Remarks by Secretary Esper and General Milley at the NORAD/NORTHCOM Change of Command

Aug. 20, 2020
Secretary Of Defense Mark T. Esper; Joint Chiefs Of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE MARK T. ESPER:  Well, good morning everyone.  What a wonderful day out here in Colorado.  It's great to be back in Colorado Springs with all of you once again, as well. 

I want to thank you for joining us today on this important occasion as we celebrate the distinguished career of General Terrance O'Shaughnessy and welcome General Glen VanHerck as the next Commander of United States Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command. 

We are thrilled to have with us members of General O'Shaughnessy's family, including his wife Donna and son Sam.  We are also honored to welcome the family of General VanHerck including his wife Marilyn, his daughter Molly and his grandson Theo - welcome.  Thank you all for being here today. 

I'd also like to thank the Canadian Minister of National Defense, Harjit Sajjan, the Canadian Chief of Defense Staff, General Jonathan Vance, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley for their continued leadership and support of NORTHCOM and NORAD, our war fighting and homeland defense commands. 

Let me begin by expressing my deepest gratitude to General O'Shaughnessy for a lifetime of exceptional service and leadership, and by extending my personal welcome to General VanHerck as he steps up to lead three critical missions.  Guarding the air and maritime approaches to North America, defending the homeland from threats posed by adversaries, and supporting civil authorities. 

For more than 60 years the men and women of NORAD have remained vigilant as the sentinels for the United States and Canada, the only two NATO members with a shared binational command.  Through NORAD we share aerospace and maritime warning, and aerospace control defense missions over our homelands working side by side each and every day to secure our skies and seas, to defend the Arctic, and to deepen our security relationship. 

Likewise, for nearly 18 years the hardworking patriots of NORTHCOM have deterred, detected, and been prepared to defeat land, cyber, and maritime threats to the United States while also ensuring that we are never late to need with timely and extensive efforts to alleviate human suffering in the aftermath of natural disasters.  This year that has included our nation's fight against the coronavirus pandemic. 

Under General O'Shaughnessy's leadership this command has faithfully answered the nation's call - from repatriating and housing 2,000 American evacuees from Wuhan, China, in the early days of the outbreak in January, to supporting FEMA's response actions across all 10 FEMA regions, and deploying 12,000 personnel around the country in support of civilian medical systems. 

Since the earliest days of the pandemic our uniformed medical personnel have provided relief to countless communities through their hard work in alternative care facilities, two Navy hospital ships, and by augmenting civilian medical professionals in hotspots around the country. 

In fact, I was told that the CEO of one of the hospitals you supported, General O'Shaughnessy, said, “You were the miracle we needed when we needed it most.”  What a powerful recognition of your impact. 

NORTHCOM’s extraordinary COVID-19 response also supported your broader homeland defense mission in this era of great power competition, marked by the growing threats and capabilities of revisionist powers and the malign activities of rogue regimes.  Throughout his tenure General O'Shaughnessy's steadfast commitment to the national defense strategy has made our nation safer, at a time when our homeland is at risk in ways never before seen. 

He called attention to the critical technologies changing the security environment and identified gaps in our readiness.  He highlighted the importance of protecting our military advantages over our competitors and oversaw the modernization of our strategic homeland integrated ecosystem for layered defense, our shield concept. 

He accelerated our Joint All Domain Command and Control, or JADC2, efforts for homeland defense, and led two demonstrations of this ability to share sensor and shooter data across the joint force. 

And he led the planning and execution of more than $175 million in engagements, training, equipment and exercises with Mexico and the Bahamas.  Strengthening our military relationships with close partners and advancing a vital line of effort under the National Defense Strategy. 

Moreover, General O'Shaughnessy's leadership postured NORAD for the effective intercept of more than 20 Russian aircraft in our Arctic approaches, and readied both commands to confront any escalation in North Korean strategic missile launch activity. 

