JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. —
Thanks, Lizzy. Being your friend and the lead vocalist of the TAPS Kids will always be among my most cherished memories as time – in my time as chairman.
And by the way, for everybody here today, so I want you to – I want everybody to know that that’s the first time the president ever made me cry. (Laughter.) So lest you think we’ve had this kind of back and forth over the course of time, that’s a first.
And whoever had the over and under on how long it would take me to cry, it was when my son introduced or read my retirement order, so there you go. I think my classmates probably had a few side bets going. (Laughter.)
Let me begin by thanking everyone for the kind words and the recognition. To tell you the truth, it rubs a bit uncomfortably against my conviction that duty is its own reward and that those called to serve should seek no recognition for simply doing their duty. We all owe this great country our very best and our fellow citizens our very best. It was humbling to accept this job four years ago, and it’s humbling to relinquish it today.
Mr. President, thanks for being here and for allowing me to advise you. I’ve been honored to work with you and your national security team. I know this is a very busy and a very important week for you, but then again they’re all very busy and important weeks for the president of the United States. I also want to thank you in particular for allowing me to release my inner leprechaun from time to time during National Security Council meetings. And, importantly, for allowing two Dempseys into the Situation Room at the same time. I should have included this in my chairman’s risk assessment. (Laughter.) By the way, I hope you were able to get that good word in for me with the Pope. (Laughter.)
I also want to thank the 22nd, the 23rd, the 24th and the 25th secretaries of defense, with whom I served over the past five years. Seriously? (Laughter.) I really do appreciate them for their service to the nation, for their support to men and women in uniform and their families, and for teaming with the joint chiefs to protect this nation. You are all great patriots and prodigious leaders.
There is no way I can explain what the past 41 years have meant to me in the next few minutes, and the next four years will be ably led by the 19th chairman. So I’ll focus on the moment, right here, right now, surrounded by so many family and friends. Let me start by thanking The Old Guard, the Joint Honor Guard and the great military bands assembled here. I have been and will continue to be your biggest fan and your strongest advocate. You remind us of our history and you set the cadence of our march into the future. You are outstanding soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, serving right here in our nation’s capital. You inspire us. Thank you for providing the images and the sounds that will ensure we will always remember this day. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in thanking them. (Applause.)
I note with great esteem the presence of our service chiefs, our combatant commanders, their senior enlisted advisors, the directors of the Joint Staff, my senior enlisted advisor, the chiefs of defense from some of our closest allies, and as well some of the spouses of our closest allies and military leaders. Few know the burdens you bear, willingly and even enthusiastically, for our countries. Deanie joins me in thanking you for your service and sacrifice, and most of all for ensuring the readiness of the young men and women we send into harm’s way in the name of freedom.
I’m honored by the presence of civilian leaders from across our government. In particular, I thank my teammates from the Department of Defense, the service secretaries, and the National Security Council Staff. I will tell you that the glamour of working issues at this level wears off quickly. But I will always remember with fondness the comradery forged in the difficult work of national security.
I also think you’d agree with me that the protocol team today has done an extraordinary job, as they do every day. They are quiet professionals whose lot in life means that they get only an A or an F. Well, mark this ceremony down as another A. I wish I could introduce you to my personal staff. In a job like this, at such a frenetic pace and with so much travel, we’ve become a family. Deanie and I have said goodbye to them privately, but I will just add one more thank you. You made me a better chairman and left an indelible mark on our hearts in the process.
In the audience today are friends from elementary school and high school, the great West Point class of 1974, pride of the corps. (Cheers, applause.) From the National War College, and even from my Capstone class, apparently I made the right decision when I decided not to study too hard so I could make a lot of friends. (Laughter.) I have both mentors and protégés here. As I’ve become older, I realize that the distinction between them blurs. We’ve learned from each other. I’ll tell you this, Deanie and I came into the military for each other, but we stayed in the military because of you. I admire you all.
There are friends here from the storied Fighting 69th New York Army National Guard and from USA Basketball, stars from the worlds of entertainment and professional sports who have traveled with us around the world, and superstars from the many private organizations dedicated to support our military, their families, the wounded and our veterans. You’ve all touched our hearts, filled our souls, inspired us, and made it an extraordinary four years. We are privileged to call you friends. Another Yates quote, “Think where man's glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.”
