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Secretary of Defense Speech

Retirement Ceremony of General John "Jay" Paxton

Aug. 4, 2016
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

Well, good evening everyone, and what a spectacular evening it is tonight. Let me first say this to the folks that are here, General Paxton, Jay, stop talking. Bob Neller, guys I've known for a long time. You all ought to know I asked to come to this. I'm going to tell you why in a minute, but I thought it was important for you to know I wanted to be here tonight, and I appreciate that General Neller asked me to come. I appreciate that, Bob. I see Chairman Dunford's here, General Milley, Admiral Rogers, all the other General and Flag Officers, and everyone else. Debbie, more about you in a moment. But what was already noted was what you do for our wounded warriors, and have done for our wounded warriors’ families. Thank you. And I see all these Paxton's out there. There are lots of Paxton's in the audience. They look so magnificent, and you must be so proud. We are.

And, to all the Marines aboard ship, at every forward station all around the world, anybody's who's listening to this. Thank you. Thanks for always standing faithful, prepared to answer any call, fight in any clime or place, and just look behind you. I think there's some folks who came out and are watching this parade from outside tonight, but just look behind you and look at the magnificence of that.

It's just a part just to representation of the millions who protect this country every night. It's a big world out there, and we're the biggest player on it. We have the greatest interest. We have the greatest power. We have the greatest influence. We stand for the greatest things. The people that these wonderful Marines standing in front of you represent, they fight for that every day, they stand for that every day. It's not a game. Serious business, and we're not short of things to do.

So, if you wake up in the morning, and you take your kids to school, and you kiss them goodbye, and you go to work, and you live your lives, and you dream your dreams, and you live lives that are full and you're American, it's because of them. I think all those who are visiting from outside, those of you inside our community know that, but those from outside ought to know that. It's a pretty big deal, and we're very grateful to them.

Now listen, I'm going to be brief because Bob Neller's going to speak to all of Jay Paxton's really considerable achievements over a very long career to the Marine Corps and our country. But, the reason I asked to be here was this. I wanted to share with you just a little bit of what Jay and I have done together, and that's -- Jay and I have done together over the last seven and a half years, God help us, that we've been working together. Some of which I've simply witnessed, some of which we've done together. And also, by the way, the seven and a half years that Stephanie, and Jay, and Debbie have been friends. So I picked one thing that sticks out particularly in my mind. Let me just tell you the story.

In 2009, 2010, Jay was my co-chair, in something that was called the Pentagon's Counter IED Senior Integration Group -- I assume you all know what an IED is? And, at that time IEDs -- or improvised explosive devices -- remained the number one killer of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. MRAPs that we had designed for the flat Iraqi desert, and it worked there, performed poorly in the mountains of Afghanistan, and too many brave Americans were going into harm's way with inadequate protection.

Jay was determined to change that. He brought a Field Commanders operational style to the E-Ring of the Pentagon of all places. Focused on identifying solutions, assigning responsibility, and generating answers. Answers like, "It can't happen," or, "It's too costly," or, "It'll take years," were unacceptable to him. Jay's answer was always, “figure it out and come back to us with what you need.”

Jay helped turn the old Pentagon process of “Require, then Acquire” into “Acquire and then Require” instead, so our troops would have access to what they needed when they needed it without having to wait for the acquisition system to catch up to what they needed.

The most significant example of this was the effort to produce and deploy a new all-terrain vehicle of the MRAP called the M-ATV, which was better suited to Afghanistan's varied landscapes, it had independent front and rear suspensions rather than a spring suspension, a V-shaped armored hull to deflect blasts away from the troops inside, and thanks in large part to Jay's leadership and focus we were able to produce and deliver 8,000 of these vehicles to the far reaches of Afghanistan which, take a look at the globe. It's about the most ungodly place you can possibly think of fighting a war from a logistics point of view, to Afghanistan. Eight thousand of them. Trained the Marine and soldiers who would use them. Eight thousand of them in just sixteen months from the order to trained and delivered.

Now Jay and I, during all that time, spent a lot of time on the road together getting to know what ground truth was, checking the status on commitments that we'd made. Had we fulfilled them, and seeing the capability needs that soldiers and marines needed for themselves.

We visited troops that were preparing to deploy at Twentynine Palms, at Ft. Irwin, Fort Polk, sometimes for their second and third tours, by the way, and asked them if they were getting the right training. They were getting familiarized with the right equipment to defeat the threats that they would experience, and that they knew they would experience because they had in the field. We visited the production facilities to thank the people who were making the M-ATV and to delay any obstacles to their rapid production.

Jay was also always in contact with our logistics people and our transportation commander, working out the really extraordinary land, sea, and air undertaking required to get equipment to Afghanistan. Multi-modal transportation kind of things. He and I visited the State Department, to Capitol Hill, the intelligence community, et cetera, and everything else, understanding that to succeed there needed to be a whole government effort.

Above all, in our frequent trips to Afghanistan, Jay always stepped off the plane ready to work. Meeting with senior commanders, Leatherneck or elsewhere out in the field, and getting out to forward operating bases and the combat outposts to speak with the troops, ask them what they were up against. Always the same question, “What do you need? How can we help? At one point, we even put together an armored convoy and went down to Chaman Crossing -- I'm sure you'll remember this --  so we could see for ourselves that single lane checkpoint from Pakistan into Afghanistan through which all our cargo moved. And, of course, which we were told couldn't be improved, but it actually could be.

On these trips Jay took every opportunity to speak individually to every Marine, every soldier, every American servicemember he could. He'd shake their hands, he'd look in their eyes, and he'd let them know that they mattered, and that we're here for them, not the other way around. He always made that clear, that we'd do everything we could for them.

He took the time to address their questions, to engage in an open and warm way, especially the junior service members. Great humility, good humor, gave them the confidence that they could do what they needed to do, and that we'd do what we needed to do for them. That was something he did throughout his career, he made sure the troops understood they were important, heard, valued, and that he was there for them.

He took their concerns to heart, and then he found a way to deliver. I'll give you another example. When Marines and soldiers describe just how different detectors and tools work in different situations, Jay created these depots where people could go and familiarize themselves with the equipment that they'd fall in on when they arrived in deployment.

When commanders at some forward operating bases and combat outposts described needs for better surveillance overhead of them, Jay didn't just fight for greater access to all the fancy stuff, we found ways -- he found ways to create persistent localized ISR, balloons, and it was with his leadership that we went from four to 144 such balloons rising above our troops and Marines positions in Afghanistan, giving them total situational awareness in all directions every day.

Now, all this I'm describing is just one little chapter in the career, the 42-year career, God help us, you and me, of Jay Paxton in our Marine Corps. All that time he had the backs of Marines. He made sure the Pentagon, the entirety of the Pentagon, did the same for the Marines and other service members. And it's not just that he held people accountable for delivering on their promises, it's that he made them want to do it. He made them understand that that's what they should do. He had this miraculous power of making people understand that they could make a difference and want to do it, and that's what he did -- to make them feel the same responsibility that he had.

Just like Bob would do, Bob Neller, when he assumed his responsibilities as my co-chair also. Same stories about Bob. Jay Paxton made great changes possible when it was needed most. He saved lives, countless lives. Made sure the mission was accomplished -- many missions.

So, Jay, I'm so proud of you. Our country's so proud of you, and Debbie, for so many reasons, but I just wanted to share one with this audience on your last night as a Marine, and I'm very grateful for everything you've done throughout your career. We'll always be your friends, your lifelong friend, congratulations my friend.