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

Well aloha, everyone!

[Audience replies, "Aloha!"]

It's great to be back in Hawaii.

And it's an honor to be joined today by so many distinguished guests, including Governor Green and other state and local leaders from Hawaii, members of Congress, Heads of State, ministers of defense, chiefs of defense, and ambassadors, and DOD leaders, and more.

Let me give a special shout-out to our outstanding Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General C.Q. Brown.


And as you heard earlier, his lovely wife, Sharene, is with us here as well.


And I'd also like to give a special warm welcome to the families of Chris Aquilino and Admiral Sam Paparo.


Now, we're here to celebrate the exceptional men and women of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Thanks for everything that you do to keep America safe. Let's have a round of applause for INDOPACOM.


This command's mission is at the heart of American security in the 21st century.

Every day, INDOPACOM keeps the watch in our priority theater of operations.

And together with our unmatched network of allies and partners, you're advancing our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Each and every one of you.

You know, we ask a lot of INDOPACOM these days.

But every day over the past three years, this command has stepped up — under the extraordinary leadership of Admiral Aquilino.

Chris, you've helped transform our posture. You've strengthened our readiness. And you've deepened our alliances and partnerships. And all of that has bolstered our deterrence.

You know, the United States has the most combat-credible fighting force on Earth. And we're going to keep it that way.


Now, all this progress wasn't easy.

Admiral Aquilino took command a year into the pandemic. Vaccines were just starting to become available. And on your watch, INDOPACOM delivered more than 130 million lifesaving COVID vaccines and other medical supplies, from the Philippines to Fiji.

Let me say that again. More than 130 million doses.


Now, our allies and partners know that we will stand by them. Because that's what America does. And that's who you are. 

You know, a few months ago, floods displaced nearly a million people in the Philippines. And INDOPACOM worked with USAID and the Philippine Air Force to rush food and other aid to local communities. And you helped our ally get back on their feet.

And at home, you've worked hard to keep the faith with the people of Hawaii.

After the terrible 2021 fuel spill at Red Hill, this command helped ensure that Red Hill was safely defueled —and transferred to the Navy for final closure.

And you've helped Maui recover from last year's devastating wildfires — surging lifesaving support and long-term disaster relief.

You know, Admiral Aquilino, your tenure has been a decisive time for our defense strategy in the Indo-Pacific.

You've been a leading voice for major investments in critical munitions.

You've pushed to advance the Replicator Initiative.

You've built up the Guam Defense System to protect the most forward U.S. territory in the Indo-Pacific.

And you've helped get critical capabilities into the hands of the warfighter faster.

And you've always understood the power of partnership.

And so INDOPACOM is working with our regional allies and partners like never before.

This command has organized major exercises with our friends year after year, including Balikatan, Cobra Gold, Freedom Shield, and Garuda Shield. Now, that boosts interoperability. It brings together tens of thousands of troops from dozens of ally and partner countries. In fact, this year's Balikatan is underway right now.

Now, we've also made historic progress with our allies and partners to strengthen our regional force posture.

In Japan, we forward-stationed the most advanced formation in the Marine Corps, the Marine Littoral Regiment.

In the Philippines, we've expanded U.S. access to four new sites under our Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

In Papua New Guinea, we finalized a groundbreaking Defense Cooperation Agreement.

We're hitting new milestones in our Major Defense Partnership with India.

With Australia, we're advancing new posture initiatives across every domain.

We're deepening our historic AUKUS partnership with Australia and the U.K.

And so, our allies and partners are working together in unprecedented ways, like the growing trilateral relationship between Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United States.

And we've continued to strengthen our ties across the region, including with ASEAN, the Quad, and other groups of partners.

Now, we still face real challenges in the region.

Unfortunately, the People's Republic of China continues to engage in increasingly coercive behavior. And we can see that across the Taiwan Strait, in the East and South China Seas, among the Pacific Island countries, along the Line of Actual Control with India, and more.

You know, the PRC is the only country with both the will — and, increasingly, the capacity— to dominate the Indo-Pacific and to reshape the global order to suit its autocratic vision. And that's why the PRC remains the Department's pacing challenge.

Meanwhile, North Korea, Russia, and violent extremist groups still threaten security in the region.

But INDOPACOM has risen to meet the moment, together with allies and partners. And it has moved us closer to our shared vision of an Indo-Pacific that is free, and open, and secure. Again and again and again.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, this doesn't just happen. It takes vision. Dedication. It takes teamwork. And it takes leadership.

And as everyone knows, as everyone has seen, those virtues have defined Admiral Aquilino over his 40 years in uniform—from ensign to admiral.

Now, Chris didn't serve alone. So it's great to be here with his wife, Laura, and their daughters, Jessica and Lisa. Thanks for all the sacrifices that you've made — and thanks for standing by the admiral throughout his outstanding career.


Now Laura and Chris raised two great children. Lisa is in southern California now, working as a film editor. And Jessica lives right here in Hawaii and works as an ICU nurse.

