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Gen. Dempsey's Remarks at the U.S. Africa Command Change of Command Ceremony

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey, Stuttgart, Germany
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: I don’t know who started the applause, but thanks. That was really – (laughter) – was that you, Ken? Yeah, thanks. Good man.

Welcome to this evening’s performance of brother act. (Laughter.) Actually, the three of us walked through the set back here where “Sister Act” is playing, as you know. And we were going to come out dressed as nuns, but we couldn’t – we argued about who would be Whoopi Goldberg, so – (laughter) – so as usual we didn’t get anything done, and here we are. (Laughter.)

It is a delight to be back in Germany, and an especial privilege to be the one asked by the secretary of defense to represent him at this – at this ceremony. You know that my wife, Deanie, and I have spent many years in Germany. And it’s always great to come back. I learned just before I arrived here, actually, that the Stuttgart spring beer festival is a mere two weeks away. And so I’m planning my remarks to last about – (laughter) – about 13 days, 23 hours and 55 minutes. So buckle up, because I need an excuse to stay here for the spring beer festival.

Honestly, it really is a great privilege to be able to recognize the contributions of two incredible, incredible military families – not just the who men you see sitting on stage before you today – as well as the contributions of all of you who serve in U.S. Africa Command. It really is exciting to see many friends, acquaintances, all of our ambassadors, city leaders, as well as their families, represented here today – and our African and European partners. I want to thank you all for taking time to help us celebrate this ceremony today. It’s a testimony – I think, far beyond what I can say, it’s a testimony of your commitment to each other and to our common interest, and a testimony to the leadership of Carter and Christi Ham.

And that’s what it’s all about, actually. I think you would all agree that it’s about teamwork and leadership. Not 10 days after the last change of command, when Carter Ham took command – not 10 days later, you pulled together an international coalition dedicating to help protect the people of Libya. From Tanzania to Senegal, Tunisia to Botswana, you found new ways to deepen partnerships and to build capability. Your support has enabled African-led coalitions to tackle some of Africa’s most complex challenges. And together, you’ve critically weakened al-Shabaab, put the Lord’s Resistance Army on the run and helped beat back extremism in Mali. Not bad for a five-year old command.

Carter, their achievements are the product of your principled and grounded leadership. As a famous African saying goes: A tree is known by its fruit. You’ve plowed beneath the surface of today’s most complex problems and worked to help achieve genuine understanding. You’ve cultivated a strategy that embraces complexity and acknowledges that enduring solutions can only be the result of open, honest collaboration. And you’ve done it all with integrity, with determination and with humility – something I admire greatly. And that’s a testament to your roots as an enlisted soldier.

To put it simply, you’ve inspired trust. Throughout your career, our military has asked you to tackle some of its most perplexing and toughest challenges and to manage many of our most delicate transitions. And you’ve come through every time, turning crisis into opportunity by building the right team and by focusing on the possibilities. And I’ll tell you something, the people on your interagency team here at AFRICOM have helped offer the nation countless possibilities. It’s a team that reflects the reality of our uncertain world, a team capable of joining with others to confront threats that often defy traditional solutions. This team has shown exactly what we can achieve when we break down barriers and we – when we build on the strength of our relationships.

Now, I think we all know that the lion’s share of the strength in the Ham household comes from Christi. She might have an advantage in the intelligence category too, I’m told. (Laughter.) Although my own wife said that marrying an Army guy does show some questionable judgment. (Laughter.) Christi, it’s been a joy for Deanie and I to get to know you and to work alongside you and Carter over these last many years. Thank you for your leadership and thank you for your kindness. Thank you for what you’ve done for your husband, but also what you’ve done for our nation. Your dedication to the men and women of this command and to the families that make it all possible has really been remarkable. I know that supporting education has been a passion for you. I hope it remains a part of your life even in retirement, because the work you’ve done with groups like the Military Child Education Coalition has made a real difference, here and with military families around the world.

In the end, I can only think of one real letdown: Carter, it looks like you’re never going to find that bad German beer you’ve been searching for for these many, many years. But I encourage you to keep up the quest. (Laughter.) I’m not sure it’s even out there, actually, but I can take up the search for you if you falter at some point. (Laughter.) It is a tough job, but as they say, somebody has to do it.

As proud grandparents, I know that you and Christi will gladly trade hoisting up steins of Pilsner for handing out sippy cups of juice. You’ve raised an amazing family, and you’ve earned some time off with those grandbabies. I’m sure Jennifer and Jonathan and their families will find plenty of work for you to do. That’s what my wife’s doing this weekend, by the way, or this week, babysitting our three little granddaughters so that my son, recently returned from Afghanistan, can spend some time with his wife. So there you have it; that’s your future. (Laughter.)

But I do want to ensure that alongside this lighthearted approach to what is a remarkable career and a very well-done ceremony – by the way, to those responsible for putting this ceremony together, my compliments – but I do want to mention that’s – that Deanie and I will very much miss the two of you. You have been – you’ve been good friends, close confidants, you’ve been a steady hand when times felt very unsteady. And we admire you greatly and wish you all the best as you go into retirement.

But I know you’ll agree that replacing another great army—in particular, but—military family at the reins, another extraordinary couple, Dave and Ginny Rodriguez. You know, Dave and Ginny were stationed here in Germany back the ’90s, about the same time Deanie and I were here in Friedberg; that’s where Deanie and I were. Dave loved it; of course, he was convinced that that assignment was his last good deal that the Army would ever give him. So when he was nominated for the position, he actually called me and said, somebody must really want Ginny back in Germany, because I know they’ve never asked for me to come back. (Scattered laughter.) They do, Dave. They do want Ginny back. Ginny’s unique spark, energy are perfect for AFRICOM. But as I understand it, you guys are sort of a package deal, and that’s a good thing for the nation, for all of our nations, actually, and probably the best two-for-one deal we could ever possibly hope for. Make that a six-for-one deal, actually, because your family – a military family, Amy, David, Melissa and Andrew – make sure you tell them thanks for me. And I know they’ll be coming over to spend some time with you this summer.

Dave is one of our nation’s most highly regarded senior officers and strategic thinkers. At every level of command, in peace and in war, he has proven his mettle. He’s smart and decisive. He cares about the mission, but he also cares deeply about his people. For more than 36 years of experience, he knows the importance of building relationships and establishing trust, just as I mentioned about Carter. He’s going to need all those talents as he works and continues to work with our partners to confront tomorrow’s challenges. He’ll have a full plate; we can promise him that – terrorism, transnational crime, internal instability, illicit trafficking and all the things that we know we have to address with our partners in order to make our lives better for our children, our grandchildren and our partners’ children and grandchildren. It’s not an easy job.

I know I speak for Secretary Hagel when I say that we and the entire nation, the entire military, have great confidence that you and Ginny will do what you’ve always done when the nation has called.

So to both the Ham and Rodriguez families, thank you for what you’ve done, but also what you will continue to do. It’s because of leaders like you, the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and coastguardsmen that you’ve been privileged to lead, that we do and will remain the world’s pre-eminent military force.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)