Transcript

Acting SECDEF Announces OSD Changes at Fort Bragg, NC

Nov. 18, 2020
Acting Secretary Of Defense Christopher C. Miller; Ezra Cohen-Watnick, Acting Under Secretary Of Defense For Intelligence And Security

ANNOUNCER:  Good morning, acting Secretary Miller and distinguished guests.  We are gathered today for a signing ceremony to implement the reforms outlined in Section 922 of the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

For nearly four years, the Department of Defense has planned and prepared to implement this important legislation.  It not only strengthens the role of the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict as a senior civilian for special operations within the department, but it also reinforces the partnership with the commander of the United States Special Operations Command.

Ladies and gentlemen, we will have opening remarks from the acting undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, Mr. Ezra Cohen.

ACTING UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE EZRA COHEN-WATNICK:  Thank you, Jim.

Mr. Secretary, on behalf of the men and women of U.S. Special Operations, especially Army Special Operations, welcome home.  We are honored that you have returned to your roots on this historic day on hallowed ground.

Today, the Department of Defense has started the process of formalizing what we have long known – the fundamental role of U.S. Special Operations in defense and foreign policy by elevating Special Operations forces to a level on par with military departments as authorized and directed by Congress.

As we enact these reforms, we follow the vision of President John F. Kennedy, who predicted the rise of Special Operations nearly 60 years ago.  He foresaw, quote, "another type of war, new in its intensity, ancient in its origin, that would require a whole new kind of strategy, a wholly different kind of force, forces which are too unconventional to be called conventional forces, which are growing in number and importance and significance."

President Kennedy gave these remarks at the opening of the nuclear age, when the Pentagon was primarily organized to plan and direct large conventional operations against superpowers, not special operations short of overt declared conflict.  The global demand for Special Operations forces then and now has confirmed President Kennedy's foresight.  And now, under the leadership of President Trump, we are fully realizing President Kennedy's prescient view of Special Operations forces.

It is fitting that we are again entering an era of great power competition as we gather to affir -- affirm the importance of special -- the Special Operations community.  Then, as now, I know Special Operations forces will play a vital role, and by the historic reforms we have enacted today, we will ensure Special Operations forces has a civilian advocate commensurate to the secretaries of the other military departments.  I am honored to serve as your service secretary.  Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER:  Ladies and gentlemen, acting Secretary Miller.  (inaudible).

ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHRISTOPHER C. MILLER:  Here, Jim, you take this.  Got my big book; going to speak for a couple hours.

Good morning, everyone.  Wow, what a week.  That old cliché, if you want a friend in Washington, D.C., get a dog may be true for many.  But for me, I know I can come to Fort Bragg and be with my brothers and sisters in Special Operations forces, who will always have my back.

It is an honor to be here on this hallowed plaza, where we are reminded of the enormous sacrifices and burdens shouldered by our nation's special operators.  These brave heroes were first to the enemy's doorstep, Mark, in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks in 2001.  Only weeks after that dark day in our nation's history, they plunged into danger to bring justice to the terrorists who took thousands of innocent American lives, and they will be the ones who continue to deny safe haven to violent extremists and maintain unrelenting pressure on the road to stability and lasting peace in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I know firsthand the caliber and character of these brave service members, being served -- having served as an Army Special Forces company commander under then-Colonel John Mulholland during Operation Enduring Freedom -- and with Mark, of course.  I also served two tours in Iraq, including during the 2003 invasion, and later, in 2006 as a Special Forces battalion commander, 2nd Battalion, the Special Forces group -- absolutely the best Special Forces battalions in the history of the world -- no offense.  I spent the remainder of my career just as committed to defeating terrorists and those that would help harbor them.

Today, we are gathered before a monument that symbolizes the tremendous cost of these conflicts and our relentless vigilance.  In light of the countless sacrifices made by hundreds of thousands of American service members and our enormous progress over nor -- over nearly two decades, we are now bringing these conflicts to their successful and responsible conclusion under the bold leadership of President Trump.

Yesterday, the president ordered the downsizing of our force presence in Afghanistan and Iraq: 2,500 troops in each country by 15 January 2021 in a manner that protects our fighting men and women and our hard-earned gains.  At the same time -- you all know this -- should any malign actors underestimate our resolve or attempt to undermine our efforts, we will not hesitate to restore deterrence and defeat any and all threats.