In short, General O'Shaughnessy has expertly led NORTHCOM and NORAD in executing a no fail mission, despite countless other challenges demanding his attention.  And in doing so, he has prepared the men and women of these commands to deter and defeat the threats of tomorrow. 

Thank you, General O'Shaughnessy, “Shags,” for more than 34 years of exceptional service to our great nation and thanks to your wife and family for standing with you every step of the way. 


Today we are also honored to pass the torch to another highly qualified leader, General Glen VanHerck.  General VanHerck proved his prowess early on as a young aviator, and Air Force weapons officer, logging thousands of hours in fighter aircraft such as the F-15 and the F-35, and bomber aircraft such as the B-1 and B-2. 

Even more impressive, however, is his demonstrated acumen as a warrior leader having commanded a weapons squadron, a training operations group, two bomber wings, and notably the United States Air Force Warfare Center - a premier institution that prepares our nation's war fighters and advances our capabilities for a high-end, multi-domain fight. 

In 2017 General VanHerck came to the Pentagon to serve on the Joint Staff, and spent the last year as its Director.  In this role, he too, has been responsible supporting the implementation of the National Defense Strategy and protecting our military strategic advantages. 

Moreover, he has a keen understanding of the nature of today's threats and the importance of greater investment to advance our capabilities and make tangible strides toward decision superiority which puts us ahead of our adversaries at every single turn. 

He has committed to ensuring NORTHCOM and NORAD lead the way in preparing our military across every domain.  I’m confident that General VanHerck will build upon General O'Shaughnessy's successes to advance the homeland defense mission while inspiring and leading the men and women of these two great commands. 

Given his well-known reputation for taking care of his people and developing the next generation of leaders, I know General VanHerck will continue to do so while fostering a culture of ethical behavior and upholding the core values that define and drive the United States Armed Forces.  Glen, Leah and I are excited to watch you and Marilyn lead NORTHCOM and NORAD to even greater success in the years ahead.


I'd like to close by thanking the community of Colorado Springs for its many contributions to the Department of Defense mission both by hosting these commands and other instillations and by supporting all the personnel who work so hard here to ensure the United States military remains second to none.

Our homeland remains a bastion of freedom and prosperity because of their steadfast commitment to supporting and defending the constitution and making sure our military remains America's most trusted institution.

When it comes to our safety and security in times of crisis, the American people turn to the men and women of NORAD and NORTHCOM who stand ready at freedom’s frontier.  It is because of your selfless service and unyielding vigilance that our fellow Americans can sleep peacefully at night.

General O'Shaughnessy, thank you once again and to General VanHerck, I look forward to continue working closely with you in this new role.  And to all of our NORAD and NORTHCOM personnel, our defenders against those who would do us harm, know that the Department of Defense is grateful for the skill and dedication and professionalism with which you answer every single call.  America is safer because you have the watch.  Thank you.



STAFF:  Ladies and gentlemen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley.


GENERAL MARK MILLEY:  That's pretty cool to get a goalie stick from the Minister of Canada.  I've got to tell you, Shags, it's - that's government property, by the way, so we may have to confiscate that.  The Secretary will invoke the powers of the Secretary of Defense, that will be in the Pentagon here shortly, so just take a good look at it, take a quick instant photo but - hey, thanks to everybody for being here. 

It's a great day and I want to especially thank Secretary Esper and Minister Sajjan for those remarks.  I appreciate that, and also to General Vance, who’s been a good friend of mine for a long time and has been the CHOD up in Canada for going on - I think it's five plus - six years I guess now, right?  So thanks to you, John, for doing what you're doing also.


But more than the distinguished ministers and secretaries, we have a lot of generals and sergeants majors.  Thank you all, as well, but most of all thank you to the families led by Leah Esper, right over here, who represents the families of 2.3 million soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in the United States military and also represented by the great family of the -- of the O'Shaughnessys and also the VanHercks.  So thank you and thanks to all of the families that are out there serving and sacrificing for our nation and for the Canadian nation, as well.


