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Remarks at the Secretary of the Army Farewell Ceremony

Look out there at the sunshine, at those magnificent soldiers. They stand for the millions of men and women like them in our armed forces. And to you all, out there, standing in front of us and all who stand with you and stand behind you, we’re so very proud of you.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, Senator Cleland, Representative McKeon, leaders of the Army and the Defense Department past and present, thank you. Thank you for being here to celebrate a skilled leader and a selfless public servant: John McHugh.

I particularly want to thank John’s family – the ultimate enablers of his success: John’s brother Patrick, sister-in-law Marti, niece and nephew Michaela and PJ, and most of all, Mrs. Jane McHugh, John’s mother, the family matriarch, who, as John says, “through all these years…still finds a way to help us take the next step in a very difficult world.”

I was told Mrs. McHugh had an unfortunate accident yesterday and hurt her leg, so she’s unable to attend today’s event. We all wish her a speedy recovery.

However, I hear she’s watching this event live – so, Mrs. McHugh, on behalf of all of us here, and all of us at the Department of Defense, thank you for raising this gifted and decent man. Our Army and our nation are in your debt.

To me, still waters truly run deep in John McHugh – he exemplified leadership through heart and mind, through logic and strength and civility, throughout a consequential career. He’s earned a reputation for examining problems – and devising solutions – in innovative ways, and in doing so, has broadened our national security perspective – and helped get our Army to the right place.

John’s commitment to the American people has been a commitment he’s had for much of his life…from seven years as a State Senator, to sixteen years representing his home-town district in Congress, and to six years as Secretary of the Army.

Anyone who's briefed John will tell you, you’d better do your homework, because John will always ask the tough questions. He refined that skill during his Capitol Hill days, even then a tireless advocate for the Army, having grown up in the shadow of Fort Drum. And by the way, John – Fort Drum was one of the first visits I made as Secretary of Defense…and they’re still talking about you up there.

John’s leadership on the Hill – particularly as the Ranking Member of Armed Services Committee, and before that, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Military Personnel – helped build the extraordinary Army of today. And when asked to be Secretary, John didn’t hesitate, because he felt that it was from the Pentagon that he could best serve our soldiers and their families.

As Secretary, John offered the Army a steady hand, providing constancy through four Secretaries of Defense and four Army Chiefs.

Among many other challenges, John managed the drawdown of our ground forces from two all-in fights, where they performed magnificently, and he did so in a way that honored the service and sacrifice they made, and preserved the strength and readiness of the force.

Among the many tough responsibilities of the Secretary of the Army, maintaining accountability and integrity is paramount. And over six years, John McHugh has been an exemplary steward.

We see that here clearly, as we sit next-door to Arlington National Cemetery, which is also visible from John’s Pentagon office window. Amid serious concerns about the quality of care at Arlington, John led sweeping reforms, ensuring that the final resting place for our nation's fallen heroes remains hallowed ground to honor and remember.

It goes to show that in everything he did, John has always been, above all else, motivated by the people of our total Army: our active duty soldiers, our Guard and Reserves, our veterans, our wounded, our fallen – and all of our families.

During one particular trip to Afghanistan, John and his team visited a combat outpost near a village. They met with the command leadership for the area – which consisted of a captain and a lieutenant just six months out of West Point who led combat missions, negotiated with village elders, and trained local Afghans.

Seeing those soldiers, and knowing the countless other men and women out there who’ve borne an unprecedented level of responsibility, is why John has been so devoted to fight on their behalf.

With that motivation, over a period of great strategic transition, preparing for a full spectrum of threats after 14 years of counter-insurgency, and at a time of extraordinary budget turbulence – John has reset and recalibrated our force, and forged a strong foundation on which to build even greater excellence. And in doing so, he will leave behind an Army that is better, stronger, and more prepared to succeed.

And he leaves it in good hands – with Eric Fanning.

Eric served as my first Chief of Staff and is one of our country’s most knowledgeable, dedicated, and experienced public servants. Like John, Eric is driven by a commitment to the readiness of our force and a commitment to our sacred obligation to never send a single brave American into combat ill-prepared to succeed. He’s also the right leader for our Army as we continue to prepare for a new generation of challenges.

In closing, let me quote something John himself said about his service at the Department of Defense: “There’s not been a job in public life,” he’s said, “that has meant more than the great honor of serving America's sons and daughters who raise their right hand and pledge to defend our nation…”

John, I know I speak for everyone here, when I say thank you for raising your right hand to serve. Thank you for your civility, your devotion to our people, and for making the most professional land force on earth, even stronger. And from me, for our lifelong friendship.