As we implement the president's orders, we also recognize that transitions and campaigns are fraught with risk and unexpected challenges and opportunities.  That is why I am here today to announce this -- this is an omen -- uh oh.  I'm here today to announce that I directed the Special Operations civilian leadership to report directly to me instead of through the current bureaucratic channels.  This historic step finalizes what Congress has authorized and directed, and will put Special Operations Command on par with the military services for the first time.

This reform will immediately improve agility to the department and the command, and will enable us to streamline information flow, enhance decision-making and more adaptively and adeptly support our commanders and their superb soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.  Change is often tectonic in the Department of Defense.  This is by -- this is by design, and as our history shows, has served the nation very well.

Today's reforms is directly aligned with all three of my priorities, as outlined in my message to the force on Monday.  First, bring the current war to an end in a responsible manner that guarantees the security of our citizens; two, continue implementing the National Defense Strategy with an emphasis on transforming the department for great power competition; and three, accelerate the department's activities to contribute to our whole-of-government effort to combat transnational threats.

I also want to highlight that this particular change has been analyzed, debated and refined over the course of the past 30 years, since the creation of Special Operations Command and the assistant -- and the creation of the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, low intensity conflict by the Nunn-Cohan -- Cohen, excuse me -- Nunn-Cohen Amendment to the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1987.  I have closely studied and been intimately involved in these efforts.  I personally think SOLIC deserves to be an undersecretary of defense, but unfortunately, that's beyond my authority and purview at this time, but I know future generations will take that one on.

Today, as we chart a clear path forward for our special operators, we proudly stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us: Colonel Aaron Bank, founder of the U.S. Army Special Forces; Major Richard "Dick" Meadows of the U.S. Army Special Forces, who is mortalized in the statue nearby; Major General Johnny Alison, founder, U.S. Air Force Special Operations; Captain Phil Bucklew, whose name adorns the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, California; Brigadier General Evans Carlson.  Where are the Devil Dogs?  What an incredible commander, an influential commander of the earliest Marine Raiders; Major General Jack Singlaub, a trailblazer amongst Special Operations forces; former acting -- sorry -- former Army Secretary John Marsh, a vocal advocate for SOF improvements in the wake of Operation EAGLE CLAW; and more recently, Colonel retired Dave Maxwell, United States Army Special Forces; Lieutenant Generals John Mulholland and Charles Cleveland.  Is that -- Charles Cleveland.  He's always Charlie Cleveland.  That's good to see it formalized there.  They're now retired senior leaders in the Special Operations community.

We also acknowledge the leaders in Congress who were a driving force behind the Nunn-Cohen reorganization.  I'm reminded of the late Congressman Dan Daniel from Virginia, early and influential proponent of Special Operations reform; and Jim Locher, who was instrumental in garnering bipartisan support for the reorganization, and later became the assistant secretary of defense for Special Operations Low-Intensity Conflict.  We have to remember though, behind these titans stood an enormous group of dedicated patriots, many that have served in this building, who did the heavy lifting to create what ultimately became U.S. Special Operations Command, a national treasure, unparalleled in the world.  These patriots give us strength, and remain our guiding lights.

Today, with the strong support of President Trump, we are forging the next chapter in the history of the United States Special Operations Forces in formalizing a watershed reform.  Right now we start the transition to provide greater civilian oversight of -- and critical advocacy for our special operators. 

This couldn't come at a more critical moment in time as we bring our nation's longest conflict to a responsible end and prepare our Special Operations forces for this new era of great power competition.  I can think of no better place than here, at the original home of our Special Operations forces, to enshrine stronger support for the next generation of special operators, hardened by combat and unrelenting deployments, who understand the fundamental nature of war, who remain committed to defeating every threat, and who are undeterred by the high-price of victory. 

De oppresso liber.  God bless our women and men in uniform.  God bless our great nation.  Thank you so much.

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER:  Ladies and gentlemen, joining acting Secretary Miller for the signing of the document is Mr. Mark Mitchell, the former acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations low-intensity conflict, Mr. Cohen and Dr. Joseph Tonon.

(CROSSTALK)

ANNOUNCER:  And Colonel (retired) Dave Maxwell.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER:  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for attending today's events.  This concludes the ceremony.