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

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Fla., Friday, March 22, 2013
GENERAL MARTIN E. DEMPSEY: Thanks very much. Deanie and I are absolutely delighted to return here to Tampa, United States Central Command. We really do feel like we're part of the family. 

Sergeant Major, let me begin by telling you, it's great to see the joint force you've arrayed out there, the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines. I wouldn't be surprised if I caught glimpse of a Coast Guardsman out there, but they look terrific. And I appreciate their support for this ceremony honoring two great military leaders. 

As many of you know, this is a family that Deanie and I belong to and were privileged to be part of not so long ago, actually. And I'm delighted to see so many of our distinguished friends and guests, including the leaders of the Tampa community. 

I would take note, by the way, that today I happened to catch a glimpse on the television on the way over here, and I noted that the Grand Prix is meeting or racing or whatever they do in St. Petersburg this weekend, and I -- what a perfect metaphor for what Jim Mattis has been doing and what Lloyd Austin is about to do, because I'm sure there will be times when it feels like you're careening through the streets of St. Petersburg at 150 miles an hour. And exactly -- that's exactly what you've been doing and you will do. 

Florida, as many of you know, and especially this part of Florida, takes especially good care of our men and women in uniform, and we deeply appreciate that support. I also took note, as I always like to do, of our coalition leaders and partners who are here this morning. I'd like to extend my personal gratitude and the gratitude of the senior military leaders across all of our armed forces for your partnership in many parts of the world, especially in the Middle East and, most notably for those of you that are serving with us in Afghanistan, thank you very much. And stick with us. Speaking of friends, I heard last night's dinner was a great celebration, as it should be. It's been a special day -- or it is a special day for Jim Mattis and the Austins and for our nation, as we transfer command from one great leader to another, and as we recognize the important work of the men and women who serve in U.S. Central Command. 

A tremendous share of that responsibility rests on their shoulders as it has, on those young men and women's shoulders, as it has throughout the 30-year history of Central Command. This is a command where men and women are asked to demonstrate their incredible resolve and fortitude. They're the best-led, the best-trained, and the best-equipped force that our nation has ever known. We're proud of the hard work they do every day in a part of the world where our national interests are so important and where we have such great and strong partners and friends. 

Under the weight of this responsibility, even the best of men might expect to be found with their head down and their gaze fixed. Since day one, though, General Jim Mattis has always looked up and out. The challenges the volatile CENTCOM region presents can sometimes seem almost insolvable, yet Jim looked beyond the risks and sought to understand and to consider what was possible. He looked beyond the threats that we've labored to confront to face down aggression in all its forms. But I'm not telling you anything you don't already know about Jim Mattis. He really is one of a kind. He's a visionary, and yet he's molded out of the same grit as Chesty Puller. He has a legendary understanding of military history and of historical context. It's rumored, by the way, that his personal library once numbered over 7,000 volumes. And he just didn't have them to look at the pictures; he actually read them, so he claims. (Laughter.) 

But Jim Mattis doesn't just know it, he lives it, and he's breathed it. I've never met a Marine or anyone, for that matter, who has served with Jim Mattis who had anything but the highest regard for his leadership. 

I should tell you that, on the way down here yesterday, Deanie and I stopped at Parris Island to visit some of the drill sergeants and leaders involved in initial entry training for the United States Marine Corps. And even a young sergeant or staff sergeant knew I was on the way down here for the Central Command change of command. And to a man and women, they knew the name of Jim Mattis. 

Now, I have to tell you, when you think about legacies, if you can leave the service with such an imprint on it that a young sergeant in any service knows your name and has respect for the leadership you've provided, that's a legacy I think we would all aspire to and be very proud of. 

And, Jim, I'm really proud to be up here representing not just myself and with the secretary of the department, but the -- all of your peers, the combatant commanders, the service chiefs, several of whom are here today, and I'll tell you that at our last meeting, when we gather in Washington, with all of the combatant commanders and service chiefs, the one -- the one phrase on each of our lips was that we're going to miss Jim Mattis. And it was said with the kind of sincerity that was actually quite profound. Jim, we are going to miss you. 

No one cares more about his troops, and the sentiment is mutual. It's as one of his lance corporals said. "We loved him because we knew he loved us." Jim, in the words of the Marine Corps Hymn, you have kept your honor clean. 

Lloyd Austin has also done some incredibly heavy lifting for our nation over the past decade. He, too, is returning to the CENTCOM family with an extraordinary breadth of experience in both command and in other joint roles. Lloyd has the right mix of valor and values, thoughtfulness and decisiveness, and critically important to this command, the talent to unpack complex situations to find enduring solutions, not to mention his towering frame, in case you haven't noticed, which when combined with an impressive baritone voice will either inspire or intimidate. Personally, as a tenor, I wish I had some of that stature and bass baritone. 

It's also easy to say -- and I think Jim would agree -- that this is the most important and challenging job in our military inventory. Let's put it this way. There's always an honest day's work to be done in Central Command. Building on the progress that Jim has brought forward, we're going to lean on Lloyd and this team to anchor relationships and continue to build trust across the region. We'll seek new ways to work by, with, and through our partners. And we'll continue to balance our forces in a new fiscal reality while we advance security, stability, and opportunity in this important part of the world. 

We're fortunate, Lloyd, to have you leading our way through this significant time in our history. And we're also fortunate to have Charlene, who stands at your side. 

By the way, Tampa, you're in for a special treat. Charlene has devoted her life to making a difference for others. In her spirit of service, we see the virtues that sustain our military and that keep our country great. I know Charlene will continue to be a superb champion for military families, a wonderful representative of the United States, and a steadfast friend to the families and to the CENTCOM staff. 

Lloyd and Charlene, thank you for taking on this command. Thanks for leading the nation's sons and daughters and for looking after their families. I'm certain they will continue to make me and all Americans very proud. To both of you and your families, good luck, God bless. And to the CENTCOM team, thanks for what you do every day. Thank you. (Applause.)