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Army Chief of Staff Change of Responsibility

Secretary McHugh, my admired friend and public servant, thank you for hosting today’s ceremony. It’s a privilege for me to be here today to honor these two great Americans and their families.

Thank you also to the large and distinguished audience that came here to recognize Ray Odierno and what he's meant in connecting our Army to all walks of life. And thank you to the magnificent representatives of our force who stand proud before us all.

On his first day as the 38th Army Chief of Staff, General Odierno shared with his soldiers a creed that defines his life and his duty: “The strength of our Nation,” he said, “is our Army; the strength of our Army is our soldiers; the strength of our soldiers is our families. That is what makes us Army Strong.”

I join everyone here today in celebrating Ray Odierno’s 39 years of unwavering commitment to Army, to soldier, and to family.

Let me start there, with Ray’s family. Linda, you’ve stuck by Ray’s side since high school and you’ve given your life to the Army. You’re a source of comfort for Army families, a source of leadership in military communities, and a source of healing for wounded warriors and their loved ones.

To the entire Odierno family – Linda, Tony, Katie, and Mike – we cannot thank you enough for your service to our nation and your support for Ray.

Ray’s legacy is like Ray himself: it simply won’t fit into the space behind a podium. But let me characterize it this way: Ray Odierno’s story is our Army’s story. He’s a consummate leader and more, the very symbol of the U.S. Army; big, strong, capable, always willing. 

After 9/11, under the weight our Army’s mission – as important, difficult, unprecedented, and all-consuming as it was – our soldiers performed exceptionally, with courage and strength befitting the most highly trained and professional land power on earth. No other force – no other force – could have executed or adapted the way our Army did in Iraq and Afghanistan. For that, we are all so proud, and so deeply in its debt.

As a leader, in over 50 months in Iraq, Ray’s tenacity helped us get through the most heated period of conflict; his operational savvy helped us surmount the insurgency; his commanding presence calmed the confused; and his courage and compassion helped carry the burden of loss and sacrifice. 

I and my predecessors as Secretary of Defense and their Commanders in Chief drew great confidence knowing Ray was on the ground leading our political and military work in those heroic and trying times.

Ray embodies, as if a symbol, Army Strong. Ray’s a big guy; but even bigger is his personality, his passion, and his heart. He devotes so much time to mentoring young leaders, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because he loves it. And his soldiers love him back. 

Ray is just as likely to give you a bear hug as he is to give a sturdy hand shake. He speaks to you with his shoulders always forward, eyes always clear, arguments always sharp – each one buttressed by an unyielding commitment to his mission and his people. 

Whether listening intently to a grieving family, or looking a foreign leader in the eye to deliver the honest truth, or shaving Stephen Colbert’s head in front of hundreds of soldiers – Ray lives his life, as his Ivy Division motto goes, steadfast and loyal.

Each service gives our military unique and unrivaled capabilities. Our planes fly high, our ships sail far, our Marines act quickly - but it's our soldiers who are unmatched in their ability to seize and dominate physical terrain and human terrain. They help give our military, and our nation, an overwhelming edge in defending our people and making a better world for our children. 

America maintains that edge today, forged in two long wars, sharpened in counter-terror efforts around the world, and leading what must what forever be a free world. We must not take that for granted, we must keep honing that edge into the future. As the world changes, we must change with it. To stay unrivaled in posture. Agile and ready. And Army Strong. 

That charge now falls to General Mark Milley, our 39th Army Chief of Staff.

He’s the right officer to lead the Army over the next four years – to shape our force, to continue restoring its readiness, to get there quickly and win…as our nation expects of its Army.

Mark is a leader, a warrior, and a statesman. One story: as it happened, I was with Mark in Afghanistan as the U.S. Consulate in Herat was attacked in 2013, and as we flew there I saw him take decisive command of the scene. In addition to decades of such operational experience, Mark clearly also has the strategic vision needed to build on what Ray’s started.

I have confidence – I know – he’ll succeed. Because Mark carries that same, unyielding commitment to Army, to soldier, and to family; and in his case, he carries something Ray Odierno doesn’t have but we both share – a commitment to the Boston Red Sox, too.

I want to also thank Hollyanne for her leadership and service, as yet another admired military spouse. To the Milley family, thank you for supporting Mark and for assuming this new post with him.

To General Odierno, General Milley, and both your families: for your distinguished leadership, your selfless service, and your belief that above all our people and our principles make our military the finest fighting force the world has ever known – your country will be forever grateful.

Thank you.