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Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the Armed Forces Farewell Tribute in Honor of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (As Delivered)

Troops and the band, you look magnificent this morning. Thanks for what you continue to do.

Good morning, everyone. 

President Biden, Vice President Harris, it is an absolute honor to have both of you with us today. 

Let me also thank the members of Congress, ambassadors, and foreign leaders who are joining us, as well as the former senior military leaders and former secretaries of defense. I’m glad to be here with so many of our senior leaders at the Department, including our Service Secretaries, Service Chiefs, the Joint Staff, and our combatant commanders. 

And again, thanks to you all for joining us today as we salute General Mark Milley for his distinguished tenure as the 20th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

And I am absolutely honored to welcome General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., as the 21st Chairman. 

Now, the service members on the field today represent our Joint Force—the troops whom General Milley led with such passion and skill as Chairman. Every day, that force defends our country, supports our allies and partners, advances our interests, and upholds our founding values. 

So today is a celebration of every American who volunteers to wear the cloth of our nation. 

And it’s a celebration of the distinguished career of General Mark Milley. 

Now, you may not know this, but he grew up in Boston. It’s a little-known fact—unless you’ve ever met the guy. 

He calls Boston the “holy land.” So to him, Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins is a patron saint. Bobby Orr once said that hockey teams win because of hard work and sacrifice. Without that, he said, “Skill is just potential.”

But General Milley has never let his skill languish as “just potential.” And he has always been eager to get into the fight. I’ve seen that firsthand over our long history of working together—including one time when he got me blown up. 


You see, during the Iraq War, I was commanding the 10th Mountain Division, and he was one of my brigade commanders. During one of my visits, one of his troops was wounded. And Mark said, “Hey sir, let’s go into town to the hospital to see our soldier. We’ll do it at night when it’s easier and there’s not much activity.” 

So as we prepared to depart, following detailed rehearsals, I said to General Milley, “You know, Mark, this just doesn’t feel right.”

Mark said, “Don’t worry, sir. We do this all the time.”

So we took Route Irish in Baghdad, which was known as the most dangerous road in the world. And we promptly got hit by an IED. 

It hit my door and shredded the tires on our Humvee. It was pitch-black and smoky. And Mark said, “Hey sir, you OK?”

And I said, “Mark, we’ve just been hit. I’m angry because we can’t return fire because the guy ran away. The vehicle is damaged. I recommend that we get the hell out of here.” 

We finally did. And afterward, I asked, “Hey, General, has this happened to you before?” 

And Mark said, “Oh yes sir—I’ve been blown up about five times now.”

Like I said, he was always eager to get into the fight. And he’s never hesitated to charge into danger for his troops or his country. 

This goes back to his earliest days as an infantryman and a Green Beret, including his time commanding a battalion in the famed 506th parachute infantry regiment. 

And during his brigade command, what I saw was what so many others have also seen: his vigor, his grit, and his tremendous leadership potential. 

So following brigade command, I encouraged him to serve on the Joint Staff. There, he learned a ton of skills that would help him later in his career. He continued to rapidly climb.

And in 2015, he went on to spend four demanding years as Chief of Staff of the Army. And he loved absolutely every minute of it. 

And then General Milley agreed to serve another four years in an even tougher job. 

Now, think of everything that our military has done during his tenure as Chairman. 

We’ve taken on the pacing challenge of the People’s Republic of China, confronted a once-in-a-generation pandemic, and led the world to help Ukraine fight back after Russia’s imperial invasion.  

General Milley has a deep sense of history. And he knows that future generations would judge us harshly if we failed to defend the postwar order built by American leadership. 

So he hasn’t just studied history. He has made history. 

Now, his sense of calling grew out of the proud Milley family heritage of military service. And General Milley’s own life of service wouldn’t have been possible without his outstanding family. 

His wife, Hollyanne, is an accomplished critical-care nurse. And she is also the real deal. 

