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Remarks by Secretary Mattis at the U.S. Transportation Command change-of-command ceremony, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois

Aug. 24, 2018
Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS:  Well, thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

And what a wonderful, bright, sunny day this is for Transportation Command.  It's a reminder that we have an all-weather command here.

And I would just say General Dunford, General McDew, General Lyons, all our distinguished guests who've come out, the TRANSCOM team, the 375th Air Mobility Wing, Representative Shimkus.  Thank you for your leadership, sir.  Your leadership, your support of the Department of Defense and of this command in particular.

And I would cite that at a time when people wonder whether or not our country can pull together, to look at the U.S. Congress' support for the Department of Defense as an example, not only of what the department represents to our country, but of Americans pulling together.

I would just tell you, too, that we have Gold Star families here today.  And a special recognition to you.  We do not forget, in the Department of Defense, the cost that your families have paid for paying the cost of freedom, no matter what the odds against us.

When you see the connectivity and the capability and -- of this remarkable TRANSCOM team, any doubts about America's military might fade immediately.  What remains is a deep respect for how General McDew had led the way during his tenure, and the devotion of this joint command's far-flung civil military team; thus, recognition of the high expectations that we hold for General Lyons, as he takes on the responsibilities of his new role as the commander of U.S. Transportation Command.  The ones that I call miracle workers.

I want to make mention to the families right up front, a recognition that brings our gratitude and our respect to you.  General McDew's family: Evelyn; Keisha; Keith; your husband Rick, Keisha; and Rebecca, Keith, your wife; and little Henry, who I had the honor to meet last night.  Good to see you here, Henry.

I would just tell you that, Evelyn, that we could not only have been recognized better by what you've done here, and what you have brought to this command -- the human touch, Evelyn, that you bring everywhere you have been in your life.  It is -- you are the better 98 percent of the McDew family.  And here, I am quoting General McDew, by the way.

(Laughter.)

Through 35-year partnership, Evelyn, you have also been a positive source of strength for the families of those in service to our nation.  And with your always-present support at births, at promotions, at retirement ceremonies -- all the recognitions that go on in the military as we hold our family together, and you give out what I know are legendary hugs.  Thank you for every one of those that you have given to us, spreading goodwill everywhere you go, Evelyn.  And I would say, too, constantly inspiring all of us to be in touch with our human side.

To Keisha and Keith, I know your dad must have missed quite a few birthdays, quite a few holidays when you wished he had been there while you were growing up.  So thank you for loaning him to your country again and again, and for the challenges that you withstood as our military family.  Our country depends on families like yours.

General Lyons, your family that joins us here today -- Maureen, Cara, Dylan, and your siblings, too -- you are no strangers to the sacrifice of military service.  Thank you for supporting your husband, your dad, your brother over three and a half decades of service, and so many transfers from one station to another, and for continuing to support him in this new endeavor.  At least it's a familiar haunt for your family; you've been here many times.

There will undoubtedly be more long hours when he's away from home.  And when those hours away drag on, please know that he is the reason that our warfighters have the support they need to deploy, to fight and win anywhere, in any domain.

From the earliest times in history, the ability to swiftly move troops and equipment to the front lines has been an essential condition for military victory.

Well before the locomotive barreled down the track, Hannibal formed his own Alpine train, marching his 40,000-man army over the Alps from Spain to Italy.

He chose to support that army with a pack train with the animal of choice, elephants.  And had it not been that the president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, turned down the king of Siam, pachyderms might have had a role in our military mobility as well.

But President Lincoln declined that offer.  Opted instead for a different mode of troop and materiel transport, and that was the United States military railroad, which boosted the logistical output during the war by a factor of 10, denying the Confederacy their benefit of interior lines.

TRANSCOM has inherited this mission in modern times, employing creative solutions.  And this joint command is no stranger to logistic feats of impressive proportions.

