Speech
Speech

Remarks by Acting Secretary Shanahan at the U.S. Central Command Change of Command Ceremony in Tampa, Fla.

March 28, 2019
Acting Secretary Of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan

ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE PATRICK M. SHANAHAN:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Chairman Dunford.  General Votel, General McKenzie, General Milley, Mayor Buckhorn, our foreign partners, all distinguished guests from near and far, members of the CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command] team.  

It is a distinct pleasure to celebrate this command and its leadership on my first trip here since becoming acting secretary. 

I look around this room and I see the truest embodiment of our nation's spirit, marked by an outstanding level of capability, fortitude and resilience. 

I see deep respect for the leader who has expertly steered this command during profoundly complex period, General Votel. 

And I see the high expectations these men and women have for his successor.  Expectations, I have no doubt, General McKenzie will not only meet but surpass with the skill of a seasoned commander.

First, I want to recognize and thank both commanders' families.  

To General Votel's better half, Michele, who has been his rock since he was a butter bar infantry officer fresh out of West Point.  And his sons, Nicholas and Scott and daughter-in-law, Moira, who have brought the joys of grandparenthood to General Votel, first with Penelope and now another one on the way. 

Michele, Scott, Nicholas, thank you for generously sharing General Votel with us for nearly four decades.  I know he missed more than a few birthdays and bedtimes, but our nation has been safer for it. 

I would also like to welcome the posse of Votel siblings joining us today.  Dick, Terry, Mike, Mark, Ann and Maria, all here to celebrate their brother's successful and impactful career.  Whatever tough sibling love you gave him as a kid, it worked. (Laughter.)

Thank you for that.  

Now to General Mckenzie's family.  His wife, Marilyn and their son, K.R., a former Marine infantry officer who did two tours of his own in Afghanistan, and daughter-in-law, Chris.  I know General McKenzie's two grandsons, Noah and James, are his pride and joy. 

We appreciate your whole family's support as he takes on this new response -- new and awesome responsibility.  In the words of one former CENTCOM commander, General Mattis, "Thanks for sticking with us."  

Over CENTCOM's storied 36-year history, the men and women of this command have repeatedly proven their ability to get stuff done.  We see that can-do, will-do approach reflected in today's impressive CENTCOM team. 

In Syria and Iraq, you have collaborated within a coalition of 79 nations and international organizations to eliminate ISIS' physical caliphate, a four and a half year struggle that culminated just last week. 

You have helped spur Afghanistan's best chance for peace in 40 years, supporting ongoing negotiations, applying military pressure to the Taliban and working alongside a diverse coalition to train, advise and assist our Afghan partners who now lead one hundred percent of missions. 

You're helping resolve a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, creating conditions for peace negotiations to end the civil war there.  And you do all of this while protecting our homeland, our people and our interests from terrorist groups like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-K, as you maintain vital counterterrorism capabilities across the CENTCOM area of responsibility. 

In leading these efforts and many more, General Votel has been akin to a 10-foot-tall superhero.  I wouldn't be surprised if Netflix has designs on him for the next Marvel series in its lineup. (Laughter.)

A true renaissance man, he has proven an unsurpassed leader, warfighter, diplomat, academic, problem-solver, you name it.  And he has led this powerful team with remarkable skill, maintaining humility and humor throughout and earning him deep respect and appreciation from all those privileged to serve him. 

But General Votel's career spans well beyond this time here.  In fact, he has devoted more years of steadfast service to our nation than CENTCOM has even been in existence.  

Since becoming the first in his family to don the uniform nearly 39 years ago, General Votel has been stationed in Europe, from Naples to Sarajevo, earned combat stars parachuting into Panama and Afghanistan, and deployed multiple times to CENTCOM's AOR [area of responsibility].  In fact, General Votel has spent almost half his Army career in command roles at seven different levels. 

Those unfamiliar with a typical officer's career track may not understand, that record is far from ordinary.  But to all those who know General Votel, this comes as no surprise.  For he himself is far from ordinary. 

Before becoming the primary guardian of U.S. military operations across four million square miles, 20 nations and half a billion people, he led the First Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Joint IED [improvised explosive device] Defeat Task Force, Joint Special Operations Command and U.S. Special Operations Command down the road, just to name a few. 

Throughout it all, General Votel has stuck to the leadership principles he learned from three people:  his wife, his mother and his father.  He has trusted his instincts, used his position for good, taking care of himself and his family.  And, above all, been a happy leader, spreading that attitude to his commands. 

Joe, I've been told you're looking forward to heading back to the good life of Minnesota after this, where the men are strong, the women are beautiful and the kids above average. (Laughter.)

On behalf of a grateful department, thank you for your steadfast service to our nation.  You've epitomized the West Point motto of "Duty, Honor, Country" in all that you've done in the uniform.  I have no doubt you will be a formidable force in whatever endeavor you take up next.  

And you now leave CENTCOM in expert hands.  Starting today, General McKenzie holds the honor and responsibility of carrying forward the legacy of a long line of impressive CENTCOM commanders. 

With combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and experience like CENTCOM, J5 and MARCENT [Marine Corps Forces Central Command] commander under his belt, he already knows this command and its AOR well.  He also knows the Joint Force, having served multiple tours on the Joint Staff, including his two most recent trips as the J5 and director.  

I have no doubt CENTCOM will thrive under his steadfast leadership.  That steady hand will be critical as our Department of Defense reorganizes resources to expand our competitive edge and military readiness in an era of renewed great power competition, while continuing out -- while continuing to carry out military efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and address the enduring threat of Iran's malign influence across the region. 

General McKenzie, you have trained your whole lifetime to shoulder this truly epic responsibility.  We are thankful you have accepted the challenge.  Our job back at the Pentagon is to support you in your efforts.  We stand behind you and we have the highest confidence in your abilities. 

General Votel's record of collaboration can serve as an inspiration, as you put your own unique leadership stamp on this impressive command. 

Your ability to communicate, build networks and foster partnerships across a diverse and complex AOR, with cultures and vibrant histories not just decades, but centuries in the making, will be vital for ensuring our military's success in an increasingly dangerous world. 

I have no doubt you will do that just -- I have no doubt you will do that alongside the most skilled and dedicated patriots our nation has on offer.  Thank you. 

(APPLAUSE)