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Gen. Dempsey's Remarks at Gen. Alexander's Retirement


By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey
Fort Meade, MD —

Thanks very much. I want to begin by telling you how impressed I was by both the brass quintet, but also the National Security Agency Chorus. I mean, I gotta figure out a way to get you into the Pentagon, so let's give them a round of applause.

Keith and Debbie, I can't tell you what an honor it is for Deanie and I to be here today to preside over your retirement. It really is so much of a family affair. My goal, by the way, is for the mothers--to finish my remarks before you run out of Goldfish. By the way though, I will tell you, you can't see it back there, but these are some of the most well-behaved young men and women I've seen in a long time. They're sitting here and not a single digital device, you know, distracting them. So, the well-behaved part, I know where they got that, that's for sure.

There's an Irish song, don't get nervous, that captures the thought about this being a family affair, and it's called "The Voyage". And I'll say the words, and someday, maybe, if you're lucky, I'll sing them to you. The words go like this:

"Life is a journey, and love is a boat. In troubled waters, it keeps us afloat. When we started the journey, there was just me and you, Now gathered around us, we have a whole crew."

Let's hear it for the crew.

It really is our honor to be here today, and I want to add my compliments and my appreciation to the men and women of the National Security Agency and CYBERCOM. Keith and I began our journey of service together nearly 44 years ago. Neither one of us at that time had a clue that those paths would take us here today. We did know two things back then. Keith was a lot better at math and he still is, by the way. It's one of the many skills he's used to serve his nation well. And the other was that we were both lucky to have met wonderful women so early in our life.

Debbie's been by his side since high school and has served for 40 years as well. 20 moves later, she's still at his side. For the past eight years, she's been the leader of the military spouse community here at Fort Meade.

The president of the Officer Spouse's Club recently had this to say recently about Debbie, "If Debbie doesn't know you, she'll be sure to introduce herself to you. Not because she wants you to meet her, but because she truly wants to meet you. She also occasionally lets Keith win at Yahtzee. By the way, who plays Yatzhee anymore?

Debbie, for all your years of service and sacrifice, thank you and of course, Jennifer, Julie, Diana, Heather, you know that sacrifice that you've made and it goes a long way to explaining how Keith became the tremendous officer that he did. You shared your dad with the nation and of course I imagine, you've got in return the best possible internet access on the planet.

And I know those 16 beautiful grandkids are looking forward to--I can't figure out why--but to see more of grand-dad in the days and months ahead.

Keith's career has followed an extraordinary arc from key intelligence positions during the Cold War to Operation Desert Storm to the highest level of the Army and the Joint Staff. But his most enduring contribution would come after 9/11. Since attackers struck our nation and destroyed the very Pentagon office where Keith had worked the year before, he has run in a dead sprint to defend us all.

For the past eight years, Keith has led our military and intelligence communities the two most transformational developments in national security: the rise of cyber and the new relevance of signals intelligence in our networked world. He set the record as the longest-serving NSA director and in 2010, he took command of CYBERCOM as well.

As Secretary Hagel has made clear that we live in a world where cyber is an inherent part of conflict. It's a world of weaponized bits and bytes where an entire country can be disrupted by a click of the mouse. To stay ahead of our adversaries, there are new missions we've taken on as a military; and new defenses we have constructed and continue to construct for the nation.

Keith understood that our military must be able to defend our nation at network speed and he described it as working on "Alexander time". Those up here at the fort knows that this means everything must happen twice as fast. And so we're mustering a cyber-force that Keith has been at the center of creating and thanks to the capability he has grown, the networks on which we rely to defend the nation are secure, reliable and a vital part of our military's decisive edge.

And that's what brings us here today. You'd have to reach a long way to find a leader who has had such a transformational impact in history on how we fight and defend our nation as Keith has. William Moffat's push into carrier aviation comes to mind, so does Hyman Rickover's development of the nuclear navy and Admiral Haney mentioned a couple of others.

But even these examples don't do justice to what Keith has pioneered. I actually think there's only one historical comparison that captures all that Keith has achieved, James Bond. Now the actors that have played James Bond over the years lack the dashing good looks that Keith sports and displays in abundance, the flashy cars that James Bond drives around are a far cry from his government-issued sedan. But can anyone guess what number he keeps on his parking spot here on Fort Meade? 007.

And Keith has gadgets far fancier than anything Q created for James Bond. He also shares James Bond's wit and repartee. Recently, when Keith was walking into a secure facility for a meeting with the Joint Chiefs, one of my staff asked him if he had any electronic devices to check, and he said, "Yeah. I have a few of those". That's Keith. Always quick on the trigger, always trying to disarm a staff member, but always who he has been since I've known him for 44 years.

But this is where the comparison stops. Because if you look at the real-life accomplishments of Keith Alexander, they're far more reaching than any spy or Soldier depicted on the screen. In the last full month Keith was in command, Department of Defense networks were scanned, probed, spearfished, and attacked with malware 41 million times. Each of these was stopped, which makes Keith Alexander one of the most successful generals in our history.

Let me say that Keith and the wizards here at the Fort who serve in silence have been behind every major national security success in recent years, whether it's the surge in Iraq the reversal of Taliban momentum, the raid on Abbottabad, and most importantly foiling terrorist attacks in both home and abroad. The work done here has made all of those things possible. If Hollywood were true to life, the next Spy thriller would have its hero saying "My name is Alexander, Keith Alexander."

Beyond being a brilliant warfighter Keith's also a masterful leader, genuine leader, compassionate leader, who's piloted the NSA and Cyber Command through waters rougher than any of us had ever wish to see. Through it all he has shown a tremendous compassion, in word and deed to those who served him.

Keith you've served four secretaries of defense and two presidents with distinction, you've shouldered an enormous burden for an exceptionally long time and each day of your long and distinguished career you've made every minutes matter. It's been a genuine privilege to serve with you ever step of the way, and I want to say on behalf of my class, I'm retiring Keith both on behalf of the Armed Forces of the United States but also on behalf on the class of 1974. Where are you? I see we had the good sense not to sit them all in one place.

But on behalf of them, on behalf of us and most especially, Keith, on behalf of those who call you friend. God bless you, thanks for the privilege of serving with you, god speed. Thanks very much.