At a ceremony a few years ago at Arlington National Cemetery, someone collapsed in the crowd. Hollyanne didn’t hesitate. She started CPR and directed someone to call the paramedics. And after a couple of sets of chest compressions, the man finally took a deep breath.

And that’s not the first time that she’s saved a life at an event. One time, at an Army gala, she performed CPR on someone else in trouble—while wearing an evening gown.

And for too many times to count, she has been a lifesaver for Mark and their family. While he was away on deployments, Hollyanne cared for their beloved kids, Peter and Mary. And over the years, the Milley family has moved more than 20 times.

Hollyanne has had to transfer her nursing license to nine different states. And she has helped countless military spouses to do the same. That’s made her a strong advocate for military families.

So Hollyanne, thank you for your phenomenal service to our country. 


We’re also grateful for Mark and Hollyanne’s son Peter and his wife Meredith.

And for their daughter Mary, her husband Andrew, and their kids, Alice, Ben, and Clark. And Andrew, thank you for your eight years of service in the U.S. Army, including as a company commander and a troop commander in the 82nd Airborne Division.

This is an extraordinary military family. 

Now, General Milley is a scholar and a warrior. We respect him for his wits. But we love him for his heart. 

And he’s thrown his whole heart into leading this tremendous Joint Force of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Guardians. In retirement, he’ll have more time for his second-favorite joint force: the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Celtics, and the Bruins. 

And Mark, I know that most of all, you’re looking forward to spending more time with your grandkids.

After a lifetime devoted to the common defense, you have more than earned some time for the pursuit of happiness. 

So at this bittersweet moment, let me simply say: thank you, General. Thank you for all that you have done, and for all that you have given. We wish you Godspeed in the chapters still to come. 

Congratulations, soldier. 


Now, General Milley is a tough act to follow. But we are fortunate to have a tremendous leader in General Brown. He will guide our brave troops without fail and defend our democracy without flinching. And I’m honored to have the chance to say a few words about our great new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. 

But before I do, I want to mention some other outstanding American military leaders.

I’m truly pleased that the United States Senate recently confirmed General Brown as our next Chairman. And I’m also glad to welcome General Randy George as our next Chief of Staff of the Army and General Eric Smith as our next Commandant of the Marine Corps.

But 367 of our outstanding general and flag officers are now grappling with the uncertainty of a blanket hold. So I urge the Senate to swiftly confirm all of our distinguished military nominees. 


And that brings me back to our next Chairman. 

You know, I’m told that when General Brown meets with troops, he often asks them: “What’s your superpower?” And that’s because CQ knows that each of our service members has something exceptional to contribute.

And General Brown is blessed with superpowers himself.  

I’ve seen his talents firsthand. When I was the commander of Central Command, General Brown was the commander of my air component. And he led forces in combat during the air campaign against ISIS and rallied our allies and partners to help destroy its terrorist caliphate in Iraq and Syria. 

Now General Brown also has a superpower for teaching. He did two stints at the Fighter Weapons School, where he taught the Air Force’s most elite Airmen. And wherever he goes, he sets a powerful example with his quiet confidence, his deep integrity, and his constant compassion.

Now, General Brown would not be where he is today without his wife Sharene and their sons, Sean and Ross. 

Sharene has served right alongside CQ through 20 moves. She has helped shape DOD’s Exceptional Family Member Program so that more families with special needs can get better resources and support. 

So to Sharene and the entire Brown family, thank you for all that you do to strengthen our military community, and for supporting General Brown as he takes the helm of our Joint Force. 

General Brown: I know that you’ll make us all proud as the Chairman.  


To our entire Joint Force: today and every day, America is counting on you. 

We’re counting on you to deter aggression wherever we can; to stand ready to fight and to win wherever we must; to work with our partners for a more secure and peaceful world; and to defend the republic that we love. 

The watch is changing. But the mission goes on. 

Thank you for your unwavering commitment to that mighty cause. 

May God bless you and your families. 

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