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Gen. Dempsey's Remarks at the SOUTHCOM Change of Command


By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey, Miami, Fla.
Not for themselves, but for their country. About two months ago, I took all the combatant commanders, including Doug, and the service chiefs up to the battlefield at Antietam. Bloodiest day in American military history, 23,000 casualties in an eight hour period on a space not much bigger than the field you see behind us. And in that space, in that very hallowed and revered spot of America, stands a very tall statue of an infantry soldier. Not an officer, an infantry soldier. One of a kind, actually, in our statuary around the military. And on the base of that very tall, probably 30 foot tall monument are those very words, "Not for themselves, but for their country."

Ladies and gentlemen, what you see here today, is that spirit played out yet again where two great military leaders have given their lives, 37 years, more than 39 years. And they have given their lives, not individually, but as families to this country. Not for themselves, but for their country. And I say the same thing to the group of men I see standing and sitting in front of me, and women, who have served their country with humility, with dignity, and with great pride. Not for themselves, but for their country. Let's give them a round of applause. [Applause].

It really is a privilege to be a part of today's ceremony, to be here with you all and to share this special day with two great military families.

Celebrating friends and their accomplishments really is the best part of my job or any job and we've got a tent-ful here today, so it looks like you'd agree with that. Thanks for being here. Your very presence says far more than my words ever could about these two families as well as your country.

I'd like to recognize our international partners who are in the audience. Thanks for taking the time to travel here today to celebrate with us. Or, as—yeah, let's give them a round of applause. Or, as Doug would say, "gracias, mis compañeros." [Laughter] That's Spanish with a little bit of New Jersey thrown in. [Laughter]. I'm waiting to see how the Boston accent handles it here when John Kelly follows me in a just a few moments.

As you have experienced, Doug's Spanish is only slightly better than mine... He's used it a lot during his travels.

By the way... some of you may know this, but when he travels or when he did travel as the SOUTHCOM commander, he would occasionally fly himself. I asked some of the pilots about your landings, actually . they told me, "the first one is usually a little rough, but by the third or fourth bounce, it actually is not so bad." [Laughter]. I also asked one of my pilots out of the bit of jealousy if I could give it a try, and he said no, which actually turned out to be the right answer. It turns out my qualifications as a tank driver don't mean much in the Air Force.

Doug's traveled so much because he knows the importance of building trust. He understands that trust is how we turn relationships into partnerships, and how we turn partnerships into friendships. I think it's clear that Doug and SOUTHCOM have a lot of friends here today. And not just among our international partners.

Doug, you've built a truly impressive joint and interagency team here at SOUTHCOM. It reflects the reality of our complex world. Tragedies like the earthquake in Haiti or challenges like illicit trafficking, they all require us to collaborate in new ways and with new partners. You've shown exactly what we can achieve when we break down barriers and build on one another's strengths.

In fact, as the Secretary mentioned, Doug may be the first Air Force officer to head SOUTHCOM, but he worked so closely with the Coast Guard that they actually made him an honorary Ship's Captain... I know you asked me to do it at this point of the ceremony, Doug, but I can't bring myself to call you Skipper! In the weeks and months to come, I suspect you'll have less time on the BlackBerry and more time to get out there on the water, or at least I hope you do.

Throughout the last 14 years from DC to Idaho and Alaska to Hawaii, Doug's closest and most important partner has been his devoted wife.

Rena, I know that nothing I can say will help you get over Alabama's loss to Texas A&M . that one's just gonna have to hurt. But I want to thank you especially for your leadership, your kindness, and especially for your grace. Your dedication to the men and women of this command is inspirational and is a reflection of a lifetime of service.

Your commitment to their families and your work with the Military Child Education Coalition is well-known and even more impressive.

You've left an indelible mark on so many communities here in Miami, and around the globe. And most important, you and Doug have been great leaders and role models at home. You've got an amazing family. Heather, Ian, Hanna, thank you for your service and for your support of your dad all these years.

While we're sad to see the Frasers go, I'm very pleased as the Secretary mentioned that we're placing this command into the hands of another extraordinary couple - John and Karen Kelly.

I saw John every day while he was working in the Pentagon, and I can tell you this... he's the right guy for this job. He's direct and tough... a thinker and a learner... and one of the most experienced leaders we have in our military today.

John... you and Karen have my full trust and undying support.

You've had a front-row seat for our nation's response to some of its most recent challenges, and I know you are ready to tackle the new challenges you will surely face in the days ahead. You'll have a full plate - transnational crime, illicit trafficking, natural disasters, terrorism, and more. And if you're wondering, yes, it's too late to turn the job down now.

Luckily, you won't have to meet those challenges alone. As you recently said, "it's not about what you as an individual can achieve, but all about achieving together as friends and neighbors for the common good."

Achieving together as friends and neighbors is what SOUTHCOM is all about.

So congratulations again, best of luck, and God bless. And remember, not for themselves, but for their country.