And Laura, you are the heart of this outstanding family. So, thanks for being a fantastic advocate for our military families, and for supporting educational initiatives for military-connected kids, and being a great goodwill ambassador across the region. So tremendous thanks for everything that you and your family have done in support of the admiral.

Once again, thank you so much.


Now, Chris, you distinguished yourself as a naval aviator and a fierce warfighter. After graduating from Top Gun, you trained some of America's most promising fighter pilots.

Speaking of Top Gun, I'm sorry that Jon Hamm beat you out for the role of the hard-bitten admiral in "Top Gun: Maverick."


I know you wanted the part. But, uh, sorry that you didn't get that part.


But seriously: we've always counted on Chris in the cockpit. Chris, you've flown consequential and dangerous missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And you've excelled at every echelon in command, from squadron to combatant command.

And now, you know as I thought about this, as a young man, Chris inexplicably chose the Naval Academy over West Point.

[Laughter and audience chatter]

I knew somebody would say, "Beat Army." Hey, I'm the Secretary. I want everybody to win, OK?


You know, when Chris was getting ready to graduate, his fellow midshipmen in the Class of 1984 wrote in their yearbook, and I quote, "We know that Chris will always fly high."

And then they added, "He'd always score low."


Now, they were referring to Chris's skill at the card game Hearts — and not his grades.

And so we all hope that you and Laura will finally have more time to play Hearts in the years to come, Chris.

And admiral, the Class of '84 was right. You have always flown high — and taken the forces that you've led to incredible heights.

Now, you've also earned plenty of awards during your illustrious career. But I wanted to make sure that everyone understood what the Chairmen said earlier about you being the Old Goat.

If you're not familiar with that term, that means you're in the Army.


But the Old Goat is the longest-serving Naval Academy graduate on active duty.

So Chris: Bravo Zulu, my friend.

Thanks for an incredible journey. Thanks for 40 years of distinguished service in the United States Navy.

Charlene and I, and everyone here, wish you and Laura fair winds and following seas. And again, ladies and gentlemen, another round of applause for Admiral Aquilino.

[Standing ovation]

And so today, the colors pass from Admiral Aquilino to Admiral Paparo.

Now, Chris is a tough act to follow. But Admiral Paparo is exactly the right leader for this moment and this mission.

Sam, let me welcome your wife, Maureen, your children, Elizabeth, John, Joseph, and Michael.

And I know that your daughter Regina and her husband Christopher and your son Sam and his fiancée Katie all wish that they could be here today.

As you can see, the Paparo children are all doing well. And I'd like to congratulate Lieutenant JG Sam Paparo for carrying on his dad's legacy as a naval aviator.

Now, over the admiral's career, the Paparo family has lived at 15 different duty stations. And each of the kids has attended at least five different schools.

And through each move, Maureen has been the rock of this exemplary military family. She has worked as a teacher and served on the Armed Services YMCA Board here in Hawaii. Maureen, thanks for your [dedication] to our military families, and for supporting after-school activities for kids of service members, and for making sure that everyone has food on their table, and for helping service members visit loved ones over the holidays, and more.

So let's give it up for Maureen and the Paparo family.


Sam, you've been a leader throughout your 37 years in uniform.

Like Chris, you also graduated from Top Gun, and you've also flown critical missions around the world.

You've worked closely with your sister services — flying F-15s with the Air Force, and serving with the Army in Afghanistan commanding a Provincial Reconstruction Team.

And you have deep experience in this theater, including as commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

It's all been leading up to this: the challenge of leading United States INDOPACOM.

Sam, we all know that you will excel. And we know that you will lead with principle and pride. And we know that you will keep Americans safe.

And so, Admiral, thanks for a lifetime of service, and for all that you will give to this great command.

Let's hear it again for Admiral Paparo and his family.


Now, I know that I'm standing between you and the grill on Aloha Friday.


But I wanted to conclude by taking just a moment to honor the life of Lou Conter, who died last month at the age of 102.

As many of you know, he was the last known survivor of the U.S.S. Arizona — which rests just behind me.

On [December] 7, 1941, he was a quartermaster. And miraculously, he wasn't hurt in the attack on Pearl Harbor. And he raced to help the wounded, put out fires, and recover his fallen teammates.

And he went on to become a decorated naval aviator, flying missions in World War II and Korea. And he retired as a lieutenant [commander].

You know, whenever people asked about Pearl Harbor, he would always say, “I'm not a hero. I was just doing my job.”

But he did more than his job. He did his duty.

And his life was a beacon that should still guide us forward.

His humility and his commitment to defending our country are hallmarks of the Greatest Generation.

Their courage and patriotism defeated fascism, and helped establish the peace and prosperity that has made every American so much more secure since the end of World War II.

That's the legacy — the mighty legacy — of Lou Conter.

And every day, American service members like you can carry that legacy forward.

May we always live up to his example.

So thanks again to the men and women of USINDOPACOM.

Thanks for defending our country.

Thanks for upholding our values. 

Thanks for raising your hand to serve.

I am proud to be your teammate.

And so may God bless you and your families.

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

Thank you very much.

[Applause, standing ovation]