In 1987, President Reagan saw the need for this command of a unified military mobility framework, and USTRANSCOM was born, becoming one of the big boys as its first commander, General Duane Cassidy, characterized this coming of age.

It didn't take long for your predecessors to prove their mettle in the most challenging of circumstances, when Iraq invaded Kuwait three years later.

As is usual in crises, there was little time to prepare.  A massive force was moved across the globe, stopping any further attack beyond Kuwait.

TRANSCOM rose to the challenge with remarkable speed and grit, helping to seal that victory in Operation Desert Storm, and providing a benchmark, a strong benchmark, a high benchmark for future military logistics.

It was TRANSCOM's coming-out event, and proved its worth with superior performance.  Today, this TRANSCOM team has carried forward that awesome legacy of years past under General McDew's insightful leadership.

General McDew, I'm very sorry to see you leave active service.  After all, you are the sole four-star I have who has a visually confirmed brain.  If the doctors from your brain surgery were here, I'm sure they would agree it's a very impressive brain.

(Laughter.)

And I would join you, Evelyn, with a big hug and thanks for your -- your husband's doctors and nurses.

Over 36 years of service, General McDew, you have shown an unwavering commitment to the protection of this nation from any foe, human or natural.  And from the ratline at VMI -- and I know some of your VMI rat classmates are here, somewhere in the audience.

There you are.  Good to see you sober this morning.

(Laughter.)

I would just say -- and then you went on to flying KC-135s, sitting on alert at Loring Air Force Base, to serving as the commander of the Pelicans of the 14th Airlift Squadron, who are also here somewhere in the audience.

Good to have you here.

You've been the Air Force aide to the president, Clinton, and everything in between including, remarkably, commanding all four major commands on this base, the only officer in history to have done so.

You have been a role model, General McDew, of devotion to duty and competence in our profession.

Now, you've described your career as being all over the map.  And that's very accurate, geographically.  But you have never failed to embrace opportunity and allow room for the beauty of the unexpected, and then deliver results.

You were never one to over-promise, but you always over-delivered.

All the skills and perspective you picked up along the way, sir, you have brought to bear at the helm of this extraordinary team at the pinnacle of your career of commitment to our nation and defense of our Constitution.  To borrow your own words, you were built to be here at Scott.

In carrying out your command duties, you have integrated our National Defense Strategy and priorities into the operations, recognizing that mobility and agility form the core of a more lethal military.

You have strengthened relations with allies who require TRANSCOM's enabling capabilities so they can join us on far-flung battlefields.

Your leadership style fosters collaboration and initiative that we have all witnessed; spurring progress, whether it be in data analytics, or moving to that high-potential cloud-based platform and strengthening our important relations with industry.

All of these reflect a keen focus on warfighter effectiveness, a focus that will continue to guide this critical command for years to come.

So on behalf of the Department of Defense, thank you to the entire TRANSCOM team for your efforts.  While others outside DOD may find it difficult to comprehend all that you do to keep America strong, you can be certain that America and our allies feel the impact of your actions every day.

So, General, as you pass command to General Lyons, you can be proud of the foundation built on your watch.

And, General Lyons, I've -- I've called you up from Washington, D.C. -- you lucky dog --

(Laughter.)

-- to pick up where General McDew leaves off.

As you return to the heartland, I charge you with taking TRANSCOM to the next level in continuing to adapt its capabilities to meet the challenges of the storm clouds that we see gathering.

Your experience as our logistics director on the Joint Staff, as the former TRANSCOM deputy commander, and so many other posts, have earned you an enviable professional record, and the full confidence of your peers and your superiors.

In the words of Churchill, "Victory is a beautiful, bright-colored flower.  Transportation is the stem without which it would never have blossomed."

So, General Lyons, as the primary guardian of the most responsive strategic mobility capability in the world, I trust you to tend to that stem, for it will continue to be the backbone of our military success.  I have no doubt your command will remain the best in the world.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)