I know in my heart that Martin Joseph Dempsey, Thomas Joseph Sullivan, and Bridget Devenney Barber are all proudly looking down on us today. And they are probably up there whispering far too loudly, for God’s sake, I just hope he doesn’t start singing. (Laughter.) My mom is sitting right over there thinking to herself, I told you so. If there’s a more soft-spoken, respectful, humble woman on the face of the Earth, I’d like to meet her. Thanks for inspiring us to be humble, to always give just a little more than an honest day’s work, to have courage and to live a life of faith. We love you, mom. (Applause.)
Marjorie Sullivan is sitting at home in Florida, a little too frail to be with us here today, but she has been an unwavering champion and safety net on more than one occasion for our family throughout our career. We love you too, Mims. I have a big family. And remember what I said about protocol earning their A. Kind and loving aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, in-laws and out-laws, far too many to single out. Though I haven’t seen much of you through the years, it’s pretty darn remarkable how little we’ve changed. Thanks for all the support.
I said I wouldn’t reminisce, but I’m going to make one exception. At about this time in September 1974, I reported as a 2nd lieutenant to the Armor School at Fort Knox, Kentucky. In preparing my remarks today, I was struck by how much my emotions today remind me of my emotions then. In September 1974, just like today, I was a little nervous, I was humbled to wear the uniform of an Army officer, I was eager to get started on a new career, and I was in love – (coughs) – pardon me – I was in love with a girl named Deanie. (Applause.)
I fell in love with Deanie when she was 15. It took her a few years to come around to the idea. But I was sure that whatever life brought my way, I wanted to experience it with her. Here’s the thing about Deanie, she’s the only one more passionate than me about military and their families. She’s a better leader than I am. She has far more energy than Einstein predicted could be packed into a 5 foot 2 inch body. And she has shown an amazing patience during the trials that accompany a military life. In every way, she has made me a better person. Because this has been her career just as much as mine, it’s fitting and proper to say that we are both retiring today. Congratulations, Deanie Sullivan Dempsey. (Applause.)
So I’m almost out of water to choke back the emotion, which means I must be near the end. What we’re really doing today is transferring our passion for the standard U.S. Army nine-man infantry squad, to our own squad of nine adorable, talented and exceptional grandchildren. They are, in order of seniority: Kayla, Mackenna, Luke, Alexander, Hunter, Finley, Braden, Samuel, and David. Now, if you want to know what our principle goal in retirement will be, it’s to be the best grandparents we can be.
Now, lest they think we’ve forgotten them in the flush of affection for our grandchildren, I should note that we love our own children and their spouses. (Laughter.) They have served our country too. Deanie and I have made 20 moves, most of them with the kids, and they have been courageous, adaptive, resilient and willing to share their parents with a larger military family. It’s been a joy watching them grow up, although until recently we did have some difficulty convincing them that the Mayflower wasn’t a moving van. (Laughter.)
I’m very happy that the J3 allowed my son, Chris, to escape the National Military Command Center to attend the ceremony. And as I said, Megan and Caitie have also served. As did Shane who, along with Julie and Kory formed the best trio of in-laws we could ever imagine. I know a little something about leadership, and you have it all, as well as many other extraordinary qualities that make you great couples, great parents and great patriots. We very much enjoy your company, we look forward to seeing more of you, and we hope the feeling is mutual. (Laughter.)
Who stands for freedom goes with joyful trade, Joyce Kilmer. It has been my honor to walk with joyful tread alongside soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen as chairman for the past four years. They are truly the best in the world at what they do. They are our nation’s most precious treasure. They and their families inspire us. Today, we entrust them to our new chairman.
You may know that the Irish are somewhat stingy with compliments and generally reserved in the use of adjectives. When Irishmen truly respect someone they say simply: You’re a good man. Well, you’re a good man, Joe Dunford. As I depart, I do so with great confidence that you and Ellyn are in the right place at the right time, and at the right time for our nation. Thanks to you both for taking on yet another challenging task for our nation.
Speaking of challenging tasks, there is a sense today that America’s future is fraught with uncertainty and that the fabric that binds us is being mightily tested. However, I leave with tremendous optimism and absolute confidence in who we are and what we stand for. Our nation and its armed forces remain the world’s foremost symbols of strength, of hope, and of freedom. The generation that is now blessed to serve will do its duty and will ensure that our nation remains strong. I thank God for sustaining me for these 41 years and I pray that he keeps us all strong. It has been my privilege to wear the cloth of our nation. To all who will continue to serve after me, I ask only this, in parting: Make it matter. (Applause.)