of leader that you are.

Now, on behalf of the entire Department, I want to thank your wife—who has always come through for you.

And you and I both had the good sense to marry women named Charlene.

[Laughter]

So, my wife is named Charlene as well. Tod, I think we can probably start a club, you and I. We can call it something like “men who have been trained by Charlenes,” or something like that.

[Laughter]

But Charlene has supported you through 20 moves. As you flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, she was there. And as you logged more than 5,000 hours in the sky, she was there.

And along the way, you have both raised two wonderful children: your daughter Sandra and your son Tommy. You’ve described Sandra as a 21st-century military spouse, while her husband James serves in the Army. And Tommy, as you heard earlier, is continuing the Wolters legacy in the Air Force.

So let me echo the Chairman’s gratitude for this outstanding military family. Let’s give this family a round of applause.

[Applause]

Humble. Approachable. And credible. General Wolters, you have lived and led by that creed.

Thank you, Tod—for everything that you’ve done for our world, and for our country, and for the United States Air Force.

In your well-earned retirement, may you have blue skies, with the wind at your back. And we wish you all the best.

Now, General Wolters is a tough act to follow. But we’ve got just the right leader in General Chris Cavoli. And Chris, you’re going to keep the momentum up—there’s no question in my mind.

Your father immigrated to the United States from Italy and became a U.S. Army officer. He was assigned to Germany, where you entered the story.

[Laughter]

And when you became an Army officer, you were also following proudly in your father’s footsteps.

And growing up, you followed your dad to his many assignments around Europe. You went to elementary school and high school in Italy. You speak French, Russian, and Italian. You’ve had multiple assignments in this AOR, from Bosnia to Germany. You even served, as you’ve heard the Chairman say earlier, on the Russia desk for the Joint Staff.

So I know that, for you, being in Europe feels a lot like being home.

But the person who really makes a new place feel like home for your family is your wife Christina. So Christina, let me thank you for joining Chris on this incredible journey.

And I know that you’re both incredibly proud of your sons, Alex and Nick. Alex works at a clean-energy startup, and Nick is at UC Santa Barbara, studying physics.

And we’re grateful to the entire Cavoli family. And we thank you in advance for all the support that you’ll offer Chris in the years ahead. 

General Cavoli, you are the soldier-statesman who this command needs at this moment of challenge.

You’re a powerful intellect, a creative thinker, and a fierce warrior.

And actually, I’ve seen that firsthand. When I was Commanding General of the 10th Mountain Division, Chris was one of my battalion commanders. And he did an absolutely outstanding job. And he’s gone on to command at every level.

One of those assignments was Deputy Commander of NATO’s Regional Command West in Herat, Afghanistan. And there, he worked with forces from Croatia, Italy, Lithuania, and Spain. So he not only saw the grit of U.S. troops in combat, he also witnessed the power of NATO allies serving shoulder-to-shoulder.

In his most recent assignment, General Cavoli led all of the Army’s efforts from the northern tip of Norway down to the southern tip of South Africa, covering more than 100 countries in between.

And he led with a sure hand during Operation Allies Welcome.

He seamlessly consolidated U.S. Army Africa and U.S. Army Europe into one headquarters.

And he oversaw the reactivation of V Corps.

And in recent weeks, he swiftly repositioned more ground forces on the Eastern Flank to deter Russian aggression against NATO—including the deployment of a full armored brigade combat team in a little over a week.

So General Cavoli is exceptionally well-prepared to further strengthen NATO’s posture on the Eastern Flank—and to help forge a truly 21st-century security architecture for Europe.

Because NATO, Chris as you’ve said, “cannot be a one-problem alliance.”

And as you’ve also noted, NATO must stay vigilant across 360 degrees—from aggressive behavior from the PRC to terrorism to climate change.

So Chris, you are the right leader, with the right experience, at the right time. And I have every confidence that you’ll do well.

Ladies and gentlemen, back in 1952, the very first SACEUR was stepping down. And in his farewell to NATO, General Dwight Eisenhower said that he and the alliance’s leaders had shared “the same passionate hope of serving free humanity… [and] of making it secure.”

We still share that hope.

We still keep that flame burning.

And I believe that future generations will look back on how we all served the cause of freedom at this pivotal moment.

They’ll take inspiration from the resilience and the valor of the Ukrainian people.

They’ll take heart from the way that nations of goodwill rallied against Putin’s aggression.

They’ll remember the way that we moved to defend every member of NATO.

They’ll recall the way that we renewed the institutions and alliances that deepen our shared security.

And they will draw strength from that “same passionate hope of serving free humanity”—and our struggle to make it secure.

Thanks to all of you.

Men and women of EUCOM, may God bless you and keep you safe.

And may God continue to bless the United States of America. Thank you very much.

[Applause]