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

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey
Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. —

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the ceremony will now continue for the retirement of General C. Robert Kehler, beginning with remarks by General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Applause.)

GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: Well, let me add my congratulations to the men and women of Strategic Command for the award of the Joint Meritorious Unit Award. Well deserved. You look terrific. For those of you who put the ceremony together, my compliments. Cecil and Bonny, congratulations. Thanks for continuing to serve your nation. Just know we trust you.

Mr. Secretary, I’ve done a lot of these ceremonies over the years, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone smile quite so broadly as when Bob Kehler passed that flag to Cecil. (Laughter.) I mean, you’d almost think, you know, he was worrying every night he went to bed about some nuclear disasters.

Bob, congratulations. It’s my great privilege to be a part of this ceremony that congratulates and thanks you for 40 years of service.

Governor Heineman, Secretary Hagel, the other distinguished guests in the audience that have already been mentioned, leaders from Bellevue and Omaha, thanks for being here to celebrate a great military family, a great Air Force family.

It’s an honor for Deanie and me to be here to preside over the retirement of Bob and Marge, true heroes in every sense of the word. And it’s a privilege to be back here at Offutt Air Force Base – a base with a history as rich and as exceptional as our nation itself. From the pioneer days from Fort Crook protected travelers heading west to the height of World War II when the Glen Martin bomber plant made aircraft. And as you know, we actually sit just a stone’s throw from where two of the world’s most recognized aircraft, the Enola Gay and the Boxcar, were born. It’s no coincidence that the headquarters for our nation’s strategic deterrent is right here in Omaha, in the very heart of America. And for more than six decades this command has provided the shield for our nation’s security and for its prosperity.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that it’s Curtis LeMay’s 97th birthday today, and this community remembers him as a larger-than-life cigar-chewing embodiment of Strategic Command. In General LeMay’s day, we faced the uncertainty of nuclear annihilation and the challenge of remaining ready for war within a six-minute or so window, an age where our ability to secure our nation was defined by our capacity measured in megatons. It was during that time that Bob Kehler entered the Air Force as an missileer. Bob and I had very similar missions during that time with slightly different perspectives. I sat on the plains of Europe, standing down the rifle barrel of a tank at the heart of an enemy across the inter-German border. Bob sat under the plains of Montana, staring up at a subterranean barrel aimed at the heart of an enemy nation. Though continents apart, we shared a common conviction in our mission and in the importance of the security of the United States.

It was also on the plains of Montana where Bob mined his very own yogo sapphire, Marj. Now, for those of you who don’t know – because I didn’t – that yogo sapphire is a rare gemstone found only in the plains of Montana. Equally priceless, and even more spectacular, Marj, Deanie and I want to thank you for being the rock of stability for Bob for nearly four decades. At the same time you were raising you two amazing young men, seated off there to your right, Jared and Matt, you brought comfort and compassion to the larger military family. Your tireless dedication to the Military Child Education Coalition and the love you put into caring for our wounded warriors the So Much Comfort Group are two very inspiring, but only two examples. And we as a force and as a nation are better for your service and your sacrifice. Thank you.

Bob has – yeah, let’s give Marj a round of applause. (Applause.)

Bob has traveled far and wide from the plains of Montana to wind up here in Nebraska, and he’s been central to ensuring that our strategic warriors are better trained, more ready and more discipline today than they have been at any other time in our history. Bob’s carried the strategic torch for the nation in being a clear voice for this command’s capabilities throughout his entire career. There are few that are better able to understand, to appreciate and to articulate the vast mission which compromises our nation’s strategic deterrent force, measured no longer in megatons alone, but also, these days, in megapixels and megabytes. Our world is different, and so are we. And we can thank Bob for his vision, persistence and his leadership as he has been central to our nation’s security and prosperity yesterday, today, and I’m confident, tomorrow.

Bob is an iconic leader who embodies a sense of service, pride, exacting precision and professionalism in every organization he touches and in every mission he touches and in every life that he touches.

I should tell you as an aside, we met – our combatant commanders and service chiefs with the secretary of defense met with the President about three days ago. And in reintroducing Bob to the president and making note that it was his last meeting with the President, the chief of staff of the Air Force, Mark Welsh, described Bob Kehler as that general officer in the United States Air Force to whom we all look for a role model for how not only to get the job done, but how to get it done with proper leadership ability, with proper care and compassion and with ethical behavior that is always beyond reproach. I thought that was pretty high praise from the chief of staff of the Air Force, and I’d like to add my own praise in that exact same vein as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Bob Kehler is indeed someone who his peers look to for a role model. And we’re going to miss you.

Bob’s not only persistent at work. As many of you are aware, he enjoys a little time on the golf course. I understand that the locals have actually come to enjoy watching Bob tee off from the Willow Lakes first tee box where he consistently drops his ball into a creek about 50 yards down the fairway. (Laughter.) Bob’s performance is so legendary and so much so that the golf course actually renamed the watery grave in his honor, it's called the Kehler Creek. (Laughter.)

It reminds me of the Kenny Rogers song – and get be nervous, I’m not going to sing it – but the Kenny Rogers song called “The Greatest.” As you remember in that song, there was a young boy practicing baseball by himself in the yard, and with a bat on his shoulder he would toss the ball up to himself, swing the bat around with all of his might and he would consistently hear the whoosh of the bat and then the thud of the ball as it hit the ground at his feet. Strike one, he would declare. Try it again. Strike two, he would declare. And after the third attempt, and with his final strike, the boy would announce would great pride, I am the greatest. That’s a fact. But even I didn’t know I could pitch that well. (Laughter.) I picture Bob actually standing on the first tee box as he examines with great pride: I am the greatest golfer, in fact. But even I didn’t know I could chip it that well. (Laughter.)

So as you change your epaulets and Corfams for polo shirts and soft spikes, know that we’re all proud of all you have done in the past 38 years, and we’re eternally grateful for what you’ve done not only for your own service in the United States Air Force but for the Joint Force. I know that your desire to make a difference will not end with your retirement, and we’re thrilled, Deanie and I, that you and Marj will be joining us back in Washington, D.C., where I’m sure you will find a way to contribute and to continue to serve. Know that your legacy of leadership, your legacy of service will be remembered and will be treasured. Bob and Marj, thank you for 38 incredible years of service to your nation and to our military family. You’ve all made a lasting and meaningful difference. Deanie and I wish you and your entire family the very best in retirement. God bless you. (Applause.)