For Minister Sajjan and John - John Vance -- General Vance, you've both led Canada's Armed Forces for quite some time now and your nation and our nation has fought side-by-side, as the Minister said, since World War I, through World War II in Normandy and - and on up until the present day and we have had the honor of fighting alongside your airmen and your Special Operations Forces and your infantry in Afghanistan and you were one of the very first nations to go in there with us following 911. 

Those days are never forgotten and the purpose of why we went into Afghanistan in 911 - shortly after 911 has everything to do with NORTHCOM-NORAD, it has everything to do with the shared responsibility of defending our homeland, and I want to especially thank Shags O'Shaughnessy for leading the most important command in the United States military, that does the most important mission, which is defend the homeland of North America. 

So Shags, thank you, thanks to your family for your years of service.  You've been remarkable at it and I want to thank you and all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines within NORTHCOM-NORAD for doing your duty and never failing, not a single time have you failed.  Whether it's homeland defense, whether it's Russian bombers, Russian subs, whether it's hurricanes, floods, snowstorms, you name it - civil unrest -- Shags, you and the team have been there repeatedly and I can't tell you how important that is.

It is also true that Shags comes from the holy land of Boston, Massachusetts.  Born in Canada but got to Boston as soon as he could and he -- he played hockey, as you all heard, at a small school.  Now, Shags was a goalie in hockey and - and I know he just got a goalie stick but there's a reason he's not in the NHL.  He went to the Air Force Academy and he was the star goalie at Air Force and he went 0 and 8 against Army.


I - I'm sorry, 8 and 0.  Did I say 0 and 8?


No, Shags -- Shags was a great goalie but more than being a goalie, Shags's competence and command has been tremendous.  The Secretary of Defense rattled off some of the accomplishments that Shags did while in command and -- and -- and I won't repeat those, but in addition to those hard and fast accomplishments that NORTHCOM-NORAD did while under the command of Shags, Shags demonstrated tremendous character the entire time.  He always -- in meeting after meeting, he spoke truth to power, be it myself or the Secretary of Defense or the President of the United States.  He never pulled any punches, he was always honest and candid in some very difficult and some complex situations.

So Shags, for your competence and for your character, I want to thank you once more and one final time before retirement on just doing an unbelievably great job here in a very, very tough command and probably the most important command this country has.  So thank you Shags for all you've done.


And -- and I want to also welcome the VanHercks.  I got to know Glen VanHerck, General VanHerck, who we just promoted to four stars a few minutes ago.  I got to know him when I became the Chairman and this, like Shags, is a man of tremendous competence and incredible character and we saw that -- the Secretary and I -- saw that up close and personal for the entire year that we've just gone through, which has clearly been one of high adventure.

So he was a director of the Joint Staff but in addition to that, he's an incredibly accomplished Air Force officer who’s flown in all of the different types of aircraft -- excuse me -- fighters and bombers all over the world, in peace and combat, and -- and -- and I can tell you that Glen VanHerck is one singular competent individual to take command of NORTHCOM-NORAD.  So thank you for your levels of competence and character that have brought you to this level.

This command is really not about Shags O'Shaughnessy, it's really not about Glen VanHerck, it's really not about a Secretary of Defense or the Chairman, it's really not about a Minister of Defense or the CHOD in John Vance, it's really about the people of the United States of America, the people of Canada, and it's really about defending our countries against all enemies that are foreign and domestic.

And I can tell you this command is a no-fail mission.  At any time, this command can never fail, and I have never been more proud than I am now and more humbled to be in front of everybody here and those that aren't here that are watching on TV to take an opportunity to say congratulations, Shags, on a job well done and congratulations, Glen, to you for the job you're about to do in an extremely challenging and complex command.  Well done to both of you.  Thank you very much and God bless America.